7 Ways to Beat the Airport Crowds during the Holidays

Whether you’ll be traveling at Thanksgiving or Christmas, get those plane tickets now. You won’t see particularly cheap flights, but prices are still rising and the longer you delay, the more you will pay.

However, that may not be not the worst part about holiday travel – many say, the crowds are. So here are some strategies for a quicker and easier experience in and out of the airport.

7 Best Airport Strategies for Smoother Holiday Travel

1. Arrive early.

The need to arrive at the airport earlier than normal cannot be stressed enough. The airports will be filled with ‘amateur’ flyers who do not travel often and may not be familiar with security regulations – lines will be unusually long and slow.

2. Pay the cut-in-line fees.

This is one time when paying a fee can be worth it. Airlines like United offer “priority security lines” for a fee. Others like Southwest offer early boarding for a flat fee ($10). Look at all the options and see which may be right for you.

3. Print a map of every airport you’ll visit.

Many airports list maps right on their homepage. on others, such as Chicago’s O’Hare, you simply type “map” in the searchbox. Study the map or better yet, print it out and take it with you. In the event of delays, gate changes or even terminal changes, knowing the shortest route from Point A to Point B could mean the difference between making or missing a flight.

4. Use technology to get up to date information.

Sign up for alerts from your airline to learn about delays, and follow your carrier on Twitter, too. Airlines reps can be more responsive to tweets than any other communications.

But don’t rely exclusively on technology, either. If you’re alerted to an hour’s delay, don’t disappear for a lengthy lunch. If the delay is the result of bad weather that suddenly clears, the plane is going to go whether you’re there or not. Grab a bite but bring it back to the gate to eat.

5. It’s a short trip, use a carryon.

You could wait for your bag to arrive on the carousel. And wait and wait. With a carryon bag, you’re first out of the airport and first to grab a cab.

6. Know the TSA holiday rules.

You know the rules about liquids, but did you know you cannot bring wrapped gifts? And forget those home-made jams – it’s considered a ‘large’ liquid. Ship such items ahead.

7. Use alternate airport transportation.

Don’t add to the chaos at the airport by driving yourself – parking is costly but worse is the time it takes. See if a neighbor will drive you (and you can return the favor sometime), or check into public transportation. Most airport websites list all kinds of agreeable options, including trains out of Chicago’s airports, or the various buses and rail service from New York. Also, this may be one time when it pays to hire a private car – check rates now.

Most Important Holiday Travel Tip of All

Buy your ticket now. The way airlines have been cutting capacity this year, if you don’t get your airfare soon, you may not get a seat at all.

Of course, that means you won’t have to fight the crowds but that may not be much consolation as you sit home alone with your frozen turkey dinner.

See which airports will be busiest at Thanksgiving

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Published: December 13, 2011