Skip to content

Top 3 Tips to Avoid Holiday Travel Nightmares

Tim Gard Blog - 3 tips to avoid holiday travel nightmares

Happy Holidays, to all!

It’s that time of year again, and many of us venture far and wide to spend these special days with friends and loved ones. As one of the busiest airline travel times of the year, applying these top 3 tips to avoid holiday travel nightmares can make your journey a fun and maybe even magical experience, instead of a nightmare of biblical proportions.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that many of the people you will encounter along the way are simply “occasional travelers” and are more than likely overwhelmed by the routine and unavoidable challenges of airline travel. And when you factor in the sheer volume of holiday related travelers on top of this, the potential for travel stress is not only potentially pending, but almost assuredly probable. So whether it is you or someone you know who is flying this holiday season, these tips to avoid holiday travel nightmares will come in handy.

Tip One to Avoid Holiday Travel Nightmares

Learn from your past travel problems, and just don’t repeat them! Every trip I take I learn something new and adapt my own flight plan to insulate myself from having it occur again. After 2 million miles of hearing just about every complaint and request you can imagine, I’ve picked up a few good ideas to pass along.

One of the things I hear almost every time I travel is someone lamenting: “I can’t believe this happened again! This happens every time we fly”!

The last time I heard it, the traveler was a Mother who was angrily complaining about her family not being seated together, and that the five of them had seats scattered throughout the plane. She insisted 4 people on the plane move so that their family of 5 could all sit together. Her disruptive turmoil inspired only two of the four people she was demanding move to other seats. While I’m sure this woman felt the refusing travelers were utterly callous and rude, what she failed to consider was that in actuality, the stress she felt and caused in others, could have been avoided if she’d taken the time prior to boarding to verify optimally desired seat assignments for her family.

When you find yourself saying, “this happens every time I travel!”, perhaps you might use the negative experiences from past travel for insight on how to avoid holiday travel nightmares this year.

Tip Two to Avoid Holiday Travel Nightmares

Always make sure you have addressed seat assignments before the date of departure.

Many people don’t realize that there are times when your seat may not be assigned in advance, but even in such cases, there are ways to address this problem before you arrive at check-in. If you want someone to help you plan the details of your travel, contact a travel agent book to your flight for you. For many, this is an inexpensive way to leave the ‘details’ to a professional. For example, I pay Westwood Travel in Denver $40.00 for each ticket I book. Mark Westwood, my travel agent, then contacts the airline to assure all details are dealt with, including seating, before I even depart for the airport.

Granted, there are airlines which don’t assign actual seats before boarding, but this doesn’t have to be a surprise to you when you arrive at check-in.

Tip Three to Avoid Holiday Travel Nightmares

If you find yourself wanting to make a seat swap, know the guidelines before you ask.

If you want to trade seats with someone you have to know the guidelines. It’s a bit like the game: “Rock, paper, scissors”. You know, rock beats scissors; scissors cuts paper, etc (if you don’t know the game, stop and Google it before you read further).

Ok, so here are rock, paper, scissors guidelines.

For international travel there are 4 or even 5 types of seating: basic economy, economy plus, business class, first class and first class suite. However, let’s just talk about domestic flights today, which have fewer categories.

1. First Class beats everything. If you are in first class for one reason or another, you can trade any first class seat for any seat in the main cabin. Before you say that never happens, let me dispel this myth by telling you it recently happened to me when a man in first class wanted to sit with his girlfriend in coach. Guess who happened to be sitting next to her… needless to say, I happily made that trade in less than a heartbeat.

2. Economy Plus: Most domestic airlines have basically three cabin types, first class, economy and economy plus. Economy Plus usually means the seat has extra leg room. If someone is in an economy plus seating area such as with United, it’s doubtful anyone would trade seats with someone who is not in the economy plus seating area. So if you want to trade a seat in economy plus with someone who is in the main economy cabin you may be successful, because in essence, you are offering that person an ‘upgrade. Frequent flyers rarely pay for economy plus, but on some airlines, you can purchase this upgrade for a small fee and it generally also opens up more available seating options for your family. Flight attendants will also allow you to move from basic coach for an additional fee you can pay on the spot, if there are open seats economy plus.

Rock, Paper, Scissors….

You can often easily trade seats if you are in the front of the plane, and the seat you wish to relocate to is in the back. So of course, if you want to trade your seat at the back of the plane with someone sitting in the front of the plane, your odds are not good my friend.

Usually people will trade like seats (isle for isle or window for window) with you with little or no problem if it’s in the same general seating area.

There are people who will trade a window for an aisle seat, but you should know that most folks don’t want to change an aisle seat for a window seat (unless it’s what they really wanted in the first place) because aisle seats tend to feel less ‘closed in’ to some.

If you have a middle seat in basic coach, you may only be able to get someone who is in the same seat in different rows to change with you. However, if you have a window or an aisle seat, someone in any middle seat in economy or economy plus will probably swap with you.

Ok, got it?

A Professional Speaker and Traveler’s Insights

I’ve spoken at over 2000 events, worldwide. In my seminars I ask the question: “What’s your favorite seat on the airplane?” Most everyone wants first class, but if they have to sit in the cabin, about 60 percent want an aisle seat, 40 percent want a window and nobody wants the middle seat. Interestingly enough more women seem to want window seats than men. I don’t know why, it’s just what I see every time I ask this question.

If you are traveling with other family members and you want to sit together, then be sure to do everything you can to accomplish the arrangements before the date of your departure.

If you want to switch seats during boarding, the flight attendant will be less inclined to accommodate you. If you decide to risk it and ask during boarding, be prepared to seat where you are assigned until the seat belt sign goes off, then you can try again.

You can always ask someone to switch with you, directly. I always remind myself that I won’t get anything if I don’t ask… but I never expect anyone to accommodate me and I always politely ease away if they refuse.

Pitfalls of Forcefulness

There are of course exceptions to every guideline listed above, and believe it not, there are actually even more factors involved in seat swapping.

A soldier in uniform asked me to switch seats with him so he could sit with his wife a little while longer before he deployed. I traded my economy plus isle seat in the front of the plane with a middle seat in the back across from the lavatory without a word of complaint. Always consider how vital accommodating a simple request of seat relocation may be to another person; you don’t have to say yes but sometimes it is the only ‘right’ thing to do.

You may want to check out this 2014 article from USA today. From time to time, if I see great info like this I’ll share! Check it out:

Click Here: How flying pigs can make you a better traveler

Recent Posts