Travel like a pro: 5 tips to fly through the airport this holiday season

Every year, the week of Thanksgiving and the last two weeks of December are typically airlines’ busiest travel periods.

Bonus tip: On Dec. 15, Alaska Airlines guests who wear their festive holiday sweaters to the airport will be able to board early, in honor of National Ugly Holiday Sweater Day.

To kick off the busy holiday season, Alaska’s airport employees offer five tips for making your journey as smooth as possible.

Arrive early – frequent travelers often miss holiday flights

You’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it 100 times, but Lea Hanson, Alaska’s director of passenger services at Sea-Tac, is not kidding when she recommends arriving at least two hours before your domestic flight is scheduled to depart (three hours for international). Airports are busier than usual, and tend to be filled with less-experienced travelers around the holiday season. That means lines are longer and move slower. You’ll also want to plan for extra time for traffic and parking at this time of year.

“We do tend to see customers missing flights around this time of year, and it’s not just inexperienced travelers – often it’s frequent travelers who are used to being able to jet from the curb to the gate in an hour and haven’t anticipated the slower lines,” Hanson said.

Regardless of the size of the airport, passengers must be checked in, at the gate and ready to board at least 40 minutes prior to domestic departures and 60 minutes before international departures. (And these cities have a 45 minute check in cut-off time: Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.) Being late may cause the cancellation of your reserved seats and/or your entire reservation.

If you are a planner, do some pre-flight research with our airport guides.

Use technology to streamline your trip

Download Alaska’s award-winning mobile app to save time before and after you arrive at the airport. You can use Alaska’s mobile app to purchase tickets, check-in for flights, access your mobile boarding pass, get trip alerts and even pre-order your inflight meal. Check your flight before you

Download the app: iPhone | Android

Check in and print luggage tags in advance

Passengers can check in online for domestic and international flights up to 24 hours before departure at, or on the Alaska Airlines mobile app. International passengers also can enter passport information online. Alaska also provides check-in kiosks at airports and many off-site locations.

You can also print your own bag tags at home when you check in online, or on a kiosk when you arrive at the airport.

“Customers can anticipate a very short wait in line if they just need to drop their bags and go. We definitely recommend printing your own bag tags if you want to save time at the airport,” says Hanson.

Learn more:

Know the carry-on limits

All airlines allow one carry-on bag and one personal item, such as a briefcase, laptop or purse. Passengers may bring shopping bags containing gifts with them onto the plane in lieu of a carry-on suitcase, but wait to wrap gifts until you’ve arrived at your final destination as wrapped packages are subject to inspection regardless of whether passengers carry them through security or in checked luggage.

“Be prepared, and ensure that you’re checking bags and not trying to carry too many items on to the plane – that will definitely slow down lines at security,” says Hanson. “Also, make sure any checked baggage is properly labeled with your name and current contact information to avoid mix-ups.”

Learn more: TSA frequently asked questions

Pack your patience

Airport staff will do everything they can to ensure that your travel is as hassle-free as possible, but the holidays are a busy time of year and many people who fly just once or twice a year will be traveling at the same time.

“We’re very strategic about where we place people during the holiday rush. We look at the flow of traffic from the curb to baggage drop and then on to the security checkpoints, and make sure we have the right people in the right places and the right time,” says Hanson. “But, don’t forget to pack your patience!”

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