8 tips for flying during the holidays this season

Dec 19, 2021

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Despite the ongoing pandemic and a new variant, we are in the midst of another busy holiday travel season — and thanks to both a surge in demand and ongoing staffing and supply shortages, travellers might want to brace for crowded airports, delays and full planes.

You can see how the most wonderful time of the year can very quickly become the most stressful time of the year at the airport, and many travellers will have little ones along for the journey.

This logjam of holiday flyers will probably result in overcrowding, long lines and some tense moments, especially if winter weather doesn’t cooperate and delays or cancellations become an issue. But your family doesn’t have to be the one succumbing to stress at the check-in counter with an overweight bag, dealing with banned items in the Transportation Security Administration line or racing through the terminal frantically trying to catch a flight.

Instead, you and your loved ones can be the travellers relaxing in an airport lounge and expertly avoiding bag fees — with a solid backup plan in the event of an issue with flight operations.

(Photo by rrecrutt / Getty Images.)
(Photo by rrecrutt/Getty Images)

In This Post

The right credit card can help

Did you know the Platinum Card from American Express provides you with both comprehensive travel insurance and Priority Pass lounge access?

This could both save you money on purchasing a separate travel insurance policy, and make your journey far more comfortable as you can relax in an airport lounge rather than battle to find a seat at the gate or spend money you don’t even want to in duty free.

Related: The best UK credit cards for airport lounge access in 2021

Get to the airport early

Nothing induces intense and immediate stress faster than running late for your flight — especially in today’s world. Ongoing staffing shortages, including those at airport security, for example, could mean longer-than-normal security lines.

It’s especially important to leave more time if you’re traveling to a destination that requires document checks, such as negative COVID-19 test results and proof of vaccination. Be sure to have all your documents signed, organised and handy to expedite your experience, particularly if you’re required to check in at the airport.

Taking the first flight of the morning is a good idea, too. Those early morning flights are the most likely to have been cleaned overnight and to depart on time, so get a jump on the day and book the early bird. If you notice bad weather forecast for your travel date — certainly a possibility this year — then getting out in the morning can be even more important.

Here are a few tips for changing your flights for free.

Fits snuggly in the overhead bin. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Be strategic about checking bags

During the holidays, some travellers swear by the mantra of “stay calm by not carrying on.”

While I vastly prefer to carry on my bags 95% of the time, there is some logic to checking everything you can, especially if you have kids to chase after in the airport. If you check your bags, your hands are free, you don’t need to worry about early boarding — as overhead bin space isn’t a problem — and you don’t have to stress as much over the security screening process and whether you need to pull out half your items to place them in bins.

Consider shipping your stockings

While strategically checking or carrying on a bag will work in most cases, there are circumstances where shipping packages to your final destination can be even easier — and sometimes, cheaper.

If checking your bags would subject you to oversized baggage fees, then shipping can be a smart decision. Try Heathrow Airport’s own luggage shipping service to price and purchase shipping for your belongings (or presents), whether you want DIY drop-off or doorstep pickup and delivery. Just remember that shipping delays are worse than normal this holiday season, so allow extra time.

Related: The best travel suitcases

Know the airport security rules for holiday items

Can you bring wrapped presents through security? Technically, but it’s a bad idea in the event security need to inspect what’s inside.

Travelling with a snow globe? Make sure that the liquid is 100ml or less and it can fit in a small, resealable plastic bag. (So really, don’t carry on that snow globe.)

You can bring a fruitcake or cookies through security, too, but you may want to put food in its own tray for inspection.

Bring your own onboard essentials

Here are some tips for packing like a pro — as well as some specifically tailored to parents traveling with young children.

But whether you’re flying solo or with a basketball team’s worth of kiddos, you need to consider bringing your own food, comfort items and entertainment on board. Some airlines are better than others at providing some (or all) of those amenities, but it’s best to be self-reliant — especially if you’re traveling in economy.

Although many airlines have resumed their inflight food and beverage service, with ever-changing rules, you’ll want to be 110% prepared.

Grab headphones, a neck pillow, snacks and something to keep you occupied and you’ll be all set, even if the airline doesn’t have anything to offer you beyond a small seat.

Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy

Follow the rules

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, all travellers 2 and older are still required to wear a face mask in airports and on airplanes.

Because of this, you’ll want to make sure you have an approved mask for every family member.

No matter where you’re going or how you’re getting there, be sure to comply with local rules and regulations, which may include showing proof of vaccination, proof of a negative COVID-19 test, wearing a mask in public spaces and completing health forms and passenger locator forms.

Have all your tests organised in advance

With the new variant circulating right now there are increased testing requirements for most destinations, and these can and do change regularly. For minimal stress its a good idea to organise any tests you need for departure, entry and arrival as early as possible. The last thing you want to be doing at Christmas is running around looking for a last minute appointment somewhere.

Related: We put 6 ‘fast-track’ COVID-19 PCR services to the test: from cheap and cheerful to speedy and high-priced

Bottom line

The holidays are an exciting time to go home or get away, but an airport or a crowded plane isn’t always the most magical portion of the experience. But we promise you’ll survive your holiday travels by making a few strategic choices, packing your wallet appropriately and being prepared.

Additional reporting by Benet Wilson, Ben Smithson and Melanie Lieberman. 

Featured photo by Visionkick/Getty Images.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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