The Five 'F-Words' of Flying (And How to Solve These Travel Problems)

Here are five things that often evoke screams from passengers and perhaps the odd curse word but don’t worry, I have some tips that will help.  

5 ‘F-Words’ of Flying and Solutions

1. Fees (as in, checked-bags and more)

What’s worse than an airline fee? A new airline fee. Here are some of the latest ones:

But first, listen as FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney dazzles Editor Anne McDermott with some ‘F-word’ insights:

JetBlue: The airline has hiked the price of its second checked-bag fee to $40 ($80 round-trip). The good news: JetBlue still gives you a first checked-bag for free.

Spirit: The airline has added a new $2 ‘unintended consequences’ fee in the wake of new regulations imposed by the Dept. of Transportation.

United: The airline has reclassified non-cabin transported pets from baggage to cargo which has raised the feefor ferrying Fido on some international flights (to destinations like Japan) to more than $3,000 round-trip. UPDATE: After many angry comments on United’s Facebook page, the airline is now waiving these steep pet fees for relocating military personnel.

Solution: Avoid baggage fees by using a carryon and packing light. Also, when booking flights on low-cost carriers like Spirit, check out the cost of optional fees before you congratulate yourself on finding an incredible deal – it may not be. As for steep fees for flying your dog – wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave the animal home with a pet-sitter?

[Keep reading below – there are a whole lot more ‘F-words’!]

2. Feds  (as in, the TSA)

People are still angry about their methods, including the woman who claimed she was subjected to repeated screening because of her cute figure.

Solution: If you have a problem, ask for a TSA supervisor or file a complaint on Passengers with medical problems or other disabilities should contact the TSA Cares Hotline (1-855-787-2227)before traveling. Elite flyers can usually avoid heavy screening (and keep their shoes on) if they sign on for the newly expanded TSA PreCheck program.

Legislation has been introduced that would mandate a passenger advocate at all security checkpoints, but if this evercomes to fruition it could be years away.

3. Flights (as in, delayed arrivals/departures)

We’ve all experienced delays – usually, bad weather delays – and there’s not much you can do but the good news is, the airlines are improving. According to the latest statistics from the government, U.S. carriers had their best on-time departure rate in December in the past 17 years. But what if your flight is late?

Solution: Do not delay contacting your airline – time is of the essence especially if your flight will be significantly delayed or even canceled. Due to capacity cuts, there is little room on other flights to squeeze you in and the quicker you make other arrangements, the better your chances of getting one of those few seats. If you’re in line at the airport, get on the phone and also tweet your problem to the airline via Twitter.

4. First (as in, why can’t I be first in line?)

You’ve got a heavy carryon and need to board first to find some bin space. What to do?

Solution: If you fly a lot, your clout as an elite miles member will put you at the head of the line. Airline-branded credit cards can do the same thing. Or pay the fee – and this fee can be quite modest – to board in the first group.

5. Fuel (as in, the price of oil is insane)

The price at the pump is crazy enough, but the cost of jet fuel is sending plane ticket prices soaring too. Consider the three fare hikes we’ve seen already this year, plus my summer airfare forecast predicts high vacation airfares.

Solution: This is no time to take a break from being a smart shopper – follow my 5 Tips to Find Cheap Flights – and you will save some money.

More from Rick Seaney:

The 5 ‘F-Words’ for Travelers


Published: February 24, 2012