Don't Fly Much? Tips for Once-a-Year Travelers

So you’re not a frequent flyer – join the crowd. Many of us fly only during holidays or maybe for a big vacation once a year, if that. Since the rules of travel are always changing, this quick review may help those of us who aren’t constantly in airports – and may even offer a surprise or two for veteran travelers.

Listen: Travel expert Rick Seaney has more tips to make your flight even easier.

TSA Security Rules

For most of us:

  • All liquids must be in containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces
  • All liquid containers must be in a single quart-size zip bag
  • The zip bag must be removed from the carry-on at the security check-point
  • Shoes and jackets must be removed at check-point
  • Laptops must be taken out of cases at check-point

For some of us:

If you qualify for PreCheck or another government trusted traveler program (and here’s how to participate), the same liquid rules apply but other regulations ease up:

  • Enter dedicated PreCheck lanes if available at your airport
  • Zip bags can stay in carry-ons
  • Shoes, jackets, laptops need not be removed

Shopping 101: tips for finding the best flights

Airline Rules

Don’t be late: Planes often leave a few minutes early these days, so don’t expect to stroll up to the gate moments before the scheduled departure; the plane may have left without you. Be at the gate area at least 15 to 20 minutes before your flight is supposed to leave.

No refunds: The days of requesting a refund because of illness (or worse) are long gone. Now, changing a flight costs a change fee which can be as much as $200. If there is any doubt about your ability to fly, buy the more expensive refundable ticket or purchase flight insurance (but read the fine print on insurance to make sure it covers what you need it for).

How to get through airport security fast

Electronic devices: The FAA now allows you to keep portable electronic devices on – in airplane mode – from start to finish of your flight but make sure your airline is ready to accommodate this rule (most will be ready by the end of 2013).

Do what the flight attendant says: If a cabin crew member tells you to turn off a handheld device or buckle your seatbelt, stow a bag or anything else, do what you’re told. Their word is law on a plane (with the pilot’s word the ultimate authority). Passengers who disobey – or indulge in bad behavior – risk fines as well as the possibility of being kicked off the plane.

Airline Fees

Airlines charge fees for many things they never used to, including baggage and food and here’s a list of the most important U.S. airline fees.

  • Baggage: All U.S. airlines charge a fee to check a bag with the exception of JetBlue and Southwest
  • Carry-ons: Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier (for certain passengers) charge for bags brought on board
  • Travel light: If you’re flying a free carry-on airline, that’s the bag to use – and we have tips on how to pack everything in a carry-on. If you must check a bag, don’t overpack; overweight bag charges can cost you as much as $200.
  • Pillow and blankets: Many airlines no longer carry this amenity and most that do will charge a fee. Avoid it by bringing a sweater or jacket.
  • Meals: Meals in coach are rare and when available, you almost always pay for them. The same is true for most snack offerings. Soft drinks are still free, with the exception of Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier all of which charge for sodas, coffee and even water.

Note about credit cards: If you wish to purchase anything onboard, your money’s no good anymore. All U.S. airlines only accept credit cards. But save cash and credit by bringing whatever you need from home (including food and entertainment).

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Published: November 7, 2013