This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, you can be sure that the airports will be busy. People will visit loved ones and take amazing trips. At the same time, there’s potential for things to go wrong. We’ve put together some helpful tips to harness so that your trip will go as smoothly as possible and you can avoid holiday flight problems.

How can I avoid holiday flight problems?

How can I avoid the problem of a flight delay?

Sure there’s no 100% foolproof plan to not arrive late when flying there may be flight delays, but scheduling an early-morning flight (or, even better) the first flight out is a way to stack the deck in your favor. The science shows that the first flights of the day are more likely to leave on time, and arrive on time. It’s really just common sense. Once one flight is a little bit late, it creates a domino effect.

When you look at the holidays and the time of year, weather delays become a bigger part of the equation. So, a storm that starts in the middle of the night on the east coast will have reverberations across the entire network of flights across the country by mid-morning of the following day. Book the early flight for the best chance of arriving on time.

How can I assure my bag won’t get lost?

How can I avoid holiday flight problems?

You can actually have close to 100% certainty that the airlines won’t lose your bag if you don’t check a bag. Pack light and avoid the cost and the hassle. Packing light requires a commitment to some serious pre-planning. You can’t just start throwing things in a bag 20 minutes before you need to leave for the airport. Instead, if you carefully curate your holiday wardrobe, you can easily pack enough for the average family visit in your carry-on.

What if traffic or unforeseen circumstances cause me to miss my flight?

Ooof. Unfortunately, this one’s on you. To make sure you don’t miss your flight, please allow yourself a massive buffer. First, save yourself time by checking in 24 hours in advance from home. If you can plan to fly without checked bags, you’ll avoid the bag drop kiosks and/or the check-in counters at the airport where holiday travelers can get “stuck.” And finally, don’t forget you have to allow time to clear the TSA security check. If you’re really not a fan of waiting in lines, TSA Pre-Check may be a worthwhile investment. The service allows you to clear security from a separate line, without removing your shoes or belt. This is one holiday flight problem you can fix with just a little bit of time.

What if the airline cancels my flight? What can I do?

Well, if the airline does cancel your flight for reasons other than weather, you will usually be able to recoup your money back, even on a non-refundable ticket. However, it’s not going to be the first thing they offer you. This holiday flight problem is a bear – and the solution is mostly out of your hands.

To start, the airline may try to reroute passengers to other airlines. Instead of waiting for the gate agents to help you out, we recommend calling the airline’s customer support line directly. Gate agents have a lot of pressure on them when a flight gets canceled, so you want to explore as many of your options as you can.

How can I avoid holiday flight problems?

Does the loudly squeaky wheel get the grease when you’re at the airline’s mercy?

We say, not really, You’ve got to keep your cool, but also advocate for yourself. Call the airline directly, and also let the gate agent know NICELY That you MUST be accommodated on another flight. You might also want to explore an alternative backup plan. If you can hop a train to where you’re headed, or even rent a car – if things start to look systemic, we do recommend taking matters into your own hands rather than waiting for the airlines to sort you out. If you’re looking at a transcontinental flight (or any flight that isn’t within reasonable driving distance) and the rumor is that the flight will be canceled, you can and should get creative.

Don’t assume that the gate agents are exploring every possibility. For example, if you need to get to Los Angeles but there aren’t any flights to LA from Boston right now, ask if they have a flight to Phoenix they can get you on. That way, you can potentially land in Phoenix and rent a car to drive the last few hours yourself.

This is obviously not ideal, but if it can get you to your final destination, why not? Then you can ask the airline to compensate you for your car rental and aggravation. If your holiday travel is not imperative, you can also just take a refund and head home. Remember, the airline is not obligated to return your money because of bad weather. But if they don’t have that problem and cannot get you on a later flight, you can and should get refunded.

What if I’m stuck at the airport trying to get home?

This is really the worst-case scenario, isn’t it? In case of the worst-case, we do feel your pain. Here’s what we suggest. Get as much as you can from the airline. Take the food vouchers, take the free hotel stays, and hang tight. We know this is a big bummer. But usually the airlines will offer vouchers for future travel in these situations. If they don’t, you should ask. And remember to be kind to the gate agents trying to help.

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    • Hi Cathy, the Real ID deadline was moved to May 2025. If you are traveling within the United States, your regular State ID should suffice. Thanks for checking.

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