There was good news and bad news on the air travel front this year: the airlines are doing better, which is good news for the industry but bad news for fliers since financially healthier airlines can generally afford to raise airline ticket prices–and make finding cheaper flights more difficult.
In fact, that’s already happening; for example, American Airlines initiated two airfare hikes in the latter part of December 2010. There’s not much passengers can do about this, but fliers do have some control over their air travel experience and cheaper airfares can still be found.
4Ã?Â Ways to Improve Your Airline Experience in 2011
You can generally improve your flying experience by following these four steps.
1. How to Avoid Airline Fees
Airline fees rank high on air travelers’ complaint lists, especially baggage fees. However, airline fees are not going away in 2011 – but why pay more than you have to? Try these ideas instead:
- Fly JetBlue and Southwest for the free baggage allowance
- Pack smart and use a carryon bag whenever you travel
- If you must check bags, avoid overweight baggage fees; consider shipping bags by ground
2. Use Airline Mergers to Your Advantage
2010 was a year of merger news as Delta finalized its takeover of Northwest, United made progress in its merger with Continental, and Southwest announced it would absorb AirTran. We may well see more mergers in 2011, which is not great news for passengers since it reduces competition butÃ?Â here’s whatÃ?Â you can do:
- AirTran passengers will no longer pay bag fees under Southwest
- If merger mean fewer airlines in your city, try flying in/out of a nearby hub airport
- Keep travel plans flexible; sign up for FareCompare airfare alerts for cheapest flights
3. How to Find Comfort in Cramped Cabins
The airlines will continue to pack their planes; do not expect to see an empty middle seat next to you in 2011. Some strategies to try:
- Select your seat as soon as possible (usually 24-hours before departure)
- If you’re an elite miles member, upgrade
- On Southwest, opt for the $10 EarlyBird seating; some airline fees are worth paying
4. How to Resolve Airline Problems
Every year, we seem to see less and less in the way of customer service; there are more kiosks and few human contacts, and the latter are harder and harder to get hold of. But there are some things you can do to make airline problem solving easier:
- Contact your carrier as soon as possible: For delays or cancelations or any problem, talk to a gate agent in person (or by phone); be polite but persistent.
- Don’t leave the airport without resolving bag issues: If a bag is damaged, you may not be able to prove it was the airline’s fault
- Express your concerns on Twitter: Airlines monitor Twitter and Facebook and often respond more promptly to problems expressed via social networks