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How to Fly During the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind

Illustration for article titled How to Fly During the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind

Starting today, Americans will engage in the county's annual combat ritual: Holiday Travel Season—a brutal tradition pitting travelers against the monolithic security and transportation apparatus in a race to their respective destinations. Believe it or not, it's possible to make it through with your dignity intact. It just takes a bit of planning.

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The frustration mounts the moment you set foot on the airport curb. Bobbing and and weaving your way through the herds of flailing travelers, skycaps, and rental luggage carts is bad enough. But it's once you make it past the doors that the real challenge begins: Check-in.


Illustration for article titled How to Fly During the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind
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Don't Check Out While You're Checking In

The Airlines for America trade organization estimates that some 25 million people will be flying this holiday season, and apparently most of them are trying to get onto your flight, right now. Avoid the traditional face-to-face check-in line if you can; they're typically much longer, move slower, and are filled with more large families (and their menageries of bags).

Use the self-service kiosks if at all possible, assuming you only have carry-on bags. Or, better yet, use your airline's online check-in option and print your boarding passes before you even arrive at the airport. The major airlines—American, Delta, United, JetBlue, and Southwest—all offer the service either at their websites or through their apps, as do a number of regional outfits like Frontier.

If you're unfortunate enough to have checked baggage, be prepared for the possibility that some or all of it will be smashed, rifled through, misdirected, or lost. Probably a combination thereof. Luckily there are a number of tools that can help minimize that blood pressure spike when you realize that your bags really aren't simply stuck down on the conveyor belt, they're halfway to Poughkeepsie.

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Affix a GPS tracking tag like the Trakdot to know exactly where your gear is at all times. Also be sure to use TSA-approved locks—which open with a master key that only the TSA has—on your bags to keep hungry-eyed handlers out of your stuff. And if the airline still manages to bungle the return of your bags, remember first to breathe and then begin your mantra, "don't get mad, get results."

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Illustration for article titled How to Fly During the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind
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Sailing Through Security

It's been more than a decade since everybody's favorite transportation security administration came into existence, so if you don't know the routine for getting through security yet, allow us to explain. The procedure is simple: coat, belt, and shoes off, pockets empty, computer in one bin (or checkpoint-friendly laptop bag), everything else in another. Smile and be polite to the nice TSA officer as he irradiates you before grabbing your two buckets of stuff and finding an open seat to put all your gear back on. It's just that simple.

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To make it even easier, apply for the TSA's Pre-check program. It's available at 97 airports throughout the country and is open to domestic travelers on Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, United, US Airways, and Virgin America. While it won't let you skip a security screening altogether, it'll get you through much faster—and without having to take off your shoes and belt, or remove your laptop from your bag.

And this should go without saying, but since people still try it, like, pretty much constantly, don't try to bring a gun on a plane. Or anything suspect, really. Figure out what you can and can't bring before you finish packing. You'll be surprised what the TSA will let you carry in your checked bags these days. Even though the list of banned carry-on items remains pretty much anything liquid or pointy, travelers are now allowed far more leniency in checked bags—basically as long as it isn't a dedicated explosive like black powder or a caustic chemical like bleach, you are good to go.

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Illustration for article titled How to Fly During the Holidays Without Losing Your Mind
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Surviving the Flight

Since the holidays are the traditional time for families to gather together, your trip will likely include healthy smattering of both small children and inebriated weirdos. While duct tape is clearly the best choice for the latter, you'll do well to simply drown out the former with your own in-flight entertainment.

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Thankfully the FAA has come to its senses, and has begun allowing electronic devices to operate during takeoff and most landings on a carrier-by-carrier basis. Unfortunately, Gogo in-flight Wi-FI is still practically unusable , which means your streaming options are out. Instead, purchase or rent a few films and albums from Google Play or iTunes and download them to your device before you leave for the airport. Or if you already have a large digital media collection, pack a Sandisk Connect with as much Naruto it will hold and proceed to ignore your fellow passengers for as long as it takes. And to keep from fighting with your rowmates over valuable armrest real estate while you hold your beloved tab, use the Skyview to hold it for you.

Once your flight finally comes to its merciful end and you've successfully retrieved your baggage, congratulations! Use the tried and true jetlag cures—coffee, recovery time, and a little over the counter melatonin if you're truly desperate—to keep yourself from being even crankier than usual around the in-laws.

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All that's left is preparing yourself for the return trip. [Images - Top: ssguy, checking in: Franz Pfluegl, security: AP Images, surviving the flight: egd]

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DISCUSSION

Reposted from something I'd written before: Super easy going through security with carry on only. Here's what I do traveling with a roller bag (max size for the plane's overhead bin) and a briefcase or backpack (when not going through pre-Check!):

  1. Before you leave for the airport, pack everything you'll need on the flight into the smaller bag that will go under the seat in front of you (don't be the douchebag that puts both items in the overhead bin making others gate check bags).
  2. Put all your liquids in a 1 quart bag following the TSA rules in an easily accessible pocket, or, if you have a laptop, next to the laptop as both will have to come out.
  3. Make sure you have your ID and boarding pass printed out. Keep these also easily accessible
  4. At the airport, prior to coming to the TSA agent checking your ID, take your id out and your boarding pass. Now empty everything out of your pockets (phone, money, wallet, keys, etc.) and take off your watch and anything else on you and put it all into one pocket in your briefcase or backpack.
  5. After your ID is checked, you can put it and your boarding pass in the same bag pocket as your other items. Untie your shoes.
  6. Coming up to the belt, grab a bin (two if you have a laptop) and put your coat, etc. in one bin. Take off your belt and put it on top. Pull out your liquids and place on top. Do one last pocket check to make sure nothing is in your pockets. Put your laptop in a separate bin by itself.
  7. When you get to the belt before the X-ray, your roller bag goes on first followed by the backpack/briefcase. Laptop bin next and misc. bin last. Shoes can go on last on the belt by themselves (they do not need to go in a bin).
  8. Go through the machine and collect your stuff. Because of the order you put them on the belt, your roller bag comes out first and nothing needs to be done with that except putting it on the floor, handle up. Next, the backpack/ briefcase will come out and can sit on top of the roller. Bins will come next and at this point your backpack/briefcase is open so you put you laptop in right away, then put you liquids away. Slip your shoes on if they're easy to put on, otherwise just grab them.
  9. Grab the rest of your stuff and walk away to the tables/benches to finish up. You're out of everyone else's way and don't have to rush like an idiot getting dressed at the belt where people are grabbing their stuff. All your stuff is in one pocket so put that all back where it goes. Belt on. Tie shoes. Put your license away if you haven't already and put your boarding pass back in an easily accessible pocket for boarding.

I never have a problem and security never feels like its a rush. Probably a bit OCD, but flying 50-75 times per year makes you want to figure out a system to ease though it all.

Oh, and two more things:

  1. Let people pass by on the plane if its taking you more than a few seconds to get your bags put away.
  2. Put your bags in lengthwise with small crap under your seat. If the door won't close, try turning the bag wheels out before just putting it sideways and make sure the door will shut before going to sit down in your seat.
  3. When exiting the plane after landing, just grab your stuff and leave. Don't stand there in the middle of the aisle trying to put you coat on or you headphones back in your bag while people are waiting behind you to leave—that's just rude. Grab your crap and put yourself back together in the terminal, out of the way of everyone.
  4. Show some kindness to the people you are traveling with, including your flight attendants and, yes, even TSA. Believe it or not, a kind word or a smile will do wonders to make your life easier than being a pissy douchebag. I NEVER have these nightmares people bitch about and guarantee you that I travel far more by plane than your average person.