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Avoiding holiday travel headaches

Ah, the holiday season — aka the busiest travel season of the year. Students are returning home from college, families are traveling to visit their far-flung relatives and vacationers are flocking to sandy beaches or snowy ski runs. Sounds great ... unless you're a business traveler.
Getting to the airport early is important for business travelers during the busy holiday season.
Getting to the airport early is important for business travelers during the busy holiday season.Photodisc
/ Source: Forbes

Ah, the holiday season — aka the busiest travel season of the year. Students are returning home from college, families are traveling to visit their far-flung relatives and vacationers are flocking to sandy beaches or snowy ski runs. Sounds great ... unless you're a business traveler.

To those traveling on business, holiday travelers are simply seasonal speed bumps: grandparents meandering through airport terminals, vacationers' tennis racquets and backpacks hogging overhead bin space and security lines stalled by families trying to remove all of their children's shoes. Getting to your meeting on time, however, isn't impossible.

To speed things along, sign up for the U.S. Registered Traveler program. For $99.95 per year, travelers get a "Security Threat Assessment" from the Transportation Security Administration. If approved, you won't have to deal with the hassle of waiting in a general security line — you'll get to go through a dedicated line for card-carrying Registered Travelers. "It takes three minutes to get through our lane," says Cindy Rosenthal, a spokesperson for Clear Registered Traveler, the private company behind the program. The program has already launched in Florida's Orlando airport and will soon expand to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Jose, Calif., and terminal seven at New York's JFK airport.

Don't forget some time-tested tips that will speed up your travel time. Make all plans through your company's travel department. If you normally book your own trips, let the travel department do it at least through the holiday season. That way, if you run into a problem like a cancelled flight, the department can readily rebook you on another carrier or find you a nearby hotel. Letting your travel agent handle the details can save you from having to deal with overworked or unhelpful airline gate agents. "You'll have someone looking out for you," says Caleb Tiller, a spokesperson for the National Business Travel Association.

Chances are, you're going to experience some type of delay in the next month, so be as portable as possible when it comes to work. In addition to your laptop, mobile phone and BlackBerry, make sure to pack a three-outlet adapter or surge protector. Either will come in handy when you and your fellow business travelers are vying for those precious few electrical outlets.

Business travelers are usually expert packers, and that skill will come in handier than ever this month. Pack lightly so you only need to bring a carry-on. With all the craziness at the airport during the holiday season, the last thing you need is to be jockeying for a place at the baggage carousel.

While we're mentioning the basics, here's a reminder about what you can bring on the plane: All liquids and gels should be in containers of 3.4 ounces or smaller, and they must be placed in a clear plastic bag that's one quart in size or smaller. Also, try to take direct flights. That way, one late flight won't have a domino effect on your travel plans.

If all else fails, try to have patience. And a good book. That'll get you through at least a few hours.