A combination of unique factors, including increased security measures, new government regulations and a smaller number of available flights will add new challenges for students heading home for the holidays or returning to school next term, say travel professionals.
Air travel has undergone noticeable operational changes since last year’s terrorist attacks.
Azumano Travel Leisure sales manager Nancy Parrott recommends anticipating the new regulations and being flexible.
“Probably the biggest things to be aware of is to allow plenty of time at the airports for check-in and random bag searches and make sure that you’re carrying, and have easily accessible, photo ID,” Parrott said.
She recommends arriving two to three hours early for your flight, especially for international flights.
International students returning home for winter break need to pay special attention to documentation requirements.
Portland State assistant director of International Educational Services, Christina Luther, describes the process as fairly straight-forward. International students need only to drop off the visa paperwork at the International Educational Services office in East Hall, and once the office has verified that everything is in order, they’re ready to go.
“We try to keep it to a two- to three-day turnaround time,” Luther said.
“There really shouldn’t be any hitches with international students getting out of the country. They’re going back to their home countries, and if they have a valid F-1 visa, there shouldn’t be a problem returning.”
“The main difference this break will be the registration for students from the 18 countries that are subject to special registration. We’re not encouraging students to register before they leave because they’ll be registered when they re-enter,” Luther said.
Luther said she hasn’t heard much negative feedback about the new system, other than it’s targeting of middle-eastern countries.
“Most countries in the world do some sort of registration of foreign nationals, and so as far as that goes, most students are already familiar with this kind of thing,” she said.
“It’s pretty much business as usual, but I think that any student applying for a visa abroad can expect to undergo more detailed scrutiny.”
Luggage screening for air travel is now handled by government workers, and what passengers are allowed to carry on has been reduced as well as inspected with greater scrutiny. Anything resembling a weapon is most likely not a good idea to travel with, including toy guns manufactured before legislation that banned realistic looking toy guns, such as the Transformer Megatron.
“Make sure to check your carry-on items and make sure you don’t have anything that will hold up the security checks, whether it’s a pair of finger nail trimmers or knitting needles,” Parrott said.
“Many of the airlines are only allowing one bag to check in and one more to carry on,” Parrott said.
“If you have Christmas gifts in your carry-on baggage, do not wrap them. They will be opened by the screeners,” Parrott said.
While available flights are quickly selling out, it’s not too late to book flights, but Parrott said travelers will have to be a little more flexible in regards to pricing or timing.
“Typically flights from Portland heading domestically east are always difficult this time of year, to the east coast, New York Boston, Washington, because those seats tend to be the first ones to fill up,” Parrott said.
If flying is unrealistic, rail travel is an option.
“Here on the West Coast, you may have to head up to Seattle or down to San Francisco and points beyond from there. It’s not the most direct route if you’re traveling east,” Parrott said.
Traveling along the West Coast is more direct and, according to Parrott, fairly affordable.
AAA Oregon/Idaho Public Affairs director Elliot Eki said that AAA will emphasize safety during the travel season for those planning on driving home.
“They should get plenty of rest. They shouldn’t try to drive more than they can. And they should let everyone know where they’re going and what their ETA is,” Eki said.
“Whether they’re going from here to southern Oregon or the Midwest, they might run into snow.”
Eki suggests travelers bring provisions: blankets, extra food and clothing, traction devices, and some kitty litter to help get unstuck. A cell phone doesn’t hurt either.
“We like to tell people that they should take their cell phone and use it only in emergencies. If you do have to use it, the good advice is to pull over to the side of the road.”
Countries on the watch list
United Arab Emirates