Best holiday travel tips!

November 20, 2009 2 Comments A+ a-

This is a re-post from last year...thought it was worth a repeat as we head into the holidays. Hope you think so, too!

Ahhhh! It's that special time of the year...the weather has turned cold, the holidays are upon us, you are bundling up the kiddies and flying to Grandma's house for Thanksgiving dinner....

WHAT?? Are you out of your mind?

(Pardon me! I digressed...)

Traveling these days isn't easy! Weather delays, mechanical problems, crews out of position, cancellations--a plethora of issues can occur! And, none of it your fault! I posted my Top Three Travel Tips earlier this year, and have a few more with families in mind. Here are some of my best Flight Attendant holiday travel tips to help ease the pain of traveling and flying with kids this Christmas or Thanksgiving week:

Print your boarding pass before you leave home.

In fact, most airlines allow you to check in 24 hours prior to departure. Do this. The sooner you check in, the less likely it is you and your family will be involuntarily bumped from an oversold flight. And, trust me, your flight is oversold. And, when everyone who purchased a ticket shows up, and no one volunteers to be bumped from the flight, the last people to check in will be the people who are left behind. And, since all the flights will be packed to the gills for the holiday travel, with no spare seats, it may take you days to get to Grandma's house.

Also, with your boarding pass in hand, you do not need to go to the ticket counter to check in, unless you are checking bags. You can go straight to the gate, via the TSA security checkpoint.

Arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare.

The last thing you want on your plate is to be rushed and harried. It takes time to find a parking spot, time to unload the bags and the kids, time to wait for the parking shuttle, time for the shuttle to make its' way to the departure area, time to unload the shuttle at each airline (yours will be the last stop, of course!) and time to figure out what gate you are going to and where it is. Give yourself at least 30 minutes more than you think you need.

As you are waiting for the parking shuttle to pick you up, take a cell phone picture of where you parked--or send yourself a text message. That way, you will know where you parked when you come back.

Dress appropriately.

Planes are cold. Most of the Flight Attendants are pre-menopausal and having hot flashes. Besides, we don't control the temperature and frankly, think it is funny when you show up on your November flight from Miami-New York City in a tank top, and expect to be warm. That's right, we'll be talkin' about you at the bar tonight....

Blankets are scarce on domestic flights. And, with the swine flu making the rounds, carriers are putting even fewer blankets than before. Many carriers are charging for them (which is actually a good deal--it is yours, it is in a compact travel case, and it is new and clean and relatively cheap.) Layers work best. Every Flight Attendant I know carries a pashmina or sweater when they travel. Bring a sweatshirt for the kiddies--lets them get all toasty warm and fall asleep.

Pack smartly for the TSA security checkpoints.

The TSA folks have actually done a pretty good job on their website with pointers of their own for getting through the lines with ease. If you don't fly very often, it is probably a good idea to review this page. One of the things travelers must do now is pack liquids and gels into a container that is 3 ounces or less, and all of those containers must fit into a quart-sized zip top bag. And, they are serious about this. If you try to get your 4 ounce bottle of tres expensive perfume through the checkpoint, they will confiscate it. Remember, though, each passenger can take a quart sized baggie through the checkpoint, including your kids! You can pack your big liquid containers in your checked baggage (requiring a visit to the ticket counter) or just down-size for your holiday trip.
Many of us have several contact lens cases laying around. One idea is to boil it for a few minutes, and after it is cooled down, put dabs of your creams or make-up in it. Could be just the right amount to get you through security and the weekend. Once you have cleared security, you are able to purchase liquids in any size container and bring them with you on the plane.

Fellow Flight Attendant Heather Poole gives you tips about exactly how to get through the TSA checkpoints here.

Speaking of bottled water...

With the first beverage service, the Flight Attendants are pouring out of bottles of water. On subsequent water services, you may see a pitcher. This usually indicates that the water is "Galley Springs." It also may indicate that there is no more bottled water onboard. Perfectly safe to drink, according to the airlines and the government--two very trustworthy sources. I don't drink it. I bring my own. While it can be expensive to stock up on water at the airport, depending on how long your flight it, I would consider it. And, you really don't want you or your kids to get dehydrated. That makes for a guaranteed visit to Crankyville.

Protect your family from the dirty airplane.

In an almost perfect world, an airplane would still be a germ haven. In the not-even-close-to-perfect world of airlines, the planes may look clean, but are soooo not! That cushion gets cleaned every now and then, and the carpet may be vacuumed every night, it is still a mosh-pit of bacteria.

I bring little footies that go over my socks when I take my shoes off. And, if I have to use the lavatory (bathroom) I put my shoes back on...that isn't water on the floor of the lav, y'all!

I also carry a pack of Splash 'n Go with me. Or, baby wipes do the same thing. You will want to clean your hands, as well as your children's, if any part of the aircraft was touched. Trust me on this!

Baby changing tables

Most, but not all, airplanes have a changing table in the lavatory. If your arms are full of a fussy baby and a diaper bag, ask the Flight Attendant if she'd put the table down for you--we're happy to help out. Be sure you have brought a changing pad or something to place between your baby and the table.

Pack snacks

Unless you are in First or Business, your flight is not going to have much, if any, food to eat. Many airlines have Buy Onboard--or "BOB" as we call it. My airline actually has pretty decent BOB--some fresh, some boxed. This BOB cost $6 for a boxed snack and $9 for fresh snack tray. Many airlines accept cash and credit cards for purchasing BOB and adult beverages--and some only accept credit cards and some only accept cash. Carry both, or call your airline in advance to find out.

Consider bringing your own snacks onboard. Cheese holds up well, even out of the refrigerator for a few hours. Fruit, cheese and a hard bread make for a mini-picnic onboard. Pre-cut apples dipped in peanut butter are great. Other ideas include nuts, dried fruit--or fruit that holds up well (bananas, no; oranges, yes) and turkey jerky. Personally, I'd try to do healthy so the kids don't get amped up on sugar. On a plane, that is ugly for everyone--your neighbors, the crew, your kids, and most especially, you!

Keep 'em busy!

Gotta Gameboy? Bring it! DVD player? Check! Don't forget the earphones, though! Planes are noisy and parents seem to turn the DVD player volume up as loud as they can so Little Johnny can watch Barney sing "The Wheels on the Bus" over and over and over. This will not win you friends among your seatmates. Bring earphones for the kids! And, if you have more than one kid watching the DVD, buy a $4 splitter for the earphones so they can share! Your neighbors and your nerves will appreciate it!

Other random thoughts...

Most airplanes have a "sick sack" or "barf bag" in the seat pocket in front of you. If your kid gets sick, please use it, and call the Flight Attendant for help. We have ginger ale, which sometimes helps soothes a sick tummy. And, we can make an ice pack if you need it. Please do NOT place the full barf bag into the seat pocket--call us, let us help!

Have you seen this CARES harness? Might be too late to get one for Thanksgiving travel, but Christmas is near! For kids 22-44 pounds, it takes the hassle out of lugging around a car seat. My suggestion is to use it for take-off and landing, and use the regular seat belt during the flight.

If you need a baby bottle warmed up, ask the Flight Attendant--but give us plenty of time! We don't have microwaves onboard, so we may have to use a pot of hot water to warm it. Also, on some regional jets, there isn't any hot water onboard, so we can't warm it at all!


Bring your patience. If there are delays because of weather, you can't expect to call up Grandma only to hear that it is sunny and clear there. The inbound aircraft (the one you are waiting for) is probably coming from somewhere else, and weather anywhere in its' path can cause a delay for you. The gate agent isn't lying to you--she is telling you what the "Ops" (Operations) people are reporting to her via the computer. The Flight Attendant isn't lying to you. She really cannot call the gate from the aircraft and have them hold the flight. And, she doesn't know whether or not your plane will be there when you get there. Most things are out of our control. Taking your frustration out on the Flight Attendant, Gate Agent, or Reservations Rep diminishes their desire to give you the most they can. Or, as we say in the South, "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

Traveling these days isn't easy, and traveling with your family during the crowded holiday crush can feel next to impossible while you're in the middle of it. As one of our instructors at Barbie Boot Camp (Flight Attendant training) used to say, "Control the things you can control." You cannot make the weather go away, prevent a ground stop, or fix a broken airplane. You can take a deep breath, listen to the Gate Agent's announcements and determine if you need to call your airline's reservation number (that you have oh-so-conveniently put into your cell phone.)

What's that? Me? What am I doing for the holiday?? Oh, I'm driving! And leaving on Tuesday afternoon, in hopes of avoiding the dreaded traffic on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving!

I hope your holiday is warm, and family-filled and delay-free!


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November 21, 2009 at 9:48 PM delete

Great info. Pleasant holidays to you!

November 21, 2009 at 11:00 PM delete

Thanks, Lenman! Happy holidays to you, too!