The much-anticipated date is finalized. Your service member is FINALLY graduating from boot camp or training. Or, maybe they’ve built up enough leave time to make it home for Christmas this year.
Chances are you’re ECSTATIC, and you’ve already marked the date in red on your calendar.
But now someone has to travel.
Whether it’s you or them, there’s plenty to do between now and that special reunion date, especially when flying. With some careful planning and research, travel can actually be easy! Read on for our best advice.
1. Plan ahead.
Flights book up fast, and airlines gradually increase ticket pricing the closer you get to your departure date. If flying out for a graduation, find out how many event tickets are available. Don’t invite extra family members to jump on board until you have an exact number. Hotels near the base also book up quickly around graduation dates, so the sooner you plan, the better.
Parents, if you’re traveling with young ones in tow, pack lots of snacks for your kids. If you have babies who wear diapers, bring double the amount you normally carry with you. Delays and wet diapers with no changing options do not mix well! Quiet toys or favorite books are a good idea to pack as well.
Planning ahead goes for the day of travel, too. Make sure you leave for the airport with plenty of time to spare, accounting for any possible traffic, weather or accidents on the road that may slow you down. Wear light, comfortable clothes (layers, preferably, as planes get chilly), and shoes that are easy to take off. You may not have to remove your shoes if you have TSA Precheck set up. More details on that later about that wonderful and worthwhile perk!
2. Choose nonstop flights.
Unless you enjoy visiting multiple airports, book a nonstop, and NOT a “direct,” flight. A nonstop flight will take you directly to your destination without any detours. Direct flights, on the other hand, may make pit stops at other airports along the way to drop off passengers and refuel before continuing to your final destination.
3. Book tickets using proper, legal names.
This one is really important. When booking flights, be sure to book under the exact name that appears on the person’s government-issued IDs. This is especially important if you or a family member goes by a different name Nothing will hold you up in a security line longer than a non-matching name on a ticket.
4. Arrive early.
There’s a whole lot of “hurry up and wait” when it comes to air travel. Plan accordingly and allow yourself extra time to get to the airport, especially if you are flying out of a busy one like O’Hare International Airport, where bag check and security lines tend to be pretty substantial. Overall, it can take a lot of time to check in, drop off luggage, clear security, and board.
Note: Most airports require check-in a minimum of 45 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and at least an hour ahead of time for international flights. It’s always a good idea to check your airline’s policy regarding checked baggage timelines, too.
5. Sign up for TSA Precheck.
This expedited security process is free to DoD civilians and service members. For those who aren’t employed by the DoD, It allows you to keep on shoes, belt, and light jacket, and leave laptops and 3-1-1 compliant liquids in carry-on bags going through security. For families, this can be a huge time-saver. For more details on how to get enrolled, visit the Defense Travel Management Office.
6. Use the USO lounge and other benefits.
For active duty service members and families, the USO can be a welcome retreat when traveling. Many airports have free USO lounges for service members to take a nap or grab a snack. Internet is also provided. You, or your service member, must show valid, active military ID in order to gain entry. Ask any airport employee or check out a directory to locate the lounge within the airport.
Be sure to find out if the lounge is located OUTSIDE of security, as is the case with many of these lounges. If so, you’ll have to go through security again to re-enter terminals, so keep that in mind when planning out your airport timeline.
Find your airport’s USO location.
Most airport restaurants and shops offer a military discount as well. Always ask before your server or sales associate brings the check or swipes your card, and have your military ID handy in case they do. The discount can range from 10-20% at some locations.
A few bonus tips…
7. Make sure all your medications are in original prescription bottles, and are in your carry-on bags instead of your checked bag down in the cargo hold.
8. Follow the 3-1-1 rule for any liquids that you may place in your carry-on bags. In short, you are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes through the security checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Anything larger than this will need to go in your checked luggage.
9. Skip the on-board booze — it will dehydrate you and make your jet lag that much worse. Stick to H2O instead.
10. Bring extra cash. It’s good to have on hand in case your card declines. Also, be sure to inform your bank ahead of your travels where you plan to go.
Our best tip of all?
12. Relax and have fun! Your loved one is looking forward to this moment as much as you. Take pictures and cherish your precious visit together.
Military families, did we cover all of the most essential air travel tips in this blog post? What did we miss? Leave us a note in the comments below if you have any questions for us, or if there’s anything else you’d like to add!