If you've ever flown over the holidays, this thought has probably run through your head more than once:
“This is absolutely nuts. What was I thinking?!”
The crowds, the weather, the flight delays. Ugh! Holiday anxiety levels can test the patience (and sanity) of even the most seasoned travelers.
If only there were some easy tricks and best practices to help you conquer the craziness that is EVERY airport at Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.
Actually … there are!
Follow our top 10 tips for surviving holiday air travel and watch your stress levels melt away.
1. Book the first flight of the day
Chris McGinnis, TravelSkills editor and a contributor to CNN, points out that getting on the day's first flight has a number of advantages, including a reduced chance for initial delay. “The first flight usually spent the night at the airport and does not need to fly in from somewhere else,” McGinnis says. “Early flights are usually cheaper and less crowded, too.”
2. Leave super early for the airport
There’s nothing more stressful than getting caught in traffic and watching the clock speed ahead as your flight time looms. Go ahead and get to the airport well in advance of your flight. Doing so means you have more time to get through security, find your gate, use the restroom and ensure there’s no flight delay or cancellation. Bring a book or newspaper, grab a cup of coffee and use the time to relax before boarding.
3. Consider staying at a hotel the night before your flight
If you live a good distance from the airport or have a super early departure time, you may want to book a hotel for the night before your flight. This eliminates the stress of factors beyond your control such as bad weather, traffic or car trouble. Choose a hotel that offers park, sleep and fly packages that allow you to park your car for free while you’re gone. Enjoy a good night’s sleep, then simply hop a free shuttle straight to your terminal in the morning.
4. Pre-book airport parking
Parking lots at the airport (especially the economy lots) tend to fill up fast during holiday travel periods. AirportParkingHelper.com offers a variety of stress-busting options that can save you time and money. Savvy holiday air travelers often prefer private off-site lots that offer a guaranteed parking spot (unlike most airports) and free shuttle service directly to the terminals. For the best deals, pre-book well in advance and use a coupon code.
5. Don’t wrap gifts
It’s best to ship gifts in advance but if you must pack some items, make sure they are unwrapped. That way, if TSA needs to screen a package, it won’t mean destroying your beautiful wrapping handiwork. Better yet, consider purchasing gift cards to your loved ones’ favorite stores or restaurants. It’s hard to go wrong with an Amazon gift card.
6. Charge all of your devices in advance
Most airports offer charging stations, but during the busy holiday travel season it may be difficult to find an opening. Charge everything the night before your trip and consider bringing along a portable battery charger. While you’re at it, go ahead and check in online with your airline and make sure you have the latest version of the travel apps you use most downloaded to your phone.
7. Pack snacks and a water bottle
You’ll be better able to face the chaos that is the airport during the holidays if you’re not “hangry.” Load up on healthy, protein-packed snacks that will help fuel you before, during and after your flight. Be sure to bring an empty water bottle to fill after you get through security, too.
8. Take along a travel pillow
Anyone who’s ever had a stiff neck thanks to an awkward in-flight nap position knows what a difference a good travel pillow can make. Bringing one along makes for a more comfortable flight and, in the event you have a long layover or unexpected delay (remember, this is the holidays), a good travel pillow will make your time in the terminal a wee bit more bearable.
9. Don’t forget earbuds!
Whether in a busy terminal or on a crowded plane filled with stressed-out travelers, you’ll be glad you packed earbuds. Create a mellow playlist on your phone or use an app like Sleep Sounds HQ (touted by AppPicker and CNN Travel) to enjoy soothing white noise such as chirping crickets, falling rain or crashing ocean waves. Find a list of top-rated earbuds here.
10. Purchase an airport lounge pass
If you have a long layover – or just need to escape the terminal madness – an airport lounge can be the perfect oasis. These facilities offer a quiet, comfortable spot to relax, refresh or get some work done. Complimentary amenities often include food, beverages, speedy Wi-Fi and even shower facilities. Use a service like LoungeBuddy which has no membership fee, passes that start at $25, and day-of-travel booking for airports around the world. Priority Pass and Regal Card are also good options, and be sure to check Groupon, too.
If you decide to purchase on a whim, McGinnis suggests asking to look inside the lounge first since the clubs can sometimes be as crowded as the terminals during the holiday travel rush.
For more travel tips and deals, sign up for our email newsletter.
Please note, this post contains affiliate links. Read more about how it works.