Flight Tips From A Travel Planner
September 6th, 2011

While in Philadelphia International two weeks ago waiting for my delayed flight, I joked that I could charge a few bucks to offer advice to all those passengers that were completely confused by all the changes and I could make a mint.  I believe this is probably both illegal and immoral and I wouldn’t actually do it, though I did realize how easily it is for the airlines to confuse passengers on so many levels. While these may not result in less frustration at flight delays, here are a few perhaps forgotten tips to consider when choosing your flight.

Seat Selection

• Choose a seat when you book (or if you’re booking through a planner, let them know your seat preference.) Some airlines automatically assign you. Some do not and you may end up in a middle seat near the bathroom, away from your traveling companions. You generally cannot reserve the bulkhead or exit rows far in advance. You may be able to reserve exit rows when you check in online 24 hours before, though the bulkhead usually isn’t available. Airlines do vary slightly on the availability of these.

• The seats in front of the exit row usually do not recline. Basically, if there’s an emergency, they don’t want the evacuation space in the exit row to be smaller than it already is. Some airlines won’t let you store anything under your seat in the exit row. If you’re a fan of needing your personal belongings within arms length, the exit row may not be for you. The seats in the last row also often do not recline much or at all.

• If you fly Southwest, they have an option to pay $10 per person per way and they’ll automatically check you in. This means no sitting at the computer and stalking the SWA website exactly 24 hours before your flight in hopes of getting an A boarding. In my opinion, it’s well worth the extra $20 round trip. Better yet, it’s good for all legs of the trip – it’s not $10 per leg, it’s $10 per way, total, as long as you’ve booked all legs as part of the same flight.

Luggage and Boarding Pass Check-In

• You must arrive and check in your luggage 30 minutes before a domestic flight and 45 minutes before an international flight (I suggest way more than this). By “you must”, I mean literally, you must. They will give away your seat to a standby passenger. This is a rule of the airline. And if you’re banking on no standby passengers, you’ll be disappointed. With the consolidation of flights recently, there are nearly always standbys.

• This rule generally goes for connections as well. The airlines need to make a call at a certain point as to whether or not you and your luggage will make the plane. You may be able to sprint for it, but you are not allowed on a flight that your luggage is not on (and vice versa, for security reasons) so if they don’t think they’ll have time to transfer your luggage, you’ll get bumped. There are plenty of hopeful standby passengers that will fill that seat. I can’t stress enough, if you have a choice of layovers and one option is an hour or less, go for the longer layovers. It sucks to wait 3 hours in an airport. It sucks more to have to spend the night because you missed your flight and there is no room available on later flights.

Food and Beverage

• Some airlines take cash only for purchasing food and drinks on board. Some airlines take credit card. This seems to continually be changing. Best option – have both on you just in case. If you need to get cash, do so prior to coming to the airport to avoid the outrageous service fee charges on airport ATMs. Better option, bring something on board, though you’ll have to buy drinks at the airport, since they can’t go through the security checkpoint.

Flight Change Notifications

• Most airlines offer an option to be notified of flight changes/delays/cancellations via phone, email or text. The default setting is often email. If you will have access to email up until the time of your flight (even at the airport) this might be the best option. If not, you may opt for phone or text. Be warned, the phone almost certainly won’t be a live person- imagine the staff needed for that – but a recording about the change in your flight, so it won’t necessarily help you in getting any issues resolved quicker in the event of a flight change.

 

 

 

 

 

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