The pain points of holiday travel
If you are travelling during the peak holiday season, arrive at the airport an hour earlier than you normally would. (Press Association)
Ah, the holidays -- the time when frequent business travellers must share their space with the slow moving, less experienced (but festive!) masses in airports around the world.
While the holiday spirit usually helps glaze over many mishaps, there are a few pressure points along the way to prepare for.
Parking lots tend to fill up fast during the peak holiday season. A business traveller’s favourite spot might not be available, forcing an uncomfortable change of routine. Leisure travellers hoping to reduce trip costs might have to park in distant lots and slog through rain or snow, loaded down with luggage, to catch a crowded airport shuttle. But asking friends or family to pick you up or drop you off is asking a lot during the holidays, when roadways to and from airports are clogged. So avoid the parking mess altogether and take a taxi, car service or public transportation to the front door of the airport. During roadway rush hours, an airport-to-city train connection can be the fastest way to reach your destination.
Lines tend to move much more slowly during the holidays, when travellers are wearing and carrying more cold-weather clothing, much of which must be removed and scanned. Queues tend to stall as a large number of inexperienced children and/or elderly travellers slowly make their way through the security maze.
If you haven’t booked your flights yet, follow our roadmap for holiday travel and schedule your departures during valleys in travel demand and pricing. If you’re already travelling on a peak day, arrive at the airport an hour earlier than normal and follow our tips for making the security line a less painful process. Business, first and elite level members of airline frequent flyer programs should determine where special, shorter lines are located prior to arriving at the airport.
Winter weather related delays
With flights at nearly 100% occupancy, it’s extremely difficult for airlines to re-accommodate travellers from delayed or cancelled flights, so your best bet is to choose nonstop flights when possible. While it might be more expensive than a direct or a connecting flight, your chances of encountering a delay or cancellation double if your flight stops along the way. If there are no nonstop options available, try to connect through a hub airport that’s less likely to face winter weather-related delays, like Houston, Atlanta, Dubai or Hong Kong.
During the holidays, terminals are packed with travellers, coats, packages, kids… and never enough seats. If you arrived at the airport early, or if your flight is delayed, it might be worth buying a day pass to an airline’s airport lounge, which range from $25 to $75 for non-members. But before you plunk down the money at the lounge’s reception desk, take a peek into the club and determine if it’s even more crowded than the gate you are escaping from. Also, high-end charge cards like the American Express Platinum card offer lounge access among certain carriers — be sure to review which clubs participate before you get to the airport.
The boarding process
The gate can also be especially stressful and frustrating as passengers bunch up at the front of the queue, hoping to board early and lay claim to scarce overhead compartment space. If that’s important to you, some airlines (such as American, Southwest and United in the US) now allow economy passengers to pay a fee to board early, so inquire about this when checking in for your flight. Recently, some airline-affiliated credit cards have started to offer early boarding as a benefit. You can also reserve a seat near the rear of the plane, which means you’ll be one of the first to board (but on the downside, one of the last to de-board.).
Cold and flu season
Dreadful weather combined with large crowds is a recipe for the sniffles -- or worse. So pack antibacterial wipes to clean your hands and your surroundings on the plane; wipe down armrests, seatback video controls, light switches, air vents and tray tables. Wash your hands at every opportunity. If possible, do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth when on the plane. Invest in a surgical mask to wear if you are stuck next to a sniffling, sneezing or feverish seatmate. If you’re worried you might look a bit odd wiping down armrests or wearing a surgical mask, just think of how you’d prefer that to spending the holidays sick in bed.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel