On the Spot: Tips for holiday travelers


Say, you there. You with the holidays stars in your eyes. Maybe you fly only a couple of times a year or maybe you just need a refresher course at this particularly stressful time. To help you get up and away, here are five things you should know about the pitfalls of flying and perhaps, uncharacteristically, some bright spots about those pitfalls.

If weather causes you to miss a connection and you’re stranded, you’re on your own. U.S. airlines don’t consider it their responsibility when Mother Nature causes you to miss a flight, so if you get stuck in Omaha, well, enjoy. The airline may help you rebook, but it won’t necessarily put you up in a hotel or feed you. That’s why you need to have a little extra cash or a credit card with you — just in case. (Even if the airline does pay to put you up, you should have in hand necessary medications, a cellphone and charger and whatever else you need to feel less morose, whether that’s clean underwear or something to read or both.)

Bright spot: If you’re stuck, so are hundreds of others who are competing for the airline’s attention. If you didn’t book through a travel agent who can act as your advocate, consider Cranky, which can help you make other arrangements. For a fee, it will help you find transportation or a hotel and will assist in resolving disputes after it’s all over except for (or including) the shouting.


If you’re leaving from LAX, know that flights depart late 27% of the time. That’s info from, which studied online stats from 2003 through 2011 to predict which airports might present issues for the holiday traveler. Even more alarming: If you’re going through Chicago’s O’Hare — and many West Coast travelers do — take your lucky rabbit’s foot. It has one of the worst on-time departure stats (only Newark, N.J., and San Francisco were worse) and the worst cancellation rate of any airport surveyed: Five percent of its flights are no-goes. In these days of very full flights (and even fuller during the holidays), going through O’Hare is a little like playing Russian roulette. To see the chart on the reliability of airports, go to

Bright spot: Chicago is a nice place to spend Christmas, what with that snow and all.

Don’t wrap your packages until you get there. OK, you can wrap them if you want, but if the Transportation Security Administration sees something suspicious, it will unwrap them. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your carry-on or your checked luggage; everything is subject to inspection, which means all your hard work may be for naught.

Bright spot: Enlist help from the people you’re visiting. If there are kids, bribe them to be the tape or ribbon holders. Even if the help is minimal, wrapping is a lonely pursuit, made less so with company.

Clean out your bags. I still remember these words from a TSA agent at the San Jose airport: “Did you know you had a large knife in your backpack?” My mouth dropped open and I mouthed an expletive, partly because he had uttered the word “felony.” The knife had been in there since an outdoors experience months before, and I hadn’t bothered to clean out the bag before getting on a flight. Oops. Big time. As Nico Melendez of the TSA reminded me last week, make sure you go through your carry-on bag before you get to the airport, even if you think you know what’s in it. If there’s contraband, you’ll hold up the line. And you’ll hold up yourself as a bad example.

Bright spot: Dejunkifying your carry-on is never a bad thing.

Get the 4-1-1 on the 3-1-1 (3 ounces or less in one 1-quart bag). You may not like the TSA — and judging from our mail, many of you don’t — but until we have something different, fliers must play by its rules, so know them. For instance, you may want to carry on some milk for Santa’s cookies, but it better not be more than 3 ounces (3.4 actually, because it’s calculated as 100 milliliters) unless you bought it post-security. Same goes for carried-on booze, jams, jellies, gravy, dips, spreads, oils, vinegars, salad dressings, salsas, sauces, soups and cranberry sauces — all of this according to the TSA’s website at Those should go in your suitcase, but make sure they’re secure and pack them well because there’s nothing worse (I speak from experience) than breaking a bottle of red wine in your luggage — except maybe breaking a bottle of red wine in the vicinity of jars of jams and jellies that also break.

Bright spot: Although they are subject to additional screening, cakes and pies can be carried on.

Happy holidays to all, and to all a good flight.

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