The holiday season brings infrequent fliers to airports, trying the patience of know-the-ropes business types who aren't encumbered with children, fruitcakes and adjusting to the changes in airport security and flight amenities.
Here are some reminders to keep the trip smooth for everyone.
* Pay attention to the needs of elderly passengers and those with physical disabilities. A little patience and respect will go a long way.
* Keep in mind that travel industry workers -- from flight attendants to security staff -- experience their heaviest workloads of the year. If you encounter poor service, by all means speak up, but do your best to be considerate.
* If you're looking for bargain airfares, don't be a slave to the calendar. Being with the family on Christmas Eve is great, but you might be able to save hundreds of dollars by traveling Christmas Day.
* Take a few vacation days to avoid returning home on peak travel days. You'll escape crowded airports and flights, and you're likely to save money on your tickets.
* Consider taking the first flight of the day; cheaper fares may remain after peak-hour flight tickets are sold out. As a bonus, airport security lines are likely to be shorter.
* If your destination is yet to be decided, think big cities. You'll have more flights to choose from and you can take advantage of deeply discounted city hotel rates.
* Use mass transit or ask a friend to take you to the airport. Avoiding overcrowded parking lots can cut as much as an hour off your preflight travel time.
* Take advantage of new check-in options such as online boarding passes and airport kiosk check-in.
* Remember that being fed during a flight is now the exception rather than the rule. Some airlines sell meals on board. All airports sell easy-to-carry meals in gate areas, or you can bring your own from home.
* Make sure all travelers 18 or older have a valid, government-issued photo ID.
* Allow time for check-in and airport security clearance. Because of Transportation Security Administration cutbacks, airports may be hit with extra long lines. Check your departing airports' online sites (or your airline's site) for updates.
* Be aware of the number of bags you can check in (generally two) and carry aboard (one). Also check weight limits; they're per piece. If, for example, you check in one bag weighing 52 pounds you could be charged a fee of $25 or more for excess weight, even though you could theoretically carry 100 pounds -- 50 in each of two checked bags.
* Lock your bags only with TSA-approved locks (read on for more information). A webbed-nylon band that wraps around the suitcase is good anti-theft protection (it takes time to open it) and can also make your luggage easier to identify at the baggage claim area.
* Don't carry or pack wrapped gifts. They likely will be opened for visual inspection. Wrap your gifts after you arrive, or send them ahead by mail or another delivery service. If you're carrying food items, keep them in sealed manufacturer's containers or, if they're homemade, in see-through containers.
* Wear as little metal as possible. Clean out your pockets and choose shoes that won't set off a metal detector.
Protecting your knees -- or just being a pain?
Just in time for the holiday travel season, Ira Goldman gives us the Knee Defender. Again.
You may remember Goldman, who made the news several weeks ago when his plastic device, which blocks airline seats from reclining, was banned by Northwest Airlines.
Goldman, a 6-foot-3 Washington attorney who has chalked up as many as 60,000 air miles in a year, says he's just a tall guy who is tired of getting bopped in the knees when the person sitting in front of him on an airliner reclines his or her seat. He figured there were others like him out there. So in September he began marketing the first Knee Defender, a pocket-sized block of plastic that is attached to an airline tray table arm and prevents the seat in front of the user from reclining.
Within weeks, Northwest had banned the invention, saying it could break a tray table. So Goldman went back to the drawing board. Voila: The Knee Defender is now two grooved plastic blocks, one for each arm of the tray table, and Goldman says they should do no harm to airline equipment.
"If a broken tray-table arm ever was a possibility, with the new two-unit Knee Defender design it is no longer ... short of major force being applied with the specific intention of breaking something," Goldman says.
But the potential to break a tray table is only part of the turbulence over the invention.
American Airlines' spokeswoman Jacquie Young says, "Customers should be able to recline if they wish."
That's certainly the view of many travelers who have voiced their opinions about the Knee Defender on FlyerTalk.com, a consumer Web site for frequent fliers.
Meanwhile, flight attendants aren't too happy about the possibility of playing referee during in-flight disagreements over the product.