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The 12 Delays Of Christmas

(December 13, 2001)

On the 12 delays of Christmas my airline gave to me…12 ID-checkers checking, 11 luggage searches…three delayed connections, two cancellations, and a long line for checking in. I thought I'd bring seasonal tidings and advice to America's airline passengers, who must endure the airport delays of the holiday season.

Worst Airports for Congestion and Weather

During a snowstorm, you just might find "six-thousand passengers a-laying" all around Chicago's O'Hare airport while the proverbial "O'Hare-lock" of airport congestion is sortetd out. Congestion also wreaks havoc at New York City's three major airports where, on average, forty percent of arrivals and departures are delayed. According to the Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Statistics, here are the worst airports for congestion:

  1. Chicago (O'Hare)
  2. Newark
  3. New York's (LaGuardia)
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Boston
  6. San Francisco
  7. New York (JFK)
  8. Seattle-Tacoma International
  9. Philadelphia
We can't control the weather, but there is good news. Because many airlines have cut flights and reduced their fleets by twenty percent or more, there will be fewer congestion delays all across the U.S.—for at least awhile anyway

Worst Airports for Security Delays

Don't be surprised if you find "eleven pipers piping" in Baltimore. The security delays are so bad that the airport has hired professional entertainers to soothe passengers' frayed nerves. Here are the rest of the worst:

  1. Los Angeles (LAX) Terminal 1 (Airlines: Southwest, America West, US Airways)
  2. Denver
The problem with these airports is that passengers have to funnel through one large checkpoint area. At many other airports, security screening goes faster because the airlines have their own screening areas, so people are spread across more checkpoints.

Survival Techniques

Here's some advice for those traveling by air this holiday season, especially for those finding themselves at any of the airports mentioned above.

Take an Early Flight

When booking your flight, remember that a departure early in the day is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, due partly to the "ripple" effects of delays throughout the day. In addition, if an early flight is delayed or canceled, you may have more rerouting options.

Book a Nonstop

In general, you are least likely to be delayed on nonstop flights. A connection (change of planes) always involves the possibility of a misconnection. On a direct flight (intermediate stop with no change of planes), the second leg could be delayed or canceled. If you choose a flight with a stop or connection, try to select the one stopping at the least-congested airport possible.

Check the Status of Your Flight Before Leaving Home

Check your flight's status well ahead of your departure time with the airline by calling or going online before you leave for the airport. If there is a problem, try to rebook over the telephone. While airlines often try to notify you of schedule changes by phone, they might not be able to if the delay occurs shortly before the flight.

Leave Early

Leave for the airport early enough to allow extra time for potential airport traffic, parking delays, and longer luggage check-in and security screening lines. Arrive at the airport at least two-and-a-half hours before your flight is scheduled to leave, three-and-a-half hours for international flights. Two-and three-hour waits are common, particularly at the busy mid-morning and mid-afternoon times.


Check with your airline for its e-ticket policies. If you have an e-ticket, bring a printed confirmation or the passenger record locater number. Have your tickets, boarding passes, and ID readily at hand because they will be required at checkpoints and airline gates. Make sure that names on tickets and IDs match.

Have Proper ID

Passengers must travel with a valid photo ID and keep it with them within reach at all times. Valid ID includes driver's licenses, passports, or official state IDs. College IDs are not acceptable in many cases. If you do not hold a driver's license, get a state ID.

Understand Airport Drop-Off and Pick-Up

Only immediate drop-off and pick-up of passengers will be permitted at terminal curbside locations. Check with your airport for special rules.

Utilize Curbside Check-in

Curbside baggage check-in is available again at most airports. If you can check your luggage at the curb, or plan to fly with only carry-on bags, you shouldn't have to stand in line at airline ticket counters.

Don't Pack These Items in Your Carry-On

Many everyday items may seem harmless, but are considered potentially dangerous by airlines. These items include, but are not limited to, all cutting and puncturing instruments (knives, pocket knives, box cutters, ice picks, straight razors, metal scissors, and metal nail files), corkscrews, athletic equipment that could be used as a weapon (bats, golf clubs, pool cues, ski poles, hockey sticks, and ice skates), and flammable liquids or solids (fuel, paints, lighter fluid, lighter refills, and matches). Matches and lighters may only be carried on your person with the exception of "strike-anywhere" matches or lighters with flammable liquid reservoirs.

Don't Wrap Gifts

If you are traveling with gifts, don't wrap them because they may get unwrapped at security screening.

Here's wishing you and your family delay-free travel and above all a safe and happy holiday season!

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