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14 Holiday Travel Tips Airlines Don’t Want You to Know

Holiday travel is no picnic, but with this guide from industry insiders, you can have a far more pleasant trip.

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Smiling businesswoman sitting on bench and talking on mobile phone at airport terminalArtem Varnitsin/Shutterstock

Fly early, arrive on time

Even if you’re not a morning person, you should still book early morning flights. The best times to fly in November and December are between 6 a.m. and noon, according to Henrik Zillmer, CEO of AirHelp, a free app that tracks flights worldwide and helps users with claims such as lost luggage, delays, and cancellations. Flights earlier in the day are less likely to be delayed; if the plane is held up or canceled, you still have a good shot of getting another flight the same day. Also, tickets are generally less expensive for early morning flights. Here are 13 things you should know before booking your flight online.

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Passenger baggage stow in the cabin overhead bin in the commercial airplane, selective focus.litabit/Shutterstock

Be wary of cheap rates

“Airlines, especially budget carriers, advertise cheap rates for the holidays. But before you know it, you’re spending an extra 100 to 200 dollars to select your seat, bring carry-on luggage, print your boarding pass, etc.,” says Chelsea Hudson, travel expert at Compare the prices between budget and non-budget airlines. You may be surprised that it is actually more economical to book a flight with a non-budget airline that doesn’t charge for incidentals such as water, carry-on luggage, headphones, pillows, and blankets.

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14 Holiday Travel Tips Airlines Don't Want You To KnowSattalat phukkum/Shutterstock

Tweet for help

Who wants to wait in line or try to flag down someone to assist you when you need help at the airport? “Reach out to your airline on Twitter. Most airlines have dedicated social care teams that can quickly help resolve issues regarding your travel plans,” says Andrew Trull, spokesman for Metropolitan Washinton Airport Authority (MWAA). Got a question for TSA? Trull recommends tweeting it to @AskTSA for a timely response. These are 10 sneaky money traps people always fall for when they travel.

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Young woman in international airport looking at the flight information board, checking her flightEkaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock

Don’t wait to read the FIDS

The Flight Information Display System is used to display real-time flight info at various locations in the airport, but they’re not always easy to find and they can be time-consuming to scroll through. Download the airline and airport mobile app before your trip to help you navigate the airport and stay informed. “Opt-in to push notifications that can alert you to possible delays, gate changes, and even zone-specific boarding times,” suggests Trull. These real-life airline announcements are unbelievable. 

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14 Holiday Travel Tips Airlines Don't Want You To KnowChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Take a peek at the Contracts of Carriage

Don’t rely on word of mouth or wait until an urgent concern comes up to find out what your rights are. It’s all in the Contracts of Carriage. In addition to your rights, the COC also contains important info like what’s acceptable in luggage—which comes in handy when you’re stowing presents in your luggage that may not be allowed. Don’t forget to pack these 16 essentials when you’re traveling overseas.

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14 Holiday Travel Tips Airlines Don't Want You To KnowInnerVisionPRO/Shutterstock

Leave the cannabis home

Federal law is in effect when the cabin door is closed. “Even if you live in a state where it is legal or decriminalized, laws vary by jurisdiction. Once the aircraft’s cabin door is closed, it comes under the federal jurisdiction—and marijuana isn’t legalized on a national level,” warns Turnell. You won’t believe some of the items that go missing from luggage.

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Man with suitcase sitting in airport waiting area. Business man sitting at airport lounge with laptop having coffee and looking away.Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

We have vouchers if you ask

Would you rather wait out a delay in a crowded terminal or a comfy lounge? According to travel expert Anthony Berklich of, if the flight you booked is delayed due to mechanical issues, ask the airline for club/lounge access or for a food voucher. “They have the power to do this, especially if the delay is their fault,” says Berklich. But if the delay is due to the weather, don’t count on any freebies.

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businessman using smartphone while waiting for flight at airport lobbyLightField Studios/Shutterstock

Flexibility can pay off big

Overbooked flights are fairly common during the holidays. All it takes is a winter storm for the schedule to go haywire. But if you have flexibility in your schedule, it can be quite profitable to volunteer to be rebooked on a later flight, says Veronica Hanson of Vacay Visionary “Depending on the severity of the delays, you could be looking at a free hotel room, money for food, airline vouchers for future trips, and even cash gift cards,” says Hanson. Her family was able to earn an $800 airline voucher for each family member and a $500 American Express gift card by voluntarily booking a later flight. Beware of these 16 airport mistakes everyone makes.

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Airline ticket, passport and electronics, preparing to travel conejota/Shutterstock

Keep your receipts

Hang on to the Cinnabon receipt and any receipts related to your travel expenses. “Besides using AirHelp, one thing passengers should do before and after a flight delay or disruption is hold onto all travel documents, including the boarding pass and airport receipts,” suggests Zillmer. These receipts will come in handy to show proof of expenses incurred as a result of a delay. Speaking of delays, be sure to ask the airline for the specific reason the flight is delayed or canceled. “If the airline tells you that a flight is delayed due to ‘technical issues,’ this information can help you to file for compensation more easily down the line,” says Zillmer.

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Young mom, playing and breastfeeding her toddler boy on board of aircraft, going on holidayTomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Don’t stress, parents: Airlines love kids

A flight attendant for a major airline (who asked to not be identified) tells Reader’s Digest that parents shouldn’t freak out if their baby cries on the plane. “My biggest tip for parents with young children would be not to stress out or overly apologize for a crying baby. It’s not your fault, you are not a bad parent. Relax, they will eventually stop crying,” she says. And if you bring a device for kids to watch cartoons or play a game, bring headphones. “Nobody wants to hear the piercing high-pitched sounds of a video game or cartoons, especially at 6 a.m. You will be asked to turn it off,” she says. Avoid these mistakes at all costs on an airplane.

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photo of glass of wine in the planeYuliya Yesina/Shutterstock

You’ll get a nasty headache if you do this

The flight attendants are happy to take your drink orders—but you might want to limit your libations to a single serving. You’ll dehydrate much faster in the pressurized, dry air of the cabin, warns our undercover flight attendant. “You’ll end up with a nasty headache,” she says.

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Two stewardess walk through escalator or quick movie stairs on airport lobby or station with suitcases.Krasula/Shutterstock

We don’t like delays either

The airline and flight crew are just as unhappy about the delay as you are. “We’re all in this together during an extended delay. My day just got a whole lot longer too—and I don’t get paid unless the cabin door is shut,” says the flight attendant. Stay positive and be polite: Good manners carry a lot of weight with the flight crew. “I love when passengers are kind and recognize our hard work. I definitely take note and will offer extra assistance, drinks, etc,” she says. Check out the 22 secrets your flight attendant won’t tell you.

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Airplane cabin is all white. All its decorations are necessary stuffs and safety. The gray Tray table for passenger in plane.pandora_box/Shutterstock

Bring the antibacterial wipes

It probably doesn’t shock you that airplanes are a hotbed for germs, but according to a study conducted by Travelmath, the bathroom doesn’t come in first place for most germs, it’s actually the tray table. “It’s definitely a good idea to bring sanitary wipes to clean the tray table,” says the flight attendant. “The tray tables and armrests are not cleaned between flights and I’ve seen people with their feet on them and have seen people change baby diapers on the tray table.” Be sure to wipe down the other hard surfaces like the armrest, ventilation buttons, and seat belt buckle.

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Interior of airplane with passengers on seats and stewardess walking the aisle. Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock

The airline wants you to be comfortable

Comfortable passengers make for happier fliers and Emirates cabin crew member Maria Dontsidou knows how important maintaining good circulation is when flying. “At your seat, draw each letter of the alphabet with your big toe to get the blood flowing and avoid ankle swelling,” Dontsidou says. Getting up and moving around on long flights also aids in circulation. Don’t forget to stow hydrating options in your carry-on, says Dontsidou; she recommends lip balm and TSA-approved containers of body lotion and hydrating mists. Your seatmates will appreciate fragrance-free varieties. Next, read about these popular travel tips that are no longer true.

Lisa Marie Conklin
Lisa Marie Conklin is a Baltimore-based writer who writes regularly about pets and home improvement for Reader's Digest. Her work has also been published in The Healthy, HealthiNation, The Family Handyman, Taste of Home, and, among other outlets. She's also a certified personal trainer and walking coach for a local senior center. Follow her on Instagram @lisamariewrites4food and Twitter @cornish_conklin.

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