New Year’s Travel Tips for the Airport
November 17th, 2010
Holiday travel can be a royal pain, from busy airports to higher ticket prices to weather delays – it all adds up to increased frustration if you let it. Some of the things that make holiday travel annoying are beyond your control (sudden snowstorm, anyone?), but there are a few things you can do to make any extended time you need to spend at the airport less irritating and perhaps even reasonably enjoyable.
Whereas a trip to the airport around Thanksgiving or Christmas is reliably nightmare-ish due to capacity crowds, a flight just before New Year’s isn’t necessarily going to mean suffering through an overcrowded airport. Your return flight on the far side of the holiday, however, might be a different story. Because so many people make one big trip of their Christmas and New Year’s holidays, it’s the few days after New Years that are some of the most crowded of the holiday season.
In other words, even though the airports might not be as busy around New Years as they can be at other holidays, you should still do everything you can to make sure you’re prepared for a busy airport in order to minimize your own stress levels.
So here are our New Years travel tips for the airport.
>> For 2012, New Year’s Eve is on a Monday, and New Year’s Day is on a Tuesday
Look at Layovers
Those of you who can get a direct flight are lucky, but if you’re not among the lucky ones then it’s a good idea to pay attention to where your layover options are when you’re booking your flight in the first place. Bad weather is definitely more likely at New Year’s than at other times of the year, so if your layovers are in warmer climates you’re less likely to experience weather-related delays or cancellations.
Now, if you can’t keep your layovers in warmer climates – or if any of the points along your route are in places where weather could cause problems – then make sure your layovers are long enough so that if there are delays on your arrival flight you’ll have enough time to make your connection.
While it can be tough to pack light when flying at Christmas, since you’re likely to be carrying gifts in both directions, it’s much easier to pack light for a quick trip over New Year’s. In fact, if you can fly with only carry-on bags and avoid checking a bag entirely, you’ll be even better off.
Traveling carry-on only allows you to avoid the long lines at the check-in counter. It means you’re more flexible if your flight is cancelled and you need to get on a different plane (you won’t lose bags that way). It means you don’t have to wait at baggage claim at your destination as the overstuffed planes are unloaded. And if you’re interested in saving money, it also means you won’t pay the ubiquitous fees for checked bags, either.
If you can’t restrict yourself to a carry-on bag only, it’s still a good idea to pack light. Anything you can do to make the job of airport security easier will help them do their job faster and get you on your way faster. So avoid over-packing at all costs, and pack what you can in clear zip-top bags so security can see what’s inside more quickly.
Use Online Check-In
Using your airline’s website to check-in and print a boarding pass 24 hours before your flight means you can skip the long line at the airport. Most airlines these days have a self-check-in kiosk section at the counter, which is the next best option. If you’re checking a bag, you’ll still need to visit the counter to drop off your bag (again, most airlines now offer a bag-drop-off line that’s just for people who have already checked in), but if you’re traveling carry-on only you get to walk right past the counter and straight to the security line.
Checking in 24 hours before your flight also gives you a better seat selection, and if your flight is overbooked it’ll help ensure you get on the flight you wanted to get on.
Reserve Airport Parking in Advance
Another easy way to save yourself time and stress at the airport is to avoid the whole routine of circling the airport parking lot again and again trying to find a vacant parking space. Around any holiday, the lots fill up quickly – and although you can always allow for extra circling time before your flight, it’s a pain to hunt for something like a parking spot when you can book one online in advance.
Most airports around the US (and some in other countries, too) have at least one – if not several – places that let you make airport parking reservations in advance. You’ll just drive up and park in your appointed spot, no waiting and no circling. And sometimes booking in advance saves you money, too, which is always a bonus.
Get to the Airport Early
These days you know you need to get to the airport an hour early for domestic trips, but at the holidays it’s important to get to the airport even earlier than that. Even if you’re being a smart traveler and going carry-on only, you might find the security line snaking through the airport for ages. And if you’ve got to check in at the counter or check a bag, then you’ve got two potentially long lines to wait in.
Sure, you may end up breezing through one or both lines and have more time than you’d like to sit and wait in an airport terminal, but wouldn’t you rather have that situation than be running through the airport because the lines took longer than you thought – and end up missing your flight anyway? It’s just safer to allot more time than you think you’ll need to avoid stress and (even worse) missing a flight.
Keep Travel Contact Information at Hand
Before you leave home, print out your whole itinerary and make sure the contact information for the airline you’re flying – as well as the contact info for any hotels you’re staying at or car rental companies you’ve booked a car with – is on the itinerary somewhere. That way, if you experience an unexpected delay you can call ahead and, for instance, have the hotel hold your room or make sure your car doesn’t get lent to someone else.
But those contact numbers can be even more helpful when it comes to the airlines themselves. If your flight gets cancelled, instead of waiting in the long line at the counter to find out what your options are, you can call the airline and see about getting booked onto another flight. It’s a much less stressful way to handle a difficult situation, and could result in you getting on your way sooner than if you waited in line.
Bring Snacks & Entertainment
Airports are notorious for overpriced food vendors, and very few airlines offer meals without charging a fee anymore. Bringing your own snacks to the airport, then, just makes sense – especially if you’re going to be spending more time there than normal, or are facing potential delays. At the very least, packing a few snack bars, some trail mix, or fruit is a good idea – but if you’re traveling at meal-time, consider bringing something more meal-like. Something like sushi or a sandwich is a great option, and you can keep it fresh by tucking a mayo, mustard, or wasabi packet into your 1-quart liquids bag!
In addition to food, it’s also a good idea to bring something to help you pass the time, whether it’s a normal amount of time at the airport, an extended time because of a delay, or on the flight itself. You’ll know best what will entertain you most, but think about bringing a book, magazines, a knitting project, an MP3 player, a portable DVD player, or a book of puzzles. And if you’re traveling with kids, make doubly sure you’ve got enough to keep them happy and distracted.
photo by Amir K.