This holiday season, America’s airports are expected to be the busiest they’ve been since before the pandemic.
Aviation workers like me are thrilled to see our industry rebounding, but we also face the stark reality that there are fewer of us to help you than there were three years ago. That means we’re all working harder to get more passengers where they’re going.
Many of the workers who will help you along the way belong to unions—including the one I lead, the Association of Flight Attendants—where we work together in solidarity to make life better for each other. That’s also the core of the holiday spirit across traditions: coming together to find our way through darkness with reflection and hope for a new year. And solidarity is what I hope for all of us to find this holiday season.
As you navigate your holidays, you can make a big difference by demonstrating solidarity with kindness and compassion for workers and your fellow travelers. Some simple recognition and a human connection—in other words, “thank you”—goes a long way.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a transportation security officer in 2019, as the federal shutdown that had started over the holidays was stretching on into its fifth week. These officers and other federal aviation workers hadn’t received a paycheck in a month. He told me he was sleeping in his car at the airport between shifts because he couldn’t afford the gas to commute, but he was required to come in and he was committed to doing his job. He said to me, “If it weren’t for the stress of not getting a paycheck, I’ve never been happier at work. People are being so kind. They stop to thank us and offer help. I wish my job were like this all the time.”
I’m going to say it again: Small acts of solidarity go a long way.
For workers who make aviation and travel possible, the last three years have been nonstop turmoil. Our industry would have collapsed in the first months of the pandemic if our unions hadn’t proposed and won a historic workers-first relief package that prevented mass furloughs for 16 months, reined in corporate greed by banning stock buybacks and capping executive compensation, and made sure we could return to work with our credentials in place when people were ready to fly. As passengers returned, we suddenly faced a crisis of violent and disruptive people in our airports and on our planes. The public had been told repeatedly that we were a deeply divided nation. That message (often delivered from the country’s most powerful podium), coupled with the stresses of the pandemic, spilled out in aggression against workers in retail, restaurants, and grocery stores, along with those of us in aviation. When flight attendants put on our uniforms each day, we didn’t know if it would command respect for our work keeping everyone safe, or make us a target for a violent attack. Meanwhile, eager to recoup losses, airlines raced to schedule routes and fill planes without enough staffing or operational support, leading to the series of operational meltdowns that grounded flights and wreaked havoc on passengers and workers alike.
After nearly three years of disruption, we finally saw a significant travel period that wasn’t marked by chaos this Thanksgiving. As we enter the holiday season, there are many factors no one can control—like a major winter storm—but there are ways we can all be ready to make our travel experience better, no matter what comes.
Before I get to some practical traveling tips, I want you to take a minute to think of all the working people who make your trip possible. Aviation is a complex industry of overlapping and interlocking layers that all have to work for the system to function.
Route planners, booking agents, and schedulers make sure there are flights to meet demand, crews to staff the flights, and tickets for you to purchase.
Transit workers like train engineers, bus drivers, cabbies, and rideshare workers get passengers to the airport, while parking attendants and shuttle drivers help millions of others navigate arrival.
Skycaps, check-in agents, and baggage handlers keep you moving through the airport, while ground service, caterers, mechanics, and safety inspectors make sure the plane is ready to carry you safely.
A dedicated security force keeps our system safe—including transportation security officers who screen your baggage and thousands of workers across multiple agencies who monitor and address threats.
Before and after security, hundreds of thousands of workers help you navigate the airport and prepare for your flight, from wheelchair attendants to food servers to cashiers.
By the time the gate agents entrust you to the care of your flight crew and the air traffic controllers help guide pilots for a safe takeoff and navigation across the skies, you’ve benefited from the work of thousands of people.
Aviation workers know that all of us in this industry are in it together—and passengers like you have a role to play, too. Here are some practical things you can do to make busy travel better for everyone. Some of these may seem obvious, but you likely haven’t flown as much as we have.
1. Make sure you have all the required documents for your destination (ID, boarding pass, COVID vaccine card, negative COVID test).
2. Pack your carry-on from an empty bag to avoid inadvertently bringing prohibited items to the security checkpoint. Remind yourself of TSA’s prohibited items list for carry-on and checked baggage.
3. Pack your patience. Get to the airport early to avoid worry caused by long lines at check-in, security checkpoints, or concessions.
4. Respect airport workers, flight attendants, and passengers who choose to wear a mask.
5. Bring nonperishable food like a protein bar in case your travels stretch across mealtime and you don’t have time to pick up food in the airport or access to food on the plane.
6. Pack an empty water bottle to refill at a replenish station once you are through security.
7. Rethink that alcoholic beverage before your flight. Anyone who appears to be intoxicated will be denied boarding. Once in the air, the cabin is pressurized at 8,000 feet and oxygen levels can intensify the effects of alcohol.
8. Bring kindness and be a helper. If you are able, offer assistance to other travelers and encouragement to airline workers. If you see something concerning or out of place, say something to crew members or airline workers.
9. Download your airline’s app before getting to the airport. Many airlines make entertainment available on your personal device. Pack headphones.
10. Finally, relax and enjoy your flight!
The most important things you can pack are your patience, kindness, and helpfulness.
Workers who make your trip possible are under enormous pressure. Many of us are working overtime and odd hours away from our families. The vast majority of us are in contract bargaining that was delayed due to the pandemic, and that means we’re underpaid for the work we do. A word of thanks and a little patience go a long way toward creating the solidarity we all need. And remember to extend that same solidarity to your fellow travelers. Help someone get their bag into the overhead. Be kind to the parents traveling with small children. Traveling at the holidays can be stressful, but it’s a whole lot easier if we can remember that we’re all in this together.