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Tales from a flight attendant: Surviving holiday travel

Being a better traveler can lead to a better holiday-travel experience. Here are a few tips from a flight attendant.

flight attendant

Trans-Continental flight attendant Bebe McGarry has seen it all in her 20 years of experience. In her opinion, the holiday travel season doesn’t differ much from any other time of the year because it all comes down to one thing: preparation.

The main aspect of holiday travel that attacks travelers is stress. Stress can affect us emotionally and physically, but if you plan ahead with Bebe’s tips, you’ll be relaxing in the sky on your way to grandma’s in no time!


Arrive early

Although the idea of being at your gate hours before your plane leaves may not sound appealing, take check-in delays and long TSA lines into consideration. More people travel between the months of November and December than any other time of the year, so the sheer volume of people at the airport is guaranteed to result in long wait times. Watch the way you pack as well. Unless your gifts are fragile, check them. It will save you time in the TSA lines, and you won’t have to keep track of your baggage until you arrive at your destination.


Prepare for delays

According to Bebe, you should always have a back-up plan. Anything from bad weather to equipment malfunctions can result in delays, ranging from a few hours to spending the night in the airport. For delays that are less than six hours, invest in a day pass for the lounge of your airline. Most passes range from $25 to $50 and last for at least four hours. If your travel plans include a connecting flight, look up hotels in the area before you depart on your trip in case of inclement weather. If you don’t want to spend money on a hotel, visit your local dollar store and purchase a blow-up air mattress, so you can rest relatively comfortably during an overnight delay. Additionally, take a close look at the connection and make sure that you have at least an hour to get to the next gate, so you don’t end up stranded.


Don’t rely on the airline for anything

“Don’t depend on the airline for anything; depend on yourself,” says Bebe. “Amenities are great, but they shouldn’t be expected.” Before you book your flight, do a bit of research regarding what kinds of amenities different airlines offer, and then make your decision. If your travel motto is “the best price wins,” bring your own blanket, pillow and snacks. If you follow a special diabetic or gluten-free diet, feel free to bring your own food, as long as it isn’t liquid-based.


Traveling with kids

The sights and sounds in crowded airports can cause stress and over stimulation in children. The best way to keep them happy and healthy is to travel with their favorite things. “Every kid should have a backpack with their favorite snacks and the toys that they cannot live without. Make it fun by telling them that you will have a picnic on the plane,” says Bebe. Airlines are only responsible for safe transportation and the bare necessities, so don’t expect entertainment. Packing items like a Kindle, an iPad or other movie-playing devices in your children’s backpacks is a great idea.


Staying healthy

During the holiday season, airline personnel don’t have the time to clean as thoroughly as they normally do. Bring antibacterial wipes for things like tray tables, handles and anything else you may touch. Hand sanitizer is useful when you don’t have time to wash your hands after using the bathroom. If you decide to wear an antibacterial face mask, remember that it should be traded out every four hours. If you need daily medicine, do not check it. Finally, keep in mind that airlines are public transportation, so flight attendants cannot tell sniffling travelers that they cannot board a flight. In extreme cases like fever or vomiting, rest assured that a ground agent will not allow a sick traveler to board and endanger other passengers. If you’re sick, stay home!

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