Holiday Air Travel Survival Guide by Karen Dawkins

BonBon Break


Holiday air travel… Do you think of it and shudder? Maybe envision forgetting one of your beloved brood, a la Home Alone? Perhaps your mind fills with endless news reports of holiday travelers stranded at airports shut down by blizzards in states thousands of miles away. While it’s true that there’s “no place like home for the holidays,” it sure can be hard to get there!


The day before Thanksgiving, among the busiest air travel days of the year, often combines with bad weather in northern states and the Northeast to create that holiday chaos we call flight delays! Christmas week, except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, also finds the air filled with harried travelers trying to get home. What can you do to make it home for real — and not just in your dreams?


Book now. Holiday travel means airlines are not going to discount tickets. Book tickets as early as you can to ensure you get a great flight. Consider these helpful tips:

  • Travel on a less busy day: Fly on Thanksgiving morning, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day if you can to avoid long lines and delays at the airport.
  • Go early! Early morning flights are most likely to reach their destination on time. As weather and air traffic delays (plane maintenance issues, delayed connections, and other problems) build during the day, flights get more delayed. Late day travelers are most likely to have problems.
  • Select the flight with the least number of layovers. The low fares of flights with multiple layovers can be tempting, but every layover — especially on a busy travel day — means another opportunity for delay. Choose the flight that gets to your destination the easiest to improve your odds of arriving in time to enjoy the festivities.


Arrive early. The sheer increase in the number of travelers ensures long lines at every stage of the travel process. Every traveler must pass through the ticket line (unless they check-in online and arrive with carryon only luggage) and then through security. These queues are necessary to safe travel. Instead of arriving one-two hours before domestic travel, especially at the country’s busiest airports, come earlier. Better yet, check for alternate flights from less congested airports nearby. Build in margin to pass through the lines without stress.


Skip some lines by checking in online and packing carryon only. Better than arriving early to navigate the lines is skipping the lines altogether! Check in online up to 24 hours before your flight and you won’t have to stand in line to get your boarding ticket. Pack carryon only AND check in early and you can bypass the ticket line entirely.


Packing carry-on only sounds impossible to some but it can be done! Some helpful suggestions for a weeklong trip to get you started include:

  • Limit yourself to two pairs of shoes and two pairs of pants and wear your heaviest clothes on the plane (total three pairs of shoes and pants),
  • Pack only one week’s worth of clothes (leave those “but I might need” items at home),
  • Pack a color-coordinated wardrobe (if you can’t wear a piece in multiple outfits, don’t take it),
  • Clean out your purse, laptop bag and other bags so you only take the items you need and skip the “just in case” items you can buy at your destination,
  • Use the largest “personal item” you can find (a large duffel can carry camera case, computer bag and purse, condensing three down to one),
  • Roll your clothes tightly instead of folding them to maximize space and minimize wrinkles.


Further, the TSA now offers a prescreening program to skip the long security lines, though it costs $100 per person and must be completed in advance (not geared for the family/casual traveler).


Expect delays. While no one wants a flight delay, if you expect it and relax, you’ll reach your destination less frazzled. The reality is, you can’t make the planes fly faster. You can’t change schedules or force the airlines to move your flight to the top of the list. You can control your attitude! You can plan for delays by packing snacks and activities to entertain yourself and family. The truth is, a great attitude is essential to surviving the chaos of holiday air travel!


Plan, prepare, and pack a great attitude and you really can survive hectic holiday travel. You won’t leave one of the kids behind either! Happy holidays!


If all this talk of flight delays, security checks, layovers and queues leaves you nervous, read this article on my blog for first time air travelers.

Karen and her family have learned the art of enjoying the travel experience. She shares humorous anecdotes from her own experiences and uses them to equip the reader to travel better. At Family Travels on a Budget, she helps readers plan, budget and experience their vacation dreams. You can follow Karen’s travel advice on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google +.