Dec. 15, 2007 -- The good news is you're going somewhere for the holidays. The bad news is you have to get there.
Family relationships, shopping, overexertion and fatigue all tend to complicate the holiday season. Add to that crowded airports and packed flights and the holiday period can start to seem like one of high stress instead of merriment.
During the three-week Christmas season, which stretches from Dec. 13 to Jan. 2, 47 million people are expected to fly. The crowds can be bad enough, and when combined with the often blustery winter weather they can wreak havoc on airports -- and on your psyche.
Passengers need to be ready for anything.
"I think the biggest mistake travelers make is not being prepared and not really anticipating all of the things that could possibly go wrong," warns Amy Ziff, editor at large of Travelocity.
Here are some tips to help diminish the stress of airplane travel, ensuring you arrive at your destination still in the Christmas spirit.
Send your luggage ahead.
Of the 26 million bags that will be checked at airports this holiday season, tens of thousands will be lost or delayed. To ensure that you arrive at your holiday party in the outfit you had planned, send your luggage ahead of you.
Services like Luggage Free, First Luggage, and Carry My Luggage provide door-to-door service, picking up your bags at your home and sending them anywhere in the world.
These services are pricy -- Jenn Enloe, a Luggage Free customer, paid $300 to send her bags ahead to Europe -- but says it was worth it.
"It just makes life so much easier," she said. "It takes a lot of the stress out of travel."
Many of these services can even be arranged at the last minute -- up to two hours before pick up -- but it's cheaper to allow more days for delivery.
Reserve a parking spot.
Avoid the headache that accompanies trying to find a place to park when you are already running late. Reserve a spot near the airport ahead of time using online services such as AirportParkingReservations.com or ParkRideFlyUSA.com.
Minimize time spent at security.
Take a few minutes to organize your carry-on luggage. Layering the items inside, with the heavier ones on the bottom, will help security officers see what your bag contains, and avoid drawn-out searches.
And don't wrap gifts before you fly, since they will almost certainly arrive unwrapped.
Prepare in advance for travel delays.
There is a one-in-four chance your flight will be delayed.
Check for delays before you leave home by calling the airport, checking the FAA website for domestic airport delays or registering for updates about airport operating status and delay information on your pager, cell phone or e-mail as changes occur. Visit the FAA website to sign up.
Experts suggest storing the airline number in your cell phone so that you can rebook quickly if you arrive at the airport to find unexpected delays and long lines at the customer service counter.
Finally, if you are willing to spend around $50, you can head to an airport club lounge, which usually offers Internet service, TVs, phones, comfortable chairs and snacks, to make your wait a little more enjoyable.
Many of these options cost extra money -- but there may be a way to get some of that back this season. One passenger rights group is offering $500 for the worst holiday horror story, so bring along a video camera.
Lisa Stark and Kira Mesdag contributed to this report.