Whether you’re travelling for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or for another reason this holiday, the season can be fraught with extra stress. But take a few precautions and you’ll arrive relaxed and ready for the festivities.

A toy car sits next to the number 2020
There are simple steps you can take to ensure you enter 2020 with minimal stress © Getty Images

Choose wisely when it comes to picking your flight

First off, when it comes to choosing a flight, always book the earliest of the day, especially if you’re looking at wintry weather or summer thunderstorms. (This advice may be coming a bit late now, but perhaps something to remember for next year, or if you’re offered a free rebooking this year because of seasonal storms.)

As a general rule, flight delays accumulate throughout a day’s schedule. Planes can fly up to eight or ten times a day, and if flight 2 is delayed 10 minutes, that’s likely to lead to knock-on delays as gates aren’t available, as crews need to be reassigned, and so on.

If that first flight of the day is really early, consider whether it will make you more sane to stay at or near the airport, especially if you have an early-morning drive. 

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Try also to avoid flying on subsidiary or contract airlines if you can. Those are the ones that you’ll see in the US in particular named “American Eagle”, “Delta Connection” or “United Express”, and if there is any disruption they’re often the ones that are cancelled in order to try to hang on to the rest of the day’s flying schedule.

Make sure you garden your reservation too: log into the booking to make sure nothing has changed. Airlines are supposed to notify you when the time of your flight changes, but I’ve seen way too many people discover far too late that they never got an email (or that the airline’s systems failed to send it).

And always make sure you’re a member of the airline’s frequent flyer programme, or one of its alliance partners’. It’s almost always free, and even if you don’t fly regularly the airline is most likely to take care of your needs before someone who isn’t a member of their club.  

A screen reads 'Delayed: 9.00', referring to either a plane or a train
Having a contingency plan in case you run into an unexpected delay will help a lot © Getty Images

Ensure you know what your backup options are 

Yes, some of those sappy Christmas movies have their lovebirds meeting at a snowed-in airport hotel, but I’m pretty sure most of us would rather spend our holidays with families and friends where we’re supposed to be going.

Always make sure you have a backup plan, especially for flights. Put yourself in the shoes of the airline representative on the phone or at the desk: it’s a lot easier if someone says “please put me on flight 1234 that departs in one hour” or even “please route me on flight 456 connecting in Chicago to flight 6789” than “I need to get to Cedar Rapids!”

Try to find an option with the same airline you booked if you can, because that’s easier for the person on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the desk to get approved. One of their partner airlines should also be relatively simple: changing from an Air France flight to KLM, or from a British Airways connection to one on Iberia, for example. 

Read more: Add these seven things to your suitcase to make holiday packing a dream

But most of the “full service” airlines will, if you push hard enough, reroute you on a competitor. Low-cost carriers, meanwhile, are unlikely to do so.

If ground transportation is a reasonable backup, think about perhaps making a (fully refundable) rental car booking, which you can then cancel on the day if you end up not needing it. (Do make sure you’re not prepaying and that there’s no cancellation fee, however, and be a good person and cancel it as soon as you know you won’t need it.

And, if you do get delayed, consider making your first stop the airline’s lounge to see if you can buy your way in, especially if you’re in the US where that’s the norm. Not only will you have somewhere with a plentiful supply of beverages and snacks while you wait, but you’ll have access to the lounge rebookings desk, where the queues are usually shorter and where airlines normally make sure the staffers are senior and often empower them to make decisions that are more generous in your favour.  

A woman stares on through a window as a plane sits in the snow
Bringing clothes and food will prevent a difficult situation being even worse © Getty Images

Take what you need to feel like an elf, not a Grinch 

Think carefully about what you need to pack and what you can wear, especially when it comes to layers. Airports, planes, jetways and waiting areas can vary widely in temperature, so make sure you’ve packed what you need to be comfortable.

Many of us get 'hangry' when we travel: it’s a stressful experience as a rule, and if your stomach is rumbling, you’re likely to get even more stressed.

I always recommend stocking your carry-on with a little selection of hearty snacks, but it’s especially important during stressful holiday travel. I like something like trail mix, flapjack or a protein bar, some mini-sausages — the kind of thing that can get you through a mealtime if you’re stuck on the plane. But a good old-fashioned sandwich goes a long way too. 

Read more: How to get through security in the airport with no hassle  

And I love sticking a little bag of festive peppermints or candy canes in my carry-on to pass around to seatmates or the crew. It’s lovely to make someone smile with a little bit of “we’re all in this together” generosity.

Consider filling a reusable thermos or hot cup up with a nice relaxing tea before leaving home to drink before you reach security, and pop a couple of teabags in your bag. I like to keep a few bags of rooibos (redbush) tea in my bag, which is non-caffeinated and delicious.

And remember: next year, make sure you book well enough in advance. As a rule, airlines start opening bookings 330 days in advance — so talk to your family and friends when you see them and make your plans in advance, so you can book when mid to late January comes around.

Happy travels from me and mine to you and yours this holiday season!  

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