Top 5 Christmas Travel Tips

Summary

  • Traveling this time of year can be stressful, but there are ways to make sure you get through it without too many gray hairs.
  • Most importantly, it’s a good idea to prepare for your trip early and be ready for any challenge ahead.
  • Some top tips include signing up for TSA PreCheck, starting with a completely empty suitcase, arriving at the airport early, and being flexible with travel plans.


With one of the busiest travel periods just around the corner, exacerbated by millions of travelers trying to reach their destinations in a few days, it’s important to prepare to ensure the experience remains smooth. This may involve some preparation and flexibility, especially if the weather is expected to worsen and potentially lead to a snowball effect of flight delays and cancellations, as occurred during the holiday travel period with Southwest Airlines and United Airlines respectively in December 2022 and June 2023.

According to a statement released by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the agency is “We are prepared for sustained higher passenger volumes over the winter holiday season and expect airport checkpoints to be busier this year than last year.” The TSA has outlined the Christmas travel period as running from Dec. 21 to Jan. 2, 2024, with the busiest days expected to be Dec. 21, Dec. 29 and Jan. 1, with the agency screening 2.5 million travelers daily. This represents a 6% year-over-year (YoY) increase, with the busiest day last year being December 29, when the TSA screened 2.4 million passengers.


1 Prepare in advance

TSA PreCheck can save a lot of time

The program is available for use:

  • With 90 airlines
  • At more than 200 airports

One of the best ways to avoid stress when traveling for the holidays is to prepare ahead of time. The TSA said its PreCheck members wait an average of less than five minutes at the checkpoint, and parents can bring their children who are 12 or younger to the TSA PreCheck screening lanes.

Photo: Tada Images | Shutterstock

However, signing up for TSA PreCheck must be done much earlier than a day before travel, as you must make an appointment in advance. Although the agency has over 600 enrollment centers, this will take time given that new applicants must wait for their Known Traveler Number (KTN) for at least three days.

2 Pack carefully

Avoid being held up at the airport or worse

Prohibited items include:

  • Firearms
  • Sharp objects
  • Flammable

The TSA noted that the best packing idea to avoid bringing prohibited items on board the plane or in checked baggage is to start with an empty bag. “Passengers who start packing with an empty bag are less likely to bring prohibited items through the checkpoint, which include firearms, explosives, fireworks, flammables, knives, razors and replica weapons.” the agency said.

Gun on TSA table.

Photo: Transportation Security Administration

It’s a good idea to check the limits and regulations of the airline you’re flying with for any baggage or carry-on restrictions to avoid paying hefty fees while you’re at the gate or check-in counter, making an already stressful scenario worse.

3 Don’t wrap presents

The TSA has to check anything suspicious

Alternatives:

The US agency also pointed out that travelers should avoid wrapping their gifts early, as agents can stop and check any potentially suspicious packages simply because of their shape. “TSA encourages those traveling with gifts this holiday season to use gift bags that can be opened easily or gift boxes with lids that can be removed so that the contents can be inspected if necessary,” it said.

Santa Claus hands a gift to someone in front of a Finnair plane.

Photo: Finnair

TSA reiterated that wrapped gifts may need to be opened if an officer deems it necessary to do so. As a result, packing an item can not only be wasteful, but also add to stress levels while traveling. When wrapping or transporting gifts, keep in mind the technology used in airports. For example, older x-ray machines can damage the camera’s film, which can ruin a gift you received for a loved one. According to the TSA, it “uses a variety of security methods and technologies to protect our transportation systems.”

4 Arrive early at the airport

Just in case…

Recommended time buffer:

  • 2 hours (on domestic flight)
  • 3 hours (if flying international)

Considering the chaos that can occur at the security gates due to the large number of passengers, resulting in potential gate delays, it is always a good idea to arrive at the airport early. Being too early is better than being too late as the planes have to take off on time.

Waiting in line for security at Changi Airport in Singapore.

Photo: Michael Doran I Simple Flying

According to the TSA, it’s a good idea to arrive at the airport two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight, allowing “in enough time to park your car, return your rental car, or arrive by public transportation or carpool, check baggage with the airline, and go through security before arriving at the gate.”

5 Be flexible with travel dates

Off-peak days can result in lower travel prices

American Airlines Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) New York flight prices for December 21 and December 25:

  • From $422 on December 21st
  • From $374 on December 25th

As mentioned above, TSA predicts that certain days during the Christmas period will be busier than other times, meaning there will be more demand. As a result, airlines, in an attempt to maximize their profits, will increase prices on peak days. In contrast, traveling on other Christmas travel days can result in cheaper tickets, saving you a dollar or two.

An American Airlines Boeing 777 on the runway at Los Angeles International Airport.

Photo: Thiago B Trevisan | Shutterstock

For example, checking American Airlines flights between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on December 21, 2023, fares start at $422. On December 24th and December 25th, they drop to $374. The same is evident on Delta Air Lines’ reservation system, which advertises flights from $432 on December 21, dropping to $384 on December 24 and 25.

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