These days, air travel is tough. There’s no way around it. Bad weather, unexpected delays, long lines at security checkpoints and other challenges may conspire to leave you stuck at the airport longer than you planned – or ever imagined. No need to let a delay ruin your trip.
Here are 16 tried-and-true tips to help you avoid the most common travel pitfalls.
1. GET READY FOR BATTLE
The best offense is a good defense and this applies all the more when traveling during the holidays. Try to get a good night’s sleep before your flight, so you arrive at the airport on time, well-rested, and ready for anything. Pack snacks, a little “mad money” and your good humor.
2. MAKE TECHNOLOGY YOUR CO-PILOT
Sign up for airline flight alerts and have them sent by phone, email, and/or text message. More than one delivery method can’t hurt. On Twitter, “follow” your airline and all airports on your itinerary. Increasingly, Twitter is where news, updates, and alerts appear first. Re-confirm your flight online and get a boarding pass 24 hours before your flight. Mobile boarding passes are great but print a paper copy just in case.
3. CHECKPOINT SAVVY
Prepare for the security checkpoint “experience” by making sure you and your carry-on are TSA-ready. Review the prohibited items list at TSA.gov, see if you qualify for TSA PreCheck, and remember there are now rules that expedite the checkpoint passage for kids 12 and younger and adults 75 and older.
4. ACCESS THE AMENITIES
Many airports now have their own apps and robust websites to guide you to upscale shops, fine-dining restaurants, and bars offering everything from wine and tequila flights to massages.
5. GET SOME SHUTEYE
Before a trip, it’s tempting to stay up late packing and clearing off your desk. But sleep-deprived travelers are cranky travelers. And cranky travelers are apt to find everything about travel irritating. So get a good night’s sleep.
6. RECON MISSION
Do as much as you can before you leave home. Reconfirm airline reservations the night before your trip and again before you walk out the door. Print out your boarding pass and print a luggage tag for checked baggage if you can.
7. ARRIVE EARLY
Get an early start if you’re traveling by train, plane, bus, or car. Generally, airlines advise being at the airport at least two hours before a domestic flight and at least three hours before an international flight. On the busiest travel days, lining up even earlier can’t hurt. Keep this in mind for your return trip as well.
8. LIGHTEN UP
During the past year, many airlines instituted — and most still have — fees for checked bags. Check your airline’s website for the latest fees and rules, and then consider leaving those extra outfits behind.
9. DRESS FOR SUCCESS— AND SPEED
At airport security checkpoints, you’ll still need to remove your shoes, your coat, big belt buckles, and other metal objects. Computers in TSA-approved cases, though, can now stay in their carriers.
10. KNOW WHAT TO PACK
Travelers still end up giving up tons and tons (and tons) of prohibited items at airport security checkpoints. All travelers — novice, expert, and everyone in between — should take a moment to read through the TSA’s long and detailed list of what is permitted and prohibited as a carry-on. Knitting needles? No problem. That pool cue? No way.
11. KNOW HOW TO PACK
X-ray machines can’t always see through piles of books, CD’s and other dense items, so spread them out in your bag.
12. KEEP WHAT YOU’VE PACKED
If TSA officers discover a prohibited item in your carry-on, you can voluntarily give it up, return to the ticket counter and put the item in your checked baggage (good luck with that), or mail the item home. Some airports have postal centers, some airport shops stock padded mailers, and many airports now have mail-back kiosks conveniently located right next to the security checkpoints.
13. BRING A SURVIVAL KIT
Stock it with earplugs and an eyeshade, healthy snacks, a charged cell phone, and a backup calling card, a small flashlight, sanitizing wipes, entertainment (books, DVD or music player, cards, etc.), and some extra cash. Check out this article on building your very own first-aid travel kit.
14. STAY ENTERTAINED
Weather, mechanical breakdowns, air-traffic control glitches, and a host of other uncontrollable events can leave you stuck at the airport. Your survival kit (above) can help, but so will a map of the airport and a printout of the facility’s amenities, shops, and restaurants.
15. PLAN FOR PROBLEMS
Load your cell phone with your trip information and the phone numbers of your airline, hotel, car rental agency, and ride home. Back it up all up on paper and make sure someone at home has a copy of all that information.
16. KNOW HOW TO COMPLAIN
If things go wrong, try not to yell at the people who are working and just trying to do their jobs. If you can’t calmly resolve a problem on-site, take good notes, get names, take pictures, and follow up immediately with a phone call and/or letter when you get to your destination.
These tips, amended here, were originally published by Harriet Baskas, author of msnbc.com’s popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio, and a columnist for USATODAY.com.
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