American Airline’s new controversial TV commercial saluting “the world’s greatest fliers” has created some backlash, seemingly putting the onus of customer satisfaction on the passengers, not the airline.
While the message may have been questionable, it is true that individuals can do things to make the overall flying experience easier and more enjoyable for themselves and others. Here are some tips from expert travelers.
Be smart about booking.
Take advantage of travel websites such as Orbitz.com, Kayak.com, WhichBudget.com, LastMinute.com, FareCompare.com, Priceline.com and Yapta.com to search and compare the best airfares and times.
Book as early as possible in the morning. Afternoon flights tend to incur more delays and cancellations, so if a flight is delayed or cancelled, you’ll have a better chance of getting on another flight. Or, consider the red-eye and fly overnight, between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Avoid flying during busiest business commuter times: Monday mornings, Friday evenings and Sundays. Instead, fly on the least crowded days: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Also avoid flying on peak holiday travel days. During the peak season, the day before and after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s are usually the busiest days to travel.
One way to avoid peak travel times is to fly on the day of a holiday. Most people want to get where they are going and arrive before the festivities begin, which is why Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve are both better times to fly. Another bonus: By arriving on the day of, you may avoid some of the stress and rush leading up to the holiday event.
Another tip: Avoid connecting flights if possible. The lower fare you receive may not be worth the extra time and stress. If you can afford it, book a flight with zero connections. If not, book them with plenty of time between flights as weather, air traffic, crew connections and other factors affect airline schedules.
Pack light and ship gifts ahead.
If possible, pack with a carry-on roller bag only — it will save you the hefty baggage fee and get you on the plane and out of the airport faster. If you’re going to have to check luggage, pay your baggage fee ahead of time online, it’s usually a bit cheaper. Also weigh your baggage ahead of time and make sure it is under 50 pounds to avoid having to pay an additional fee.
Pack a carry-on bag with your favorite snacks, so if you get hungry, you’re not at the mercy of the airline’s snack schedule. Remember, you can’t bring water through the security check, so buy a bottle once you get to your flight’s gate. Bring wet naps and hand sanitizer, as airplanes and airports are full of germs. If you wear contacts, bring a spare pair, along with your glasses. Also pack some books and magazines and a portable music player — they help make the time pass quicker.
When packing, roll, don’t fold. This travel-tested packing technique has been used by flight attendants for decades. Rolling—not folding—the clothes in your luggage allows you to pack more in less space, and helps avoid wrinkles, too.
Don’t pack them in the carry-on bag as soon as you roll them. Once all the clothes are rolled, stand the carry-on up and pack heavier items such as shoes and books first at the wheel-end of the case so they don’t move around and crush the other items. One flight attendant claims she can pack clothes for 10 days by rolling instead of folding them. Another advocates the use of vacuum space saver bags.
If you need to bring gifts or materials for work, head to the post office and mail them to your destination ahead of time. You’ll have to pay shipping, of course, but you’ll save on extra baggage fees and negotiating clumsy packages through security. An easier option is to shop online for gifts and have them delivered to your destination. Gift wrapping is available through many websites.
Before heading to the airport
Print your boarding pass ahead of time. The night before or day of the flight, print out your online boarding pass. Make sure your seat assignment is indicated on the airline’s check-in page.
Know what to expect at security. Prepare for the security check beforehand. While getting dressed, limit your jewelry, wear slip-on shoes and socks, and if possible, avoid wearing a belt or jacket. Liquids, gels and aerosols must be in 3.4 ounce (100ml) or smaller containers. Some exceptions are prescription and over-the-counter medicines, baby formula, breast milk, juice and other essential liquids. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in a quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag.
When you get to security, have your boarding pass and ID ready. At the X-ray machine, remove your shoes, belt, coat, jewelry, phone, PDA and loose change and place them in a plastic bin to be scanned. Laptops must be removed from their bag and also placed on the conveyor belt to be scanned. Finally, keep your boarding pass and ID handy until you’re through security. Once you’re at the gate, you will only need your boarding pass to board the plane.
Get to the airport as early as possible — at least two hours ahead of your boarding time (not flight time), if not more. If you don’t plan on printing out your boarding pass ahead of time, take advantage of the boarding pass kiosks at most check-in gates. They will save you time online, and most gate employees are happy to help you get your pass. Have a credit card on hand with a name that matches the name on the reservation.
If you travel a lot, you may want to look into the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck trusted traveler security screening option. PreCheck members are eligible for expedited security screenings at participating airports. More than 336,000 passengers have gone through the PreCheck lane already. PreCheck is currently available at New York’s Kennedy, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Los Angeles airports for members of American Airline’s AAdvantage program, and at Atlanta, Detroit, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City airports for Delta SkyMiles members. The TSA announced that US Airways, United Airlines and Alaska Airlines will begin PreCheck operations later this year. PreCheck is also available to members of the Customs and Border Protection agency’s Global Entry program.
When traveling abroad with your smartphone, let your service provider know so you are activated for international use. To avoid high pay-per-use rates, use the data portion/Internet access only when you need to check e-mail. Use free Wi-Fi whenever possible, but never to access bank accounts or personal financial information. Don’t connect to networks titled “free public Wi-Fi.” They are often unsecured networks created by hackers. Also, be aware of the roaming rates, especially in European countries.
Finally, be on time, and be nice. This might seem obvious, but it’s true — when you’re well prepared for your trip and on time, your trip will go a lot easier and be much less stressful. Be kind to the ticketing agents, flight attendants and other airline personnel. It’s their job to make your trip as pleasurable as possible. With few exceptions, they’re working as quickly as possible, so cut them some slack if things get hectic. Remember they have to deal with people and deadlines all day long. Please and thank you goes a long way in the airport and on the plane.