By Mark Cox
The prospect of festive flying is looking anything but jolly this year.
The Transportation Security Administration said that it expected to screen an estimated 20 million people over the Thanksgiving travel period, which began last week. And airports are bracing for near pre-pandemic levels of holiday travel next month as well.
As air travel has ramped up, so have the headaches: expensive fares, canceled flights, airport crowds, sardine-packed planes and disruptive passengers.
Don’t worry, though: Jeff Price, Metropolitan State University of Denver Aviation professor, has some expert advice to help you avoid any nightmare trips.
Book early, if possible
It’s the golden rule of booking flights: Prices will go up the longer you wait. “There definitely is an optimal window when airfares are typically at their lowest,” Price said, “and that’s usually around three months out. But there may still be some good deals out there for the holiday season since airlines sometimes add late flights.”
Get to the airport early
The security-checkpoint lines can change, ebb and flow considerably at DIA, which recommends arriving in the terminal at least two hours in advance of your flight. During busy periods, it’s worth arriving earlier than usual since you may need to navigate around the airport to find your line entrance, especially if you’re a member of Clear or TSA PreCheck. Check the DIA website for all the latest parking, airport and flight information and to subscribe for updates.
Remember to mask up
If you’re heading to an airport, don’t forget your mask. “The federal government requires all passengers, regardless of vaccination status, to wear their mask at all times – with the exception of when they are eating or taking a drink,” Price said.
“I’d suggest buying a mask that is comfortable to wear, easy to breathe in and doesn’t get too hot,” said Price, who has travelled by air twice in the past two weeks. “It’s a worthy investment if you want a more comfortable flight.”
Stay Covid-safe and sanitize
A crowded airport is like a giant petri dish filled with germs. To help protect against the spread of Covid-19, the Transportation Security Administration is allowing travelers to bring up to 12 ounces of hand sanitizer, plus alcohol or anti-bacterial wipes, in their carry-on bags.
Check your flight, then check it again
When you’re traveling during the holidays, one thing you can rely on is that you can’t really rely on anything. “During holiday season,” Price said, “there are always lots of flight changes, delays and, unfortunately, cancellations – especially if there is bad weather.”
He recommends downloading a flight app so you can regularly check for delays or changes to your itinerary.
Flying internationally? Check for travel restrictions
Travel rules have been eclectic and fluid lately, so international travelers should carefully check the latest requirements for all stages of their journey.
“The Department of State website is a good place to find clear guidance on restrictions regarding international locations,” Price said. “And I’d also recommend checking websites in the actual country you’re visiting for additional information, restrictions or rules.”
Listen to airport staff
The TSA has warned that it’s going to be a busy holiday season. And as passenger numbers start ramping up again, airport security staff have a simple request: Listen to them because they can help.
“Travelers should pay attention to the guidance TSA officers provide at checkpoints,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said. “They could be directing you to a shorter line or guiding you around someone who is moving slowly. And they may give you advice that will lessen the likelihood that you’ll need a pat-down.”
Pandemic-era flying has seen an unprecedented rise in air-rage incidents. More than 85% of flight attendants have had to deal with unruly passengers this year. And Price’s advice is stark: Don’t be one of those people.
“Interference with a crew member is a federal offense,” he said. “Unruly passengers may find themselves under criminal prosecution and ultimately have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. It’s really not worth it.”
If you’re on a flight and someone starts acting up, however, then it’s up to you whether to intervene.
“There could be repercussions, of course, just like if you tried to stop a fight on the street,” Price said. “But in most cases, passengers who assist crew members have not been arrested for trying to help.”
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