I just dropped my non-frequent flier neighbor off at the airport 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 I do which is why I put together this step-by-step guide. It’s especially good for holiday travel.
- 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 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…
- Print your boarding pass: Most airlines allow you to check in and print your boarding pass 24-hours in advance. If you aren’t checking bags (and hopefully, you aren’t) you can then go straight to security. If you do have bags there’s usually a bag drop with a much shorter line or you can use a porter outside. Don’t worry about losing your boarding pass because you can reprint another one at the airport.
- 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.
- 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… (more details). 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.
- Get Nexus/Global Entry/Sentri: If traveling internationally get a Global Entry, Nexus (for travels to Canada) or Sentri (travels to Mexico) card. It’s the best money (costs between $50 and $100) I’ve ever spent as it now takes me no longer than five minutes to clear customs and immigration. Here are more details for how to apply.
- 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 the longer you wait the less 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 hire 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 when you eat, bring your own. Either buy it in the airport or 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 or ask an airport attendant to fill it so you can stay hydrated. Here’s a water calculator to see how much you should drink a day. 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.
- Stay entertained: Some airlines don’t have any entertainment options so be prepared. Before I had a laptop flights always seemed to take an eternity but now they usually go by too quick since I always do my work to pass the time. Bring extra laptop batteries and don’t forget magazines/books/newspaper just in case you are delayed on the tarmac and electronics have to be shut off.
- Bring chocolates: I almost always bring two boxes 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.
So there you have 10 of my best airport pre-departure travel tips – I have hundreds more so those will just have to wait for another time or you can sign up to my weekly newsletter and follow me on Twitter and Facebook where I frequently post them.