MINNEAPOLIS » This is the time of year when business travel is no pleasure.
Business travelers navigate the system on autopilot and care about one thing above all: speed. They print boarding passes at home and carry only bags that fit in planes’ overhead bins. At security checkpoints they know the drill: Show your boarding pass and photo ID, take your laptop computer out of its bag and remove your shoes and belt before walking through a metal detector.
But airports during the holidays are crowded with travelers unfamiliar with security rules and flier etiquette. This year, full-body scanners and pat-downs are sure to take some novice fliers by surprise and compound the slowdown.
"All it takes is one person who doesn’t know what they’re doing to hold up a line," said Bill Thayer, a CBS producer from New York who flies twice a week. "I try to judge the number of people in each line and guess which has the fewest inexperienced fliers."
There are other factors that make it a difficult time to be a business traveler. There are fewer empty seats. Wintry weather means more delayed and canceled flights. And more luggage is lost, a sign of strain on the system.
Joe Brancatelli, who writes a blog for business travelers, is sympathetic to their frustrations. But he asks them to have a little patience, too. "Would it kill you to take five minutes out of your day while you’re rushing to the club to help some grandmother find the right gate?"
In reality, many road warriors know firsthand that flying with just a laptop and a carry-on bag is not the same thing as traveling with family.
Emily Holthaus flies regularly as a trainer for YMCA of the USA. A recent trip to Minneapolis was for business, too, but Holthaus, 35, of Austin, Texas, brought along her husband and 5-month-old son, Jack.
"Now I understand it a little bit," she said, with Jack asleep on her shoulder. "Before I had kids I was like, ‘I’m in a hurry, let’s go! Let’s go!’"
Many vacationers try their best not to hold up the line. AJ Sterry, a nurse from Pepin, Wis., took a Thanksgiving weekend trip to Orlando, Fla., with her husband, their three young children and her 13-year-old niece. She made a point of checking in online and making sure she knew the security rules to minimize holdups at the airport.
"I was trying to be very, very, very organized," she said after getting back, with a big stuffed Mickey Mouse seated in her stroller. "We just walked right through."
That’s not easy this time of year.
» Delays between mid-December and early January are sharply higher than the rest of the year, according to the Transportation Department. On average, 29 percent of flights were delayed during the holidays from 2002 to 2009. That’s up from about 20 percent during the rest of the year.