School’s out and summer vacation is here. It’s time for summer flying. This is when many passengers are either first time fliers or irregular fliers (people who fly once a year or less) and, of course, lots and lots of children. I just wrote a book on air travel so I thought I’d post some advice to help out those of you who plan to fly this summer.
1. Arrive Early
Most travelers greatly underestimate just how long it can take to check-in during the busy summer months. With so many inexperienced people flying at the same time 1 hour wait times at busy tourist destinations such as Orlando International Airport are not unheard of.
Remember that after you check-in you still have to get through security. The TSA has a website that you can use to check wait times at your airport: apps.tsa.dhs.gov/mytsa/wait_times_home.aspx
I would arrive at the airport at least an hour and a half early, 2 hours if I’m traveling with children.
2. Learn the TSA rules
If everyone knew what the TSA rules are, followed them, and prepared themselves the line would move as fast as the x-ray conveyor belt. The thing is many people either think they know the rules or they just show up at the airport and learn about the rules as they are waiting in line. All the rules are available on the TSA website www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening. The TSA actually wants passengers to get through security as quickly and easily as possible and gives great tips on how to prepare yourself ww.tsa.gov/travel/travel-tips
3. Know your Airline’s Rules and Fees (and follow them)
Do you know which airlines charge for carry on baggage? Do you know which airlines charge for selecting your seats? Go check out your airline’s website. No two airlines are alike and things are constantly changing in the industry. The airlines have spent a lot of time and money setting up their websites so they can teach you everything you need to know about using their services. Most of the information from my book comes from these very websites.
There are no hidden fees. All the airlines tell you their fees on their websites. What is free on one airline might be an optional extra on another. If you at least read about their fees you won’t be surprised once you get to the airport.
4. The Overhead Bins are Shared Space
Frequent fliers board the plane first. They always put both both their bags in the overhead bins (rules say only one bag can go up but they don’t care). By the time you get on most of the bins are full and the ones over your seat might already be taken. Look for the next closest bin and place your bags so that either the wheels or top handle are facing the aisle.
If you are only bringing your suitcase with you to save money, listen to see if they want volunteers to check their bags. With some airlines when you check your bag at the gate it is done for free. Just remember that your bags will go all the way to baggage claim at your final destination. You won’t have access to your bags anymore so make sure you remove any electronics, medications, car keys, and valuables.
If you are going to bring a bag on board, make sure you can lift if above your head. Flight attendants will not help you lift your bags. Think about this when you are packing it.
5. Dress Warmly (or bring a blanket or sweater)
It’s summer! This is the time to wear sandals, shorts, and a tank top everywhere. It’s going to be hot right? Outside, yes. Inside, no. The airports are going to keep the AC around 65 – 70F. We’re going to keep the temperature on the planes a little warmer, but not much. We cater to our frequent fliers (business travelers) who often have to wear suits even in summer. We are not going to turn up the AC just because you decided not to wear any clothes.
Prepare for this. Bring a small, lightweight blanket. Bring a sweater and some socks. Don’t count on the airlines having any blankets to give out in the summer. If you are a parent make sure your kids are dressed warmly.
6. Give yourself at least 1 hour for connections (1 and ½ if you are traveling with kids)
Some airports are designed like mazes. You might have to go up and down stairs, take an elevator, or even ride in a train. At some airports you might even have to exit security, go to a whole different terminal, and go back though security again. The more time you give yourself the less stress you are going to have about making that connection. Also giving yourself extra time will create a buffer just in case your flight is late or if you need to stop for food.
7. Bring Headphones (with standard 3.5mm jacks)
There are going to be crying babies on your flight. Crying babies. They will be there. Deal with it. Bring headphones and try to drown out the sound of the crying babies. Over ear noise canceling headphones work best.
Some airlines still have in-seat TV monitors and some (such as Delta) even offer free movies. But of course these systems only work with the old school 3.5mm jacks. Fancy new Bluetooth headphones won’t help you.
8. Check the Weather and Delays
Summer flying means afternoon thunderstorms. Afternoon thunderstorms mean delays and cancellations. Check the weather (a lot of the pilots use the myradar app) but also check with your airline. When there are expected weather events the airlines will often let you change your travel dates free of charge. They usually announce these changes on their websites.
You can find out about delays by using the FAA’s website http://www.fly.faa.gov/flyfaa/usmap.jsp but unfortunately the information is not always up to date. I find that FlightAware often has more accurate information about airport delays (but beware as sometimes the website has intrusive ads!).
9. Sign up for Text Alerts
To save you time and aggravation, the airlines want to keep you informed of any and all schedule changes. Weather can affect you in ways many people just don’t understand. Maybe the weather is perfect where you are, but the plane and crew are coming from someplace with bad weather.
Let the airlines tell you what’s going on with your flight so you don’t just show up at the airport to find out it has been delayed or canceled.
10. Change your Attitude
Ever heard of a self fulfilling prophesy? Everyone knows that flying sucks because that’s all everyone talks about, how much flying sucks. When you come to the airport already convinced that you are going to have a terrible time, you are probably right. You are going to concentrate on every little thing that goes wrong during your trip (regardless of who is at fault) and have a terrible time.
The truth is the airlines want you to have a good time. They want your repeat business. They want the business of your friends and family as well. No airline is trying to make flying miserable. If anything they are investing billions of dollars constantly improving their products and services to match what customers are willing to pay.
Do your research and thoroughly prepare for your trip. After that think of just how incredible it is that you are going to be traveling at hundreds of miles an hour, thousands of feet up in the air. Marvel at all the progress we have made in the last 114 years and enjoy your journey. Safe travels everyone.