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10 Travel Tips to Take the Stress Out of Flying

A smooth travel experience can help you arrive at your destination in the holiday spirit

spinner image an illustration showing relaxed airplane passengers riding on clouds that look like seats
Eva Bee 

The holiday season delivers joy, connection, nostalgia — and stress, especially when you’ve got to fly to spend time with family and friends during the holiday season. From frenzied travelers and long security lines to flight delays and unfamiliar airports, traveling during the holidays can bring added drama to a season already filled with a busier-than-usual calendar, an extra-long to-do list and extra baggage on the carousel and around the waistline.

But wait, there’s hope! Erika Richter, Vice President of Communications at the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), can help make traveling easier no matter the destination. She shared with me her top tips to reduce the stress of flying, especially during the holidays.

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With these tips, we hope you can enjoy smooth travel and arrive in good spirits, ready to celebrate. 

1. Request assistance if you have mobility issues

Make a reservation with the airline as soon as possible if you need assistance. “If you're not able to walk long distances, make sure that you make your wheelchair assistance or guided assistance reservations as soon as you're booking your ticket,” Richter said.

2. Don’t pack wrapped gifts

If you’ve been through a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) line in the last 20 years, you probably know by now that holiday gifts should not be wrapped. Why? Because if something inside the package triggers a red flag during the security screen, an officer will unwrap it, wasting your effort and ruining your pretty package. Richter suggests either packing the giftwrap and wrapping your gifts at your destination or shipping your gifts ahead of you.

3. Download the airline app

Do this at home before you head to the airport. Set up your account and login, and sign up for text alerts and notifications. “Oftentimes, if it's a date  change or schedule change, the app notification is what comes through first,” Richter said, noting that you can also track your luggage through the app. If you hit a travel snafu, the app can be a godsend. “Most of the airline apps have a chat feature where you can chat with a live agent if you need help,” she added.

4. Plan your airport transfer

If you don't have friends or family to take you to the airport or pick you up once you arrive, plan for a transfer pre- and post-departure, whether it’s a taxi or airport transfer service. Richter says rideshare apps like Uber and Lyft will surge in price and are super busy during the holidays. “Planning your airport transfer in advance will save a lot of time, hassle and stress,” she said, noting that they will also help with luggage. “For a little extra money, it can just make your arrival and departure a breeze.”

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5. Reserve your airport parking

Your best bet is to get a ride to the airport, but if you have to drive, make a game plan for parking in advance. “Holiday seasons are very busy, with very full parking lots at the airport,” Richter said. “If you can reserve your parking spot in advance, that can save you time and money.”

6. Arrive early

Typically, TSA recommends arriving at the airport two hours before your flight departs for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international flights. But if you're flying early in the morning or during a peak holiday season, you might want to consider arriving even earlier than that, Richter suggests. “This just gives you extra time to get through security, to not feel rushed, to navigate any schedule changes and to make sure that you're getting your bags checked,” she explained.

7. Use valet luggage services

You could follow the first tip and arrive early, have all your documents in hand and still be waiting in a very long line just to drop off your bags. But you might be able to skip the long baggage drop-off lines inside the terminal. Richter says some airlines offer a valet luggage service that allows you to check-in your luggage outside the drop-off area. “Bring some cash because tipping is customary for this service,” she advised.

8. Plan ahead for your connections

Certain airports are bigger than others, harder to navigate and may even require a tram to get to your next gate. Imagine you have a connection through Atlanta, for example. If you have 30 minutes between your flights and aren’t as fast as you used to be, you're likely not going to be running to the gate or making the connection in time. Richter’s strategy? When you're booking your flight, check the connecting airport and allow ample time to pick up the next leg of the flight. “If you have the airline app on your phone, you can look at the terminal map for where you're connecting. I do this all the time,” she said. The app can provide directions to the gate and estimate the time it takes to get there. Plus, you can check out food options and scope out restrooms. Richter says 30 minutes is never enough time to make a connection. Aim for a one hour or more between flights.

9. Build in a buffer day

If you're planning to take a cruise this holiday season, don’t arrive to your departure destination the day you plan to set sail. In fact, that rule of thumb goes for anything, Richter says, especially during the holiday season. It’s very risky to have your arrival day be on the day of the cruise departure, family reunion or big event that you don’t want to miss. Give yourself an extra day or two so if your flight is canceled or delayed, you have a buffer to get where you need to be on time and in a good mood.

10. Pack essentials in carry-on luggage

If you take medication or need other essentials (like extra contact lenses, change of clothes or electronics), pack them in your carry-on luggage, not your checked bags, advises Richter. If bags get lost or delayed, you’ll have what you need with you.

Have a great trip!

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