Don’t fly much? OK, but maybe during the holidays you will get on a plane or perhaps this’ll be the summer you swap the RV for an airline seat. These tips are for you – the infrequent flyer.
Listen: More tips from air travel expert Rick Seaney.
10 Tips for Infrequent Flyers
Even veteran travelers can benefit by brushing up on these basics:
1. Do-it-Yourself Airline Tickets
It’s an online world and airlines no longer mail you tickets. If you don’t have a computer, borrow one (and ask the owner for help). If you call an airline to make reservations, you’ll pay a fee for that. Boarding passes are printed at home or saved on smart phones. Sure, some airlines will print boarding passes for you at the airport (or provide a kiosk for this), but some will charge for this service.
2. No Refunds Means No Refunds
The cheapest airline tickets are almost always non-refundable, and most airlines will not refund a ticket just because of illness (and in some instances, even if you are dying). Others take it on a case-by-case basis and it never hurts to ask. However, if there is any question about being able to make a trip, buy insurance or buy a refundable ticket.
3. Don’t be Late
Modern airport lines can be long and slow, especially at security. Plus, planes sometimes leave early to ensure good on-time performance statistics. If you’re delayed and don’t get to the gate early at least 15 to 20 minutes ahead of departure time, your plane could leave without you.
4. Shoes Come Off
Most travelers have to remove shoes* and jackets and metal objects. Don’t wait until you get to the conveyor belt before prepping yourself for security. Tip: Slip-on shoes are a lot quicker at security than footwear with laces. *Shoe exceptions: Passengers 12 and under, and 75 and older.
5. The Security No-No List
Don’t waste your time or those in line behind you by bringing a water bottle through the line – liquids in containers larger than 3.4 ounces are banned at security checkpoints, and so are liquid-like foods such as home-made jams or jellies and even peanut butter. Plus, if you’re lugging a carry-on, you must fit all small liquid toiletries in a single quart-sized bag, which is not very big. Practice packing these items the night before and know the TSA’s banned list.
6. Pack Big, Pay a Fee
While we’re on the subject of packing, most airline charge a $50 round-trip fee for a checked-bag (JetBlue and Southwest are the lone free bag airlines). Another nasty surprise is the overweight charge, which can be eight times as much as the regular bag fee. Check your airline’s fees before you travel – once you get to the airport, it’s usually too late.
7. Save the Jokes
Don’t make jokes about explosives or terrorism – this may seem obvious, but flyers get detained for such comments week after week (and this can be true for even the most light-hearted remarks with no malicious intent whatsoever). No jokes on the plane either or you risk getting kicked off. Security is a serious business for the airlines and you joke about it at your peril.
8. Forget About Comfort
Forget about asking the flight attendant for a blankets – it’s a rare airline that has them these days and those that do charge a fee. Wear something warm instead but not too bulky since seats are getting smaller. Want a better seat? Be prepared to pay. Want an empty middle seat next to you? Such luxuries are relics of the past as airlines have cut capacity to the bone. If you are what airlines call a passenger-of-size, carriers suggest you proactively purchase an extra seat – if you don’t you risk an embarrassing scene at boarding.
9. No Free Lunch
No free lunch or dinner either and even free snacks are becoming a rarity. Most savvy travelers bring food from home, but if you must eat what the airline offers, bring a credit card because cash is no longer accepted.
10. Prepare for Surprises
Bad weather and mechanical problems can cause unexpected delays. If this happens, contact the airline immediately, either at the airport or by phone or, better yet, do both. The smart passenger is a prepared passenger; have chargers for electronic devices on your person, and be sure your phone has the latest airline apps and contact information (a few snacks for long airport waits wouldn’t hurt either). Following your airline on Twitter is smart too since airlines generally respond to tweeted questions quickly. Finally, do not expect freebies like hotel or meal vouchers (but it never hurts to ask).
Air Travel’s Silver Lining
Airline travel today isn’t always easy and it’s nowhere near as fun or glamorous as it used to be. Nevertheless, there are still three big plusses: 1.) Cheap flights are still available for those who can be flexible; 2.) Air travel is an overwhelmingly safe method of transportation; and 3.) Airplanes are still the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B.