How to make your next trip as stress-free as possible
By Alexandra Kay
Anyone who has spent a few hours sprawled miserably in an airport departure lounge waiting out a flight delay, and then sat hunched in a basic economy seat on a cross-country flight for six hours, knows that air travel has become more challenging in recent years. With stricter security requirements, airlines cramming in more seats and thus reducing legroom, and a record number of airline passengers, the challenge of navigating air travel can be a nightmare.
Sham Sandor, an apparel sourcer who travels a lot for work, has had her share of unpleasant airport experiences. She often tries to minimize her time in an airport by arriving with just enough time to make her flight. That strategy sometimes backfires. On a recent visit to Amsterdam, she missed a flight because of long security lines and a glitch with her airline’s app. “Crazy cool airport but crazy and not-so-cool lines! The security check was insane,” she says. “You got through two rounds of security only to get to another crazy long line. It felt like the winding lines at Disney!” On this occasion, she received an alert from Delta that her flight was delayed, so she stayed in line—only to get to her gate and find out the flight had already left.
Fortunately, you can take steps to avoid missed flights, reduce the hassle
of travel, and make sure your next trip runs as smoothly as possible.
Know the rules.
In the last few years, some of the major carriers have added a new ticket category, known as “basic economy.” Across different airlines, the rules and inclusions can vary, so always double-check what you’re getting with an airline’s basic fare ticket. It generally means you are paying the lowest possible price—but at a cost, says Jamie Ditaranto, editor at the travel site SmarterTravel.com. “You don’t get to choose your seat, and for most airlines, you’ll have to pay an extra fee to bring a carry-on,” she says. “For US carriers, basic fares include a complimentary carry-on only on United—and then only if you are a Premier, Star Alliance, or Mileage Plus member—and Delta.” On American Airlines, for example, basic economy passengers are only allowed to carry on one carry-on item. If you need to get in and out of the airport quickly, you may want to weigh your savings against what it will cost you in time and money to check a bag if you opt for a basic economy ticket.
“Stop packing so much! Most travelers overpack, leading to checked bag charges and potentially lost luggage,” says Mark Murphy, CEO of travAlliancemedia and author of several travel books. “Use a carry-on that is compliant for the airline and routes you will be flying, as some bags that work on domestic flights won’t be acceptable for international flights.”
Keep your valuables—and a change of clothes with you. Electronics like laptops, cameras, and chargers should travel with you, as should any important medications and travel sizes of any toiletries you can’t do without, says Ditaranto. Her rule of thumb is if it can’t be replaced or will be hard to find, it should be in your carry-on.
Use TSA-approved containers for liquids and electronics and keep travel documents and identification in a separate pouch or area of your bag, so they’ll be easily accessible when you need them, says Denise Harman, senior director of program management for the United Kingdom and Ireland for Carlson Wagonlit Travel, a company that manages business travel, meetings, and events. The TSA offers an online refresher on its liquid rules.
Take advantage of technology.
Print your boarding pass at home before you leave for the airport or, better yet, download your boarding pass to your phone. That will cut down on time spent at the airport waiting in line or using an airline kiosk. Download the app for whichever airline you’re flying with, and sign up for flight alerts. You can also use the airline app to check the flight status to make sure your flight hasn’t changed gates or been delayed. The app FlightStats tracks flights across a broad range of airlines. Using an app like TripIt to keep all your travel information in one place can also help you stay organized and reduce stress.
Trusted traveler programs.
If you fly regularly, sign up for an airport security program like TSA Precheck or Global Entry (see sidebar). Once you have been approved, you won’t need to take off your shoes, belt, or light jacket, or pull out your laptop and bag of toiletries.
Get the right credit card.
Most airlines now charge for checked bags, but you can score a freebie—and other perks—by picking the right credit card. Citi’s AAdvantage cards offer the first checked bag for free, as do Chase’s United MileagePlus Explorer card, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card, and the JetBlue Plus card. Additionally, the United MileagePlus Explorer card and the Gold Delta SkyMiles card include priority boarding, and the United card gives customers two free club passes each year.
Time it right.
Build in some extra time. According to a survey from Airfarewatchdog, 48.5 percent of fliers said that the preboarding process—checking in and going through security—is the most stressful part of flying. Each airline suggests arrival times prior to a flight, but generally, it is smart to arrive at least an hour and a half before a domestic flight and a minimum of two hours before an international flight.
If you absolutely have to get somewhere on time, an early-morning flight is your best bet to avoid delays. According to the US Department of Transportation, an early departure is less likely to be delayed than a later flight, as is a nonstop flight. DW
Ease your travel experience with these hacks.
• Bring a portable phone charger to avoid the hassle of finding an outlet.
• Have your boarding pass and ID in hand before you get on line for security.
• Confirm flight information on both the airline app and a flight board when you arrive at the airport.
• Bring an empty water bottle to fill at the airport to avoid spending a fortune on liquids.
• Email yourself airline contact info, flight and hotel information, a scan of your ID, and credit card info before you leave home, so you’ll have what you need in case of emergency.
Trusted Traveler Programs
Which one is right for you?
The best program, especially for anyone who travels internationally at least two times a year, is Global Entry, says Jamie Ditaranto of SmarterTravel.com. Joining Global Entry means you qualify for TSA Precheck, and you’ll also be able to pass through both Canadian and Mexican borders as easily as you would with NEXUS or SENTRI. “It really depends on how much international travel you do, but when the difference in cost for Global Entry and Precheck is only $15 (Global Entry is $100, TSA Precheck is $85) you might as well get Global Entry and enjoy a smooth reentry the next time you return home from an international trip,” she advises.
Still not sure which program is right for you? The Department of Homeland Security offers a comparison tool: dhs.gov/trusted-traveler-programs.