The holidays mean family time, and, depending on how far away that family is, that often necessitates travel. Traveling a few hundred miles or more used to come with a couple options -- the big two are driving or air travel. But with sticker shock at the gas pump, fewer of us may be hitting the open road, instead opting to take to the friendly skies.
Air travel has become more difficult with flight delays and more intrusive security screening. And while these hassles can take some of the luster off of air travel, going into it with the right frame of mind can make a huge difference.
True, gas prices are running up the cost of an airline ticket, and flying does come with its share of headaches, but you can alleviate a big chunk of the pain through some preparedness and flexibility on your part. Simply planning ahead will save you a good deal of annoyance and inconvenience.
Up first, could you use a hand?
Use a skycap
When you go to the airport with a ton of baggage, don't be afraid to ask for help. Make someone else do the heavy lifting for you -- literally.
By using a skycaps, you can have someone else handle all your hard-to-manage bags and make the process much, much easier on you.
Skycaps are easy enough to recruit -- they're usually standing right at the front door. There is a lot a skycap can do to help you. They check your ID, helping make your flight safer, and they check your flight to make sure it's on time and so that you will know what your departure gate is.
Skycaps are overworked and underpaid. They really only make a couple bucks an hour and rely on tips. If you use a skycap, be sure to pay them for all their hard work.
You don't actually enjoy waiting, do you?
Check in electronically
Looking inside an airport you just see lines of people waiting. They're waiting to go through security. They're waiting at the gate. They're waiting to check in.
While all that standing in line seems absurd, you can at least take yourself out of one of those lines -- and spare your sanity a bit. Checking in electronically can take you out of that check-in line and keep you moving forward toward your flight.
Airlines have kiosks set up where, rather than waiting to talk to a person in a charming airline uniform, you just need to scan your ticket (and in some cases you can do it right from your smartphone).
And some airlines don't even require you to wait in line at a kiosk -- you can check in on the airline's website. You can do it from home or even in the car on your way to the airport.
Do you own a watch?
Be. On. Time.
It's painful that this even needs to be mentioned, but it seems to escape many people. Just show up on time.
If you can get to the airport a little early, this gives you time to find a parking place; it gives you time to get checked in; it gives you time to walk all the way to concourse 476; it gives you time to relax before the flight boards. Ultimately, it takes a lot of stress off of you.
True, that's just stuff you have control over -- it doesn't prevent the airline from delaying or canceling the flight.
But here's where flexibility on your part is important: If you do everything right, you're there on time, you're ready to go, and then flight is still delayed -- just be cool about it. If you're traveling on vacation, don't let some petty inconvenience ruin your relaxation time.
Maybe the early bird was onto something?
Book the day's earliest flight
A really smart thing to do is to get the first flight out for the day. First, it gets your vacation off to a nice, speedy start. The faster you get through the airport, the faster you can get to your family ... or to the beach or Disneyland or wherever.
But there's some solid scheduling logic behind it, too. Delays affect all the flights after them, and there's an unfortunate ripple effect. Chances are, the first flight of the day will go off on time and without a hitch.
Conversely, if you decided to wait for an afternoon flight, and there are delays earlier in the day, your flight time is likely to suffer.
Plus, if you plan for an early flight and there is something that causes it to be canceled or delayed, you have more time to find an alternate flight.
How's your baggage?
Don't check your bags
This is an air travel gem that's been around for a while, but it is worth repeating -- and listening to: If you can do it, don't bring any checked baggage. Just bring a carry-on (make sure its dimensions fit the airline's requirements) and don't worry about bringing checked luggage.
This will save you time checking in. It will save you time waiting at the luggage carousel. It will save you hassle if your bags are lost or sent to Topeka.
True, you can't bring everything in your carry-on, so you have to pack strategically. For instance, you can't bring anything that could be used as a weapon, so you don't get all stabby on the flight crew. Also, remember the limits on liquids and gels.
Also, given the fact that airlines are charging for checked baggage, you can save a few bucks by simply bringing a carry-on.
Distributed by Internet Broadcasting. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.