Headaches, Begone!: 5 Tips for Making Airline Travel Easier

By Sarah Winfrey on 27 June 2007 (Updated 18 August 2007) 8 comments

In these days of canceled flights, long lines at airline counters, and more frustrated customers than satisfied ones, there are some things you can do to make your trip go smoothly (or at least MORE smoothly). Headaches, begone!

1. Make sure you have enough time between your flights.

When your airline rep or the online scheduler tries to force you to have a connection of less than about 90 minutes, see if there's another option. If the website won't let you, call the associated phone number. Sure, you might end up sitting in the airport for several hours, but that's better than sitting there for several days because you missed your connecting flight and the airline can't (or won't!) book you on another one.

2. Plan for delays.

Right now, flights just are delayed. More and more, delay is to be expected, particularly if you're not flying direct or are coming out of a major airport. Sometimes, delay is even planned into the flight schedule when leaving from some airports (my experience, for example, is that the airlines pad by about 30 minutes when scheduling a flight from LAX). It's easy to pick up a book or a journal and have it with you, just in case. And sitting down to read when you have to wait reduces your stress and that of the people around you. For a list of the best and worst airports, click here.

3. Fly out of a smaller airport.

This isn't an option for everyone, but when it is, take it. It's worth the extra $20, $20, or $50 to fly from an airport with shorter security lines and more accessible airline agents. Think of it as paying yourself for the time you save because you don't have to arrive as early or stand in line as long. Plus, flights from smaller airports are more likely to be on time than flights from major airports.

4. Know your rights.

While airlines aren't held to it by law, there exists an Air Passenger's Bill of Rights. Some airlines also have their own. Though it's not law, being able to quote an established document gives you some ground to stand on if you end up in a dispute with your airline.

5. Travel light.

If you don't have a bag to check, life at the airport is much easier. With many airlines, you can check in at a kiosk and not have to stand in line. You don't have to worry about lost luggage. You don't have to wait for your luggage when you arrive at your destination. Not sure what not to take? Check here.

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Julie Rains's picture

My in-laws booked a flight with a few connections nearly a year in advance for a miltary reunion. The flight schedules changed by just 10-20 minutes (I was on one of the connecting flights and the timetable given to us was different; we didn't have to make the connection) but it was enough to make them miss a connecting flight, which caused a delay and was risky for them due to health problems. The flight attendants  blamed them for booking an "illegal" connection though it seems that the airline could have informed them of the change.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Julie, that reminds me of the time I was supposed to fly from Minneapolis to London with a friend.  I was flying to Minneapolis from Denver and she was coming from Boise.  My flight was on time, but hers was late.  The wouldn't let me wait wait and take another flight without purchasing another ticket, and they wouldn't hold the plane for her.  As it turned out, there were close to 10 people on her flight who were supposed to make ours and they got to the gate right after the doors closed, and they wouldn't get permission to reopen it for them as the airline "forgot" to tell them to hold our flight for that one.  But we had to stay on the ground for another 45 minutes to get all these people's bags OFF our airplane. 

 

Andrea Karim's picture

If you are planning on flying in Canada, consider booking with WestJet - they're sort of like the JetBlue or Southwest Airlines of the Great White North. Flights are more affordable, flight attendants are funny, and I've had great experiences with connecting flights.

I don't know if every country has there own more or less domestic airline that rocks, but remember, if in Canada, fly WestJet.

Guest's picture
Josh

Most of these smaller airports fly into one or two major cities. The main problem with this is that if there is any weather problem in the major cities, your flight will be cancelled; not delayed, cancelled.

Guest's picture
KB

I've found that even major airports can be very efficient when the security and check-in agents are well trained. At San Diego International, even with a decent sized line, I can make it from curbside through check-in and security, and to gate in under 10 minutes. Likewise at Washington National.

Guest's picture
Gecko

Drink lots and lots of water. If you don't want to wind up showing up with a cold after 20 hours of cross ocean traveling, always ask for water and something else that is actually hydrating (almost never drink soda) whenever offered by the attendant. And don't be afraid of calling them to your seat for more water if you are in the window side or getting up to ask for some if you are in an aisle seat.

Get up, walk around, and stretch. Other than the dangers of deep vein thrombosis, it will make you better able to sleep and more comfortable when you are seated. Melatonin is a better option then full-on sleeping pills for letting you wake up quickly while retaining actual memory of your own name and why you are on a plane. If flying with small children Jelly-beans (other small chewable sweets) are a necessary tool, not a luxury. Carefully portion them out to distract grumpy and bored children.

When possible do not fly an airline that is American overseas (I usually try for an airline based out of asia or the quite spectacular Emirates airline). The attendant staff tends to be less eager to please, and less helpful. Based on conversations with former attendants it seems like the reason is that in other societies an attendant is a job with career possibilities (it leads to other better things) while in America its considered an essentially dead-end job once you've been in it a while (you have no real career path).

Guest's picture
BArry

Probably the best tip for more pleasant, stress-free flying: Avoid London Heathrow airport at all cost. It is probably the most passenger-unfriendly airport in the world, with 5-hour queues, downright hostile staff, ridiculous security measures that harass passengers more than anything, dirty lounges, and unreliable transport between terminals.

Guest's picture
G8trGirl

I never used to check bags and would travel with only a carry-on. However, with the new TSA rules for liquids, I've not quite figured out how to do this and still take makeup, shampoo, soap, lotion, razor, etc - even in travel size. There is only so much that will fit in a Ziploc bag! Any tips other than purchasing those items once you arrive (which is too time-consuming and expensive to do every time)
Thanks! Great tips-