2020 promises to be a holiday travel season like no other in recent memory. Road trips are up, vacation excursions to Disney World are out, and quarantines may be in order if you’re coming from certain states and visiting others.
The holiday season is going to test everyone’s ability to travel during a pandemic, amid rapidly changing restrictions and regulations.
The situation literally changes every day, so we’re not going to get into specifics here. However, these 21 tips will help your holiday travel be safer and less stressful, whether you’re flying, driving, or just walking down the street with a two-quart Pyrex of tater-tot hotdish.
1. Be flexible about your destination.
Long ago in this blog Christine Krzyszton recommended letting airfares dictate your destination. Well, if you’re considering a holiday getaway, how about letting availability dictate your destination?
If you’re flexible enough to go where the planes go you might be able to score some great deals.
2. Be flexible about your departure and arrival airports.
The number of flights may be way down, but that doesn’t mean you’re home free when it comes to holiday travel delays.
The Points Guy notes that the flight picture for the holidays involves fewer, fuller flights – and fewer planes operating may actually put additional stress on the holiday travel system.
All of this means that delayed arrivals and departures will continue to plague holiday travel in 2020.
In terms of where to avoid, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the following major airports had more than one-quarter of their departing flights delayed in December 2019:
- Chicago Midway
- San Francisco
- La Guardia
- Fort Lauderdale
To avoid those bottlenecks, try leaving from:
- Portland, Ore.
- Portland, Maine
- Miami International
- Washington Reagan
Whatever you do, avoid these airports:
- Sun Valley, Idaho (48.5% on-time departures)
- Concord, N.C. (53.5%)
- Aspen, Col. (59.8%)
What’s the best airport for on-time departures? Unfortunately, it’s places where you don’t want to leave – specifically, the Hawaiian airports of Hilo (92.7% on-time), Kona (90.3%), and Lihue (90.9%).
When the topic is arrivals, major airports where arriving flights were delayed more than one-quarter of the time in November 2018 include:
- San Francisco
- La Guardia
The worst for on-time arrivals? Sun Valley (46.2% on-time arrivals).
Instead of letting Boston mess with your plans, try flying into Providence (75.9% on-time arrivals). And you can set your watch by Greenville, N.C., and Mobile, Ala. They had almost perfect on-time arrival rates in December 2019.
3. Avoid regional air carriers.
If you look at the airlines that often struggle to have planes arrive and depart on time, most of them have one thing in common: They’re served by regional air carriers.
The airlines that fly those little planes connecting small airports to larger hubs – are often responsible for the bulk of delays during the holidays. Why?
- The airports these carriers serve may be more susceptible to bad weather
- They may lack sufficient weather-removal equipment
- There may be issues getting planes out of those airports and back to the hubs
- They may not get top priority for takeoffs and landings
If you have to fly into or out of a regional airport over the holidays, you might want to ...
4. Fly early in the day.
According to the DOT, two-thirds of flight delays in December 2019 had nothing to do with snowstorms or freezing rain. Instead, they were a result of a late-arriving aircraft or a delay in the national aviation system.
These things are going to continue to happen, regardless of the number of planes in the sky.
The best way of avoiding those mishaps is to fly as early in the day as you can get flights. Yes, it may mean you have to get up at 4 a.m., but it’s better to catch some shuteye on your flight as opposed to napping out of boredom because you’re stuck in an airport.
5. Plan your pivot.
If your flight into LaGuardia falls through because it’s a flight into LaGuardia in December, then what?
Depending on whether you’re in the Northeast Corridor, train service is fast, clean, and fairly dependable – competitive with planes in the worst of winter.
You might also want to reserve a car using an aggregator like AutoSlash to maximize your selection, because nothing says “holiday cheer” like the Garden State Parkway on a holiday getaway day.
However you choose to deal with it, be prepared to pivot – and keep your eyes on the prize.
6. Pack for the worst.
When you’re packing, pack your carryon with:
- Several pairs of underwear and socks
- A change of clothes
Try to swing it so you have no checked luggage. Your family will understand if you have to wear the same shirt two days in a row.
7. Pursue simultaneous strategies.
If you’re stuck in an airport line waiting for a gate agent, multi-task.
- While in line, call your airline to try to rebook your flight. You might get faster attention than from that counter agent way off in the distance.
- Call the international customer-service line instead of the domestic line. They’re often able to take your call when domestic lines are jammed.
- Try social media. Many airlines will react to social-media requests faster than a phone call. See if tweeting at the airline can get you on a flight to your arrival airport.
8. Understand your airline’s cancellation policies.
Southwest has always had a great cancellation policy; now other airlines are waiving change fees and doing more to accommodate travelers who may be waylaid by a last-minute positive diagnosis or other mishap.
Know what your airline’s cancellation policies are before you leave, and stick to your guns if they don’t honor their end of the deal.
9. Clean your area.
In the airport or on the plane, use sanitizing wipes or hand sanitizer on a tissue to clean any areas that may be touching your head, face, arms, or hands. Sanitize or wash your hands frequently.check out our travel insurance plans
This year more than ever, holiday travel is going to mean a road trip. These tips can help when you’re on the road.
10. Zig instead of zag.
Avoiding crowds can also mean avoiding delays – or it can run you into more delays with less help. Be judicious about when you choose the two-lane road to avoid the interstate.
The upside is potentially, you will have a much easier time of it, and arrive on time or even ahead of schedule, so weigh the risks and benefits before you turn off the main road.
11. Pack it all.
If you live in a snow-covered area, don’t leave the driveway in winter without a winch, a more robust aftermarket jack, a comealong, tow straps, rope, jumper cables, a collapsible shovel, and a first-aid kit.
If you’re traveling long distances through snow and ice, pack what Transport Canada tells you to pack. It really doesn’t take up all that much space, and it could save your life.
12. Tell people where you’re going and when you expect to get there.
Holiday driving is not the best venue for pulling a surprise arrival. Tell people when you’re leaving, how you’re getting from there to here, when you plan to arrive, and any stops you plan to make along the way. Update them if your plans change.
Even if you’re in the middle of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with a bricked cellphone, people will still have an idea of where to find you. And that’s vital.
13. Stop the slips-and-falls.
Sooner or later you’re going to have to get out of the car, and smooth-soled shoes and ice are a recipe for injury.
Lug-soled boots may not make a fashion statement, but they make a safety statement – and that’s more important in a season where it’s dark 90% of the time. Otherwise, if you’re going to be walking more than a couple of blocks, consider investing in some Yaktrax.
Special Travel Safety Guidance For 2020
As mentioned, this is going to be a holiday travel year like no other. Here’s a few tips to travel safely through a pandemic.
14. Know what countries and states have quarantines in effect.
Kayak has a wonderful map on international travel restrictions that’s updated daily. It also comes with recommendations on places you can travel right now.
In addition, bloggers like Traveling With Kristin have information on countries that are open to American travelers.
States like New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have been particularly aggressive about making visitors from hot spots quarantine before mingling with the general population.
15. Follow CDC guidelines all the time.
Wash your hands, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.
If you’re used to doing these behaviors at home and they’re not being observed where you’re traveling, do them anyway. It is absolutely, positively, 100% the right thing to do.
16. Ask about cleaning and safety protocols.
If you’re staying at a hotel or other rental property, ask how frequently rooms are sanitized, laundry procedures, and cleaning protocols for common areas.
Avoid breakfast buffets if they’re offered. Pack your own granola bars or choose a grab-and-go option instead.
17. Take one trip – not many.
There’s a reason why many colleges are sending students home for remote learning after Thanksgiving – they don’t want them going and coming back again.
If you’re planning a trip to your parents’ place for Thanksgiving and your spouse’s parents’ for Christmas, see if you can combine trips or take a rain check for a year. If that doesn’t work, suggest a summer get-together.
Travel is good; repeated travel can be a risk. Try to minimize exposure, for yourself and others.
18. Look after the homestead.
If people are coming to visit you, make sure your house is clean and you’ve been following guidelines. Behave prudently for several weeks before guests arrive.
You don’t want to be a “super-spreader” – and those precautions start at home.
19. Avoid crowds.
Crowds spread COVID. Whether it’s parades or family gatherings or jam-packed stores, the holidays can mean crowds. Avoid big events at all costs.
20. Trace outbreaks.
Keep a mental diary of where you go and who you interact with during your holiday travels. If that’s too hard, keep an actual diary. In case you do come down with COVID, having that inventory can be vital in helping contact tracers and keeping infections from getting out of hand.
21. Buy travel insurance.
Lots of things can happen to your holiday travels – now more than ever. Protect your travels with travel insurance from Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection.
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