“You won’t know where you’d rather be until you leave where you are.”
Let that sink in.
And now let’s plan a trip! Vacay with the fambam? Solo trip for some woosah? Besties quality time?
There’s no time like NOW!
With so many rules and regulations put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that all the airlines and airports have to abide by, traveling can be a stressful event. But it doesn’t have to be.
Currently I’m a Customer Service Agent with a major airline and I take full advantage of my opportunities to travel the world. I have first hand knowledge of how most airline operations work, specifically the ones needed for a blissful and exciting adventure. I’ve seen some crazy things as an employee and as a traveller so I can honestly say if you’re prepared, even “the worst” of situations can turn out to be just fine. From baggage requirements, getting through the security line, identification and flight booking, you’ll learn the must-dos and don’ts to enjoy airline travel and find yourself craving more journeys!
1.Book your flights, correctly!
First things first, make sure you pick the correct dates and location you’re searching for. You don’t want to show up to the airport only to find out you accidentally booked tomorrow’s flight to San Jose, California and now today’s flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, which you swore is what you chose, is completely booked full! (Your snorkel and fins may not get as much use in the Bay Area.) Most airlines charge a lot for any types of changes to reservations, think like $100+, so make sure you thoroughly triple check your bookings before you confirm. And then, accurately update your calendar.
This also includes making sure you correctly put your personal information into the reservation. Specifically, your name NEEDS to be spelled correctly and it HAS to match the government ID you will be using for travel. I’ve seen the TSA, Transportation Security Administration, deny passengers access through security because of a simple misspelling of their name on their boarding pass. And I mean simple, two letters switched around or added/missing letters. They’ll make them go back to their airlines to fix their reservation so it correctly reflects what’s on their ID. Once again, this is a reservation change and will more than likely have a hefty charge.
If you’re recently married, make sure you have all your documents with you if you haven’t received your new ID yet: legal name change, marriage license, old government ID.
I know you’d much rather buy useless, yet hilarious, souvenirs on your trip, so be diligent and attentive to detail to avoid any unnecessary added costs.
2. Multiple flights?
When booking your trip, pay attention to connection times. You want to make sure you have enough time to get from one gate to another, the last thing you want to do is run through the airport and get all sweaty before your next 3 hour leg.
If you’re transferring planes AND airlines, there’s a large possibility your checked baggage won’t make your second/third flight if there’s less than an hour in between. Think about how long it takes YOU to get from one terminal to another, let alone your bag in a sea of millions of bags. There’s no magic carpet or specialized robot to escort your bag across the airport – not yet at least.
We’ll get back to baggage in a bit. It’s a beast all on its own!
3. Be one with technology!
Next, don’t be afraid of phone apps and websites. Download all of your airlines’ smartphone applications and get familiar with their websites!
You should know EXACTLY how to check in from home AND on the road. Once that 24-hour-before-departure-time hits, you should be online printing and/or saving your boarding pass to your mobile device. Plus, you have access to a plethora of options to improve your flight experience, examples include:
Choosing/changing your seat to get a sunset/sunrise view;
Upgrading to First Class/Premium Seating with more leg room;
Finding the type of aircraft you’ll be in and if there’ll be wi-fi or charging outlets;
You may even find a map of the airports you’re traveling to and things to do at your final destination.
4. Ok, here it is – Checked Baggage:
Defined as: Items that travel below the cabin, in its own section of the plane, also known as the pit. Most airlines charge for checked baggage and there ARE weight restrictions. The latter is important to understand, so I’m going to get science-y with you: If the flying device AKA the airplane is too heavy, it will not lift off the ground AKA it will not fly. This is where we ACTUALLY get to use what we learned in high school physics in “real life”. Airlines have put in place weight restrictions for bags, after years of research, statistics, innovations, to SAFELY operate their aircrafts while providing you with an opportunity to bring items with you on your trips. YAY! Hey, it’s better to have weight restrictions on bags and not people, right?! So that “50 pounds per bag” limit for each of two checked bags has been purposely placed – any pound over AND any bag over that limit WILL have an extra, and steep may I add, fee. Think about it this way, if you are taking more than each passenger is allowed; there is a higher chance (will more than likely happen) not all bags for all passengers will fit on the plane. Then, any left over bags will have to take the next flight (which could potentially push back other bags – it’s a horrendous cycle) and the airline will have to deliver the bags to the passengers who did not receive their bags, costing time and money for all parties involved. Whooooo. Basically, don’t be THAT PERSON! Follow directions – if not for your own sake – then for everyone else who wants to have a stress-free trip accompanied by their belongings.
DISCLAIMER – THIS IS IMPORTANT…MEMORIZE THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT: DO NOT CHECK HIGH VALUE, IMPORTANT ITEMS YOU WILL NEED AS SOON AS YOU LAND. This includes:
Laptops (safety reason),
Wedding dresses/tuxedoes etc.
Basically ANYTHING that is difficult to replace in a short amount of time. Yes, it would be devastating if that perfect swimsuit that accentuates your curves didn’t make it on the flight, but you can always find a temporary one until your bag arrives.
*Quite often I see passengers check their bags with their keys tucked inside. They’ve had to hang out at the airport, rent cars, get taxis, break into their own house, or stay in hotels to wait for their bag to arrive. Airlines aren’t liable for valuables, so these passengers had to figure it out on their own. I know you’ll be tired at the end of your trip, the last thing you want to do is hang out longer at the airport when you‘ve been dreaming of the comforts of your own bed the whole flight home!
Also, make sure you check your airline’s prohibited items list – generally no flammable or dangerous goods, spare lithium batteries, gas-powered machinery; there will be dry-ice and weaponry restrictions as well.
It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes bags don’t make it to their final destination on the original flight. Humans make mistakes, computers make mistakes, tags fall off, bags are too heavy, planes are too full, weather gets crazy: Life isn’t perfect and neither is the airline industry. Whoa, mind blown ya?! 😉 Plan accordingly please.
And don’t forget to put some form of identification in/on/around ALL of your bags/boxes/coolers. If the handwritten name tag AND barcoded-destination tag get ripped off due to the conveyor-belt roller coaster, there WILL be a delay in you reuniting with your item(s). Help the airline find you by providing them with contact information that cannot get ripped to shreds.
5. Now for carry-on luggage or bag(s) you carry onto the aircraft with you:
“ONE CARRY-ON PLUS ONE PERSONAL ITEM” – Most airlines allow one cabin-size bag that fits in the overhead bin PLUS one (small) personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. Period. Not two suitcases and your guitar. Not five shopping bags from Nordy’s. Not a box of Voodoo doughnuts plus your backpack plus your purse (unless you’re surprising the gate agents with the doughnuts before you board, then by all means bring on the fried deliciousness!)
One bag for the overhead bin and/or one bag for under the seat in front of you. Don’t be the one to ruin it for the family that now has to check their suitcase full of activities for their little ones because there’s no more space on the plane for bags – It’ll end up being a very obnoxious flight full of screaming, bored children…dun dun dun.
Listen and obey – carry light!
6. BE EARLY:
Arrive to the airport minimum of an hour and a half before your flight *if you’re already checked in AND you’re NOT checking bags; Minimum of two hours if you’re not checked in AND/OR you’re checking bags – plan for long lines ESPECIALLY to get through TSA security screening.
Morning flights are crazy busy – expect long lines.
Check-in (either online, on your mobile app, at the kiosk or with a ticket agent) 40 min before your flights scheduled departure time. This is per the FAA. Aircraft doors normally close 10-12 minutes before the actual departure time. Paperwork has to be done, safety walk-throughs and announcements have to be made, overall flight preparation has to be completed with all passengers in their seats with aircraft door SHUT so the flight can leave at the scheduled departure time. You should be at the gate, ready to board, well before that!
If you’re 1 minute late for check in at the 40-minute cutoff or late to the gate and the door is closed, you WILL miss that flight. Doors will not be reopened, flights will not be held. Be prepared to have agent re-book you on the next AVAILABLE flight. Not just the next flight, the next AVAILABLE flight – which may mean tomorrow or the next day AND/OR with multiple connections – and EXPECT to pay a re-booking fee. Another chance for limited splurge purchases on vacation. AHHH!
7. Breeze through the TSA line:
It’s possible to get through the TSA security line quickly, as long as you’re ready to go:
Do NOT bring liquids exceeding 3.4oz or sharp objects in your carry on.
Remove shoes, jackets, watches, phones, belts, jewelry, wallet from your person before walking through the metal detector or scanner – unless you have the amazing TSA Pre-Check capabilities, and in that case, you’ll get through, for the most part, “as is”!
Don’t forget to take out your laptop from your bag before running it through the scanner.
8. Kindness goes a long way – so spread it!
Be nice to ALL airport and airline employees, ESPECIALLY if you fail to abide by any of the previous “rules”. They’re the ones who are trying to help you reach your destination – if you’re rude, you may find yourself in the last row middle seat, with the toilette behind you and the screaming toddler by your side.
Remember, the government heavily regulates flying and the FAA makes sure all regulations are followed. They are the ones who implement the rules that the airlines have to follow. So if you find yourself frustrated with something OTHER THAN customer service, you may consider reaching out to the POTUS.
Traveling, especially by plane, is an incredible gift and should be looked at as an exciting and smooth adventure. I wish you the best on your future travels and remember to smile, for you and for others. You ready?
“Failure to plan is planning to fail.”