This holiday travel period, between December 15, 2017, and January 4, 2018, will be a mixed bag, crowd-wise. Everyone wants to get where they’re going before Christmas, making for long lines and full flights in the run-up to December 25, for example. But no one wants to spend Christmas day on a commercial airline flight, making for planes flying all but empty on the holiday itself.
If you’re a contrarian, you can take advantage of the ebbs and flows in travel demand to make your trip a less stressful one, avoiding the long lines and full-to-overflowing flights that can make holiday travel such a downer.
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As it does every year, Airlines for America, the trade group representing the interests of most U.S. airlines, has just published its forecast for this holiday season’s air travel. According to A4A, 51 million people will fly on U.S. airlines over the holidays, a 3.5 percent increase over last year. That amounts to an extra 80,000 passengers per day, which, the A4A reassures us, will be more than offset by an additional 91,000 daily seats the airlines will be flying, with more flights and larger planes. Don’t be too reassured, however. Full flights are full flights, and popular flights at desirable times will be 100 percent full.
If you are able to schedule around the peak days and are inclined to do so, here are the best and worst times to travel during the upcoming holiday. The busiest days will be:
- Thursday, December 21
- Friday, December 22
- Tuesday, December 26
And the lightest days:
- Saturday, December 16
- Christmas Eve
- New Year’s Eve
If you don’t have the luxury of contrarian timing, however, do what you can to eke as much comfort and peace from the flight experience as you can. Some tactics that have proven themselves over the years:
- Allow plenty of time to get to the airport, especially if you plan to park at an airport lot
- Book early flights to increase the odds of being accommodated later the same day in the event of a cancellation
- Travel to/from secondary airports
- Avoid checking bags if possible
- To avoid the coach crush, use miles to upgrade or pay extra for premium economy
- Have phone numbers for your airline, hotel, rental car readily at hand
- Fully charge your smartphone before leaving home
- For a respite from the gate crowd, consider buying a day pass to the airline’s airport lounge
- Sign up for TSA PreCheck for expedited security clearance
None of the above will make flying during peak holiday times a breeze. So relax. Expect travel to be stressful. Observe the Golden Rule, and hope that other travelers do the same.
Reader Reality Check
How do you minimize the stress and hassle of peak-period travel?
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After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.