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MyLife in Metro DC: Hectic Holiday Flying Tips

Holiday Travel.  Although some of us do our best to avoid it, there seems to always come a time when a tempting trip just can’t be passed up: a tropical Christmas in St. Thomas, a New Year’s ski trip to Aspen, or even just a long holiday weekend home to see your favorite relatives.  For me it’s the tradition of spending a “White Christmas” with my family in Maine – something I simply can’t pass up.

I left for Maine out of Reagan National Airport bright and early the Thursday before Christmas.  This was my first experience flying out of DC during the Holidays and with many of you gearing up to jet out for New Year’s Eve (I wish I was going to Miami for the Orange Bowl – Go HOKIES!) I wanted to pass along a few tips and suggestions I found useful.

While New Year’s Eve and other major holidays might not be quite as hectic as the Christmas travel I experienced, these suggestions should help you any time of the year.

Getting to the Airport –

Reagan National Airport (DCA) is conveniently located alongside the Potomac River; it is nestled right between Arlington, Alexandria and DC, and is one of the most easily accessible metropolitan airports I’ve ever seen.

If you choose to drive, there are hourly ($2-$3 an hour), daily (max $20 a day), and economy (max $12 a day) parking lots available.  While the hourly and daily spots are within walking distance from the airport, you’ll need to take a shuttle to the terminal from the economy lot.

The Blue and Yellow Metro lines stop directly in front of the concourse level of the B & C terminals and if you exit off the metro “street side,” you’ll find an airport shuttle that can give you a lift to terminal A.

And last but not least, you can take a taxi like I did.  To make sure I’d have a cab right at 6am, I called the day before to reserve one.  If you decide to take a cab, be sure to make your reservation early.  I had to call two companies before I could find one with an open reservation as they fill up fast around holiday/event weekends.  From Arlington to DCA my travel time was around 11 minutes (there was no traffic at 6am) and it cost me $18 dollars with tip.

Things to Expect when Flying During “Peak Travel Times”

–       TSA screening lines can be LONG. People traveling during the holidays seem to have more carry-on items and during the winter months they also have more jackets, scarves, and boots to remove before passing through the metal detectors and Reagan is no exception.  While this process only took about 18 minutes for me, I’d give yourself 30+ minutes to be safe, possibly even a bit longer if you are a family traveling with young children.

–       Standby can leave you Stranded.  After arriving at my gate I noticed a long line of standby passengers hoping to get on my flight.  I overheard the attendant telling them that flying during the holidays on a friends and family standby ticket hardly ever works – especially from a major airport.  She then, without hesitation, told them all the flights were oversold (which they were) and suggested they “try again tomorrow.”  Yikes. My suggestion – if you are trying to fly standby, I’d leave a few days before or after “peak” days to increase your chances of making it on a flight.

–       People HATE paying to check bags. And because no one wants to pay, everyone seems to have a large carry-on bag.  On my flight, passengers were asked to check their bags through to their final destination at the gate due to a lack of space in the plane’s cabin.  Some passengers were able to take theirs on, but if you are in one of the last boarding “zones”, be prepared to take out your iPod and book and put them in your pocket, because chances are you’ll have to check your bag.  The only good news – you won’t have to pay to check your carry-on bag at the gate!

–       Avoid Tight Connections. I dislike sitting around airport terminals waiting for flights as much as anyone but tight connections around the holidays have continued to fail me. This trip, I took my chances once again and had only 30 minutes to change planes in Philly.  So as soon as our flight from DCA was delayed, I knew my whole day was shot. Planes can’t afford to wait for passengers when delays are all around and they will leave without you.  I suggest giving yourself at least an hour between flights to account for minor delays.  Plus this gives you a chance to stretch your legs and grab the latest issue of People magazine to catch up on the latest celebrity gossip on your next flight.  🙂

–       Be Flexible. Flying can be stressful and paired with the chaos of the holidays it can do a number on your nerves.  So the best piece of advice I can offer is to be flexible. Trust me, I know it can be hard but it will make the whole experience a lot less draining if you do.   If a flight is delayed, you just have to wait and hope for the best.  If a massive blizzard hits the entire east coast leaving you stranded and the next flight out they can get you is 4 days later, you just have to be thankful you were able to get a flight out at all (I write from experience as I’m sitting in my Dad’s office in Maine writing this post instead of in my office in DC).  Traveling by plane leaves a lot of variables out of our control and the best thing we can do is go with the flow.  When everyone gives a little, and smiles instead of yells, it makes a big difference to the overall flying experience.

So as I sit here waiting for my new flight home to metro DC ( I still have 2 more days), I hope that these travel tips reach you before your next plane departs.  Be sure to let me know if you find any tips or suggestions I’ve missed, I’m always looking for new ideas!  Safe travels everyone and Happy New Year!


PS – For those of you who didn’t experience the recent blizzard, this is the view from my house in Maine… that snowy area out front is where our driveway and neighborhood street should be!

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