Monday, June 29, 2009

Airline Travel Tips

I have spent the past 15 years traveling for both work and pleasure. My lifetime flight miles on my preferred airline is currently around 130,000. That doesn't count flights I've taken using mileage redemption and on any number of other airlines. I'd estimate my total flight miles somewhere around 250,000. In all that time, I've picked up a few habits that have served me well. Here are my tips for you...

* Traveling alone with lots of luggage. It might seem like a good idea to park close to the airport. But when you park in the closest airport lot you have to manage to get all that luggage to the check-in counter on your own. If you choose a farther parking lot - either the airport provided "economy" parking or an off-site parking place, you will have a shuttle bus available to pick you up right at or very near your car. This bus will drop you right off at the sky-cap and check-in counter. A much easier way to arrive when you have more bags than hands.

* Roller-boards in the restroom. Ever tried to fit one of those carry-on bags into a tiny bathroom stall in the airport? It involves a precise navigation of bag, door and toilet. My advice - choose a more out of the way restroom and use the handicap stall. By choosing a slower traffic area you'll be less likely to run into someone with an disability or a mother with a child waiting for the stall.

* Traveling in pairs on a 3 and 3 across plane. You and your spouse are having a nice getaway. You, of course, want to sit together. Even more ideal would be if you could have one of those rows of 3 all to yourselves. I guarantee you that if you select your seats as the window & middle or aisle & middle someone will snatch up the remaining aisle/window. Those seats are coveted. Leave one open and it's sure to be taken. But if you select your seats as the window & aisle and leave the middle open it's less likely to be taken by a fellow passenger. People will take all the other window/aisle seats first. If by chance the flight is full and someone does come along to sit in that middle seat, they will be thrilled when you tell them you are traveling together and would they rather have the window/aisle instead of that dreaded middle. It's a win-win.

* Need extra legroom? Exit rows have lots of extra legroom. But if you want one, it helps to get to the airport early. Airlines only assign these seats at the airport. I believe the reason is that they want to see for themselves that you are physically of age and capable to manning the door if necessary. As soon as you arrive at the airport check-in, ask to be reassigned to an exit row. You may not get it, but you just might.

* Like to recline? Never choose the last row of the plane or the row directly in front of an exit row. Usually, these seats do not recline. That's not universally true but better safe than sorry.

* Check-in online. You can check in online 24 hours in advance of your flight on almost every US airline. By checking in early, you can review your seat selection and perhaps snag something slightly better than you were able to get originally. Trust me, savvy business travelers are checking in as soon as possible and taking all the good seats.

* Saved money by connecting but wish you could fly direct? I try to fly direct whenever possible. But sometimes the price differential is just too great to justify. If your departure and final destination cities have a direct flight between them, you may be able to get on that plane. This works best when the departure time for the direct flight is around the same time as your ticketed flight. When you arrive, go to the ticket counter and ask if the direct flight has remaining seats available. If it does, and you ask VERY nicely, the ticket agent can move you to the direct flight. If there is a stand-by list, you can be placed on that as well. Of course, if your ticketed flight leaves before the stand-by list is called you won't want to wait around for it.
  • You can also see if there are empty seats when you are doing your online check-in by searching for that flight as though you were going to purchase a ticket.

* Add the reservations number for the airline to your cell phone contact list. If your flight gets canceled, everyone will have to go stand in line at the counter at the gate to be re-ticketed. Get in line but as soon as you get in line, call the reservations number. There is a phone bank full of people available to help whereas at the counter there are only 1-3 gate agents helping perhaps hundreds of people. The reservations agents on the phone are able to rebook you just as easily as the gate agents. If you get to the gate agent before you reach someone on the phone, then you didn't lose anything by sitting on hold for that time (except a few minutes of your cell phone time). But it is likely you'll get someone on the phone first.

And the most important thing to remember when traveling.....

* Niceness goes a long way with airline and airport personnel. I know it's easy to lose your cool when you've been bumped, delayed or otherwise maligned. But remember that these people have a job to do, just like you do. They are trying their best to get you where you need to be. And if they have a choice between helping a shouting, cursing, red-in-the-face bully or a mild-mannered person who asks with a smile and a please.... well, you guess who they are going to feel more inclined to assist.

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