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Reisen mit dem Flugzeug

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Reisen mit dem Flugzeug

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Abflugtafel auf dem Flughafen Köln/Bonn

Eine der häufigsten Formen zu Reisen ist mit dem Verkehrsflugzeug. Hier gibt es ein paar Tips die den Flug sicherer, komfortabler und angenehmer machen sollen.


Wenn die folgenden Informationen furchtbar komplex erscheinen sollten, dann ist der einfachste Ausweg, in ein Reisebüro zu gehen, die die Planung erledigen. Man zahlt sicher etwas mehr, aber das kann es wert sein, wenn man die Anstrengung vermeiden will, die besten Flugtickets für eine bestimmte Route zu finden und zu buchen. Im Reisebüro kann man außerdem spezielle Wünsche direkt mit der Fluggesellschaft abklären, z.B. Mahlzeiten, Babyaufbewahrung, Hilfe für Rollstuhlfahrer usw.

Wie man günstige Tickets findet

Preise von Flugtickets festzulegen ist ein außerordentlich komplexes und chaotisches Geschäft. Es gibt Armeen von Programmierern, die Überstunden machen, um jeden letzten Cent aus dem Geldbeutel des Passagiers zu quetschen. Es wird alles etwas klarer, wenn man den Hauptbeweggrund der Fluggesellschaft versteht: Kassiere diejenigen ab, die es eilig haben. Um das zu erreichen wird das Flugzeug in Preiskategorien eingeteilt, einige günstig, andere teuer. Als Faustregel kann man sagen, dass je teurer das Ticket ist, um so weniger Einschränkungen muss man hinnehmen. Mit den folgenden Regeln kann man bestimmen, wer welche Preiskategorie benutzen sollte:

  • Last-minute-Flüge sind teuer. Man sollte so früh wie möglich buchen, um das günstigste Angebot zu bekommen, denn die billigen Preiskategorien füllen sich zuerst. (Ganz selten bieten Fluggesellschaften überzählige Tickets in letzter Minute zu herabgesetzten Preisen an, aber es wäre töricht, sich darauf zu verlassen.)

  • Quick trips are expensive. Many cheap fares require staying at least three nights, and the famous Saturday night stay requirement — designed to trap businessmen who want to return home for the weekend — is still in force in many places.
  • Monday morning and Friday evening are the most popular times for businessmen to fly, which makes seats hard to find.
  • Holiday seasons are bad times to fly, because everybody else is also on the move. Worldwide biggies include late December to early January (Christmas/New Year and southern summer vacations) and July-August (northern summer vacations), but watch out for local holidays as well, such as the Golden Weeks in China and Japan.
  • Direct/non-stop flights (see box for the difference) from A to B are always expensive, as some people will pay a premium for the convenience and there is little competition. Transferring at point C is a time-consuming hassle, but it can save you a bundle, as there are many options and airlines compete to undercut each other.

When buying a ticket, it would seem obvious to call up the airline itself, but counterintuitively this is often the most expensive way to get a ticket. Cheap fare classes are often sold to travel agents in bulk, so the airline only has the expensive ones left for itself. Again, the main exception is for last-minute flights, if an agent returns a bunch of unsold seats and the airline decides to sell them off cheap.

Most major cities have more than 1 airport. Try selecting the less known or smaller airports to depart out of or arrive in as they are more likely to have cheaper fares than the larger, more known airports. For example, if you wish to depart out of the Bay Area, consider flying out of Oakland International Airport (OAK) instead of San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Besides, more budget carriers operate out of these smaller airports.

The frugal traveller will thus start looking early, be very flexible and explore a wide variety of options. Search engines like Expedia [1] and Travelocity [2] can help you explore your options, but note that these may not show discount airline flights and are rather North America-centric, often showing ridiculously inflated (full-fare) prices for travel outside North America. To find a low-cost / no-frill flight it can be good to check one of the comparison tools [3]. For international travel, you can almost always get the best deals by booking from an agent at the starting point, like Zuji for Hong Kong [4] or Singapore [5], or No. 1 Travel [6] for Japan. If you are a student, some travel agents are tailored to offering low fares to you and in such a case, you have to present an international student ID card to avail of such services.

See also: First and business class travel, Round the world flights.


Direct vs. non-stop

In the airline world, a direct flight means that it uses the same plane, but there may still be a stopover along the way — this means that you may have to disembark the plane with your carry-on luggage and, in countries like the US, even go through immigration. Look for a non-stop flight if you want to get from point A to point B in one flight.

Very often, flying from point A to point B involves a connection in point C, where you have to disembark, find your connecting flight and climb on board again. If both the A-C and C-B flights are on the same ticket, the airlines are responsible for broken connections and will (try to) get you on the next flight if you miss your flight. However, if you're booking your flights separately, making the connection is your sole responsibility, and in most cases no refund will be provided from either party when one airline's delay makes you late for the next one.

Major airlines may consider a connection as tight as 35 minutes to be a valid connection, and sometimes it is entirely reasonable; itineraries that don't involve either clearing Customs, or exiting security between flights and then having to re-enter the secure zone, generally don't require much transit time. However, you can get unpleasant surprises at unfamiliar airports. For example, your arrival and departure gates could be at opposite ends of the building, or even in separate terminals. If you're traveling through an airport you don't know well and travel time is not critical, consider allowing at least an hour and a half to make each connection, particularly if it involves clearing Customs (in which case two and a half hours is safer). If you are not delayed, you can use this slack time to eat at the airport, where the food is likely better than what you may (or may not!) get in the air.

Many of the on-line travel arrangers show statistics on how often a given flight arrives on time. Use this information to help you decide whether to risk problems with tight connections, etc. A good, but by no means iron-clad, rule is that the last flight of the day into a given destination will be delayed more often than earlier flights, as the airlines use that flight to "sweep" travelers whose inbound connecting flights run late. Of course, the statistics alone won't tell you whether your particular flight is likely to be delayed, but it's still useful data.

In considering international connecting flights, check to see if the country you will be making a connection at requires a transit visa. You are responsible for procuring all the necessary visas before you fly and you are advised to give yourself months before your scheduled journey to procure the necessary visas so as to avoid inconvenience at the last minute. For more information involving whether or not to use the US as a transit point as well as alternative transit points, please read the article Avoiding a transit of the United States.

Reservations and ticketing

From the moment you first book your flight to the moment you step on the plane, there's a lot going on in the background. The following may be helpful in understanding what is happening.

The first step is to make a reservation for your flight. This means that the airline will hold a seat for you until a given date, typically a week or so before the flight. If you do not pay up before the expiration date, the booking will be cancelled and somebody else can grab the seat. Reservations can be changed and cancelled freely.

  • A seat reserved just for you will be listed as confirmed in your reservation, and will not be taken away. You can only confirm a single seat in each direction per ticket.
    • Tip: If you're not sure what time you can make it to the airport, book the last flight of the day. This way you can always try to fly "standby" on earlier flights if you get to the airport earlier than expected.
  • If a specific flight is fully booked but you want to try to get on it, you can make a waitlisted reservation. If the waitlist "clears", meaning that somebody else cancels and you get their seat, the waitlisted reservation becomes confirmed and any previously confirmed seats on other flights are cancelled. You can usually waitlist multiple flights, but really cheap nonchangeable tickets may not allow any waitlisting at all.

Turning a reservation into an actual ticket is called issuing the ticket. An issued ticket must be paid for and, depending on ticket type, some or all of following restrictions may now apply:

  • nonchangeable: you cannot change the flight time and date (at least not without paying a heavy change fee)
  • nonendorsable: you cannot fly another airline if your airline has problems (for serious cases like flight cancellations this is usually overruled by local legislation)
  • nonrefundable: you cannot get your money back if you don't fly
  • nonreroutable: you cannot change to another route, even if the destination is the same
  • nontransferable: you cannot sell the ticket to somebody

These various restrictions (or lack thereof) play a large role in determining the price of that ticket. As mentioned in the section finding a cheap ticket, a rule of thumb is that higher prices mean fewer restrictions.

If you are still waitlisted for a flight that you would like to board, or if you would like to take an earlier flight than you're booked on, you can try to fly standby. This means simply showing up at the airport check-in counter and asking to be put on the next flight. If there is plenty of space, you'll be checked in right there. However, if the flight is looking full, you will have to wait until the flight is closed (typically 30-60 minutes before departure) and the airline can count how many seats it has left.

If you don't check in by closing time, you will be declared a no-show. Your seat can now be given to somebody on standby and your ticket is forfeited, which depending on the ticket and airline may mean either total loss or, at a minimum, a hefty no-show fee if you try to rebook.

Note that many discount airlines streamline this process considerably so that no reservations are possible, only fully paid and issued tickets. Flight restrictions are typically draconian — some companies even ban standby changes — so you'll have to pay lots to make any change and have no hope of getting a refund.

Electronic ticketing

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

When calling an airline or travel agency to make changes, the fastest way to find your ticket is to tell the reservations agent that you will give them your PNR, and spell it out with the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu). This is much easier than trying to spell out your last name, and you will gain some instant respect for sounding like a pro.

An emerging trend in air travel is the use of electronic tickets (e-tickets). An e-ticket is an electronic record of your booking details which is stored in the airline's computers. You will not receive a paper ticket for your flight but you can be assured that the airline already has your flight details in its database. In most cases, an itinerary receipt containing your flight details is prepared and e-mailed or printed out for your reference. The itinerary receipt contains a unique six-character Passenger Name Record (PNR), which is used to identify your booking.

In theory, an e-ticket allows you to just show a valid ID upon check-in as your name is all the check-in agent needs to access your flight details. However, due to security reasons, some airports require you to show the itinerary receipt as proof of your booking before entering the airport and/or upon check-in. In addition, when travelling to another country, immigration authorities usually require proof of onward or return travel and hence, the itinerary receipt. As such, it is recommended you always bring your itinerary receipt with you for easy reference.

The major advantage of the e-ticket is that because your flight details are in the airline's computers, the e-ticket can't get lost, forgotten and stolen. With this, you won't have to pay hefty fees and prepare pertinent documentation to replace it. If ever you lose a hardcopy of your e-ticket itinerary receipt or delete the e-mail containing it, you can go to your airline's ticket office or travel agent to reprint a new copy for you or access the airline's website to view your booking at no extra cost. With an e-ticket, adjustments to your travel plans are easy: you can just call your airline's office or travel agent to make adjustments to your flight plans without presenting the itinerary receipt (depending on the fare paid, penalties may apply). Another advantage is that if the airline you are flying with offers online or self-service kiosk check-in, you can be able to use such facilities and print boarding passes for you and your entire travelling party thus saving time at the airport.

The major disadvantage is that your flight details are in one specific airline's computers, so other airlines cannot access them. This means that your e-ticket with one airline is nonendorsable to another airline. This is not a problem 99% of the time, but can be a major headache if you end up flying on a different airline if, for example, your flight is cancelled. If this happens, it's best to insist on a paper ticket from the original airline as backup before heading over to the other airline's counter. Likewise, for complex itineraries involving multiple airlines (like round the world flights), you should opt for a paper ticket especially since interline e-ticketing agreements are not that common yet.

You don't have to book your flight online to have an e-ticket. This means that you can purchase an e-ticket at the airline's nearest office or at a travel agency or by calling the hotline provided by your airline. Payment methods are the usual: credit/debit cards for online and telephone bookings, and credit/debit cards, cash and cheques for physically purchasing the e-ticket at the ticket office.

Take note that not all destinations offered by major airlines are e-ticket eligible yet. But for the destinations that are e-ticket eligible, your airline may levy a surcharge if you choose to purchase a paper ticket.

Health and security concerns

  • Check official government travel warnings. Whether or not you are a US citizen, you may be interested in the US State Department's travel warnings. You can also go to the website of your airline or the airport/s you are departing from for important security advisories.
  • Be sure you have all required vaccinations and travel documents. Photocopy important documents (such as your passport) and store copies separately in case the originals are lost.
  • Airplanes fly at high altitude and cabin pressure is lower than on the ground. This can be particularly uncomfortable if your nose or ears are clogged due to a cold, so if you have to fly when sick, take a decongestant such as Sudafed at least one hour before departure. It's a good idea to avoid flying for fifteen days after surgery, or in the case that you have recently broken a bone. The air pressure can cause extremely uncomfortable swelling. Sometimes the flight attendant will have to cut open a cast because of the swelling. This is part of their training in flight school.
  • There is a risk of premature labour if pregant women fly when they are over 35 weeks pregnancy or have pregnancy complications. See Tips for women travellers for more information.