It’s hot, the airport is crowded, the planes are crowded, and was that a rumble of thunder outside? Yes, it’s summer travel season. And it looks like summer has arrived in all it’s glory. Days of continuous bad weather dismantled American’s schedule in DFW, timed-out pilots at Northwest led to multiple flight cancellations all over their system, United is maxed out with too few employees and a fleet that’s scheduled to the max, and the mess at USAirways deserves its own blog!
Yes indeed, summer is here. My travel usually slows down in the summer, but I’m not so lucky this time around. I practice a few tried true principals of summer travel that I’m sure you’ve probably heard before, but perhaps not, so I’ll share them here. And with that, here are Flyastrojets’ tips for summer survival on the road.
1) Fly as early in the day as you can possibly tolerate. If you believe everything you read in the press, you might be led to think that airlines like being late, and delay their flights just to annoy their Customers. Let me tell you now…that’s not true. As unlikely as it seems to the unititiated, airlines devote a lot of attention to on time performance, and one big area of focus is on launching the first flights of the day on time, everytime. The theory behind this being that if you get the morning kick-off flights out on time, the aircraft are more likely to remain on time throughout the day. If you book yourself on one of these first flights of the day, you are much more likely to be on time than if you are on a later flight when afternoon thunderstorms have had a chance to build and play havoc with schedules.
2) Use the automated tools your airline offers. If your airline offers the option of online check-in, you should use it. Frankly, there is just no excuse not to. I check in online for every flight right at the 24 hour window that is offered on most airlines. Checking in as far in advance as possible records your check in time that the airline will use if you find yourself in an involuntary denied boarding situation where the last to check in is usually the first to be bumped. In other words, if you checked in 24 hours before your flight, and the other guy checked in 45 minutes before at the airport, and there’s only one seat left on the plane, you win! I recommend checking in online even if you don’t have access to a printer. You will still be recorded as “checked in,” and you can simply reprint your boarding pass at the airline’s kiosk at the airport.
3) Do not check luggage if you can avoid it. I try not to check luggage. Sometimes I have to, and I’ll have to admit, I haven’t really had bad luck with it. The biggest hassle I’ve had is waiting 1 hour at DCA for my bags on USAirways. But I digress….. if things start heading south with your flight schedule, you are materially better off if you have your bag with you. It makes re-routing to other flights or other airlines much easier, and when you finally get to your destination, you’ll have clean underwear! Taking golf clubs? FedEx them!
4) Join the lounge of your favorite airline. Yes, I know $300 to $500 bucks per year in airline club dues may sound like a lot, but trust me, it’s well worth the cost. You’ll have access to airline agents that are usually a cut above the rest, and they tend to be able to find seats when the agent at the ticket counter says no way. Not to mention, you’ll have access to bar service (which is complimentary at some clubs (Delta, Continental and Northwest come to mind), a reasonably quiet place to sit, a wi-fi signal and sometimes most important of all…a clean restroom! Back up your membership with a Priority Pass card. They have some low cost membership options that can be a lifesaver when you find yourself in an airport that doesn’t have your favorite airline’s lounge product.
5) Have a backup plan. Take a few minutes to do some homework before your trip. Know your alternatives. Could connecting at a different hub be an option, a different airline offer service to your destination, or even Amtrak? Have a few ideas to suggest to the agent if your travel plans get interrupted. If you’re a real airline geek like me, consider a subscription to Expertflyer. This website offers real time access to flight schedules and inventory on many airlines for as little as $5 dollars per month.
6) Don’t be a jerk. I know it’s difficult sometimes. Airlines wreak havoc on our lives, and then inflict dispirited, often unhelpful, and sometimes just plain lazy agents upon us. Thankfully, those kinds of agents are few, but they do exist. Be kind to everyone at the airline, especially the agent, who holds the keys to getting you home. Many times, just being pleasant will score you a good seat just because the guy or gal that preceded you in line was such a jackhole.
(Side note: if you’re as pleasant as pie, and still get an attitude from the employee, don’t let it get under your skin. Do share your experience with a member of management at the airport, or write a reasonable letter to the airline explaining your disappointment, or better yet, both. One complaint won’t cost anyone their job, but a history of well documented instances will result in discipline and eventually cost the offender their job if it continues. Chances are, this person’s fellow employees will secretly thank you for helping them get rid of the offender who makes their lives as miserable as yours! Yes, I speak from experience on that subject too.)
7) Whatever happens, don’t get discouraged. I know traveling can be a pain nowadays. But let’s face it….travel broadens the mind and soothes the soul…or at least a vacation trip to your favorite spot will. Keep your eyes on the prize, seeing your beloved after a long business trip, a trip to Napa with your special someone…that’s what it’s all about. Keep your chin up, and be thankful that we have the freedom to strap ourselves in an aluminum tube and jet across an ocean or two whenever we want for no better reason than we just wanted to.
Fly safe, and be sure to share some of your summer travel experiences by posting a comment to the blog. I’ll do the same.