for National Geographic News
Holiday fliers know the trepidation of travel on some of the year's busiest dates. But with expert advice flying doesn't have to dampen the seasonal spirit.
"Be prepared and be patient," said Kathy Sudeikis, president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). "Prepared means that you anticipate delays, so you've charged the iPod, you have batteries for the GameBoys, your cell phone is not going to die because you're ready for an airport crisis."
"Bring plenty of reading material," she added. "A brand new book is always a good thing."
When young children are traveling, parents need to plan for novelty and variety. "You need to be sure that you're bringing something new for both directions of the flight," Sudeikis said. "It doesn't have to be expensivemaybe a new coloring book and crayon. But you've got to surprise them, and it's good if it's not something that they do all the time."
Sudeikis also suggests that travel is a poor time to halt the holiday feeding frenzy.
"Have some snacks, because if delays get really long, [airports or airlines] can run out of food," she said. "You need to have food for kids. They are even harder to please than adults."
Holiday hosts can also feel the crunch when they are responsible for retrieving out-of-towners at the airport.
"Depending on how far you live from the airport, don't even leave home till you hear from them on the cell phone that they've touched down," Sudeikis advised. "That gives you a good half hour to get there by the time they get everyone off the plane, get their luggage, and make it down the concourse."
Savvy Travelers May Avoid Holiday Delays
Of course, travel delays are best avoided before they happen. Savvy travelers can mitigate problems while making their travel plans.
Nonstop flights are a boon, because connections increase the risk of a delay. Traveling earlier in the day can also help avert holiday disasters. Statistics show that flights scheduled earlier in the day have better on-time performance. If problems do arise, an early flight offers flyers a better chance to rebook on an alternate flight.
Many airlines now allow travelers to check themselves in at home via the Web and arrive with boarding pass in handavoiding lines. Some airlines impose baggage restrictions over the holidays, so knowing relevant limits is important. Gifts are best shipped ahead to your final destination. If they do fly with you, your carefully chosen packages may be opened by a screenerso leave them unwrapped. Collapsible gift bags offer a convenient "on arrival" wrapping option.
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