Navigating the Skies with Ease: Essential Tips for Holiday Air Travel

Insider tips for smooth soaring through the holiday rush.

Navigating the Skies with Ease: Essential Tips for Holiday Air Travel (Getty Images)

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But, it’s also the busiest travel time of the year. Let’s make sure we get you to your destination smoothly!

Whether you’re traveling for the holidays via bus, train or plane, we can all agree that the holiday rush can tend to be a hassle. There is a science to traveling, and I’m going to break it down for you efficiently. This is a step-by-step guide on how to navigate and get in and out smoothly. 

The general rule of thumb is to get to the airport at least two hours ahead. But during the holidays, you may want to factor in a high influx of volume/traffic and get there three hours ahead. 

Step #1. Pack smart!

Have you ever had the humiliating moment of being in the middle of the airport trying to re-pack your suitcase to fit the weight restrictions? You’re going on vacation, so it’s natural to want to pack more than you can carry. But simply researching the airline’s baggage guidelines can save you time, hassle and embarrassment! It’s OK to leave your favorite boots at home if it’s going to weigh your bag down. (I can admit, I have been guilty of this. And that’s what makes me the perfect person to tell you what NOT to do!) 

Tagging your luggage with an interesting suitcase or a fancy ribbon to distinguish your bags from others will help in locating your belongings later. 

And if you like to keep everything in one place, a fanny pack will be your best friend. Utilize your fanny pack by putting your chargers, chapsticks and phone essentials in there. It’s a one-stop shop and saves you from opening and closing your carry-on luggage multiple times. 

Step #2: Technology is your friend! Use it.

Download the airline’s app so you have access to your boarding pass and updates. In 2023, there is no need to print your boarding pass at the kiosk. This will save you so much time later.

Step #3: Get through T.S.A … A.S.A.P!

The absolute MOST important rule: Get in and OUT of that TSA line! The security line is where most travelers fall victim to being behind schedule. Think about it this way: You are in line with a bunch of strangers rushing to get to their destination, crying babies, and TSA agents who may not have the best of attitudes.

@jesusnalgas TSA Employee be like 😩😂 !! Y’all I’m always scared going through #tsa #airport #fyp ♬ original sound – JESUSNALGAS

Make sure that you have your identification ready. In the very unfortunate chance that you do not have a physical ID with you, you are still able to get through TSA. However, you should prepare to go through additional screening. 

Remember when I said smooth traveling begins with at-home preparation? Here are two major things that hold up the security lines: Shoes and electronics

Unless you have access to security pre-screening, you will be asked to remove your shoes to walk through the security line. Wearing footwear that is easily able to be slipped on and off may sound like a small step, but is guaranteed to save you a lot of time and frustration. There is nothing worse than the person in front of you wasting time because they have to untie their shoelaces. Crocs and slides are my favorite go-tos when it comes to security. Just make sure you wear socks, because no one wants to walk barefoot on airport floors! 

We live in a world of technology, and so our electronics are important to us. My best piece of advice is to carry your electronics in its case so you are easily able to set it down in the security basket. If you accidentally forget to take your iPad/laptop device out of your carry-on bag, the TSA agent will ask that you remove it from your bag and have to start your screening process all over.  Save yourself the extra steps, and have it separated before you get to the front of the line.

Additional tips for TSA. 

Please finish drinking your liquids before you reach the line, because it will be thrown out! Solid food items are usually fine, but they will need to undergo an X-ray screening. 

Trying to get through TSA with a baby? No problem. If that’s the case, the easiest way to maneuver through the airport is to ditch the stroller and harness the baby in a child carrier. Eliminating the child’s stroller is a foolproof way to ensure that you are not overwhelmed with carrying too much at once. 

And I can’t believe I have to say this but I’ve seen it happen! For everyone’s sake. Please do not engage with the TSA guard dogs, and let the canines do their jobs!

Extra Pro Tip: If you can dish out extra money for convenience, TSA Precheck and CLEAR will be your best friends and help you skip the general security line!

Now that the most time-consuming part is over. It’s time to head to your gate. 

Step #4: Know where your gate is! 

Let’s go back to downloading that app! You must know exactly where your gate is- ESPECIALLY if you are flying out of a major international airport. For example, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) is one of the largest airports in the US. To get to your gate’s destination, you need to ride on the “Plane Train.” The train will have designated stops for you to hop on and off, to walk toward your gate.  

There are times when gates may change, so it’s necessary to have the airline’s app available on your phone for any updates.

@boardingpassbecs HOLIDAY TRAVEL TIP AT DIA (Denver). #traveltips #travelalert #diasecurity #denverairport #holidaytravel ♬ original sound – Rebecca | Travel Creator ✈️

Pro-Tip: Some airports have workers drive small carts to take you to the gate. Proper etiquette is to leave them a tip for their assistance! After all without them, you might’ve been the one running to your gate with two suitcases and a baby.

Step #5: Waiting to board the plane. 

The coast is clear and you’ve successfully maneuvered through airport traffic, and the TSA line. My favorite part of traveling through the airport is when you get to catch your breath and wait to board your flight. If you’re over 21 and don’t mind paying for overpriced food and beverages, you can take this time to relax and grab a drink at a restaurant or sky lounge. This is a great way to connect and network with those who are traveling from across the country just like you!

Also, please do yourself the favor and use the restroom at the gate before you board the plane. Being squeezed in a tight airplane restroom during air turbulence is NOT a good look. Remember, the whole objective here is to fly smarter, not harder! 

Step #6: In the air etiquette.

We’re finally walking onto the plane and being greeted by the pilot and flight attendants! At this point, you should double check your ticket and confirm which seat is yours. It’s common knowledge that most people prefer the window or the aisle seat, but unless you paid extra to secure that seat. Sit in your designated area! The rightful owner of the seat will most likely ask you to move and if you refuse, the flight attendants will have to step in. NEVER escalate an argument in the airport or on a plane because there is a possibility you will be added to the “no-fly list.”

Also, if you skipped my “use the restroom before you board the plane” rule. You run into the possibility of becoming a nuisance to your plane neighbors who are sitting beside you. There is nothing worse than being seated in the middle or window seat and having to tap the shoulder of your sleeping neighbor because you need them to move so you can use the restroom. Just do it before! 

If you see that there is a full flight, do not put your large coats in the overhead bin. Please be mindful that everyone deserves the same amount of space. Speaking of overhead bins, be courteous of others and place your bag where you sit or at the very most- one row in front of you. Placing your bags rows behind you will cause disruption when the plane lands and it’s time to retrieve your items. You always want to continue walking straight ahead, never backward, when exiting the plane. 

Pro Tip: “Tip” your flight attendants with a small gift or token of appreciation. Something as simple as a $5 Dunkin Donuts gift card can make their day and show that they are valued. And, who knows, your flight attendant might hook you up with some of those yummy Biscoff cookies! Or even better — an upgraded seat if it’s available! 

What kind of flier are you? How do you waste time? Are you a book reader, do you answer work emails, do you fall asleep? Downloading your favorite show to your device beforehand will help you pass the time in the air. Remember, your devices should always be set to “airplane mode” so downloading will ensure that your show is available for you to watch! 

Step #7: Exiting the plane.

You’ve landed! Now, how are you getting home? Be sure to communicate with your family in advance to confirm that your ride will be waiting for you. Make sure to account for 10 to 20 minutes extra time of exiting the plane, and picking up your tagged luggage at baggage claim!

Congratulations! You have officially survived the holiday travel rush. Remember to “pack your patience” and be proactive. Everyone is trying to get to their destination. Make sure to carry your best attitude. No one wants to miss a flight or worse- end up on the no-fly list. 

 Safe travels, and happy holidays! 

Jeydah Jenkins (she/her) is from Newark, NJ, but is an Atlanta-based journalist who covers the arts and culture. Follow her on Instagram and TikTok: @JeydahFromJersey.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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