When the radio plays Jingle Bell Rock, it’s a cue that airlines are rocking, too: In the UK last year more than 5 million Britons flew abroad for Christmas; in the US this year, 27.3 million Americans will fly for the Thanksgiving holiday — a 2.5% rise from last year, according to the airline industry trade organization Airlines for America.

With those statistics, it’s obvious: Navigating crowded flights, weather delays, contagious bugs, and cranky travellers, successful flying starts with planning.

Stay on the good side of airport security

"Wrapped gifts are screened just like any other item," says the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA). "We can see through the paper just like we can see through luggage, but just as we have to open a bag when it requires a search due to an anomaly or an alarm, we have to open wrapped items as well if they alarm or require additional screening." In other words, you may do well to leave gifts unwrapped in both carry-on and checked baggage once you get settled in at your destination.

Daniel Post Senning, author of Manners in a Digital World: Living Well Online, reminds passengers to prepare for airline security by knowing the rules and regulations. “Nothing slows down the screening line like an unprepared passenger who packed a too-large shampoo or shoes that take extra time to be removed. If you have a lot of electronics to unpack, be courteous and let others go ahead of you,” says Senning.

A big part of checkpoint preparation is knowing what not to pack — or what to pack in a checked or carry-on bag. Set of steak knives? Checked bag only. Electronic cigarette paraphernalia? Carry-on only. Ice skates? Carry-on or checked; you choose. And of course, such giftable goodies as fireworks, flavoured oxygen canisters and vehicle airbags won't fly in either bag. Airport security agencies in Britain and the US have provide a list of prohibited items on their respective websites, and the TSA shows off a selection of its confiscated prizes — everything from brass knuckles to a ‘post-apocalyptic bullet-adorned gas mask’ — on its ever-popular Instagram account.

And what about that go-to holiday tchotchke, the snow globe? Alas, it is perhaps best left off the gift list. While not specifically prohibited by airport security agencies, these breakable baubles will be confiscated if they contain more than 100 milliliters (3.4 fluid ounces) of water — or if inspectors believe they do. How can you save yourself the heartache? Take the tennis-ball test: If your globe is smaller than a tennis ball, it will probably make it through airport security; if it's larger than a tennis ball, leave it home (or, if you dare, stow it in a checked bag). Also worth noting: Just like carry-on bottles of shampoo and mouthwash, carry-on snow globes must be presented in a zipper-style transparent plastic bag.

Stay healthy (and help others do the same)

’Tis the season — cold and flu season, that is. And while it’s time for giving and receiving, one gift you don’t want to bring home is the sniffles, or worse. Being in public places increases your chances to catch contagious bugs, and an aeroplane that sees hundreds of people a day is especially susceptible.

Simply being in the airport means access to germs: Think elevator buttons, escalator and stairway handles, and drinking fountains. Senning says, “To avoid getting sick keep your hands below your shoulders. Don’t touch your eyes, ears, nose or mouth.”

And while it’s best to stay home when you’re sick, sometimes travelling under the weather is unavoidable. If that’s the unfortunate case, pack tissues, water and do your best to cough and sneeze away from fellow passengers, says Senning. As for discarding tissues, “Seatback pockets are not receptacles,” he says. And don’t pass used tissues to the cabin crew. They don’t want to get sick either. Instead, dispose of tissues in the garbage can in the lavatory.

Speaking of lavatories: Think the lavatory is the most germ-ridden place on the aircraft? Think again. Senning says studies have shown that one of the dirtiest places on the plane is the tray table. Bringing your own disinfectant wipes will give you an edge on avoiding germs by wiping down the tray table, the armrests, the overhead air vents and even the window shades.

When using the lavatory opt for a tissue when you push the toilet flush button and unlock the lavatory door. In other words, wherever your hands go, germs lurk. Take precautions.

Be nice to your flight attendants

What’s perhaps the kindest thing to keep in mind while flying for the holidays? Being sensitive to overworked flight attendants. if you want good service during this stressful time, it pays to be nice.

Some airline employees — especially newer cabin crew who are often bounced around to several flights — can easily have a 10- to 14-hour duty day. That doesn’t include their time driving and parking at the airport, if it’s the first day of their trip. When weather is bad (like common late autumn and winter forecasts of snow, ice and rain), delays are inevitable which might inconvenience you. But it’s also extending your crew’s day — and remember, flight attendants don’t get paid if the plane isn’t pushed away from the gate. That means if you’re sitting at the gate for two extra hours, your crew is not getting paid.

I can speak from experience. I recall one Christmas week being on a plane for three hours on the ground, serving beverages and bags of peanuts while we waited for an aeroplane part that was “supposed to be here any moment”. Passengers were allowed to disembark and re-board as they pleased, but as long as passengers were onboard, the flight attendants had to be present. The flight ended up being cancelled. The only money I made was the minimal hourly per deim: roughly $6 for three hours of work being stuck on a plane with grumpy passengers. The worst part? I was also reassigned, and had to work another flight after that.

Beth Blair is a former flight attendant and a freelance writer.

If you would like to comment on this or anything else you have seen on BBC Autos, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called “If You Only Read 6 Things This Week”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Autos, Future, Earth, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.