It’s that time of year. The aroma of gingerbread wafting through the kitchen. Ice on the windshield. And a total zoo at the airport.
Flying and travelling in general can be sigh-inducing at the best of times. Add in holidays and the desire to buy the perfect gift and family conflicts and crowded flights and the number on the stress-o-meter can rise to the top very quickly. With that in mind, here are a few tips for making the most of that dreaded Christmas-time trip to our nation’s major airports. Of course, as we all should know by now, arriving VERY EARLY for your flight is always advisable during the holidays.
WATCH YOUR LAYOVER TIMES: Crowded planes mean crowded terminals. Recent security issues around the world could make things slower at security this Christmas. So give yourself at least two hours at any major airport if you have to change planes to get to your final destination. If you’re flying into JFK in New York for a flight overseas, make it three hours. Or maybe four. That place is nuts.
DA-DA-DA-DA-DA, CHARGE: In this day and age, it pays to have your smartphone with you when you travel. You can carry your boarding pass on your phone, you can call the airline if there’s a problem of you can even use Twitter to draw attention to a travel issue or to seek help. But none of that matters if your phone runs out of juice. Many airports have places to re-charge, but others (Rome, for example) don’t seem to have any outlets. So bring adapters and power cords to re-charge your devices. A portable charger for your smart phone that you can power up at home or in your hotel also is good for when you’re on the go and don’t have access to an outlet.
AVOID WEIGHTY ISSUES Almost all airlines charge for bags now. And for every extra pound. So pack light. This is easy when you’re heading to Florida; harder when you’re flying to Newfoundland. Bring clothes that don’t show the dirt or that can be washed easily. Pack what you think you need and then, just before you leave, take out one-third of the items. Also, wear your heaviest clothing on the plane so it doesn’t count against the weight limit. A winter jacket might be bulky and uncomfortable on a warm plane but wearing it will save a ton of suitcase space and weight. You can always fold it up and use it as a pillow, thus avoiding the dreaded $6 pillow charge at the same time. You might want to look into having FedEx or UPS or someone send your heavy Christmas gifts home instead of paying high airline fees.
BE A SECURITY PRO Frequent fliers know the drill. They wear shoes that are easy to remove at the security checkpoint. They put their coins in their jacket before they get in line and then put their jacket through the machine. They have their laptops out and ready to go. Security can be stressful, so do everything you can to speed things up for your sake – and everyone else’s. Also, it’s best to avoid wrapped Christmas presents in your bags, as security folks might go poking around and need to have a look at what you’re taking on the plane. It’s a pain, but wrapping presents at your final destination is better.
CHECK YOUR APPS Okay, so your smartphone is charged to the max. Now take advantage of what it can do with great travel apps. Gate Guru, which is free to download, gives you information on the best restaurants or shops at airports around the world. There’s also a section that allows you to keep track of what airports you’ve visited and just how far you actually went on that flight to Australia (you know, the one with the kid behind you kicking your seat every 30 seconds). FlySmart, which also is free, has similar information to Gate Guru but also can alert you to delayed flights; a big deal during the holidays.
BE NICE TO THE STAFF This goes for any time of year, but especially at the holidays when harried and underpaid flight attendants are helping you get home to Mom and Dad or to dinner with Uncle Harry. Smile. Say please. Say thank you. Say thank you a lot. Be patient. Be humble. Be polite. And tell them you appreciate what they do. Not only does the staff on your flight deserve this kind of treatment, but it might get you an extra treat.
PICK YOUR SEAT WISELY Apps such as Seat Guru can tell you which row on your flight is an exit row or, for Air Canada flights, even let you know which seats have power outlets you can use in case you ignored my suggestion to power your devices at home or at the airport. If you’re one of those people like me who crave a little space around them on a long flight, try this suggestion. Book a seat in the far back of the plane on the aisle in the middle section (assuming there is one). The last seats to sell are middle seats, and the last of those to go are usually at the back of the plane. So unless your plane is completely full (unfortunately, this happens more than it used to) you’ve got a good shot of having an empty middle seat next to your occupied aisle spot. This means being able to move your books or laptop around or put your drinks or food on the table next to you. Not to mention elbow room and a sense of more personal space.
TAKE THE TRAIN If you’re travelling between big Canadian cities or in the Windsor-Toronto-Montreal-Quebec City corridor, the VIA train is a fine option. Fares are reasonable, and it only takes about six hours to get from Toronto to Montreal. Driving to Pearson, clearing security ahead of your flight, taking the flight, waiting for your luggage and taking a cab downtown will probably take you four hours, anyway; maybe five. So there’s very little difference. But the train has Wi-Fi and scenery you can gaze at and space where you can stretch out or go for a walk. Or have a drink. If you can’t take the train, win the lottery and buy a chopper.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
The Toronto Airport Marriott has a great lounge pass package for Pearson Airport. Book a room from Thursday to Sunday from now until April 3 from $189 and up and get a pair of three-hour passes to Plaza Premium Lounges at Pearson Airport; a great way to start your holiday. You also get up to 15 days of covered parking (if available) and a free shuttle that runs to the airport from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m. Marriott Reward plan members get free Wi-Fi, as well. Visit www.torontoairportmarriott.com and enter the code LPR in the “Corporate/promotional code” box when making your online reservation. Alternatively, call 1-888-236-2427 in Canada and request promotional code LPR. Blackout dates apply.
DESTINATION OF THE WEEK
London Ontario was recently named one of the best places for hotel deals in Canada by the folks at Trivago. It’s an increasingly hip and tasty spot, with a couple of very fine craft breweries and fun areas to check out. Toboggan Brewing makes super-tasty ales and lagers, many with lower alcohol than others in the biz. The décor also is quite cool. Covent Market is always great for fresh food, flowers and other treats. Try the chic Station Park Hotel downtown for a convenient and comfortable place to stay. They’re all suites, so you’ve got lots of room to work and spread out a bit.