Advice From Fellow Travelers
The airlines tell you to arrive early, the government tells you to weigh your toothpaste, and the flight attendants tell you to be thankful for your pretzels and stay out of the aisle. But the nation's skyway warriors are the ones who know the real tricks for beating the system and turning stressful travel into a tolerable, even pleasant, experience.
With planes and airports likely to be more crowded than ever this summer, occasional travelers may find themselves bewildered by long lines, merciless airline agents, and banks of machines that have replaced humans behind the counter. But regular travelers have learned how to take advantage of the best airline innovations and work around the worst.
"For frequent fliers, I think it's gotten much easier," says Jeff Bridges of Tampa, Fla. "I love the [check-in] kiosks and try to use them as much as possible. But for the less experienced traveler, these kiosks can be overwhelming and confusing."
To ease the burden on the flying public, U.S. News asked some of the nation's most seasoned fliers to share their travel secrets. A few balked. "If you publish people's little secrets, the airlines might turn around and close down these avenues," one traveler worried. "I'm keeping my most prized secrets to myself." But many other weighed in:
Planning your flight
Fly off-peak. Lines are shorter, and if something goes wrong you'll be competing with fewer passengers for the attention of agents. "Don't travel early morning Monday or Tuesday. That is a busy time for business travelers who tend to have laptops and other carry-on stuff that slows down the line." Leslie Goldfarb, Charlotte, N.C.
Book directly with the airline. Use sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia to search for the best flights and fares. But once you've found them, make your reservation by calling the airline, or using its websiteit's easier to rebook if you need to change your plans, and there's a better chance the airline will waive any fees.
"One of my coworkers suggested sidestep.com and it has become a staple for me. It searches and compares all airline and discount websites, then you book directly with the airline or rental car agency, which is invaluable." Leslie Uffalussy, Seattle
Get a seat assignment when you book. "If the airline says they can't assign you a seat at the time of booking, that usually means that the flight is oversold and you are going to have to be at the airport extra early to sort things out." Leslie Goldfarb
Double-check your seat. The airline's seating charts can leave out important details, such as seats that don't recline or have the window removed. "For all my flights, I choose my seats after checking with seatguru.com. The site lists everything you need know to choose the best seat, from pitch, width, legroom, and placement of video monitors." Tami Jan, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
On your trip
Upgrade on the go. Electronic kiosks can help you check in quickly and also hunt for a better seat if you're on the second leg of a connecting flight. "Use the kiosks located throughout the terminals to update your seat assignment up to one hour prior to departure. Last-minute seats become available that weren't there upon check-in at your original city ... it works like a charm!"Jeff Bridges