Ah, the holiday traveling seasons.  The time where we all begrudgingly pack up our suitcases and visit family and friends who for whatever reason doesn’t want to live anywhere near us.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a frequent flyer, but after flying over 20,000 miles this year alone, I do take certain steps to ensure that my flights are as painless and trouble-free as possible.

Here are a couple tips on how you too, can be a travel superstar:

1. Use price comparison engines to find the best prices.

Search sites like Kayak.com makes looking for flight fairly easy.  The great thing about kayak is its ability to let you further refine and filter your results – from early morning flights to the midnight dash to the airport, you can pick and choose base on your traveling preferences.  Tweak the near-by airports and find the cheapest option for your location region.

2. Pack and travel as light as possible.

If it’s not a long trip (shorter than a week), I would do my best to fit everything I need in a carry-on luggage (duffel bag, small suitcase, whatever).   Although I do understand why we sometime over pack — after all, it’s safer to have everything you need than to be sorry — traveling with excessive luggage is never fun.  The time you’d save in avoiding checking in luggage can sometimes be priceless.

3. Map out and inform yourself on the layout of the terminals and airport ahead of time.

It’s the age of the Internet and almost every major airport (and smaller regional airports) will have a website fully detailing the terminals and parking locations.  Efficient airports generally have great layouts and directories.  The main thing you should always look for when you check an airport’s website is which terminal your airline is located at, and where the gate is within the perspective terminal.

Knowing where you need to go ahead of time may sound like common sense, but if you’ve ever seen the group of people wandering around the airport – only to realize that their gate and terminal is on the other side of the airport — then you know how time consuming it can be when you’re ill prepared.

4. Check TSA website for security check point wait time.

This is actually a pretty handy site from our stellar transportation security government agency.  The TSA wait times page lets you check out the security line wait time ahead of time before you head to the airport.  Just pick your airport, traveling day, terminal, and flight hours and the TSA website will spit out historical data on the length of wait time for each terminal’s perspective security check point.

Of course the data can’t always be perfect or accurate, but from my experience, wait times listed are fairly accurate within +/- ten minutes.   Once you know how long the potential wait time could be, you can better plan when you should arrive at the airport (I personally hate waiting an excessively long time just to board my plane).

5. Use online check-in and SeatGuru to choose better seating.

Most websites will have the ability for you to print out a boarding pass from home.  If you travel light and won’t be checking in any luggage, you can simply print a boarding pass and head straight to the security check-in lines.

Using Seatguru.com ahead of time to pick a seat of your preference.  Although for many flights the choices are all the same for specific class of seating — with Seatguru, you can at least know the seats you should try to avoid (ones near bathroom, ones that don’t recline, one’s that are near gallery etc.).  An added benefit of checking in online is the option to choose better seating when a flight isn’t full.  Why sit upfront where it’s packed to the brink when you can leisurely sit in the back of the plane with 2-3 seats to yourself?

6. Familiarize yourself with TSA rules and procedures.

No matter what you think of their efficiency or viability, TSA security lines are here to stay.  As each airport better adjust their security lines, the wait and hassles are becoming less frequent.  Still, not everyone flies regularly and you can always spot an infrequent travelers easily as you’re slouching through the security line. The TSA website has a great breakdown of what you should be aware of, but here are a few simple tips:

  • Make life easier and use the 3-1-1 method. 3 ounce or smaller liquids in 1 quart-size plastic container bag, with 1 bag per traveler.
  • Have your laptops out and ready to put into the container bins for the X-ray machine. One laptop per container and be sure that you don’t put anything else in the container.
  • Have your jackets, belts, and shoes in another container.  Depending on the size of your carry-on bag, you may or may not need a container bin for it.
  • Use the smaller white round container bin for your smaller gadgets and accessories: watches, cell phones, keys, and wallets.

Once you’re through the metal detector, grab your belongings from the X-Ray machine and move along to the designated area to put on your shoes, belt, and repack any necessary belongings.  Most security lines at the terminals will have a wider, open area for passengers to gather their belongings.  Don’t clutter at the X-Ray machine just to slowly put away your belongings and accessories!

7. Don’t be in a rush to board the plane.

If you’re at the gate already, the plane’s not going to leave without you. I’m usually one of the last few people to board a flight.  Why rush when you’ll just be standing in the aisle waiting for people to sit themselves or store their carry-ons in the overhead compartments?  Because I pack light and travel light, I’m generally not too concern about not having an overhead storage space available to me.

If you used the previous tip and checked in online, you’ll be able to see if a flight is full or not and decided if you want to duke it out for a storage space (since having your carry-on thrown to the cargo bay can be quite a hassle).

So there you have it.  Seven tips from yours truly, typed up through the short hour flight from SFO to LGB.  Got your own smashing tip?  Share your tips or I’ll brand you as a selfish reader.  Or not.  Or will. Whatever.  Cap out.

photo credit: geekmojo, Jaako, and alist