Image: Staff Sgt. Raymond Golden sits near a Christmas tree at the airport in Atlanta.
Tami Chappell  /  Reuters
The holidays are here, and most of us are headed somewhere, sometime soon. Will getting there be half the fun? Or will you be standing at an airport window, staring at a cold, hard rain — cursing the whole happy season?
By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 12/4/2007 2:18:20 PM ET 2007-12-04T19:18:20

It's that time of year when airplanes are full, overhead bins are crammed tight and the weather plays winter delay games. At the airport, emotions run high and patience runs low so get ready for a turbulent ride. Yes, holiday travel is stressful, but it needn't be beastly. Here are 10 tips to get you where you're going with your holiday cheer intact.

1. Skip the cheap deal. Many airlines offer big bargains for flights on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. You might save a bundle, but there is little worse than spending your holiday at the airport with a bunch of airline employees and other passengers who don't want to be there. You think the holidays can be depressing? Just wait until your Thanksgiving feast consists of a turkey burrito. I speak from experience.

2. Do a good deed. Help the elderly lady with her luggage. Thank a passing soldier for his or her service to our country. Lend a hand with that baby. It's proven that the more good deeds you do for others, the better it makes you feel.

3. Don't weather the storm. Avoid connecting through airports with known weather problems. For example, if you are flying from Los Angeles to Florida, don't connect through Chicago or New York. Pay the extra money and go nonstop if possible. Believe me, the less chance for tie-ups, the better.

4. Adjust your attitude. Holiday travel is a mind game. If you expect your flight to be a nonstop pain in the neck, then it probably will be. If you approach it as an adventure with interesting ups and downs, you might actually enjoy yourself. Personally, I love holiday flying because it brings out the variety in passengers, and there is always a sense of excitement in the air.

5. Wrap later. Don't wrap your presents before you leave. If you do, security agents might be opening your gifts instead of your loved ones, and you'll be wrapping them all over again. Also, removing the batteries from toys and electronic items will save you many hassles at check-in and security.

6. Pack it in. Holiday presents mean lots of big bundles and, no, they won't all fit in the overhead bin. Be sensible and check some of it in. Also be sure to pack an empty bag inside your luggage, as you will undoubtedly have lots of big presents to cope with on the return flight.

7. Don't fly off the handle. Your flight cancels, the airport shuts down, you miss your connection, your flight is overbooked, your luggage disappears — the chances of holiday misadventure are high. How you react will set the tone for your whole holiday. I once had a passenger get so mad that he had a stroke and spent Christmas in intensive care. So stop! Count to 10, put yourself in someone else's shoes, laugh, have a drink — do whatever it takes to avoid an outburst or a scene.

8. Feel secure. It is very easy to ridicule the Transportation Security Administration. I know, because I do it all the time. Its agents poke into your bags, create long lines, enforce silly rules, are often inconsistent, but they are responsible for keeping your flight safe. They are doing their jobs as they have been trained to do, and they have to deal with thousands of upset passengers every day. Do you remember what passed for security before 9/11? I do, and believe me, I am very thankful for the new system.

9. Be politically incorrect. I am so tired of generic holiday greetings. Say "Merry Christmas," "Happy Hanukah," "Habari Gani" — or whatever you believe in. Just say something heartfelt. And while you're at it, wear a Santa hat or other festive attire. You will brighten the atmosphere instead of adding to the gloom in the gate area.

10. Just do it. Don't put off traveling just because of the hassles involved. If you have someone to enjoy the holidays with, just do it. Two Thanksgivings ago, my favorite uncle invited me to a big turkey dinner but I declined, not wanting to deal with flying standby on the holidays. I took the extra holiday pay instead. My uncle passed away a few months later, and now I would pay anything to have made it to that dinner.

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I am often delayed at certain airports when I am working the holiday season. My favorite pastime in this situation is to bring out my portable music player. I cue my Christmas playlist of favorite holiday songs, then sit back and watch all the holiday travelers. Airports are full of strange and wonderful people, and with a little festive music playing in the background, it's like watching a reality-show version of "The Nutcracker."

May your delays be minimal, your flights safe and your holiday season full of cheer. Don't ever forget why you are enduring the hassles of holiday air travel. It's because someone on the other end is eagerly anticipating your arrival.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.


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