When I first moved to Florida after high school, I found myself in Ft. Lauderdale Airport quite often. I was flying home nearly once a month for the first six months of college. Any long weekend or opportunity to see my family and friends in NJ caused me to immediately scour the airline websites for a ticket.
I perfected the art of arriving at the airport just in time to check my bag and scoot through security with minimal waiting at the terminal. My parents joked that I could drive to the airport and make it on my flight with my eyes closed. Dangerous, but true. When my family drove from NJ to Orlando or St. Petersburg for vacation, I would hop a one-way flight to meet them and they’d drive me home afterwards. (This was back when Spirit didn’t charge an arm, leg, and first born to fly with them.) One-way travelers scream flight risk, and I’ve been through more “special screenings” than I can count.
Over the years I’ve become somewhat of a seasoned flyer. I thought I’d share a few flight booking tips … which then slowly morphed into a rant about miscellaneous airport events which really drive me up the wall. Enjoy!
It’s never too early to start researching flights. I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon in February of this year, and immediately began scouting out ticket prices. I weighed my options between flying into DCA (metro straight to my hotel), IAD (take a cab to my hotel), or BWI (have sister drive me to DC). Obviously flying into IAD or BWI is cheaper, but is it more convenient? Probably not. I could arrive in either of those airports via JetBlue, and skip paying for checked baggage. But then I’d have to spot my sister gas money or pay for a cab to take me to the hotel. Seems like the hassle just isn’t worth it. I’d rather shell out a few extra bucks up front and not have to pay more later.
Exhaust all of your resources. Check cheapoair.com, fly.com, Kayak, Expedia, Hotwire, etc. Then, compare those rates to the actual airline. (Also, don’t forget to check Southwest and American’s sites, as they are not included in search results of the search results.) Cheapoair once quoted me $40 more on a flight with both legs on the same airline. When I went to the airline’s website, I noticed it was just cheaper to book directly through them. Here’s an example I encountered today – exact same flights, different prices:
However, sometimes it’s best to split them up. When booking my flight to Orlando for October’s half marathon, I began researching in May. When the time came to book in July, I ended up purchasing a one-way ticket out on Continental through Cheapoair (they were running a special for $12 off the flight, so cheaper than the airline website) and one-way back on JetBlue. Continental was $109, JetBlue was $89. If I wanted to book it as a round-trip ticket, I could only find tickets in the $250-275 range. It’s best to look around.
Tip: Do NOT book a connecting flight through Expedia/Hotwire/Orbitz website with two separate carriers, or anything that looks like this:
You have no idea what airline combo you’re getting yourself into, plus a FIVE HOUR layover. And on the way home? On paper that 43 minute layover looks bearable, but will I be in terminal-dashing shape after my marathon? Doubtful. This is a recipe for disaster.
Back to booking connecting flights. Say the first leg of the flight is on Delta, the second on American. If Delta is delayed, American isn’t going to care; they’ll take off without you. Or if you have a 40 minute layover, between two different carriers, and you’re in row 42 of the first flight, there’s a better chance of Delta calling Delta to say you’re on your way than Delta calling American. Again, they don’t care. If you split your loyalty between two carriers, you are upping the risk of missing your flight. In full disclosure, the above flight on Continental to Orlando may have cost me $109, but it also came with a free panic attack as I sprinted from one end of the Houston airport to the other during my 35 minute layover. Last one to board the plane. Lesson learned – pay attention to those effing layover times! The bare minimum for Continental’s layover time is 30 minutes. I suppose that is doable if you are the pilot, the first one off the plane, and someone whisks you off on a golf cart to your next terminal.
And here’s where I went off on a tangent, proceed with caution…
Security hasn’t changed in years, unfortunately. Take your shoes off, remove your belt (hold those pants up!!), empty your GD pockets. Keep your liquids bag in a readily accessible spot in your carry-on so you can pull it out quickly. Can’t squeeze that chapstick or hand sanitizer into your clear quart-sized bag? Toss it. Don’t plead with the TSA agent, explaining that you just used your last $3 to buy Purell. They. Do. Not. Care. Throw it away.
Pay attention to the people in front of you. Some airports require you to carry your ID & boarding pass through the metal detector with you, some don’t. An agent in Austin will require it today, while a different one will tell you to put it in the bin on the conveyor belt tomorrow. Don’t question them, do what they tell you to do. Did the person in front of you put theirs in the bin? Put YOURS in the bin. Don’t argue or ask questions – just DO IT.
You know that annoying person who is screaming at the top of their lungs to have your ID and boarding pass out and ready? They aren’t doing it for their health – they’re doing it because people don’t listen. You know why security takes so damn long? It’s because there are countless dumbasses in line with change in their pockets, belts still fastened, combat boots laced up to their knees, and their ID in their wallet that’s in their briefcase that’s inside of their suitcase. COME ON PEOPLE. Let’s get it together.
I’ll be brief here. If you are in Zone B, and they call Zone A – do not get up out of your chair. Do not join the line. I repeat: PLEASE REMAIN SEATED. The agent is going to tell you to sit your happy ass back down. They aren’t even asking you to read any signs like in the security line, where maybe you just didn’t notice that they listed a machete as a prohibited item. They are announcing that Zone AYYYY is boarding, not Zone BEEEE. They don’t sound similar. If you’re at the gate, you’re going to make it on the flight; they won’t leave without you. Sit down, pay attention, wait your turn. Sounds like a kindergarten lesson to me.
If they offer an early boarding option, and it’s something you are interested in, invest.
When you check in for your flight, ask if you can change your seat. More often than not, seats open up the day before and day of a flight. I’ve moved from row 32 (or similar) to row 10 (or lower) just by asking the agent at the counter or looking online when printing my boarding pass.
On the Plane
After you’ve mastered following directions and finally board the plane (congratulations!!), mission #1 is to find your seat as quickly as possible. While looking for your seat, examine the nearby overhead compartment space. If you see an open compartment above your seat, JACKPOT! If not, once you get to the closest one before your seat, toss your bag up there. Quickly & efficiently. Your best bet? If you are carrying a bag on the plane, bring one you can stow under the seat in front of you. When landing at your destination, you simply grab your bag in front of you and exit the plane. Oh so easy!
Speaking of landing in your destination, why does everyone get up and start throwing bags around and pushing each other? If the cabin door hasn’t opened yet, take a deep breath and sit in your seat. Text your loved ones or friends to let them know you’ve arrived safely. Double check to make sure you aren’t leaving anything behind in the seat-back pocket. Eat several pieces of gum to disguise the smell of Tanquerays you were throwing back on the flight. Do whatever keeps you occupied … IN YOUR SEAT. You aren’t going anywhere until that door opens.
Once it does open, here’s how it works: row 1 exits, then row 2, then row 3, then row 4, and so on and so forth. I know what you’re thinking – it’s not rocket science, Melissa. I know I know, I completely agree. However, that guy in the row behind me trying to cut me off doesn’t understand. We all want to get off the plane, that’s everyone’s goal. You want to get off sooner? Find a seat closer to the door, pay extra for a first class ticket, or explain to the people who you are stepping on/climbing over/punching in the face that you have a connecting flight in 15 minutes. And you BETTER show us your boarding pass, or you ain’t goin’ NOWHERE.
What drives YOU crazy when you travel? Do you like/dislike flying?