The holiday travel season is here, and this one promises to be like no other. In addition to the usual stress of waiting in long lines at the airport, navigating through crowds of tourists in the terminals and sitting through weather-related delays, you'll have to factor in increased security measures in the wake of September's terrorist attacks. The Federal Aviation Administration's new safety directives (still being finalized at press time) could mean your trip will take even longer than it would have in years past.
The best way to ease the hassle of holiday travel is by timing it correctly. The days before a major holiday are always the busiest. However, on the holiday itself-in the eye of the proverbial hurricane-traffic is often manageable and flights are practically empty. According to the Air Transport Association, the least busy days for air travel during the holiday season are December 24, 25 and 31. And while the Friday before and the Sunday after Thanksgiving are among the busiest days of the year for air travel, Thanksgiving itself is one of the slowest.
Time of day is important as well. Instead of taking a morning flight, consider catching a red-eye, which leisure travelers generally avoid. You won't exactly have the terminal and aircraft cabin all to yourself, but the journey is likely to be far less hectic than one taken during the day.
Of course, the best way to prevent holiday headaches is to not travel at all. Experienced business travelers try to avoid the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and instead postpone their trips until the first week of January, when travel grinds to a virtual standstill compared with previous weeks. If you can wait until the beginning of 2002 to make your business trip, you'll thank yourself for it.
Christopher Elliott is a writer and commentator and the editor of www.elliott.org.