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November 10, 2012 7:27 AM   Subscribe

Help us out with the logistics of flying round-trip from NYC (LGA/JFK/EWR) to Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) for Christmas. We'd like this to be as aggravation-free as possible.

My girlfriend and I have both done plenty of flying, but I've never flown during a major holiday. I've heard nothing but horror stories and I hate airport-brand aggravation, so I want to make this as easy as possible.

We'll be flying out sometime between the evening of Thursday 12/20 and Friday 12/21 and flying sometime on Tuesday 12/25 (I have to be back at work on 12/26.) These dates on non-negotiable; we can't leave any sooner and we can't come back any later.

So what's the best way to minimize airport horror and maximize time spent with family? Are there any airlines we should avoid? Are any of the NYC airports better than the others for Christmas?
posted by griphus to Travel & Transportation around Minneapolis, MN (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I mostly fly during the holidays and find nothing especially hellish about it. Flights are full. There are lines for things. Give yourselves plenty of time, be patient, don't over-extend yourelves, and if it's really bad (which it probably won't be), have a glass of wine at the bar once you get through security.

Your outbound date will probably be worse than your inbound - Christmas Day is pretty light for airports, in my experience.
posted by Sara C. at 7:31 AM on November 10, 2012

Flying on Christmas is often terrific because airports are often empty (or no longer filled with wacky "Must get there by XMAS" stressed out people) but it can be tough because of weather and/or skeleton crews at airports. So, assume flights will be full and people will be cranky but otherwise you should be okay. Usually safety precautions like planning for earlier flights so if something happens to one flight, you have a later flight that can get you to your destination on the proper day. I'd take only carry-on bags so you don't get dinged by lost luggage. Remember that taking wrapped gifts through TSA is a no-no (and other people may not know this so assume security lines) and just prepare for waiting. I'm with Sara C, outbound trip likely to be a headache, coming home will probably be a cakewalk and the most important thing will be making sure you know the holiday public transpo vagaries (if there are any) to make sure you can make it all the way home if you're not cabbing it.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on November 10, 2012

Yes, just budget some extra time. There are generally more queues for check in, security, etc., with less experienced travelers in them. But it's not like opening the doors on Black Friday morning.

I know you want to maximise time with the family, but I might possibly consider flying on the morning of the 21st, rather than the evening of the 20th, as in the event of weather, there may be (according to my theory) less delays anyway.

Oh, and maybe avoid Chicago/ORD.
posted by carter at 7:39 AM on November 10, 2012

I also haven't found holiday travel to be so much worse than usual travel. I would get a non-stop flight to avoid being stranded somewhere random due to delays and unpredictable weather. Select the airport easiest for you (for instance I would use JFK since I can take the subway there and I would avoid EWR because it takes ages for me to get to and is more costly to get to).
If you go through LGA or JFK be prepared for epic taxi lines upon your return to NYC.
posted by avocado_of_merriment at 7:46 AM on November 10, 2012

Do not carry wrapped gifts in your carry-on. Allow extra time for security and follow the rules regarding liquids, etc.

Delta's Newark holding pen (terminal B, gates 40-47) serving Delta flights to MSP operated by Compass or Express Jet is a nightmare. Super overcrowded all the time, not just during holidays and lots of flight cancellations. I'd avoid Delta at all costs.

LGA is usually pretty quiet on Christmas day and easy to manage, Newark not so much.
posted by tidecat at 7:47 AM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

MSP is my home base and usually fly out for fun Christmas Eve due to cheaper flights, in addition to other travels along the same route. I'll echo the sentiments that flying holiday days tend to rock (as much as flying can rock) due to lighter travel. Biggest issue for your route will be weather. You're hitting prime-time snow-time. Though in 6 years of flying over the Holidays, my flight has yet to be affected by weather (knock on wood!).

In case you don't know about the MSP airport.
There are 2 terminals that while connected via light rail, are in physically different locations and I've seen people arrive at the wrong one.
Terminal 1: Larger and international flights (think Delta)
Terminal 2: "Budget" airlines such as Airtran
While Terminal 1 has more shops & restaurants and I prefer it (I don't mind crowds), Terminal 2 has significantly less foot traffic and is much easier to find your gate.
Terminals 1 & 2 used to go by Lindbergh & Humphrey Terminals, respectively.
posted by jmd82 at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2012

Remember to check Sun Country Airline to see if they have flights fitting your schedule. They have better customer service than Delta (the other airline with direct flights between NYC and MSP) and in Minneapolis they fly out of the smaller and more convenient Humphrey terminal.
posted by Area Man at 7:58 AM on November 10, 2012

Response by poster: Remember that taking wrapped gifts through TSA is a no-no...

I had no idea! We were planning to bring gifts (although I have no idea if we were going to preemptively wrap then.) Any other big holiday-flying-don'ts?
posted by griphus at 8:04 AM on November 10, 2012

Sun Country is fine but they are randomly late. I'm talking 5 hours late, 9 hours late...not sure what the deal is but we can no longer fly them now that we have a baby because of the time we got stuck in the airport so long we ran out of diapers (!!!), then there was the time we couldn't get our luggage because it had gone ahead of us somehow and it was locked an office be aware that it's a risk you take.

If you're stopping in Minneapolis, cool; if you're continuing elsewhere compare the cost of the ground shuttle with the cost of a short connecting flight. Sometimes MSP to Duluth is cheaper than a van shuttle for two. It also gets you short security lines at those tiny airports.

Flying those dates will be fine but if you fly Thursday evening out of JFK expect delays and long lines for security etc. Early AM flights are the way to go, the earlier the better. We've gone through security lines that were 5 minutes long, looked back after we were done to see huge lines had piled up behind us because everyone thinks that 10am flight is so much more reasonable than 8am. But it's not.

Good luck. We fly to MSP up to 3 times every year and have done it 3 times with a baby including at Christmas. You will be TOTALLY fine.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:13 AM on November 10, 2012

Oh and Fletcher's Wharf in MSP has a pretty good breakfast buffet with hot eggs, sausage, and stuff like that (and pretty decent food in general).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:16 AM on November 10, 2012

OH AND the Mall of America is accessible by public transit from MSP. Shitty public transit, but it's doable if you end up with a long delay (again, Sun Country...sigh).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:17 AM on November 10, 2012

in Minneapolis they fly out of the smaller and more convenient Humphrey terminal.

'more convenient' is an interesting characterisation of Humphrey. No comment on Sun Country, but Humphrey has abysmal vegetarian food options if your flight is delayed and features a long trek to the light rail. On the plus side, that trek to the light rail is now indoors and not badly-signed through a parking garage. (Though the last time I was there, the new route was closed and I had to trek through the parking garage, where they'd removed what signage there was.) Oh and the light rail platform is outdoors and pretty exposed to the wind once you get there.

The Lindbergh terminal is not hard to navigate. My perspective is a little skewed because I only flew to/from ORD until I was 20, but it's easier than SFO or LAX or LaGuardia (where one Delta concourse is split into two pieces nowhere near each other). The worst bit of MSP is really just that the two terminals are nowhere near each other, which is not such a problem from the perspective of flying there, just annoying when it comes to meeting people (or if you had a connection that required changing terminals).

Coming from New York, you may be surprised to discover that the light rail is a single line (they're building a second). Depending on where you're staying, it may be useful to you or it may be totally useless (as in, someone would have to drive further to fetch you from the light rail than to get you from the airport). Most non-suburb locations should be reachable by public transport from the airport in a reasonable fashion (light rail, or there's a bus to St Paul), but at a certain point, you may want to consider SuperShuttle or the like.
posted by hoyland at 8:17 AM on November 10, 2012

OH AND the Mall of America is accessible by public transit from MSP. Shitty public transit, but it's doable if you end up with a long delay (again, Sun Country...sigh)..

Eh? Terminal 2, maybe, but with Terminal 1, you just follow the signs to Ground Transportation, and hop on the light rail with a straight shot to the MoA. I think my mom purposely books her flight times just so she can use the light rail to go to the MoA.
posted by jmd82 at 8:24 AM on November 10, 2012

Definately do NOT try to carry any wrapped gifts through TSA --- but even better, don't carry them through TSA in the first place: ship them to your destination via UPS or FedEx. That way, you CAN wrap your presents ahead of time, you'll have less stuff to wrestle through TSA, you'll risk fewer dropped/broken/lost gifts, plus just in case you get weather-delayed, your family will still get the goodies.

(Just remember to ask whoever you ship the box to, not to open it until you're there!)
posted by easily confused at 8:34 AM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've never had a late flight on Sun Country.

I've always found Humphrey (aka Terminal 2) convenient because it is less crowded, you don't have to walk far to get to your gate or from your gate to the car rental, pickup area or taxi (light rail is a different story, but that only matters if you are going somewhere along that single line), and the security lines are quicker.
posted by Area Man at 8:36 AM on November 10, 2012

Just want to +1 avoiding O'Hare. I used to fly from the east coast to MSP frequently and I'd say it's worth paying for a nonstop. If that's not an option, try to go through Midway.
posted by clavicle at 10:10 AM on November 10, 2012

I flew on Christmas Day a few years ago and it was one of my best flying experiences ever. The Toronto airport was 75% deserted and so quiet, like a library. I showed up a couple hours early and hungover but got a great sleep stretched out on a bench, the flight wasn't delayed, and the ticket was cheaper than a normal flight.
posted by mannequito at 10:52 AM on November 10, 2012

Whenever my mother travels around Christmas she carries a bunch of those mini candy canes in wrappers in her purse. She hands them out liberally to all the workers at the airport, on the flight, etc. and says "Merry Christmas and thank you for your hard work. It's appreciated." She always gets a great response. She does it just to be nice and recognize the extra stress that the holidays put on people in the travel industry, but it often ends up getting her better treatment. At the very least it helps to mitigate some of the crap that the workers have to take from some of the other travelers. Anyway I guess what I'm saying is that travelling around this time of year is stressful but it's even worse for the staff and they will appreciate any gestures of kindness, sometimes in ways that can be beneficial to you.
posted by tractorfeed at 2:19 PM on November 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh one thing - I always seem to get sick during or after traveling around Christmastime. Not sure why but I imagine some combination of the season/weather and the sheer amount of people moving around. I'm pretty sure the only 3 serious colds I've had in the past 5 yrs. corresponded to the 3 times I've gone back home for the holidays.
posted by mannequito at 3:11 PM on November 10, 2012

Ship your gifts, insured, so you don't have to get them through Security. If they are destroyed, you can probably replace anything at Mallzilla, a few minutes from MSP. :7)

A few years ago I tried to carry on a childhood toy at MSP: a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. When it went back-and-forth through the scanner three times, I suddenly remembered the wind-up musicbox embedded in his waist. No doubt the trainee screener looked at his display and thought "Is that a reindeer suicide vest?!" Naturally, the musicbox wouln't play anymore. Amazingly, they let me go. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:29 AM on November 13, 2012

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