holidays-terminalIf the thought of an airplane trip see family or friends during the holidays drives your stress levels up, the last thing you need is any additional irritations during your travels. So, as the countdown to the holidays draws to a close, what can you do to maximize your air travel experience while in the throes of some of the busiest travel days of the year?

I spoke with some folks who are closest to it all–employees and flight attendants for Delta and American Airlines shared a few top tips to help you keep your cool, and help them maintain theirs.

Travel Early

Those in the biz say the ideal day to travel is two days before the actual holiday. Staffing levels are high. If there are any delays you’re still ahead of the game as far as your ability to make it to your destination, and people are still generally at their best mood-wise.

Airline counterCheck in as early as possible. You’ll have best options for any open seats and you’re helping to safeguard chances of getting bumped.

Sharon at Delta says it’s key to have a seat assignment BEFORE you arrive at the airport. You can always attempt to change it online when you check in, or at the airport if it’s not to your liking. If you book your tickets through a third party site that won’t allow an assignment at the time of booking, she advises to take a moment and call the airline you’re actually flying to have them assign you a seat at the time of the booking. That may save you from hassles, including possible bumping if the plane is majorly oversold the day-of.

Be Prepared

Although technology allows for paperless tickets, it’s still advisable to print out a copy of your travel documents that contains confirmation numbers/seats and any other pertinent information. Don’t assume that your cell phone, iPad or computer will always give you what you need exactly when you need it. Again, it’s not that the airlines can’t eventually get that information, but as a backup, it’s a real time saver.


What’s a sure way to frustrate airline staff, not to mention other passengers? Lack of respect. A little bit goes a long way, according to Kim at American Airlines. “From the get go, think about the people around you,” she said. Do not demand. Ask nicely. Be kind. Be generous. Address people by title (Mr. or Miss), or by name if they’re wearing a name pin.

Be aware of people around you. Dana at Delta told me a story of a woman who had been seated on the plane during boarding, then decided she had to get something from an overhead bag, and proceeded to open her bag in the middle of the aisle as others were still trying to board. As you can imagine, that woman didn’t score any points as she was oblivious to it all.

Bump and Earn

If you have some flexibility and want a chance to earn some sky bucks, look for opportunities to volunteer to be bumped off your flight. When making your initial booking, ask the airline to search for flights that are already crowded. Flying very close to the holiday travel date allows your chances to go up. Let attendants know you’re happy to volunteer at first chance. Amanda at Delta told me about a man who came to the airport booked on an oversold flight who then proceeded to volunteer to get off of three consecutive flights. He spent almost the entire day at the airport, but she explained he’s now set for tickets for the rest of the year.

If you’re asked to volunteer and you do so, make sure to go for the maximum you can go for. If answering a question about this at the kiosk, be sure to ask for at least $100 worth of travel vouchers, if not more.

And in case you are bumped involuntarily, depending on the price of the ticket, know the airline may write you a check for the lost amount right then and there, and they’re supposed to put you on the first available flight.