8 Airport Survival Tips for the Holidays

People rushing through the terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport Paul Cheyne Photographic/istockphoto.com
By Johnny Jet
JohnnyJet.com


I travel a lot. In fact, I've been on 79 flights on 27 different airlines and visited 20 countries so far in 2010 and it's not over yet.

Since I've been through my fair share of security checkpoints, I pretty much have it down when it comes to navigating the maze. You'd have to pay me a lot to fly on any peak holiday travel day. That's because it's much more expensive and the airports and planes are so crowded. It just takes the fun out of travel.

Worst of all, these days bring out what professional travelers call rookies: people who travel once or twice a year and have no clue about the procedures and tricks. If you fall into this category, then you'll want to read these tips because it won't only make your travels smoother but everyone else's around you.

Photo Caption: People rushing through the terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport
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The new terminal at Barajas International Airport. Denis Doyle
Chances are it's already too late to tell you to book an early morning flight, which increases your chances of an on-time departure. But I'm throwing it in here so you will know for the next time you fly. Typically, the first flights out in the morning have the best on-time records and the delays increase as the day progresses -- especially if there's bad weather in one of the major hub cities.

Photo Caption: The new terminal at Barajas International Airport.
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Seasoned travelers know taking too many clothes for a trip is a huge mistake. You really don't need four pairs of shoes, pants, sweaters, and so on for a long weekend trip now do you? Cut your wardrobe by half so it fits in a carry-on bag. If you can't do this or if you have a presents to bring then ship everything ahead of time using FedEx Ground or UPS. The key is to allow at least five days so you will get a reasonable price. The advantage is that it's usually cheaper than the airlines' baggage fees (except Southwest since they allow two free bags) and it's definitely more reliable. You don't even need to put them in a box. I just bring my suitcase as is. <br><br>By shipping stuff ahead of time, you'll make your airport experience so much better. You won't need to show up extra early and best of all, when you land, there's no standing around waiting for your bag to appear on the carousel (that's if your bag even makes it). If you're staying at a hotel write "HOTEL GUEST, your name, and your arrival date between the hotel's name and the street address. If you're carrying presents on the plane, don't bother wrapping them because chances are the TSA will want to see the contents inside. And although this should be totally obvious to everyone by now: Don't ever check valuables, cash, or medications.<br><br><em>Photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zyphbear/446780548/" target="_blank">zyphbear/Flickr.com</a>.</em> zyphbear
Seasoned travelers know taking too many clothes for a trip is a huge mistake. You really don't need four pairs of shoes, pants, sweaters, and so on for a long weekend trip now do you? Cut your wardrobe by half so it fits in a carry-on bag. If you can't do this or if you have a presents to bring then ship everything ahead of time using FedEx Ground or UPS. The key is to allow at least five days so you will get a reasonable price. The advantage is that it's usually cheaper than the airlines' baggage fees (except Southwest since they allow two free bags) and it's definitely more reliable. You don't even need to put them in a box. I just bring my suitcase as is.

By shipping stuff ahead of time, you'll make your airport experience so much better. You won't need to show up extra early and best of all, when you land, there's no standing around waiting for your bag to appear on the carousel (that's if your bag even makes it). If you're staying at a hotel write "HOTEL GUEST, your name, and your arrival date between the hotel's name and the street address. If you're carrying presents on the plane, don't bother wrapping them because chances are the TSA will want to see the contents inside. And although this should be totally obvious to everyone by now: Don't ever check valuables, cash, or medications.

Photo by zyphbear/Flickr.com.
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You should receive an email from your airline or travel agency 24 hours prior to departure saying it's time to check in. Hopefully, you already secured your seat assignment when you purchased your ticket. If you didn't, do it now and print your boarding pass. If you don't have access to a printer you can still check-in online and choose the option to pickup the boarding pass from a self-service kiosk at the airport. <strong>Bonus Tip:</strong> Some airlines offer boarding passes that fit on your mobile device, but I don't recommend them since not all TSA readers function properly.<br><br>Biggest waste of time? Waiting behind people to access a self-service kiosk. For some reason, some people just stand at the front of the line waiting to be called when there are clearly free machines. If you see a vacant kiosk either tell the person in front or go to it yourself. To use them you don't need to write down your confirmation number (but it's a good backup) just slide any of your credit/debit cards for it to register. It doesn't have to be the one you paid with either; they only read your card information to identify you.<br><br>By checking in online, you pretty much guarantee that you will not be involuntarily bumped from your flight. Unfortunately, some airlines oversell their flights betting a small percentage won't show up. But when all passengers are present, they need to bump someone. First they ask for volunteers (this is a great way to score future flight credits) but if no one bites, they'll start bumping, usually those without seat assignments. This is fine if you're not trying to make it in time for a turkey but lousy if your travel window is narrow. Frommers.com
You should receive an email from your airline or travel agency 24 hours prior to departure saying it's time to check in. Hopefully, you already secured your seat assignment when you purchased your ticket. If you didn't, do it now and print your boarding pass. If you don't have access to a printer you can still check-in online and choose the option to pickup the boarding pass from a self-service kiosk at the airport. Bonus Tip: Some airlines offer boarding passes that fit on your mobile device, but I don't recommend them since not all TSA readers function properly.

Biggest waste of time? Waiting behind people to access a self-service kiosk. For some reason, some people just stand at the front of the line waiting to be called when there are clearly free machines. If you see a vacant kiosk either tell the person in front or go to it yourself. To use them you don't need to write down your confirmation number (but it's a good backup) just slide any of your credit/debit cards for it to register. It doesn't have to be the one you paid with either; they only read your card information to identify you.

By checking in online, you pretty much guarantee that you will not be involuntarily bumped from your flight. Unfortunately, some airlines oversell their flights betting a small percentage won't show up. But when all passengers are present, they need to bump someone. First they ask for volunteers (this is a great way to score future flight credits) but if no one bites, they'll start bumping, usually those without seat assignments. This is fine if you're not trying to make it in time for a turkey but lousy if your travel window is narrow.
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The Air France terminal at New York City's JFK airport. Amy Chen
It's not rocket science but don't wait until the last minute to get to the airport. If you don't have a friend or family member giving you a ride, book your taxi/shuttle or parking space well in advance. Most off-airport parking facilities allow users to pre-pay -- it's not only cheaper but it prevents the panic of showing up to a parking lot entrance only to see a Lot Full sign. I use Airport Parking Reservations (www.airportparkingreservations.com) and Park 'N Fly (www.parknflynetwork.com).

Photo Caption: The Air France terminal at New York City's JFK airport.
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Airport line. Karl Baron
Security checkpoints aren't as bad as everyone makes them out to be. This is especially true if you allow plenty of time to get through them. One thing is for sure: If everyone is prepared, they will go much smoother. The first thing you need to do is have your boarding pass and ID out (if using a passport, open it to your picture page). Then look for experienced business travelers, usually dressed in suits, and get in line behind them. While waiting your turn for the conveyor belt, begin to put all your belongings (except cash or credit cards) from your pants/shirt pockets into your jacket pockets, then take your jacket and sweater off and place them in a bin. Be sure that your liquids are in containers no more than three ounces and all fit in a single one-quart bag. See the TSA website (www.tsa.gov/311) for more.

Place your laptop in a separate bin. What I like to do is put my shoes in front of my belongings (they don't need to go in a bin). I wear slip-on shoes so I can be quick. I then put the bin with my jacket and phone second, followed by my carry-on bag. The reason I do this is because the agent usually takes a few seconds to stare at the monitor of my carry-on since it has so many electronic goods and while they are doing that, I can put on my belongings.

Don't be a fool and just put your bag on the conveyor belt and walk away. You need to push your belongings onto the moving belt and stay until you can't see them anymore -- why you wouldn't want to do that anyway, I don't understand, because a thief behind you could easily snag your valuables.

When going through the metal detector, wait until the TSA agent waves you through and be careful not to bump the sides -- if you do, it will beep. It will also beep if you are wearing a big metal belt or jewelry so be sure they are all off, too. If you get chosen for a full body scan, take your cash and credit cards out of your pockets and hold them in your hand since nothing can be in your pockets while getting virtually strip searched.

Photo by Karl Baron/Flickr.com
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A woman checks the board at the airport TwilightEye/istockphoto.com
Whenever you travel you should pre-program your phone with backup numbers just in case there is a long delay or canceled flight. Have your airline's (or travel agent's) number handy (I created AirlineNumbers.com that has every airline website and telephone number) so that when your flight gets canceled you can get a jumpstart on the passengers darting to the customer service desk. Most of the time an agent can make alternate plans for you but it's always good to stand in line while speaking to a customer service rep just to see who can help first.

You can also sometimes go up to a random gate agent who is not busy (very rare) to see if they can help (not likely but it's worth a try). If you're connecting through an airport, have a list of friends/family or even local airport hotel numbers so you can find a place to stay if stranded. It's also a good idea to have car rental numbers in case there are major problems.
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An economy-class seat aboard an Air France A380 flight from New York's JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Amy Chen
Don't clog the boarding area while waiting for your zone number to be called. The earlier you can board the better since you will have access to an overhead bin -- they go quickly. Be sure one of your carry-ons can fit under your seat so you can be with your valuables the whole time. When walking down the aisle, watch that your bag doesn't hit the passengers already seated and quickly find your seat number, pop your bag in the overhead and sit down. There's nothing worse than seeing people blocking the aisle while they are slowly trying to take their jackets off or finding reading material. Have everything you'll need ready to go.

Chances are there will be screaming kids on the plane so bring a pair of earplugs or better yet, noise cancellation headsets along with an iPod so you can play music to drown out those cries. FYI: Don't be the knucklehead who plays their music so loud your seatmate can hear the beat.

Photo Caption: An economy-class seat aboard an Air France A380 flight from New York's JFK to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.
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Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Hacienda Heights, CA. Frommers.com Community
Unless you are heading to a funeral, you should have a smile on your face and be nice to everyone (especially the gate agents and flight attendants). First of all, it's the holiday season and you're going home to see friends and family. Secondly, you're taking part in the miracle of flight, which so many take for granted. The next time you get frustrated at either the price or "the hassles" of air travel, why don't you just sit and have a think about how much it would cost and the time it would take if you had to drive. If that doesn't do the trick, then think how amazed your ancestors from 100 years ago would be at your good fortune and opportunity.

If you found this interesting and helpful and you want more, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter on JohnnyJet.com and follow me live on Twitter @JohnnyJet.

Photo by travelingbalut/Frommers.com Community
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