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T+L's Holiday Travel Survival Guide

holiday travel

Today officially kicks off the holiday travel season—are you ready?

An estimated 25 million people are traveling by air this Thanksgiving. That means crowded airports and full flights—all made worse by a winter storm that’s scheduled to hit the eastern seaboard later today. To help you ease your way through the crowds and anticipated flight delays, we’ve put together our holiday travel survival guide to get you from Point A to B—and home again. Bookmark it, print it, stash it in your carry on. Just don’t leave home without it.

Before you leave

Sign up for text and email alerts about flight delays and cancellations from your airline and services such as FlightStats. You can also get a sense of what’s happening with FlightStats’s compendium of delays and cancellations around the globe.

Use social media. Sometimes it can take a crucial few hours for a text message with information on a flight delays to arrive. Be proactive about checking airline Twitter handles for updates. You can also use Twitter to stay on top of weather updates (@weatherchannel) and breaking news (@cnnbrk).

Put your airline’s reservation number on speed dial. In the event of serious delays or cancellations, you’ll be the first one on the line with an agent.

Rebook flights preemptively if you see trouble on the horizon. When bad weather starts wreaking havoc on the flight schedules, airlines often waive rebooking fees for travelers who want to change their plans in advance. As of this afternoon, Delta, US Airways, JetBlue, United, were already offering such waivers for flights through the Northeast and mid-Atlantic. See if you can rebook on the first flight out after the storm passes.

At the airport

Keep TSA in the palm of your hand. The MyTSA app provides crowdsourced, real-time estimates of how long you’ll wait at security, along with PreCheck availability at airports around the country.

Navigate like a pro. Download GateGuru to get a sense of the best your terminal has to offer. User-generated reviews will help you find that rare airport meal worth eating, and easy integration with itinerary managers Kayak and TripIt means you’ll find out about flight delays if you’re not within eyesight of your gate.

If your flight is delayed or cancelled

Get on the phone and in line. When flights are cancelled en masse, airline toll-free numbers get overwhelmed quickly, so try all options that are available to you. You can also sometimes turn to the airline's international reservations desks for help. 

Get a day pass to the airline lounge. They’re available for purchase—often for under $50—even if you don’t have elite status with the airline. You’ll have a more comfortable place to wait out the delay along with access to the lounge’s desk agents, who can help you rebook. 

Consider an alternate destination or carrier. See if there are nearby airports that can get you to your destination in a timely manner. Also, ask if your airline can put you on another carrier. Use Flightstats to see if there is seat availability on alternate flights.

Buy a new ticket. If your carrier won’t rebook you on another airline, consider buying a whole new ticket and exchanging your current one for credit. Two things to keep in mind: you may have to pay a change fee (up to $200) and use the credit to travel by a certain deadline, often a year from the date that your original ticket was issued

Get a back-up hotel room. If you’re caught in transit and facing a long night on an airport bench, try treating yourself to a last-minute hotel room. Apps such as HotelTonight offer affordable same-day deals at stylish properties—just check the cancellation policy in case you manage to get out of town.

Keep your patience and good-humor. And be nice! You’ll get better service—and karma will reward you eventually. 

Photo by iStockphoto

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