20 Tips From Air-Travel Insiders
Before you snuggle up with an airplane blanket or tie a red ribbon on your suitcase, read these tips from frequent fliers
Know the difference between direct and nonstop flights, and always opt for the
Unlike nonstops, direct flights can touch down at other airports on the way to their
ultimate destinations, explains Macon Dunnagan, a baggage handler with US Airways. And
while stops are built in to the total travel time, the potential delays they can cause
arent. Whenever possible, fly nonstop, he says.
Make sure you purchase your ticket under the exact name that appears on your
It might seem obvious to you that Betsy is a nickname for Elizabeth, but it may not
to a skycap, a desk agent, or a security officer any one of whom could ask you to show
identification with that name before boarding, says Delta Air Lines public-relations
representative Katie Connell.
Select your seats ASAP.
If you have a disability and need a premium seat in the bulkhead, tell the agent
when you make your reservation rather than at the airport, says David Martin, a Delta
passenger-service specialist who creates the airlines policies for customers with
disabilities. Other passengers might be able to nab those seats 24 hours before the
flight, when theyre made available to everyone through the airlines website.
Get to your gateway city as early as you can.
Since delays stack up as the day progresses, its smart to book the first flight you
can into a hub (if you have a connecting flight), says Dunnagan. Spending a few extra
hours at the airport is better than missing your connection because your first flight
Double-check foreign document requirements.
Some countries like Chile, Kenya, and India require a visa for entry; others,
like South Africa, wont allow entrance unless a travelers passport contains at least
two blank, unstamped pages. You need to be aware of those requirements before you make
your flight reservations or you could get stuck Stateside, according to a source at the
U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. For a complete list of entrance
regulations, visit www.travel.state.gov/travel.
Set your luggage apart from the pack.
Tying a red ribbon to your black bag is not the most effective way to distinguish it.
When passengers use ribbons and bows, they can be torn off in the transporting
process, says Chris Gossner, a customer-service supervisor with US Airways for more
than 20 years. Not to mention the fact that youll probably see dozens of other red
ribbons circling on the baggage carousel. Your best move is to purchase a suitcase in an
unusual color, such as bright blue.
To save precious quart-bag space on overnight trips, Freida Burton, a US Airways
flight attendant for almost 31 years, carries samples of cosmetics, moisturizers, and
prescription creams, which she requests from her doctor. Go to
walmart.triaddigital.com/free-samples.aspx or www.freesamplesblog.com for a variety of
regularly updated freebie offers. Or take advantage of Sephoras and Kiehlss policies
of giving three free samples with any online order at www.sephora.com and
BYO blanket (and disinfecting wipes, too).
I hate to say it, but tray tables are rarely cleaned, so wipe them off before you
use them, says Sarah Scott, a former US Airways flight attendant who worked for 19
years. And steer clear of the blankets and pillows. Theyre only washed when they look
Pack your electronics in a single layer.
You will increase your chances of speeding through security if you take the time to
lay your electronics flat. When things are tossed in haphazardly or jumbled together,
we spend more time determining what they are (from the X-ray) and have to manually check
bags, says Sterling Payne, a spokesperson for the Transportation Security
Do your own bag check before you leave.
To keep from getting stalled in security and losing innocent (but sharp) items you
forgot were in your bag hello, nail scissors! carefully check each piece of luggage
at home first. If you think through the screening process as youre packing, youll be
fine, says Stephanie Carter Naar, a transportation security officer based in
At the Airport
Know your airports code.
Its easy for luggage-destination tags to get mixed up at a curbside check-in. Learn
the three-letter airport code for your destination and make sure your skycap labels the
bag properly. The codes arent always intuitive (for example, New Orleanss Louis
Armstrong Airport is MSY), so check the list at www.airport-technology.com, especially
if the city youre going to has more than one airport. Cities with multiple airports
can cause problems if passengers dont know which theyre flying into, says Tim Wagner,
a spokesperson for American Airlines.
Ask about your options.
Many airport waits can be made more enjoyable by asking insiders for advice. Stuck
with your children at Bostons Logan Airport? An airport employee can direct you to
terminal C, where a baggage carouselstyle slide anchors a play area. Tired of the same
old food-court choices? In the Austin, Texas, airport, make a beeline for Salt Lick it
serves up some of the states best barbecue. You can even get through security faster by
seeking out additional lines: Airports will often open another line during peak times,
so it pays to ask, TSA spokesperson Sterling Payne says.
Exercise caution in duty-free shops.
Not everything in duty-free is a bargain, says Janice Mosher, director of the
Customer Service Center for U.S. Customs. If you really want that bottle of Opium
perfume, find out what it costs in your local department store first. And consider the
three-ounce rule when stocking upon things like alcohol and olive oil. If you are
transferring to another domestic flight after clearing customs in the United States,
youll have to put your liquid duty-free purchases in a checked bag, Mosher says. And
if you dont have room in your suitcase, youll have to leave that big bottle of olive
Spring for an afternoon in the lounge.
For a fee usually about $50 a day, which you can pay on the spot you can take
advantage of the drinks, snacks, uncrowded bathrooms, and comfy chairs at most airline
club lounges, plus you can get help from the clubs dedicated ticket agents. Several
times when its looked like I would be stuck somewhere for another day, a club agent has
pulled a rabbit out of his hat, says Bill Coffield, an attorney who flies between
50,000 and 100,000 miles a year.
Call for help.
If youve missed a connection, dont stand in line to rebook with a gate agent.
Instead, use your cell phone to call the airlines customer-service number (tuck it in
your wallet before leaving). You may speak to someone faster, giving you a better shot
at a seat on the next flight. Also, the people on the phone are slightly less frazzled,
because they dont have 10 angry customers in their faces, says fashion designer Melody
Rains, who flies about 70,000 miles a year, domestically and internationally.
Utilize cell-phone lots.
These free-parking areas, where drivers can wait for the Im here call for 30
minutes or longer, have sprung up at more than 50 airports in the last few years. The
lots cut down on congestion at the arrival areas. Now I can call my husband as soon as I
start walking down the concourse, and we meet just outside the door, says Sara Nelson,
a United Airlines flight attendant for 12 years. (For a complete list of these lots,
visit the Airports Council International website at www.aci-na.org.)
Get fed fast.
Its late. Youve just landed, and youre starving. To have dinner waiting in your
hotel room when you arrive, call and order room service from the road. It can save a
hungry half hour, says Barbara Talbott, an executive with Four Seasons Hotels in
Toronto who flies about 20 times a year.
On the Plane
Bring a car seat for your child.
Car seats arent just safer for children, notes Veda Shook, a flight attendant who has
been with Alaska Airlines for 16 years. They also help kids stay calmer, since theyre
used to being in them. Shook suggests investing in a car seatstroller combination.
The seat slides right out of the stroller part, which you can check at the gate, she
Corral your in-flight necessities.
Blocking the aisle during boarding while you dig for gum, a book, or a snack isnt
just a drag for you; it can delay the entire plane. Dezirae Bridges, a Delta flight
attendant for 11 years, suggests packing small must-haves in a resealable gallon-size
bag that you can toss onto the seat while you put away everything else.
Stow your bag near your seat.
Its tempting to toss your suitcase into the first empty space you see, but that
slows down deplaning, as passengers who had to stow their bags near the back move
downstream to collect their belongings, says Beth Jones,* a US Airways flight attendant
with 34 years under her (safety) belt. To avoid backtracking, board as early as you can
and enlist the help of a flight attendant when storing bags.