4 Hidden Hassles of Flying and What You Can Do

There are hassles and there are hassles. Here are four that include familiar annoyances and some that may be brand new to you. Suggested solutions follow each hassle.

Listen as travel expert Rick Seaney shares some horror stories with editor Anne McDermott:

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1. Security Loophole Hassle

The TSA’s faster PreCheck lines sound great and I’m all for anything that gets you through security with your shoes on, but there are still a few hassles with this innovative program:

  • The cost factor: $85 for five years which works out to 17 bucks a year, so this is a minor hassle
  • The time factor: The online enrollment is fairly easy, but you also have to make an appointment to present your ID and get fingerprinted and that usually means a trip to the airport
  • The guarantee: Even if you successfully join, you can still get pulled aside for regular screening, as part of the TSA’s random checks

Solution: Chances are you won’t be pulled aside, but if you are, just grin and bear it since it’s perfectly legal and making a fuss could may only cause much worse delays.

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2. Chaos at Customs

Anyone who’s been overseas lately probably knows the return lines for U.S. Customs can be long. We’ve heard horror stories of 3-hour waits at New York’s JFK, and I personally stood in an even longer line at Dallas-Ft. Worth. Customs blames lack of officers and sequestration.

Solution: Do what the airlines, airports, hotels and other tourism-related industries are doing and make your voice heard; as Delta CEO Richard Anderson said, “it’s an embarrassment” and he’s right. Contact your congressional representatives and let them know how you feel.

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3. Oversize, Overweight Luggage Hassles

A lot of travelers don’t seem to realize that a 51-pound checked-bag can cost you real money. Airlines have size and weight restrictions and you ignore them at your peril. What’s the peril? A 51-pound bag will cost an additional $100 on American and an extra $200 if it’s over 70 pounds (and that’s in addition to the regular $25 first checked-bag fee, and no, American is not the only one that does this). If your bag is also oversized, there’s usually an additional fee penalty.

Solution: So simple – just weigh your bag before you get to the airport. Put it on the bathroom scale or use a handheld baggage scale; I’ve even seen bags with built in warning buttons that let you know when you hit the 50-pound mark.

4. The My-Flight-Has-Changed Dilemma

If airlines aren’t making money on a particular route to a particular city, they can change or drop flights with little notice – even if you’ve already purchased your ticket. In fairness to the airlines, they do make an effort to contact passengers about any changes, but sometimes these messages are missed in overcrowded inboxes.

Solution: Watch your email for anything from your airline, and if you live in a smaller city (the ones most likely to be hit with route changes), be especially vigilant; for example, check your reservations once a week or so before departure. You don’t want to arrive at the airport for a 10 a.m. flight only to discover the airline tweaked its schedule and your plane left two hours earlier.

More from Rick Seaney:

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Published: August 6, 2013