If You Must Fly... Here's How
Last summer was a tough one for air travelers, with widespread delays and crammed planes. And this summer could end up worse: So far in 2007, delays are setting records and planes are nearly as full as ever. That makes it critical to plan smart and react quickly when something goes wrong. U.S. News asked some travel experts how to make flights this summer as pleasantOK, tolerableas possible:
Streamline your trip through security. It pays to follow the Transportation Security Administration's advice, like wearing slip-on shoes instead of fussing with laces when you have to remove your footwear at security checkpoints. And to make it easier to comply with TSA's "3-1-1 rule" (all containers must be 3 ounces or less, packed in a single, 1-quart size plastic bag), pack your allowed toiletries in a plastic bag before you leave home. Then you'll be ready to go at the scanner without any fumbling.
There's also an easier way to zoom through security in some cities. Certain airlines and airports, including New York's JFK and Orlando International, have teamed up with a private company offering passengers a security cardfor a $100 yearly fee (and a $28 TSA vetting fee)which allows travelers to bypass the long lines at security and head right through a fast-track lane.
To purchase the Fly Clear card, you must first register online at www.flyclear.com and then show up in person at an enrollment center to verify your identification and have your photo, fingerprints, and iris scan taken. A list of center locations is available at http://www.flyclear.com/locations.html. While the service is currently available at only five airports, it's gaining in popularity, with plans to expand to other airports soon.
Make backup plans. If there are delays or cancellations, you're at the mercy of the airlinesunless you've enlisted an outside-the-system travel agent, according to Rachelle Breitenbach, manager of Elizabeth Holmes agency in Seattle. "Travel agents can go into your airline's reservation system, book you on another flight (even if it's on another airline) and lock in your new seat assignment." Travel agents may charge around $40 for the service (or comp the fee if it's really an emergency), but they can be worth it; free online services can't do anything for you when you're in a jam at the airport.
Fly when others aren't. If your travel schedule is flexible enough, "try to schedule flights earlier in the morning to hedge against possible delays or cancellations. That way, you'll have more options to catch a flight later in the day," suggests Catherine Wygant of Hurley Travel in Portland, Maine. Whatever you do, when booking your vacation plans, don't pick the last flight of the day out of Fiji if you absolutely, positively must be back the next day.
Find unadvertised deals. Business class is too pricey for many travelersand their companiesbut there are also discounted business class fares that most people don't know about. You definitely won't find them if you book directly through the airline, which of course wants you to pay full freight.
There are usually caveatsyou might have to purchase the tickets at least 50 days in advance, for instancebut you can save 50 percent or more off regular business class fares, according to Sonya Dickerson, a consultant with Greaves Travel in Chicago.
No matter how hard it is, try to smile. A little charm and politeness might make a gate agent's day. And then he or she might make yours. Remember that airline workers have probably been dealing with cranky travelers all day long. Still, "be firm with your request, whether you need a hotel, a transfer, or just a dinner voucher," says Wygant. Pleases and thank-yous will make you stand out.