Busiest air travel days right around corner

A properly sealed plastic bag is a must for the transportation of liquids, gels and aerosols.

An estimated one out of six of us will take to the skies on U.S. airlines this holiday season, the cap of a travel year that has been anything but peaceful.

Almost one in four flights were delayed in the first 10 months of 2007, the worst industry performance since 2000, according to the Department of Transportation. Winter weather and crowds could exacerbate that shabby record in the next few days.

About 47 million people will fly on a U.S. airline between Dec. 13 and Jan. 2, according to the Air Transport Association. The trade group expects Jan. 2 to be the busiest day for air travel, followed by Dec. 21 — that's Friday — Dec. 27 and Dec. 26.

Christmas Day, followed by Christmas Eve, will be the most peaceful travel times amid the frenzy, according to forecasts.

In a stab at fostering goodwill toward passengers, here's a list of dos and don'ts compiled from the Charleston County

Aviation Authority, the Air Transport Association, the Federal Aviation Authority and the Transportation Security Administration:

-- Print your boarding pass early: Most airlines allow passengers to print boarding passes up to 24 hours in advance of takeoff. If you aren't checking bags, this will let you skip the ticketing scrum at the airport and head straight to the gate.

-- Check your flight times before leaving home. The FAA and most airlines send updates on the status of flights to mobile phones and e-mail accounts. Register for this service at FAA.gov.

-- Program important numbers into your phone. When travel plans change on the fly, it's good to be able to quickly call your carrier, hotel and or car-rental company.

-- Arrive early. Charleston airport officials recommend getting to the terminal two hours in advance. The facility's long-term parking lot filled up over Thanksgiving, forcing passengers to shuttle in from a remote lot. Both parking areas cost $8 a day, but the Aviation Authority is offering every fifth day free at its remote location. That means 10 days of parking will cost $64, rather than $80.

-- Don't check bags unless you have to. In the first nine months of the year, U.S. airlines mishandled 7 out of every 1,000 checked bags; that's 12 percent more luggage than they lost, damaged or delayed in the same period last year.

-- Wrap presents after your arrive at your destination. Or ship them in advance, though at this point they might not arrive before Dec. 25. TSA screeners randomly search both checked and unchecked baggage, and they don't have any qualms about spoiling Santa's surprise.

-- Remember the 3-1-1 rule. The government allows liquids, gels and aerosols to be carried onto airplanes, as long as each is in a container that is 3 ounces or smaller and all containers are zipped into one quart-sized plastic bag, with one bag allowed per passenger.

-- Be prepared for delays. Bring a good book ... and snacks.