Travelling home for Christmas or going on vacation during Christmas week doesn’t always reflect the merriest time of the year. With the busiest flying day of the year the Friday before Christmas, airports around the world are expected to see a huge growth in travellers. Last December, Toronto’s Pearson airport saw over 3-million travellers pass through its gates with holiday airport travel, and with approximately 100,000 passengers arriving and departing from Pearson every day, that number can go up to 150,000 each day during the Christmas period.
How then can you get through the airport security and gates without any extra holiday stress? We have your holiday airport survival guide. Everything you need to know on how to survive the airport at Christmas:
1. Pre-book your seats
Choose to pre-book your seats when you book your flight. Busy holiday travel periods means flights are usually full, and if you wait until the last minute, you might not find enough seats together to sit with your family. Online advanced seat selection is offered by most airlines, and is often complimentary. Remember, if you don’t opt to pre-book your seats, you can do so 24 hours in advance of your flight during online check-in, or up to 2 hours before your flight.
2.Track your flight
Be prepared for your holiday travel before you even head to the airport. Track your flight through airline apps, websites, or third-party sites to make sure your flight is on time. With unpleasant weather and a huge volume of air traffic around Christmas, flight delays and cancellations are a not so cheery reality. If your flight is delayed, you won’t be hanging around the airport for longer than necessary, meaning a cut-down on stress and impatience (and expensive airport snack food!), so when it is time for you to fly, you’re still calm. Checking your flight online beforehand also gives you plenty of time for seat selection and printing your boarding pass to cut down on another airport line.
3. Get there early
An increase in holiday airport traffic means longer lines at baggage check, security, and boarding. Arrive at the airport early, so you’re not running between gates or cutting it close for your boarding call. It’s recommended arriving at the airport three hours before your flight – yes, we mean for flights within Canada – at Christmastime to ensure you’re not rushed. If you have any special requests, like flying with a pet, disabilities, or small children, you might want to arrive earlier to avoid hiccups. Don’t slow down security lines further: make sure your carry-on is packed appropriately following carry-on baggage restrictions, and have your boarding pass and passport ready when you reach the front of the security line.
4. Consider a stopover hotel
If you’re flying out of an airport outside of your city or town, consider a stopover hotel the night before your flight. Eliminate the need for an early morning alarm clock and don’t risk driving in inclement weather while rushed. Stopover hotels include parking, so you don’t have to worry about asking a favour of a friend to drop you off before the sun rises, or worry about airport parking.
5. Don’t wrap Christmas gifts
If you’re packing Christmas gifts to take home for Christmas morning, don’t wrap them before you fly. This goes for carry-on baggage primarily, but we recommend this tip for your checked luggage, as well. For carry-on luggage, the transportation authority will need to see what you have packed and that means ripping off the shiny paper and undoing bows if you’ve already done your wrapping. You don’t want time – and pretty paper – to go to waste, and you definitely don’t want your travel partner to see their Christmas surprise. Save the wrapping for when you land, packing gifts between other items so they’re hidden from snooping eyes. Some airports do have gift wrapping stations between gates once you’re through security so you can get to work like Santa’s elves before you board.
6. Prepare for delays
Expecting delays from weather or overbooked flights will make it easier to handle when and if it does happen. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best is often advice given for holiday airport survival. For flights with connections, build buffer times into your schedule so one flight delay won’t sabotage your whole trip. Make sure any medications, snacks, and necessary items are packed in your carry-on baggage in case of long flight delays, to cut down on costs of purchases at the airport.
7. Travel early or late
If you haven’t booked your holiday travel yet and are planning on a very last minute ticket, try and look for flight times that leave early in the morning or late at night, or mid-week rather than heavy travel days like Thursdays through the weekend. These flight times often mean fewer people at the airport, so shorter lines, and an easier time finding your way through the airport. Opting to travel on Christmas Day, or New Year’s Eve itself can also sometimes mean cheaper flights and avoiding long lines and large crowds (you might even be treated special by airport staff when you’re spending Christmas morning in the airport. Turkey dinner can wait anyways!)
8. Don’t forget travel insurance
Travel insurance is an important part of every trip, but especially at Christmas when expensive presents in lost baggage might be on the line. With weather being more unpredictable in the winter months than the rest of the year, and the high-stress of the holidays already on travellers’ minds, insurance is a must for anyone travelling. Travel insurance goes beyond out-of-province or out-of-country medical insurance, but can cover flight cancellations, baggage loss or damage, schedule changes, and other issues, depending on the type of insurance you buy. Find out about all kinds of travel insurance here.
Some airports across the country are adding some Christmas spirit to your airport wait with special programming. Toronto Pearson’s airport will host Mrs. Clause from December 17 through 24, offering story time for the children in both terminals, art exhibits in terminal 1, and an interactive kiosk where kids can speak to Santa live from the North Pole. Vancouver International Airport will host a variety of classical musical performances, while the Calgary airport is home to four arcades to keep the kids busy (or for mom and dad to relive their glory days). Keep your eyes peeled for other special holiday activities before you fly out!
No matter where you’re travelling – whether it’s on a Caribbean vacation to avoid the cold weather, or flying home to be with family, tripcentral.ca wishes you a Happy Holidays and safe flight!