The 10 easiest ways to improve air travel this holiday season

holiday season air travelIt’s time for you to drag your screaming kids, annoying spouse and endless amounts of overstuffed bags through the airport, as you find your way over the river and through the woods. Thanksgiving is behind us, and that’s the really ugly time to travel, but Christmas is no picnic either. The gate areas and bars will be crowded, and it’s going to be awfully hard for you to be happy while darting from Point A to Point B.

How nice it would be if we could all follow some fairly specific rules designed to keep each other from blowing up – and make all our travel experiences far more efficient. Just under a week after I started at Gadling, two years ago, I wrote six ways to “[m]ake your flight (and mine) easier this holiday season.” As we approach Christmas, this list is definitely worth another look.

In the 700+ days since writing that post, I’ve done more flying and more travel writing. Consequently, I’ve accumulated a bit more knowledge … and a handful of additional pet peeves. A lot has changed since late 2008. The global financial crisis, originally putting severe pressure on the travel market, has given way to something of a recovery, forcing airlines and online travel agents to compete head to head for your business. And, even though ticket prices are up 13 percent year over year, they are still far below peak levels — and may be at their lowest in 15 years. In some environments, pricing is even flat year over year.

So, it makes sense to revisit this issue. Below, you’ll find 10 ways to make holiday travel a lot better for everyone:

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1. Know what you’re getting into: be ready for poor service, big crowds and unreasonable people (from passengers to crew members). It is what it is. Lamenting the social injustices committed will get you nowhere, and you’ll become the barrier to progress that you so despise already.

2. Pay the damned extra baggage fee: the overhead bins will be full. Even though airlines are adding capacity as the travel market recovers, they’re not being generous. So, be realistic about the size of the bags you try to cram overhead or under seat – and expect the rest of the people on the plane to have the same overhead plan. If everyone were more realistic from the start, flying would be much, much easier.

3. Bring stuff to keep the kids busy: don’t expect young children to be reasonable – they’re young children. I have enough trouble staying reasonable, and by all chronological measures, I’ve been an adult for a while. If you have kids, it is your job to entertain them (or help them entertain themselves). It may take a village, but you left that at home.

The problem with people today is they have to be entertained 24/7. That’s why they’re at their worst on the airplane.less than a minute ago via web

Also, check this out from a couple of years ago:

Forget every rule of good parenting. Sometimes, you need to let your kid cry to learn a lesson. Here’s the problem: we don’t need to learn that lesson, too. Do what it takes to keep your kid under control. If that means coloring books, candy or … dare I say it … active parenting, do it. Do what it takes. Your round trip involves two days of your kid’s childhood. Whatever you do for the sake of expediency will not make a lasting impression.

4. Pay attention to the flight attendants (for a change): look, do you want to be responsible for creating the next Steven Slater? Of course not. Even if you are forced to deal with unreasonable requests demands from them – not to mention horrid customer service – it’s a lot easier just to play ball. Save your fights for truth, justice and the American way for a flying season that isn’t insanely busy. In the end, doing battle with a nutty flight attendant is only going to keep you from getting to your destination and away from the plane as soon as possible, so it makes sense to sacrifice your principles.

Add to this my advice from a while back:

Know when to quit. We all love to scream at airline employees, and we know they are lying to us. When they say that weather caused the problem on a sunny day, when they say that there are no more exit row seats, when they say the flight is overbooked … we just know it’s bullshit. So, we fight. Sometimes, it works. Appeasement in the form of flight vouchers, hotel stays and free meals sometimes flow. But, at a certain point, you need to know when to stop. If you’re on a full flight of people with super-triple-platinum status (and you’re not), don’t expect to get a damned thing. Accept that you will lose.

Fighting the good fight is okay, but at a certain point, you lose the crowd’s sympathy. Be aware that people who look like serial killers don’t often get what they want (or need).

5. Keep your mouth shut: don’t share your life story with gate agents, TSA employees or anyone else. Nobody cares. Even if you do forge a momentary connection, it will have evaporated by the time you’re stuffing a stale Nathan’s hotdog into your once-talking mouth.

6. Step into the damned body scanner: the whole “opt-out” thing didn’t work right before Thanksgiving. So, it’s time to give up on this. You’ll live. There were no reports of people growing extra heads because they went through the body scanners a month ago. And, the odds do seem awfully low that your pictures will wind up on some strange airline-fetish porn site.

Seriously, just deal. Okay?

7. Be smart at the security checkpoint: this is an important one, because it’s so easy to cause the line to back up. I’m just going to plug in my suggestions from Christmas 2008:

Don’t prepare for the security stop when you’ve already bellied up to the X-ray machine. While you’re in line, do the following:

1. Pull your laptop out of your bag (if you have one)
2. Take your ID (license or passport) out of your pocket, bag, etc.; hold it with your boarding pass
3. Empty your pockets into your carry-on; do the same with your watch, cell phone and any heavy jewelry
4. Remove your shoes, and carry them on top of your laptop
5. Repeat #4 with your coat and hat

Now, you have a stack of personal belongings on top of your laptop. Carry them like you did your books back in grade school. You can drop the laptop into one bin for the X-ray machine, pick up the clothing and drop them in the next bin. It’s fast. It’s easy. It doesn’t leave you screwing around while people are waiting.

8. Look at the rules in advance: know what you can get through airport security and what you’ll have to check or leave behind. We’re in the internet age, so it’s not like you need to fax a request to the TSA or drive to the airport to scope out the signs. And, I’ll even make it easy for you: here’s the TSA list of prohibited items.

9. BYOB on the plane: whether it’s burgers or booze, take care of it ahead of time. Make your purchases at the food court or pack them at home. If you don’t be ready for whatever is being served on the plane. Have the appropriate form of payment ready. Keep in mind that airline food tends not to be terribly healthy, so if you want to keep your arteries clear (or clog them even more aggressively), take control of your culinary future.

10. Stay flexible: some situations will be within your control, but many will not. Understand what you can change and what you’ll have to live with, and the process will get a lot easier for you.

[photo by The Consumerist via Flickr]