How to survive peak holiday air travel

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Whether you’re off to visit the relatives in snowy Manitoba or to get away from them in sunny Hawaii, you’re in good company. It’s almost peak travel season, and while you can’t control the weather affecting your flight, there are a number of things you can do to ensure a smooth journey.

About 60,000 people will be arriving in and departing from Vancouver International Airport each day over the holiday period, says Reg Krake, director of customer care. That’s about 30 percent more than the airport sees on an average day, and about the number of seats in B.C. Place Stadium. “Picture B.C. Place filled with people and luggage,” he says. “Once a day, we’re filling and emptying it.”

According to Krake, the busy period starts around December 16 and runs right through till January 5. Peak days will be December 21, 22, and 23. So what can you do to mitigate the mayhem? “We advise people to start their airport experience from home,” Krake says. That is, check with your airline a few days in advance to make sure your flight is still on schedule, and watch the weather at your destination and any connecting airports to anticipate delays. Then, 24 hours before you travel, check in online. Print your boarding pass at home or send it to your smartphone. Even if you print your pass at an airport kiosk, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Before you leave for the airport, check yvr.ca/ to make sure your flight is still on time. If it’s not, depending on the delay, you may choose to relax at home instead of waiting at the airport. 

If you need to park while you’re out of town, Krake advises booking online and prepaying. The YVR website offers a coupon for jetSet parking (formerly known as the long-term lot) that’s valid over the holiday period, decreasing the price from $96 to $49.98 a week. If you book online in advance, the price is $44.95 a week--no coupon required.

Krake reminds travellers to segregate their liquids and gels in their carryons while packing so that they’re easier to pull out for security inspection. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority website has a searchable list of what you can and can’t carry on, as well as packing tips and specific advice for those travelling with seniors and children. 

Keep in mind that if you bring wrapped gifts in your carryon bag, they could be unwrapped during the security screening process. “Ideally, pack them in your checked luggage,” Krake says. (It’s worth noting, however, that even these aren’t immune to unwrapping by security.)

Depending on whether or not you’ve already checked in online and/or have bags to deposit, Krake advises travellers to be at the airport no less than an hour in advance for domestic flights, two hours for U.S. flights, and three hours for international flights. 

It’s always smart to check your airline’s website for baggage weight limits and check-in time cutoffs before you leave home. Last April, Air Canada changed its deadlines for accepting checked baggage at the drop-off point. The cutoff is now 45 minutes in advance of domestic flights (rather than 30 minutes), even if you’ve already checked in; see aircanada.com/ for specifics.

Keep in mind that almost all U.S.–bound flights have you clear U.S. customs before you leave YVR, so allow sufficient time for this process. Krake says that wait times for U.S. customs haven’t been as bad at YVR as they’ve been at some U.S. airports that have been in the news. He credits the new automated passport-control kiosks that YVR has added over the last six months, allowing U.S. and Canadian passport holders to speed up the paperwork. If you’re eligible to use one of these, don’t bother filling out the paper customs form; enter your info directly into the machine after clearing security.

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