TIME Travel

How to Survive the Airport During the Holidays

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Includes the complete guide to the golden weapon: free in-flight wi-fi

This article originally appeared on Map Happy.

While the holidays are about nice, happy things like spending time with family, it’s really every person for him or herself at the airport. Better get your battle helmet on.

This is the time of the year that I usually show up at the airport and realize everyone, their mother and their mother’s mother is trying to snake their way through the security line. Frankly, if beating the system was easy, this blog wouldn’t exist. In the meantime, what we can do is cover a few of the key highlights that you might encounter when you go into the wild.

God bless. Now I must prepare to go do battle.

Get dropped off at arrivals. Then make your way up to the departure area instead of having to fight through a sea of cars just to drop someone off and then kiss them goodbye.

Get to the airport early. Typically, I abide by the be-at-the-airport-one-hour-before-boarding-time rule (notice I didn’t say departure). I have a couple of things in my favor—like being a PreCheck member for instance—but I find it’s a nice balance between waiting around forrreever and having some nice cushion time before your flight so you’re not stressing. This no longer applies during peak holiday season.

I would instantly add a minimum of thirty to forty-five minutes to this cushion time. Shoot for one hour if you’re doing heavy travel during the worst days possible for Thanksgiving, say like the Wednesday before the feasting and the following Sunday before work. That’s about two hours before boarding time but you’ll thank me when you see the security line.

Skip the check-in to save time. At this point, if you’re avoiding online check-in, you must be living in the Stone Ages. To save even more time, just stick to the personal item and carry-on bag. Pie not included.

It’s time to use every exception you possibly can. If you’re traveling with kids, ask security staff if there’s a special dedicated line for them. Same goes for seniors and handicapped.

Pack correctly. Do everyone a favor and put your liquids and electronics in an easily accessible, front-facing slot so you don’t have to spend 900 minutes opening up your bag and making the people behind you wait.

Be courteous. The most annoying thing you can do is to start putting your shoes right at the x-ray belt as other items are trying to move past you. The smarter thing is to pick up your belongings, move to the very end of the belt or to a nearby bench and then repack your belongings.

Fighting for overhead bin space. This is why it’s key to pack light, light, light. Many people take this as an opportunistic time to shove their way to the front of their boarding group so they get first dibs, which is actually not very nice.

In fact, this is a good opportunity to gate-check your bag for free if you so desperately originally wanted to check in your bag. Most gate agents will probably be happy to take it off your hands if it’s a packed plane.

Pack your food. Flights are long and food is expensive and free peanuts have been annihilated by a comet, making them an extinct species. Shoot for mess-free, nourishing foods that keep free at room temperature. I always try to make some time to swing by a local convenience store before I get on the plane if I don’t have time to prepare for it by then.

Do you need Wi-Fi? I just wrote a complete guide on how to hack it here.

Freshen up on the plane. Bring the appropriate accessories and it can make the difference between feeling like a million bucks or being ready to strangle a cat by the time you get out of the airplane cabin.

In case all else fails, I also wrote about this last year with detailed tips for different stages of the process. You can never be overprepared for Fight Club.

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