5 tips for smooth holiday travel

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Holiday travel is upon us. Flying near the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays is the travel equivalent of shopping on Black Friday. And with big winter storms affecting large parts of the United States this week, disruptions are inevitable.

Airlines refer to these travel disruptions as irregular operations. As unpleasant as this can be, there are some proven strategies that will help you manage delayed and cancelled fights, reroutings and other problems.

  1. Register your flight to receive status alerts. Knowledge truly is power, so be sure you know your flight’s status before you even leave for the airport. Both airlines and online travel agencies (such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity) offer flight status alerts for free. You can receive these by email or to your mobile phone.
  2. Check the FAA’s real-time status website. When it comes to knowing what’s happening in your region, there’s no better source than the FAA’s Flight Delay Information website. And even if your city is clear, think about your airline’s hub cities, where your flight may be coming from. For instance, Los Angeles might be running well, but if you’re flying United and Denver is having trouble, your aircraft could be delayed.
  3. Check-in online and don’t check luggage if possible. If you check-in online and don’t have a bag to check, you won’t need to stop in the first part of the airport, and can go straight through security and on to your departure gate.
  4. Minimize time waiting in line. If you have elite status with your airline, use the expedited security line. If you have PreCheck – even better. But even if you don’t have either, some airlines sell packages of priority access for a nominal fee. Buying this could save you significant time during the holiday rush.
  5. If your flight gets cancelled, think outside the box for solutions. If your flight is cancelled, the airline will refund the full value of the ticket (even for nonrefundable tickets). If you have partially used your ticket, you’ll receive a pro-rated refund for the unused portion. Let’s say your flight from Chicago O’Hare on United is cancelled, but Southwest can get you home from Chicago Midway. In the event your flight is canceled, check into last-minute tickets from other airlines and even nearby airports. With the refund from your original ticket, your net cost might not be as high as you think, and you may save many hours (or even days in the worst cases).

Good luck with the zoo that is holiday travel. Arrive early, stay calm, and keep alternatives in mind in case airlines can’t come through due to weather or other circumstances.

Do you have any other field-tested travel tips? Share them in the comments below.

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Ryan has been a travel expert for more than ten years. His journeys have taken him to all six inhabited continents, including living in the Middle East and backpacking across Australia, Asia and Europe.

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