I just dropped my non-frequent flier neighbor off at LAX and he called me shortly after asking for advice. He said his flight was delayed by two hours and he was going to miss his connection to Providence, Rhode Island so what should he do? I travel so much that this stuff is second nature to me but it reminded me that most people don’t know what to do which is why I put together this step-by-step guide.
- Sign up for flight notifications
The first thing my buddy should’ve done was sign up for flight notifications. That would’ve saved him a ton of time and hassle because in this case he would’ve known before going to the airport that his flight was delayed. If your flight is delayed, canceled or the gate changes you will be the first to know – many times even before the gate agents. Here’s some direct links to airlines flight notifications: American, Delta, United, More…
- Reconfirm your flight
If you bought your ticket far in advance, there’s a good chance your flight times or routings have changed. The airlines are required to notify you but just in case you overlooked a message, always double check. It’s also a great idea to make sure your passport (if traveling internationally) is valid. Some countries won’t let you in unless your passport has more than six months before its expiration date.
- Find the best seat
Almost everyone wants an aisle or window seat or even better one in the bulkhead or exit row. To find out which seats are the best on your particular aircraft go to SeatGuru.com. They highlight in green which ones they are and list exactly how much legroom and pitch. They also inform you if there’s power ports or personal TVs. Keep in mind airlines can change aircraft types at the last minute so there’s no guarantees. If the seat you desire isn’t available at booking then just keep checking or create a seat alert at ExpertFlyer.com. Usually the good seats will open up because the elite frequent fliers eventually get upgraded or they change their plans, which means the best coach seats may be available again. As a last resort check when you get to the airport at the check-in counter and at the gate.
- Airport security
You would think by now everyone knows to take their shoes, belts and jackets off before going through security. It still blows me away that people are surprised they can’t carry liquids over 3.4 fluid ounces (100ml). Learn the 3-1-1 rule. Also be sure to pull your laptop/coins/keys/phones/computers out or better yet put them in your jacket pocket and have your ID ready to go. I always put my shoes on first and then my bag with all my electronic gadgets last so while the screeners are trying to figure out if my bag is safe I can put my shoes back on (best to use slip-ons and wear socks). Tip: Very important – be sure to push and wait for your belongings to go into the machine before going through the detectors otherwise the person behind you can easily steal your valuables.
- Get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
If you travel internationally at all, and especially if you do it frequently, get Global Entry ($100). If you travel to and from Canada often, then get NEXUS ($50) or Sentri ($122.25) for frequent travelers to and from Mexico. It will be the best money you’ve ever spent as it allows you to breeze past the typically long customs and immigration lines. You must be approved for each card, but if you’re approved (and it’s not hard), your status is valid for five years. Just make sure to apply soon as the in-person appointments (required after you apply) are getting harder to come by. Best of all, any of the above memberships automatically enroll you into TSA PreCheck so you don’t have to wait in long security lines. BONUS TIP: If you have certain credit cards like the American Express Platinum Card, you will get reimbursed for the $100 Global Entry fee if you pay using your card!
- Don’t check valuables or medicines
If you are checking a bag remember not to pack any valuables. Although the airlines claim they will reimburse you up to $3,300 for lost domestic bags they exclude “fragile” items, “valuables” and “business effects”– which includes things such as cash, electronics, jewelry, and art work…. If traveling domestically seriously consider shipping your bags ahead of time with FedEx, UPS or USPS – just remember to do it via ground to save some cash and not overnight, but allow plenty of time — usually 5 business days.
- Pre-program your phone
Pre-program your phone with airline, hotel, car rental, cruise line, travel agent, car service, and friends’ and colleagues’ phone numbers. That way, if there is a delay or canceled flight, you can get a jump on everyone else. The moment you learn of a lengthy delay or cancellation, get in line and call the airline’s 800 numbers. The reservations agent or your travel agent can do it for you, too. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the fewer options you will have. Speaking of options, if you don’t check a bag, you have a much better chance of getting on an earlier or different flight. Also, if there are long holds, buy a day pass to the airline’s club lounge where you will get better service or consider hiring a service like CrankyConcierge.com.
- Bring food and drink
On most flights in the U.S., airlines either don’t serve food or if they do, they charge for it. Instead of being at the flight attendant’s mercy on what and when you eat, bring your own. Buy it in the airport or better yet, bring it from home. Be sure to bring plenty of water, too. Since you can’t go through security with bottled water, buy it on the other side or bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain so you can stay hydrated. In addition to your meal, you should bring snacks in case of any lengthy delays. I always have granola bars and almonds in my carry-on bag.
- Stay entertained
Some airlines don’t have any entertainment options or power ports so be prepared. Before I had a laptop, flights always seemed to take an eternity but now they usually go by too quickly since I always do my work to pass the time. Make sure your devices are charged and fully loaded with entertainment. Bring extra batteries if necessary and if you’re old school, don’t forget magazines, books and/or newspapers.
- Don’t pay for a luggage cart
It really irks me that many airports still don’t offer luggage carts for free like they do in most international airports. Instead of paying the $5 fee (that’s what it costs at LAX), go outside to the curb and look for ones that previous passengers have left behind. That’s what all the limo drivers do!
BONUS: Bring chocolates
I almost always bring three bags of chocolates — one for the gate agents and one for the flight attendants because these people can make or break your trip. When you give it to them do it with a big smile, be genuine and don’t look for anything in return. If there is a chance they can give you a better seat they will but it’s really to thank them for their hard work because they have to deal with a bunch of miserable people for little pay and perks. If you are wondering who gets the third bag of chocolates… It goes to me and my seatmates.
So there you have 10 ways to travel like a frequent flier – I have hundreds more so those will just have to wait for another time or you can sign up to my free newsletters and follow me on Twitter and Facebook where I frequently post them.