Holiday Air Travel 101

RachelH_, flickr

Maybe you've decided to head to your family's house this year, or maybe instead you're opting to take a much-needed vacation someplace sandy and warm. However you plan to spend your holidays, you'll most likely have to head to the airport. Before your brow starts furrowing at the thought of endless lines and packed planes, take a look at our Holiday Air Travel Survival Guide. We provide you with the tips and tricks you need to armor yourself with before braving the crowds so you can sit back and enjoy your travels. From the ground to the skies, here are 10 tips to help get you through the holiday season.

Don't wait until the last minute to book.
The Air Transport Association of America estimated 24 million travelers will take to the skies during the 12 days surrounding Thanksgiving. Airlines have been forced to cut capacity during the recession, and as the laws of supply and demand demonstrate, ticket prices have gone way up. With fewer flights, seats fill up fast -- and if you don't book now, you may be paying an arm and a leg for your holiday air travel, or find out no seats are available.

Book your flights from smaller, satellite airports.
Explore all your options when it comes to holiday air travel. Look into whether or not your destination is near a satellite airport. Airports such as the Akron-Canton Airport near Cleveland will not only be less packed with people, but you might end up paying less for a ticket. The same goes for Baltimore/Washington International Airport, which has transportation that goes into Washington, DC.

Take the first flight of the day to avoid delays.
Airports are bound to get backed up with increased holiday air travel. If you have a dinner party you must make or plans to take the nieces and nephews to see the holiday lights, make sure you plan in case of delay. Leaving early in the morning not only increases your chances of getting to the airport before a bottleneck occurs, but you will also have even more time to spend with the family.

Add in the cost of fees.
If you have flown any time over the last few years, it should come as no shock that most airlines are now charging for checked baggage, extra legroom, early boarding, and even in-flight food. But what you may not know is airlines are now considering flying during the holidays a privilege, and have instituted a surcharge for traveling on peak days. This "premium" fee of $10-$30 is added to the cost of your ticket if you fly throughout much of December and the beginning of January. Be wary of deceptively cheap fares, as these tickets are often driven up by add-on fees for holiday air travel.

Travel on off-peak days -- including holidays.
If your travel plans allow and the thought doesn't make you miserable, consider flying -- whether it be to your destination or back home -- on the holiday. Air travel can be a bargain on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, when most travelers are at their destination instead of in the sky. Although spending part of your holiday at the airport might not sound appealing, you could fly home after Thanksgiving dinner or reach your destination Christmas morning.

Wrap your presents later.
In both your carry-on and checked baggage, gifts -- especially oddly shaped ones -- may need to be inspected by security. Save the wrapping for later, or else a Transportation Security Administration officer might find out what your nephew is getting for Christmas before the little one gets a chance to unwrap it.

Travel light.
Even though you may be toting around a suitcase full of presents, try your best to pack light. Lugging around heavy suitcases is never fun, and with the excess of holiday crowds it will just be more difficult to maneuver your way through the airport. Keep in mind you can also buy great stocking stuffers once you arrive at your destination, or if you are going on a destination holiday, bring one or two gifts for the family and do the rest of the unwrapping when you get home.

Get to the airport early.
More travelers rushing home to spend time with their loved ones mean longer lines. You are bound to find yourself in traffic jams on your way to the airport and stuck in long lines once you get there, so try your best to mentally prepare for the wait. Arrive at the airport at least two hours early -- there is nothing worse than sweating as you wait in line, fearing you might not get to your plane before it boards. Even if a holiday miracle happens and you speed through security, at least you will have saved yourself some stress.

Find accommodation deals at business hotels.
Whether you are taking your vacation days to the beach or trying to avoid staying at the in-laws', once on the ground you may need a place to stay. Resorts are booked solid around Christmas, but business hotels are struggling to fill rooms. If you play your Christmas cards right, you may even find yourself staying in a first class hotel for a second rate price.

Adjust your attitude.
Just face it: no matter what, the holidays are stressful and holiday air travel is a pain. Instead of taking out the strain of having to spend the holidays with airline employees, fellow travelers, or your nagging mother-in-law, try to stay in the holiday spirit. When a baby screams on your flight or the person behind you is standing too close and keeps bumping you with their luggage, remember that it is up to you to have happy holidays.

Have any other stress reducing tips for holiday air travel? Clue in your fellow travelers in the comments below.

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