Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Flying Sucks

We just got back from our firsts flights since another stupid Muslim stuck some explosives in his underwear. We’ve also been reading about the tribulations of international security. (Canada seems to be the worst offender, with 3-hour-before-flight airport-arrival suggestions and complete checked bag searches and pat-downs.) Our (domestic) flights went fine this trip, but we got to thinking about various ways to make the flying and airport experience more comfortable.

  • Get a flight with the fewest and easiest connections possible. Non-stop vs. one-stop; flying to Amsterdam instead of Paris, even if France is your destination.
  • Start your trip from an “alternative” airport if at all possible. We know you’re not going to drive 5 hours from Seattle to Spokane if you’re in the Seattle metro area, but if two airports are relatively equidistant, chose the easier (usually smaller) one.
  • Base your flight choices on aircraft, amenities, and comfort as much as on schedules. We much prefer the two-across seating on most 777s than the 3-across on 747s. We don’t really like United, but frequently chose them because they have Economy Plus seating (see below).
  • Buy the best seat you can afford. Frontier, United, JetBlue and a couple of other domestic airlines (and a lot of international ones) have a section of seats frequently referred to as Premium Economy or Economy Plus. For a few extra dollars the legroom is worth it.
  • Only fly an airline where you can check-in online and get an assigned seat. Crowding into lines to scramble for a decent seat on Southwest just isn’t our idea of fun. Likewise, British Airways doesn’t assign seats in Economy until check-in.
  • Sometimes (such as with Frontier) the better economy seats come with free checked bags, priority boarding, and other small perks that balance out the small extra cost.
  • If you have checked-in online and have your boarding pass, check you bags curbside (even if it costs a $5 tip) and completely bypass all the check-in counters.
  • Pack light. Unless we’re taking something like skis, we try to only fly with carry-on baggage. (One carry-on and one “personal item” – briefcase, purse, etc.) But if things such as are happening in Canada continue, it might make more sense to just check all your bags, and walk through security with little more than a tiny shoulder bag.
  • Dot your “i’s” and cross your “t’s.” For example, make sure the name on your ticket exactly matches the name on your i.d. For international travel, make sure your passport is good for six months after your arrival date. Remember the TSA’s idiotic rules for liquids, gels, etc.
  • Once you’re in the terminal, don’t automatically just go to the security line behind your airline’s check-in counter. Spend a couple of minutes and wander left or right to see if there’s a shorter security line nearby.
  • If you’re stuck in an airport and have a 3- or 4-hour (or more) layover/connection, consider a lounge day pass. Many airlines offer them for around $50. Or you can get into many, many lounges with a $100/year Priority Pass and $27 per lounge visit. Lounges can give you a lot of extra comfort for your 10 bucks an hour.
  • Join every rental-car and hotel program you might conceivably use. With rental cars, this often offers you a “fast-check” option. With hotels, you might get a few benefits in the way of room upgrades, free continental breakfast, or free internet.
  • Find a hotel with an airport shuttle. Not only are car rentals much cheaper at off-airport locations, but that saves you returning a car at a congested airport location.
Lastly, you can always adopt our mindset: Drive instead of fly. If we’re traveling someplace that’s only a day’s drive each way (even a long day), we’re much more inclined to drive instead of fly. It’s usually cheaper, more convenient (we have our own stuff, and more of it), and takes no longer overall. (1 hour to the airport; arrive 2-3 hours early; 2 hour flight time; 1 hour for baggage and rental car, 1 hour more to get to your destination/hotel/etc. That’s 8 hours right there, not counting possible missed flights or delays.)