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Airport Holiday Travel Tips

The holiday season can be a wonderful time of year, but not always as wonderful as they could be if you are traveling by air. According to statistics, the five most heavily traveled times of the year are:

1. Christmas and New Year holiday period

2. Thanksgiving weekend

3. Easter week

4. Washington's Birthday

5. Labor Day weekend.

It is easy to become "Scrooge-like" when you are stuck in a crowded airport during the winter holidays, complete with crowds and miserable weather conditions.

While it is nearly impossible to avoid the mad travel rush altogether, there are some things you can do to make your holiday travels less stressful. Being organized and adaptable are the keys to keeping your sanity during this hectic holiday season.

Here are some timeless air travel suggestions:

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 one hour before your flight is scheduled to leave - two hours for international travel.

Prepare for Bad weather.
If you know there will be inclement weather at your departure or destination city, it's a good idea to call your airline's reservations center and/or check their website on the status of your flight(s).

Carry proper ID.
Passengers must travel with valid photo identification and keep their ID with them at all times. This includes driver's licenses, passports, or official state ID's. College students PLEASE NOTE: College ID's are not acceptable in many cases. If you do not hold a driver's license, try to get a state ID.

Tag your baggage.
Make sure that all checked and carry-on bags are properly tagged, inside and outside, and with the ticketed passenger's name, address and telephone number. Free identification tags are available at airport ticket counters.

Keep an eye out.
Watch your bags at all times during security screening. The criminal element will be out in full force ready to take advantage of the unwitting traveler. As always, do not leave luggage unattended or with strangers, and do not carry any item from a stranger, or any luggage or packages that someone else packed.

If you are traveling bearing gifts, be advised of some potential problems. Those lovely wrapped gifts may have to be unwrapped to go through security. Many people end up angry that this is done, however, if after x-ray screening security personnel feel they need to physically inspect the object, they will unwrap it. This can be the case for many electronic devices, as well as tools and other questionable objects. It is best to bring gifts unwrapped and wrap them at the destination. Better yet, mail them so you won't have to carry them.

Greet passengers outside the gate area.
If you plan to go to the airport to pick up or drop off family and friends, you could be turned back at the security checkpoint. Airports and airlines have the option of creating what is called a "sterile concourse" - closing off gate areas to non-ticketed airport visitors. Some airports may let you into the gate area during slower periods, but not at peak traffic times. To avoid confusion, try to greet arriving passengers outside the gate area.

Carry-on Essentials.
Always carry medicine, cash, jewelry, passports, visas, business papers and other valuables such as cameras on-board with you.

Take care of yourself!.
Prepare yourself for flight by getting a good night's sleep and eating a light meal before your trip. Drink plenty of water or fruit juices before and during flight to prevent dehydration.

Electronic Devices.
Pay close attention to in-flight announcements about restrictions regarding the use of portable electronic devices such as personal computers and CD players.

Watch what you joke about.
Passengers should be aware that any jokes regarding security issues, such as bombs, are no laughing matter and will be taken seriously. In the past, arrests have been made in response to these types of comments.

Hazardous Materials.
Do not pack hazardous materials, such as matches, lighters or flammable liquids in your luggage.

Some special tips.

Pick your loved ones up at departure level, and drop them off at baggage claim.
Just the opposite of what most people do. This works especially well for early morning and late evening flights, when the departure level is jammed. Moreover, you are less likely to become stuck in traffic. Most large airports have peak times for arrivals and departures, also known as banks of flights. This is when the airport is extremely busy and crowded. Banks of flights are necessary at the major hub airports to make schedules flow for connecting passengers. Airports tend to be busiest at the following times: 8-10 am, 12-2 p.m., 4-6 p.m., and 8-10 p.m.

Prepare to enjoy the flight.
When travel plans go awry, you need a sense of humor, along with the ability to entertain yourself. Always bring along a book, game, or other form of amusement (within reason) to keep occupied. Also, don't forget a few snacks, especially if you are traveling with kids. There is nothing worse than being hungry, waiting in a long line, only to pay $7 for a mystery meat sandwich along with a $3 drink! (Bah humbug!)

Print out your e-tickets.
If you have an e-ticket, make sure you have a printout of your itinerary. I have never had a problem with e-tickets, however, many frequent travelers recommend that you have a paper ticket if you are traveling during the holidays. If your flight is delayed and/or canceled, you have more options with a printed ticket. It can be immediately endorsed over to another airline. If you do not have a printout of your e-ticket, you'll have to stand in a long line just to get a printed ticket.

Don't forget your manners!
Lastly, 'tis the season to be jolly, so don't forget your manners! Try to be kind to airline employees and others working the holidays: many have to be away from their families while you get to be with yours. Try to be a little more understanding when things don't go smoothly. Also, if you see someone who needs a hand, join in the holiday spirit of kindness with a gesture of assistance.

I hope these tips will help alleviate and avert any holiday travel headaches you may encounter.

Happy traveling and happy holidays!

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