There's a lot to be said for taking a relaxed approach to holiday planning, but not when it comes to booking holiday travel plans.
Anyone still planning to get plane tickets for Christmas had better do so as soon as possible or they may be out of luck, advise local travel agents.
The holiday travel season is in full swing, and this year is shaping up to be busier than last, said Christine Shelton, travel agent at One Stop Travel in Kenai.
"I think that it's because of Sept. 11," she said. "I think that people didn't want to travel last year, and this year they are feeling better about traveling."
This view isn't shared by everyone in the travel industry. Teena Dyer, owner of Penny's Travel Agency in Kenai, doesn't think this year's season is busier than last.
"It's probably about the same," she said. "I think it's because of our location. We're probably a little more resilient up here. We do volcanoes and floods and earthquakes and other things.
"Last year we noticed from about Denver west, people weren't as antsy to fly as going east. But to get out of here you've got to fly."
Whether it is busier this year or not, the bottom line for travelers is the same -- don't put off getting tickets.
For clients who have waited this long to buy their Christmas tickets, it is becoming increasingly difficult for travel agents to accommodate their wishes, especially in the price range they desire.
"The Anchorage to Seattle flights are almost completely filled out," Shelton said. "(Tickets) are usually around $350 round trip between Anchorage and Seattle. I've had a hard time finding anything under $700 to $800, if even that good."
If people are willing to be flexible, there are still some seats available, but it is getting tricky to get passengers out of Alaska, Dyer said.
"Out of Anchorage on the prime Christmas dates the flights are full and kind of backing up," she said. "We're having a little bit of a problem once we hit the states but the main problem is Anchorage to Seattle and Seattle to Minneapo-lis."
According to Dyer, airline fares have been higher this year than in the last few years. As a result, many travelers have been putting off buying their tickets in hopes that fares will go down. The problem is that many airlines have cut back on their number of fights, so there aren't as many seats available.
"It's kind of a Catch-22," Dyer said.
Some airlines hold on to some seats and release them for sale closer to the holiday, but there's no way to tell if or when that's going to happen, so it's still smart to look into getting tickets as soon as possible, Dyer said.
"I just quote them the fare, which is usually a lot of money, and some of them take it and some of them don't," Shelton said.
Those with tickets and who will travel on or around Christmas are advised to arrive at the airport at least two hours before their scheduled departure time, said Rebecca Cronkhite, manager of Kenai Municipal Airport.
"We also suggest people go to the Web page of the airline they're traveling with because airlines usually will have special instructions as to what (passengers) can or can't bring, or any changes to schedules and how soon to be at the airport," Cronkhite said.
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