Seamless Flying Tips: Navigating Your Air Travel
One of the most difficult and painful aspects of travel is flying. Let's be honest, if you're like me, you'd like to be able to teleport yourself to a new destination in the blink of an eye and skip the entire flying process. Alas, the laws of physics still exist and flying is a necessity if you want to get somewhere in any efficient manner. Since it is a necessity, how do you do it well? How do you mitigate the potential problems that are completely out of your control that could derail your well earned vacation?
Take the Early Flight
The first thing you want to do is to pick the early morning flight. The first flights of the day have fewer delays. The weather is usually calmer in the morning, especially in the summer. You won't be waiting for your plane to come in from another destination that might have delays. If there is an illness on the flight crew it is more likely they will be able to find a replacement overnight. The airport will be less busy first thing in the morning so you won't be weaving your way through the hordes of people just to get to your gate. And if there are any delays or cancellations, you'll have more options to get to your destination throughout the day.
Know your flight's history
The next thing you'll want to be sure you do is look at the history of your flight. You should be doing this before you book, although this is more difficult if your flight is further in the future. You can use sites like FlightAware or FlightStats to track the history of your flight. This will show you things like how often your flight is delayed and where the plane comes from before it gets to you.
I recently did this on my flight to Portugal. I was tracking my flight(s) and saw that my flight from Minneapolis to my connection in Newark was canceled multiple times in the weeks leading up to my trip. Not only that but my connecting flight from Newark to Porto was delayed (sitting on the tarmac for hours sometimes) regularly. I decided that flying with two kids, I didn't want to take that chance and have my flight canceled or delayed. So I took the opportunity to call the airlines and take a different route. I found a route that was more promising where the flights were on time more often. It was a route that took longer as it added an extra stop and it was scheduled to get us to Portugal later in the day, but at least it would get us there. Luckily I had a free change so I didn't have to pay extra and luckily I found seats together for me and my family on most of the new flights. In the end I was really happy I did this. I continued to watch the flights I was originally supposed to travel on. While the flight from Minneapolis to Newark wasn't canceled, the flight from Newark was delayed for almost 4 hours (it didn't take off until 2 am). And we ended up getting to Porto before that flight by 2 hours.
Know your backup options
Before you leave on your trip you should know your backup options. Know what flights are available in case yours is delayed or canceled so you can quickly re-book your flight. Write these options down and be ready to use them. If you have the flight number written down you can find it on the airlines' app to re-book that specific flight without having to sort through potential options. And you'll be faster than anyone who's at the counter waiting in line to talk to the gate agent. If the airline's app isn't working have the airline's reservation phone number written down so you can call them with your booking number and flight number for faster re-booking. If your flight is delayed, you will also want to try to find out the reason. Most of the time there is nothing you can do about it. If it is delayed due to weather, that is going to affect all flights. If it is due to the flight crew being sick or over their hours, that is a coin toss if the airline will be able to get a new crew. And the biggest wildcard is a mechanical issue. Some can be fixed quickly, but sometimes they can't be fixed at all, causing a cancellation. Be aware of these issues and how likely it is that you might need to use one of your backup options.
Download the airline's app and turn on notifications
In 2024 having the airline's app downloaded on your phone is a must. Almost all airlines today use mobile apps for your ticket. But just as important is to ensure notifications are turned on for the days you are flying. You will get notified here of any potential flight changes. The airline apps are updated before email notifications are sent out and many times before even the gate agents know of any delays. This will give you a potential head start if you need to pivot your flight plans and use your backup options. There is also the chance that your delay time could change. For example, the delay could start off as 2 hours, but things could move that up to 1 hour. A notification your app will let you know you need to get to your gate sooner than an email.
Another advantage, if you have an iPhone, is the live activities option. This eats up a ton of batter but will update you in real-time of when you can expect to board your plane. This can come in handy if you're trying to make a quick connecting flight.
The airline apps also will update you if you have checked your baggage. It will tell you when/if your bag has gotten on the flight and it will tell you which baggage claim to go to without having to find one of the screens in the airport. I've found this feature convenient when going through airports that I don't know very well.
Enroll in a Trusted Traveler Program
There are multiple options available to those who want to expedite the airline security process and/or the customs and border patrol process. The most common programs are TSA Precheck, Global Entry and CLEAR. The options allow you to go into a special lane when flying.
Having TSA Precheck has been a huge time saver for me. Depending on if I have to check a bag or not, I can go from parking my car at the airport to being through security in 15-20 minutes.
Electronic Bag Tags
Electronic Bag Tags, or E-tags allow you to have one electronic bag tag that you can re-use for your luggage. This is a relatively new technology, especially here in the US. Right now Alaskan Airlines is the only US carrier that is widely using this. More carriers hope to allow this technology soon.
The convenience of this means when you check in for your flight, you also get an electronic tag that displays on your e-luggage tag device. I haven't been able to use this technology yet, but hope to in the future. Several foreign airlines are using this to expedite the flying experience.
These are just some of the tips that you can use to make your flying experience less stressful and expedited. Let me know if you've used any of these suggestions.