The last two weeks of December are always a pain to travel through. 50 million Americans are going to the airport between now and New Years. That means you’re going to come across delays, crowds, and bumps. Embrace it. Paste a smile on. It’s part of the season!
Seriously high volumes plus the probability of winter weather means things will get disrupted. Sadly, we’re not all Harris Telemacher from L.A. Story — we can’t bend the weather with our minds no matter how hard we try. Instead, we’re all going to have to live with the harder aspects of air travel.
Below are some rules for surviving:
HAVE A PLAN
This is where a lot of travel falls apart. Know how and when you’re getting to the airport. Know where and when you’re checking your bags. Have your boarding pass, passport, visa, insurance ready and handy. We can’t stress that last one enough. Don’t bury your passport in the bottom of your carry on bag — no one wants to watch you dig around for it. Also, expect to have to show your boarding pass and passport multiple times. Don’t put it away just because you’ve dropped your bag off.
Lines are going to be long. You may not want to spend two hours in an airport, but that’s just the reality this time of year. If you’re flying international from an airport with winter weather, maybe give yourself three hours. You can always grab a drink once you’re past security (more on that later).
If you don’t have a TSA “skip the line” pass, get one. And when you go through security, have your shit together. You’re going to have to take off your shoes, belt, metal jewelry, empty your pockets, remove your laptop/tablets/devices and toiletries — don’t spread this stuff out over multiple bags. It’s basic motions at this point and you just have to go through it with a smile and nod. Please remember that TSA is just doing their job and, well, trying to stop something bad from happening. No, it’s not a perfect system but they’re still just people at work.
In the end, give yourself 30 minutes to check in/drop your bag, an hour for security, and at least 30 minutes to decompress/use the restrooms/get water before you get on the plane. It might only take you 10 minutes to drop your bag and 30 minutes to get through security. That means you have all that extra time to chill out before you get on a flight. And being chilled out on the flight is the best way to fly this time of year.
HAVE A BACKUP PLAN
So, yeah, what’s your plan when nothing goes right? Did you weigh your bags? Or did you wait to be surprised at the airport? Seriously though, make sure your bags are under the weight restrictions. What are you going to do if they’re over?
What’s the plan if your flight is canceled? Do you have a ride home? Can you afford a hotel? Are you going to sleep on a bench? The point here is to know what you’re comfortable with and always have a fallback position. Stash a 20 dollar bill somewhere, you may need it for nourishment at the last minute. If you don’t spend it, you can buy the first round when you get home.
What if you’re delayed for x-amount of hours? Are you going to read? Binge? Catch up on this year’s best albums? Sitting in a bar for six hours is expensive. The point here is to be prepared to be stuck somewhere for hours on end. That means you’ll be less pissed because you know you have a contingency that you will (at least partially) enjoy. Which, again, means you’ll be a little more chilled out when you finally do get to board that plane.
Hope that it all goes smoothly, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t.
HAVE THE RIGHT LUGGAGE
This year Christmas falls on a weekend. So it’s unlikely that many of us will be traveling for more than a week as we make our way back to friends and family. Maybe consider only carrying on a bag instead of checking one. In this case, you’ll likely get to skip check in/bag drop off entirely and cut serious time off your airport experience. Moreover, you’ll save serious time when you arrive. If there is ever a time when it takes an hour for bags to arrive on a carousel, it’s now.
Know the sizes and weights acceptable — even for carry-ons. You don’t want to get to the gate of an overbooked flight and lose your bag to the hold because it’s too big or heavy. Our mantra: Pack light. Pack smart. Know the restrictions.
KNOW WHERE TO AND NOT TO EAT
Have a good meal before you leave for the airport. If you’re taking food, be aware of its odors. If you’re planning on grabbing a bite at the airport, check out the airport’s amenities and pick a place in advance. It’ll give you something to look forward to. However, don’t expect to eat or have a drink. Consider it a luxury that you get to indulge in if everything goes right. Always carry some small snacks (dark chocolate, nuts, gum) for yourself.
And bring a refillable water bottle. Having a beer or cocktail before a flight is fine (don’t get drunk), but always make sure you stay hydrated. You really don’t want to drop $2.95 for a bottle of Dasani at Hudson News, do you?
If you’re well fed and hydrated, the flight’s going to be that much easier.
KNOW WHO TO CALL/HASHTAG
Okay, if something does go wrong, what do you do?
You can use social media to get an immediate response from people in an office who aren’t overwhelmed at an airport desk. Social media staff is authorized to solve problems in real time. Simply send a tweet about the situation and hashtag your flight and @ the airline. They will respond.
Conversely, you can call the airline’s customer service. This will accomplish two things. First, you’ll be getting direct service. Second, you’ll be easing the pressure on the ground staff.
If all of that fails, then talk to someone. But, honestly, if all of the above fails, you’re probably screwed anyway.
Here’s what you don’t do — get pissed off at anyone. You have to keep your cool. Shouting, entitlement, and unrealistic demands will get you to the back of the line or straight up kicked off it. When you buy a ticket, you enter into a contract with the airline which bequeaths them almost all the power. We’re not saying that when they say jump, you say how high. What we’re saying is know what you have rights too. Which is, the airline has to get you from point a to point b at some point and you have to take it.
Having your luggage correct, keeping your documents handy, staying hydrated, knowing your rights, and accepting that delays, lines, and unforeseen weather are all going to have a hand in how slowly or quickly you make it your destination.
In the immortal words of Patton Oswalt, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”