Traveling with the kids over the holidays can be stressful. In addition to crowded flights and airports, long security lines, luggage issues and other inconveniences, booking your fare ahead to get a good deal may be at the top of your list of worries. It’s no wonder that studies have shown the Christmas – New Years period to be the most the challenging time to fly. Thanksgiving ranks as a worst time as well.
There is some good news, though. The Transportation Department reports that domestic airfares on average are down nearly 15 percent from five years ago. And let’s be honest, the reason we endure crowded planes and airports, higher holiday airfares and weather-related woes during the holidays is that we value time spent with family and friends.
Maybe you are on the cusp of deciding to book a holiday flight for your family, or maybe you have already done so but are second guessing your decision. Something’s come up and you need to make a change in your flight schedule but you are afraid of high airline reservation change fees. There’s a great resource available in JustFly, a site that offers answers to frequently and not-so-frequently asked travel questions – as well as offers tools for navigating travel issues like getting insurance, passports and visas, changing tickets, checking in online, canceling flights and many more.
And if you looking ahead to travel beyond the holidays, be sure to mark check out the sales that usually appear on CyberMonday, December 2. Remember that spring break and summer 2020 are not that far off.
But if you’re still stressed about upcoming holiday travel, these tips will hopefully keep you healthy and make your travel cheaper and easier this holiday season:
— Juggle your dates. Travel the Monday before Thanksgiving or Thanksgiving morning, the week of Christmas rather than the following week and you could save more than $100 a ticket. Those airline surcharges we are hearing so much about are only for the busiest travel days, like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and Sunday, Dec 1.
— Book a direct flight, even if you have to pay more. And if you have to connect, allow at least three hours between flights. The planes will be packed and if you miss your connection — all it takes is one major storm somewhere — you won’t find enough seats on the next flights for your family. Make sure you get seat assignments too. It will be impossible to get seats together when you arrive at the airport for a packed flight.
— Look for “family designated” security lanes at airports to avoid the icy glares of harried business travelers behind you and your stroller. Allow at least an hour more than you think you’ll need and check in online.
— Travel with carry-on bags not only to possibly save fees, but also to save time. You’ll get to the gate — and out of the airport at the other end — significantly quicker. But be forewarned that if the overhead bins fill up before you board, you may have to gate-check your carry-on bag to your final destination.
— If necessary, ship suitcases, snow sports gear and holiday gifts ahead. If you are staying with relatives, rent a crib (it isn’t safe to use the one your mom has had in the attic for 30 years). Google a rental place near where you’ll be staying.
— Buy a seat for the baby and toddler and bring their safety seats onboard. Yes, they can fly free until they are two, but everyone from the FAA to the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that young children are far safer — not to mention more comfortable — in a safety seat, especially when a flight hits turbulence. You’ll have a more comfortable flight too.
— Stash sandwiches, snacks and reusable water bottles that you can fill when you get through security. This way you not only feed the kids healthier during the flight but also save considerable money and time. You don’t want to have to run for the gate — as I’ve had to do — after being stuck in an interminable security line with no time to stop for food, while facing a three-hour flight with three kids, with only crushed Goldfish in your purse.
— Keep that hand sanitizer handy and use it often. “Parents should not be afraid to travel due to H1N1,” says Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a pediatrician and editor of www.pediatricsnow.com. We’ve just got to travel smarter. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent guide for parents (www.flu.gov) and you’ll also find tips at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Website, www.aap.org. “Cough into a tissue or the crook of your elbow,” Dr. O’Keeffe says. And stay home if you are sick. Don’t go visit relatives who are sick either. Don’t share drinks or food, adds Dr. Chris Tolcher, a California pediatrician, medical school professor and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
— Just in case someone gets sick, bring along common over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, Dr. Tolcher suggests. Ask your pediatrician to recommend a physician in the area you’ll be visiting, particularly if any of your kids has a chronic condition. And consider travel insurance. According to the U.S. Travel Insurance Association, you’ll be covered if one of you gets sick away from home or if you have to cancel for H1N1 or other illnesses, as long as you have medical documentation.
— Make sure kids who are flying as unaccompanied minors know where they are going. (Yes, kids have been put on wrong flights.) Give them a cell phone and all of the phone numbers they might need. Teens need to know that if their flight is diverted or if they miss a connection, they’ve got to speak up and tell the gate agents and flight attendants they are alone. You don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle.
Enjoy your holiday travels and don’t worry too much about getting there.
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