Air travel with your family during the holidays can be stressful and challenging. Here are tips to ease the pain.

by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY

Airtravel passenger waiting to check in

Photo from stock

7:40PM EDT October 30, 2012 – If the best thing about the holidays is celebrating with friends and family, then the most difficult tasks may be making your way through the crunch of airport passengers and the maze of carrier fees and regulations. Until we can fly by saying “Beam me up, Scotty,” consider these tips for easing air travel.

Plane Sense

Use a smaller airport. Regional airports, as opposed to major hubs, come with the conveniences of easier parking, fewer crowds as well as shorter check-in and security lines. These advantages can outweigh any added drive time required to get from the gate to your downtown destination. To visit Boston, for example, consider landing at Manchester Boston Regional, Manchester, N.H., 50 miles north of the city instead of at Logan International.

Book tickets early. To get the best fares and connections plus seats next to your children without paying for prime spots, purchase tickets as far in advance as possible. Flying on non-stop or through flights (no change of plane required after a layover) eliminates missed connections.

Travel on less busy days. While houses may be quiet the night before Christmas and Thanksgiving, airports are packed. Escape the thickest throngs by flying on Thanksgiving and Christmas days, an especially good solution when landings allow you to arrive in time for the turkey dinner.

Factor in luggage fees when comparing fares. More and more airlines tack on charges for checked luggage, typically $25 for the first piece and $35 or more for the second. A family of four who manages to pack their holiday clothing and gifts into one suitcase per person can pay $100+ each way for checked bags. On JetBlue, for example, the first checked bag is free, but the second costs $40. On Southwest, two bags fly free. Sites such as farecompare.com offer handy luggage charts.

Lessen bag charges. Loyalty pays off: Use credit cards and take advantage of airline club memberships that cover luggage fees. When flying Delta and charging tickets to a Delta Sky Miles Gold credit card, wave goodbye to the first checked-bag fee for up to nine people traveling together on the cardholder’s reservation, a savings of $225. With an AMEX Platinum card, receive a yearly $200 credit on the carrier of your choice for luggage fees and airline incidentals. Research your frequent flyer membership; at some levels, your bags go free.

Family & Friends Rules

Reserve wheelchairs. During the busy holidays, be sure to ask ahead of time for a wheelchair (always free) for granny who tires after walking a few steps. Doing so will lessen her wait time for assistance.

Consider extra travel help. According to the Department of Transportation, if someone cannot be counted on to follow safety procedures, then he can no longer fly alone. To get great-uncle Louis to the holiday table, ask a friend or relative to be his flight buddy or engage a travel companion whose services include taking Louis to the airport, checking him in and flying with him. Preferred Travel Helpers, preferredtravelhelpers.com, and Flying Companion, flyingcompanions.com, are among the companies providing such assistance.

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