For the past year and a half or so, flying has been a major part of my life. It seems, these days, my schedule revolves around when I fly next, how long I’ll be gone, how long I will be home between flights, etc. I’ve flown on several airlines including United, Alaska, Frontier, Us Airways and Southwest. My Airline of choice has been US Airways, mainly because they are the most consistent and predictable…and those are the qualities I look for to ensure a smooth travel experience.
Traveling as much as I have recently, I’ve learned a lot about how to navigate the airport experience as painlessly as possible. I also see a lot of frustration from people who don’t travel much. As I see it, much of this frustration could be avoided by following a few simple pieces of advice and arming yourself with a little knowledge about the process.
Buying your ticket
Buy early! The recommended window for purchasing your ticket, according to most travel experts, is 2 to 3 weeks before departure. More than three weeks out and you are paying a normal, premium price. Less than one week and you are definitely paying a premium last-minute price. Make sure to factor in baggage fees and any upgrades (like preferred seating) when budgeting the cost of your trip.
Pack what you need for your trip, no more, no less.
Know your airline’s baggage policies, don’t guess. Make sure your bag is the appropriate size, whether checking a bag or carrying it on the plane. Check on your size, weight and quantity limits.
Plan ahead for going through security. Liquids and gels are limited to 4oz. containers and must go through the scanner separate from your luggage. It’s also required for these to be in a see through bag, zip-locks work great. So store that shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste in a zip-lock and make sure it’s easy to get to.
Check-in early! If your airline will allow an early check-in online, take advantage of it. It will save you time, money and headaches at the airport (especially if you are not checking a bag – you can skip the lines and head straight to security!).
The Boarding Pass
If you check-in early, print your boarding pass at home. Some airports are equipped with a special scanner that allows you to have your boarding pass sent to your phone. Either way, make sure you have it on you AND accessible for when you need it (checking bags, security and boarding at the gate).
Everything off! The new scanners require that you remove everything from your pockets, remove shoes, belts, jewelry, hats, jackets/sweaters, etc. – Plan accordingly. Use as many bins as you need (for me it’s 3 bins). If you are carrying a laptop or other portable electronic device (DVD player, iPad, etc.), it must also go through the scanner in it’s own bin.
So, remember: Belts, shoes, jackets in the bin – Liquids and gels in the bins – Laptop in the bin – bags go through by themselves.
Getting to the Gate
Always check the monitors for your gate assignment. Don’t rely on your boarding pass, gates change all the time. If you are there early enough to hang out at the bar (or restaurant) before your flight, don’t wait until the last second to go to your gate to board…it might not be the same gate and you may find yourself running through the airport to catch your flight.
Most airlines board by zone, or seat number. Know ahead of time which zone you’re in and wait your turn patiently while staying out of the way for those who board before you. If you are impatient and crowd the gate, you are doing nothing but delaying the boarding process and adding to your own frustration. Relax…we’ll all make it on the plane.
If you are planning to carry-on your luggage, make sure you know the limitations of the overhead bins. If you luggage is oversized, plan on it being checked through. Overhead luggage limitations are based on the most restrictive overhead bin sizes, but not all planes are designed the same. If it fit on your last flight, that doesn’t guarantee it will fit on the next. Also know you are limited to two pieces of carry-on luggage and your purse counts as luggage, ladies.
So many people are trying to avoid checking luggage these days that overhead bins fill up fast, so if you are in a late boarding zone or show up late expect there to be no room for your luggage (and it will NOT fit under your seat, don’t try, you’re just annoying everyone else by trying). The attendants will check it at the gate for you and you can pick it up at baggage claim. Just do it, don’t argue about it. You won’t make any friends that way.
Know that flights rarely leave exactly when scheduled to leave. Once on board, just relax and have faith you’ll get there. If you have a connecting flight, watch your time but understand that throwing a fit mid-flight because you are running late won’t make the plane move any faster. And you’re not going anywhere if you get worked up about it and get arrested or have a heart attack!
Flights these days don’t have a lot of in-flight perks. Short flights no longer have snacks and unlimited beverages and most don’t have any form of entertainment. Know how long your flight is and plan accordingly with books, movies, puzzles or whatever will keep you relaxed and occupied for your flight. There’s nothing worse than being bored, frustrated and uncomfortable.
Wheels touching the ground does not mean the trip is over. Stay in your seat with your seatbelt on. Getting up prematurely can cause further delays as the crew tries to get everyone back in their seats before they can taxi to the gate. This process can take some time, especially if your flight arrives early. Once again, getting impatient and throwing a fit will not get the plane to the gate faster…I promise.
A note about Electronic Devices from the airlines…
Whether you agree with the policy or not (thanks to MythBusters), it is a requirement to turn off your electronics when taking off and landing. Don’t be the douchebag that refuses to turn off his phone and delays everyone’s trip because you are playing “Words With Friends”.
Travel can be stressful and confusing if you are not accustomed to it. The stories about bad flights, rude gate attendants and inappropriate TSA agents are all based on real experiences but it’s not the norm. Most of the time, people are just trying to do their job. The best thing you can do is plan ahead, give yourself plenty of time, be respectful and, most of all, RELAX. Being friendly, respectful and easy-going throughout the entire process will insure a more enjoyable experience for everyone.