It’s the holidays, which means a number of us are going to be headed to the airport in the coming week. U.S airlines expect a 5.2 per cent increase in air travel during Christmas and New Year’s this year which equates to roughly 2.5 million people a day, according to USA Today. So, if you flew somewhere last year, this year is going to be 5.2 per cent worse.
The busiest day: the Friday before Christmas.
My biggest piece of advice is to know going in that this is going to be a shitshow and do your best to remain calm and pleasant through it all. We’re all going through this storm together, and no one wants to be stuck on the airport island with an arsehole. Don’t be the arsehole.
That said, grab your neck pillow, crack open a mini-bottle of whisky, and give these tips a try:
In general, it’s almost always a good idea to ship the gifts you plan on giving to their destination before you go. Shipping ensures that things don’t get lost when you fly and they don’t get damaged by an over-zealous baggage handler. You can also ship wrapped gifts. If you plan on flying with gifts you’ll need to wait to wrap them until after you land, just in case the TSA needs to inspect them. Save yourself time and stress and send everything along ahead of time.
Download Your Airline’s App
If you don’t already have the airline you’re flying’s app installed on your phone, go ahead and do that now. I’ll wait. Airline apps are killer to have all the time, but especially useful during peak travel times like the holidays.
With an airline’s app, you can see the status of your flight (and if it’s delayed), that the airline has changed your gate again, and move your seat. If you’re currently assigned a middle seat, I highly recommend refreshing that seating map a few hours before your flight and then periodically at the gate. Airlines will upgrade their frequent flyers close to takeoff, and weather and delays will likely get some passengers moved from your flight, freeing up their seats. Be ready to pounce on that aisle spot the second it becomes available.
When things do go wrong, the airline’s app can also often tell you what’s up with your delayed flight before the gate agent can. If the airline has rebooked you on another flight already that boarding pass will be in your app, so you don’t have to wait in that hideously long line for a paper one. And if you hate the flight you’ve been rebooked on you can also switch that rebooked flight directly in the app in most cases.
Check on Your Flight
It’s winter. Winter brings snow and snow brings delayed and canceled flights. The pro move here is to think about that winter weather when you book your ticket and try to avoid connections and layovers in snow-prone areas (direct flights are the way to go this time of year/always).
If you’ve already booked that flight, then you’ll want to make sure everything is going according to plan. Take a look at your flight the night before your travels and again before you head out (flight trackers are great). There’s nothing like schlepping yourself and all your stuff to the airport only to find out your flight has been canceled. Try to get the lay of the land before you call that cab or hop on the train.
Apps like GateGuru can also be killer this time of year. The app will give you the approximate wait time at security at your airport (although don’t take its word as gold) and can help you figure out where your gate is in that massive airport you have a 15-minute connection in or where the bar is when you end up delayed.
And double check the type of ticket you have before you head out. If you accidentally (or intentionally) bought a Basic Economy ticket you won’t be able to bring a carry-on, so make sure you’re planning for that. You’re also almost definitely going to be flying in a middle seat—be ready to make some new friends.
Go to the Airport Early
The holidays are the one and only time I abide by the 2-hour rule for the airport. Since I’ve gotten TSA Pre I’ve almost made it my mission to arrive at the airport so that I walk up to my gate right before boarding starts. The holidays are not the time for that.
Next time you go to book a flight you might want to look at the early-morning options first. Getting out of bed to make that 6am might be a struggle, but Travel and Leisure suggests that you should exclusively fly in the early morning. The reason? You'll have a much better chance of getting to your destination.
The end of the year is when everyone who hasn’t been on a plane in a decade and all their friends head to the airport with their book bags stuffed with water bottles, full-sized shampoos, and family heirloom pocket knives that they bare can’t part with. Security, even that TSA Pre line, is going to take some time. Give yourself that two-hour window (maybe even more if you’re flying out of a particularly busy airport). Bring a good book or download a movie onto your phone and plan on hanging in the airport before your flight.
Get Yourself a Power Strip
Power in the airport is at a premium, which means you’re inevitably going to need to charge your phone or tablet or computer. I can pretty much guarantee that every outlet in the entire airport will be in use when you make this discovery. If you have a small power strip to offer, then you can convince almost any person to let you share their outlet. You want this freedom—I promise.
Now is also the time to pack those backup batteries you have in your carry on. Sure, you’re fine now, but what about after your flight gets delayed for eight hours? Be prepared for the worst and excited when you don’t need what you brought.
Headphones Are Your Friend
Someone is going to be screaming on your flight. It might be a baby. It might be some ridiculous woman wearing a light-up sweater. Whatever the case may be, bring some headphones (preferably of the noise-cancelling variety) so you can drown this person out.
Be Prepared for the Unexpected
With a zillion people travelling and unpredictable weather, there’s a good chance something might go wrong during your journey. Take a few minutes to think about what your plan will be if you end up stuck in Sydney, Singapore or Perth because your flight gets canceled or you missed that tight connection.
And pack an extra pair of clothes in your carry-on (if you’ve checked your other clothes) just in case your bag gets lost or you get stranded.
Having a plan, even a loose one, will make things go a lot smoother when you have that problem.
I recently spent a week in Scotland, a journey that started for me at 5AM Tuesday and thanks to weather on the US east coast ended in me not arriving in Edinburgh until 9AM on Thursday.
The issue came when my flight from San Francisco to JFK wasn’t allowed to land because of approaching weather, a problem that forced the plane to divert to Philadelphia and sit for three hours, the three hours that just happened to be when my flight to Edinburgh took off. The best news? The next flight wasn’t until 7PM the next day.
And when you do, call the airline while you’re waiting in line to speak to a gate agent. People on the phone can’t get you things like hotel and food vouchers but they can get you rebooked on another flight. If you’re person 192 in a 500 person line, that call could potentially get you headed on your way on another flight (it worked for me!) before you would have even made it to the front of the line.
And as someone who has made this mistake before, one last pro tip: make sure you wait to pop that sleeping pill until you’re actually in the air. Just because the plane is on the runway doesn’t mean you’re actually going to take off.