We’ve all been there: it’s the eleventh hour and you are rushing through the airport realizing you probably should have checked in last night, packed the day before, gotten there earlier, and, and….. Yes, the list goes on and on! It’s not much of a vacation when we forget to plan for our vacation. I know, we’d all rather just enjoy our vacation instead of stressing about minor details like making to-do lists. Turns out, planning is really useful because we can’t enjoy our vacation unless we prepare for it. So, I’ll be offering you my tips for navigating the airlines process successfully so you can enjoy your well-earned vacation.
First off, purchase your tickets early to get the best deal. If you’re planning a big vacation, purchase your tickets sooner rather than later. Shop around and compare prices between different airlines – websites like Kyack or Travelocity are popular among bargain hunters. Also, buy your tickets in the middle of the week (Wednesday) when prices are the best. Try to plan your vacations, if possible, by leaving and returning on weekdays as this is often cheaper than weekends. Do your research and look for options with airlines to book your tickets in person instead of online (Delta is actually cheaper online, so be careful!). In addition, considering purchasing your tickets with your debit card instead of a credit card to avoid that extra fee for credit card convenience (this can be upwards of $20 or more).
You’ll also want to consider whether you’d rather take a nonstop flight, or fly out of a smaller airport and connect from a hub. For instance, I currently go to school in Grand Forks, ND – our airport has 2 different airlines. Most folks choose to fly on Delta to Minneapolis-St. Paul and then connect to their destination. Sometimes it’s cheaper, sometimes it isn’t – if the latter is the case, a solution is to drive to the airport it’s cheaper to fly from. However, this solution isn’t foolproof as it’s sometimes just as expensive to drive to another airport as it is to fly out locally. Also, consider the extra stress you will add by having a longer drive. Consider that extra hour or so (depending on traffic) it takes to drive from Grand Forks to Fargo just to save a few bucks.
Getting Ready to Leave…
Now that you have your tickets purchased, it’s time to plan your packing and pre-arrival-to-airport strategy. You’re probably sitting there thinking that vacation is your exit strategy. However, you need to plan for getting ready to be on vacation. As much as we’d like, we can’t just pack a bag and waltz out the front door with our pets grieving.
First off, sit down and make a checklist. As you can see, having checklists is more than just about making sure you grabbed your toothbrush – it literally can save lives. Now, you can argue that going on vacationing and not using a checklist isn’t life-threatening. However, I would contend that you definitely will be a lot safer in traffic than if you forget your passport and have to rush back home to grab it because it wasn’t on the checklist, but I digress. In any event, a check-list should have clothing items included, toiletries, any special paperwork, electronic cords, etc. This isn’t an extensive list by any means, so feel free to customize based on your personal packing habits and the vacation.
Secondly, plan a budget for your trip and withdraw any cash you might need. Using cash can help you stick to that budget instead of always reaching for the plastic – it’s also a little safer and you don’t risk your card being left somewhere, or worse, stolen while you’re away from home. If you plan on going overseas, or in a state you rarely travel to, be sure to inform your bank so they don’t hold transactions. Sometimes banks will freeze accounts if they see unusual purchasing locations or patterns.
Third, prepare for the event of not making a flight due to overbooking, or missing a connection. I can’t tell you how often I patted myself on the back for packing a change of clothes in my backpack (my personal favorite invention of all time), and kicked myself for not preparing for just that event. This past weekend I flew non-revenue to visit some friends and I wasn’t able to make it on the flight back to Grand Forks and had checked my bag due to some liquids. The flights were full and I was up a creek without a paddle (thank you Target for saving me!). Let’s just say I’ll be re-adjusting my packing habits to always plan for the worst and making sure I can carry it all on as opposed to checking a bag. I do realize that not checking isn’t always possible so I advise packing a change of clothes in your backpack or carry-on bag of choice.
Next, print all your necessary documents, or in most cases, download the application for your smart phone and check-in ahead of time. Be careful when adding bags to your reservation if it changes at the last-minute. Some airlines will charge you a higher fee to check additional bags at the airport – for instance Allegiant Air charges a $50 flat-fee if you add a checked bag or carry-on at the airport (ouch!). Be sure to have all your necessary IDs easily accessible and in order.
Lastly, get a good night’s sleep and leave on time! I know you don’t necessarily want to be in bed excessively early, but plan on getting a good amount of rest and don’t forget to set the alarm to have enough time to prepare. In addition, consider the time of day you have to drive to the airport in and where you live, what the weather will be like, and so forth. Eating up time sitting in rush hour traffic can really dig into that window of time, so plan accordingly. Get to the airport at least 2 hours early to allow time for checking baggage, any reservations issues, and most importantly, security. Have everything out and ready to go when you go through lines – this will make things go much smoother and they will love you for it!
At Last You’re on the Airplane….
Yay, you made it!! You’re in Seat Something C and you’ve kicked back your seat. However, people like their space, so seat etiquette is a must. Just because you’re on the plane, doesn’t mean the smart traveling ends there.
First, be sure to recline/relax while being considerate to others. Some aircraft, depending on your destination, are small regional jets and really don’t have much leg room. It’s important to remember that there are people sitting behind you that might not appreciate the fact that you needed a nap and had to be reclined for it. They make some great neck pillows that supports your neck while you snooze.
Second, if you decided to listen to music, be careful to adjust your volume as to not disturb the person next to you. Consider the in-earbuds that are very quiet to the next person or some noise-canceling headphones – these will make both you and your fellow passengers happy. Also, be mindful of using bright lights on your devices if you are traveling at night. Lots of folks like to catch a little nap on the evening flights and may not appreciate a bright light right next to them.
Lastly, when you exit the plane, try to be courteous and not shove your way to the gate. I know you need to get out of there as soon as possible, but others are just as anxious to get off. Watch out for those carry-ons in the overhead bins as well when you take them out. I’ve nearly dropped my own bags on my head because I wasn’t being careful. It would really be too bad to drop your bag on someone else.
And Now You’re on Vacation…
While I’m no travel expert, these are just a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up while traveling with the airlines. I love being able to fly places as it brings back the rush of the reason why I am so passionate about aviation. There is nothing quite like the view from the air looking down back at the world. I hope that you too realize what a wonderful privilege it is to have aviation and all the opportunities it affords us. Until next time, blue skies & tailwinds!
**P.S. In case you didn’t catch that link, here is a great article on the importance of having a checklist: https://blog.globalair.com/post/The-Importance-of-Checklists-4-Accidents-Checklists-Could-Have-Prevented.aspx