Flight Attendant Reveals To Us Their Genius Tricks To Make Holiday Travel A Breeze

The holidays are here, and with them comes the stressful experience of traveling during one of the busiest times of year. According to a 2023 travel survey by The Vacationer, a record-breaking 131 million adults in the United States plan on traveling during the Christmas holiday. Whether you're planning to head back to your hometown to visit family and friends, or you're embarking on a long-awaited vacation during the holiday season, you'll be joined by nearly half of the adult population of the country.

With such a major travel surge, it's a good idea to plan ahead and expect some flight interruptions. Professional Flight Attendant Lindsey Mercer spoke exclusively with Explore to offer her best tips. She has worked in aviation for a decade and has traveled to more than 60 countries, so she has some excellent advice as you navigate the chaos of holiday travel.

According to Mercer, airports become congested with people who are not skilled travelers. This leads to long lines at TSA and stressful experiences when flights inevitably delay or cancel. Over her 10 years as a flight attendant, Mercer has seen it all. While it's common for travelers to feel on-edge during the holidays, the extra stress can be avoided with proper planning and patience, says Mercer.

Common problems while flying during the holidays and how to avoid them

When you combine the huge influx of travelers with common problems airlines face during the colder months, it creates the perfect recipe for flight disruptions and cancellations. According to Mercer, bad weather plays a major role in flight delays throughout the winter season. Even short delays caused by the need for planes to de-ice can create a snowball effect that leads to delays throughout the day.

"Get to the airport early if at all possible," says Mercer. "If you book the first flight of the day, you have less chances of problems involving delayed inbound aircraft."

Mercer also advises travelers to check the weather often leading up to their flights. "Winter weather is unpredictable," she says. "So keep an open mind if you do face delays or cancellations due to weather." Expect the unexpected. If you arrive at the airport prepared for potential delays, you'll save yourself a lot of stress as you prepare for last-minute holiday travel issues. 

More tips for stress-free holiday travel

Mercer suggests ensuring that you get plenty of sleep the day before your departure and arrive at the airport significantly earlier than you normally would outside of the busy holiday season. Aim to get there two hours before your scheduled departure so that you have plenty of time to navigate TSA and find your gate. Even if you have TSA PreCheck or CLEAR, it's still a good idea to arrive early. Plenty of other travelers are in the same boat, and you'll save yourself from running through the airport if security lines are moving slowly.

Another tip from Mercer is to pack your carry-on full of things to keep you comfortable throughout your travel day. Bring along some extra materials to keep yourself entertained in case you do experience a delay. Consider packing a good book, an extra charging block for electronics, and some fun games or small toys to keep kids busy.

She also recommends dressing in layers. Airports and airplanes can get pretty chilly, so make sure you have enough clothes with you to stay warm. Finally, Mercer advises bringing along some of your favorite snacks and a refillable water bottle –  especially if you're traveling on a budget. Some delays or cancellations can happen late at night; and in smaller airports, you might not always have the option to purchase additional food or beverages as you wait for your flight to depart. Avoid holiday travel pitfalls with plenty of preparation.