15+ Of The Best Tips For Avoiding (& Surviving) Air Travel Woes
We’ve all been there…a delayed flight, missed connection, lost bag. Your heart sinks as you scramble to figure out a solution. But I don’t think any of us foresaw the current garbage dumpster fire that is global air travel.
With thousands of flights delayed or canceled, bags just disappearing into thin air, and travelers stranded for days, it can be a bit daunting to think about booking that flight. And while so much of this is out of our control as travelers, there are some things we can do to to improve our chances of success.
So I wanted to share some of my best tips for avoiding flight issues—or surviving them when they happen!
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Most of these aren’t rocket science, but even a seasoned traveler can overlook them in the excitement and fluster of getting things booked—or in trying to save a few bucks. Hopefully these tips will help you navigate all of the chaos and give yourself the best chance of things going smoothly.
Tips for avoiding air travel issues (or dealing, when they happen)
Fly much earlier than you need to! Like…even a day or two if possible, if you’re traveling for something you really need to be there for (a wedding, a big meeting, a cruise departure). I know this isn’t what anyone wants to hear, but it is definitely the safest bet and my #1 tip right now.
Go for the longer layover. It hurts my efficiency-loving soul to say this, but it’s definitely the safer option and can be a life saver. Even better, pay a little extra if you can get a non-stop flight.
Choose your layover airport well. If you have multiple connection options, think about not only length of time, but which airports may be better for making tight connections, getting re-booked from, or stranded in. For instance I detest Newark and tend to avoid Detroit and Chicago when I can. I’ll take Atlanta any day, partly because it’s huge and also I have friends there if I get stranded.
Get the airline’s app. ..do everything on it. Boarding passes, tracking bags, incoming plane info, terminal details, etc.
TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are worth the cost. I’ve had both (Global Entry comes with PreCheck) for almost a decade, and they are truly life savers at times. I fly through (U.S.) customs with Global Entry, and PreCheck is *almost* always faster and easier than the regular security line (plus not having to remove shoes, laptop, liquids, etc.).
Whenever possible, get the first flight out in the morning. Your best chance for smooth sailing (flying) is the first flight of the morning, even if it means a 3:30am wake-up call. And recall that summer is thunderstorm season, which has a massive domino effect (and storms are more likely as the day goes on).
You might also like: My Fave Carry-On Suitcase of All Time
Now is the time to fly carry-on…it’s harder to lose a bag you don’t check. But don’t over-stuff it and hold up boarding on an already-late flight when you can’t get your case in the overhead compartment. Plus, the bigger/more stuffed your bag is, the greater chance you have to gate-check, and that can be a dealbreaker on making your connecting flight. This is my favorite all-purpose suitcase.
If you do check a bag, fly prepared. Make sure to include a few things in your carry-on item that can help if you get stranded and/or if your bag doesn’t make it. A change of clothes, bathing suit, maybe your make-up bag, and a favorite piece of clothing you’d be sad to lose are all good options. And make sure any medications are in your carry-on, not your checked bag.
Plan ahead for possible checked bag issues. Make sure you have a luggage tag on it that has your phone number (but NOT address) and take a few pictures of your bag so you can show what it looks like, or prove what condition it was in when you checked it (in the event of damage).
Consider investing in digital tags to find your bag if it’s lost. This isn’t something I would have bothered with before, but these Apple Airtags are on their way to me as we speak (the ones I’m seeing get the best reviews). This way I can locate my bag even if the airlines can’t. If you don’t have an iPhone, Tile and Galaxy are two other brands to look into.
And remember, even if you don’t plan to check your bag, you may be forced to gate-check it and it could get lost…so it pays to plan ahead.
You might also like: 11 of My Best Travel Tips for ANY Trip
Book directly with the airline vs. a 3rd-party site. You’re positioned better when things go wrong…versus the first to get bumped off the flight and last to be re-booked. Plus you may run into issues getting the airline’s customer service to help, or getting compensation in the event things go really sideways.
The second something goes wrong, CALL. Yes, even if you’re still sitting on the plane, or waiting in a long line to speak to an agent, you may have better or faster luck through a call agent. Worth a try. Re-booking is first-come, first served so minutes matter.
As much as possible, be loyal to an airline. If you can achieve even low-level status it can make a big difference in order of re-booking, sometimes a dedicated customer service line, etc. Ideally this (or your credit card) comes with lounge access, which can take the sting out of delays and long waits.
Leverage family/friend connections with airlines for better customer service. Even if you don’t have status, if a friend or family member is a premier member (e.g. Delta Platinum, United Gold, etc.), they can act as a middleman with the airline since they have access to a dedicated customer service line and overall get preference (help getting a hotel booked when delayed, etc.).
Consider trip insurance…normally I don’t bother, but right now it may be a good idea depending on the trip. As I mention in this post about credit card benefits, many cards include travel insurance as a free benefit. So first, find out if your card offers it, and if it covers these types of delays and issues (or what the limitations are…e.g. does it cover COVID-related cancellations as well?).
Otherwise, do a bit of research and either go with what the airline offers when booking (Delta always does, through Allianz I think?) or separately yourself. There are tons of travel insurance reviews out there.
Always have a bottle of water and a couple snacks in your carry-on. You never know when you’ll be stranded on the tarmac for a few hours, and getting dehydrated and hangry won’t help your brain’s ability to problem-solve on the fly (and will make you less patient and nice). I usually have a Kind bar or two with me (and a few tea bags), or a little baggie or nuts, dried fruit, etc. is perfect.
On an international flight where you’ll have to clear customs, go to the bathroom on the plane about an hour before landing. Most people will wait and go when they deplane, so this can make a bit difference in being toward the front of the customs line, and a major impact on timing for a connecting flight.
And finally…when things go wrong (and they will), be nice…firm, but nice. Losing your *#&@ doesn’t actually help, nor does it make anyone (you or me included) feel better.
What tips have I left out here? Hit me up in the comments and let me know what other ones help you manage the chaos!
Other helpful advice for planning awesome trips:
- My Travel Planning Process: Inspiration, Research, & Realism
- Key Questions To Guide Your Trip Planning
- How to Find (& Choose) the Right Flight For You
- How to Pick the Perfect Hotel or Rental Every Single Time
- How to Create Epic Itineraries…Whether Weekend Getaway or Bucket List Trip
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