Flying standby: Mark Vanek’s tips for surviving holiday travel

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

This Thanksgiving, an estimated 40 million people will take a trip of at least 50 miles to visit cherished family members and friends. With that being said, I’m going to naturally assume that you have already made your holiday arrangements and feel it would be out of place for me to recommend some exotic location to which you might steal away.
However, when traveling by air during the busiest time of year, missed connections, bad weather or oversold flights can all lay waste to the best made plans. I may not be able to help you navigate family dynamics over the holiday but as a resident expert of flying standby, I certainly can assist you in surviving airport travel. So, this month I feel compelled to offer up my globetrotting acumen in an effort to make your flying experience easier and more tolerable.
Here are the Standby Travelerís Official Ten Best Tips for Surviving Holiday Air Travel
1. It’s all about the TSA. Take precautions about what you and your children wear before heading out to the airport. Remember to sport slip-on shoes, ditch the belt, and keep jewelry to a minimum in an effort to expedite the security process. Be sure not to pack oversized electronics and have easy access to your computer. Any shampoo, hair spray or other liquid exceeding three ounces should be packed in your checked luggage.
Visit the TSA website for a more comprehensive understanding of swiftly getting through the security screening process:
2. The Gate Agent. If you miss a connection for whatever reason, you will soon realize that it’s the gate attendant’s world and we’re just passing through it. The gate agent is your best friend; so be sure not to cause a scene about why or what made you late to your original flight. All that matters is the here and now… and right now you need to enlist their favor, not their disdain.
The squeaky wheel will not get the grease, try a much more civil approach by killing them with kindness.
3. Be Flexible. During the peak travel times, getting bumped from a flight might not necessarily be a bad thing. If you don’t mind waiting on a later flight, you could be asked to volunteer your seat in exchange for a free travel voucher and/or hotel room. Many savvy travelers actually attempt to get bumped in an effort to secure these lucrative rewards.
4. Be Prepared to Split Up
If you’ve unfortunately missed a connection, most gate agents will try hard to keep all your family members together on the next available flight. However when checking in, let the gate agent know that you are not philosophically opposed to some of your party flying ahead. It beats losing out on the only two existing seats of a crowded plane, and trust me, you will invariably reunite later in the day.
5. Waiting in the Terminal. Most airports now have short-term docking stations for computer and phone charging. However, make an effort to find an electricity outlet near a comfortable seat, as you may have to wait on your next connection or a long delayed flight.
6. Buy a Last Minute Upgrade
Often coach seats will be the first to sellout… If your plane is overbooked, consider upgrading at the gate. A first class seat might be your only available option, and you can purchase last-minute upgrades with the gate agent as inexpensively as fifty dollars.
7. Prescriptions. Take responsibility for yourself by always keeping medication, passports and other personal items with you at all times. Your larger carry-on luggage more than likely will get checked when boarding a full airplane. Also, remember to pack a snack in case you are stranded on the runway for an extended period of time, or have a pre-existing medical condition that requires nutritional support.
8. Baggage Claim Tickets.In the hustle and bustle of last minute boarding be sure to properly secure all baggage claim tickets. Ensure that you donít leave them inadvertently in the seat pocket. Baggage officials find it much more difficult to track bags without claim tickets. Sure, they will eventually find your luggage, but do you really want to go through the hassle of waiting for hours on end, or the unenviable prospect of returning to the airport?
9. Bar and Restaurant . Do not lose track of time at the airport pub, as your flight might not be as delayed as long as expected. And certainly donít become inebriated! Airline associates have no choice but to refuse boarding any passenger that appears to be intoxicated. Keep in mind, alcohol will have a more significant effect on your body when flying and be sure to apply the time tested adage that one cocktail in the air equals two on the ground.
10. Be Courteous. Be understanding and considerate to other travelers, gate agents and everyone else you meet on your holiday journey. Step out of the myopic viewpoint that yours is the only perspective that matters, and understand that others long to see their loved ones every bit as much as you.
Mark Vanek is a seasoned world traveler. Each month he heads to Charlotte Douglas-International Airport where he flies standby to a destination in the U.S. or abroad. To read more, go to