Difference between revisions of "Tips for flying"
Revision as of 12:14, 11 April 2013
This article is a travel topic
Commercial aeroplane flight is one of the most common forms of international travel. These are some tips for making your flights safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.
For a guide to the standard procedures, rules, and other basics of travelling by air (some of which have changed in recent years), see Fundamentals of flying. See also First and business class travel, Discount airlines and In the aircraft.
Choosing an airline
There are several airline quality ratings (like ) that can help you understand how different airlines operating on your chosen route compare in levels of service, timeliness and comfort. Such ratings are one indicator, but some ratings have come under criticism by air travel insiders, e.g., the Cranky Flyer, or where user comments/ratings disagree with an overall star rating. Look at a range air travel expertise if airline selection is important and you have no recent experience with one under consideration.
Also be aware that if your ticketing airline uses code-sharing, you may actually fly one or more segments on another airline using substantially different aircraft.
Many major cities have more than one airport. Try checking flights from all airports to find which have cheaper fares. For example, if you wish to depart out of the Bay Area, consider checking Oakland International Airport (OAK) as well as San Francisco International Airport (SFO). In cities like London, larger airports like Heathrow cater for full service carriers, with lounges and airbridges, whilst the newer Luton and Stansted airports serve short haul budget carriers, with less shops, paid lounges and are further away from downtown. Often, more budget carriers operate out of these smaller airports. Some ticketing systems allow you to search using a code that covers more than one airport: see Metropolitan Area Airport Codes for more information.
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, as long as the conditions on your ticket permit this (budget tickets may not).
Domestic vs International Flights
As domestic flights are usually significantly cheaper than international flights for the same distance travelled, if you are in a city near an international border and wish to get to a destination in a neighbouring country, you can usually save quite a bit by crossing the border by land and flying from that country. For example, if you're in San Diego and need to get to Mexico City, you can cross the border to Tijuana by land and take a flight from Tijuana. Similarly, if you are in Hong Kong and need to get to Beijing, you can cross the border to Shenzhen and fly from there. People in Ottawa and Montreal can use Syracuse N.Y. for flights to American cities and Toronto residents can fly out of Buffalo instead of Lester B. Pearson. And cruises departing Vancouver carrying U.S. residents frequently fly them to Seattle, to be bussed to the port.
Trade-offs of budget flying
While it is a good idea to save on air fare, you need to take care as you consider budget carriers or the cheapest tickets offered by mainline (or "legacy") carriers. Some issues include:
Virtually all carriers everywhere (especially in North America) charge fees for amenities and services for economy class, even if you've purchased a full-price economy ticket. Pre-paying services or amenities on-line (when possible) may lessen extra costs somewhat. If an on-line promotion or point-of-sale is based outside the U.S. and E.U., the advertised price often will not include taxes and surcharges (by law, it must in the U.S. and E.U.). Other charges may not be reflected in the initial price nor obvious on the "page" when an offer is made from anywhere, e.g., baggage charges, fuel surcharges, seat selection fees. Your full cost for a flight can be quite different from that initially touted. For more advice on budget traveling, see Discount airlines.
Many airlines offer a frequent flyer loyalty program, rewarding patrons who fly regularly with them or who fly long distances. The loyalty schemes work on a segments or miles basis: you get rewards after you fly a certain number of trips ('segments') or after the total distance of your flights exceeds a certain amount. Business and first class passengers may receive bonus miles for each journey; sometimes there are available credit card and hotel bonuses for economy class tickets as well. If you are not a member of a frequent flyer program, consider joining one - especially if you travel to an intercontinental destination or plan to take additional trips. You may get something out of it, at the price of having your data profiled and used for advertisement. To join a frequent flyer program, brochures are handed out at the airport, an airline's lounge or an airline's ticket office. Submit them to the ground staff and your frequent flyer number becomes effective immediately. You can also join online. Most frequent flyer programmes don't charge a fee to join but some such as Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo Club do (in exchange for a few perks such as dedicated check-in counters and priority boarding at the base level).
The frequent flyer rewards typically include:
Not all fares are eligible to earn miles so ask the ticketing agent or read the fare rules at the time of booking. You can usually claim miles for flights up to 12 months after you've taken them, as long as you were a member when the flight was taken, but you will need to keep your boarding pass stubs. It's easier to log-in using your frequent flyer number prior to booking.
Currently only Travelgrove's  meta search engine is showing the miles that can be earned for each flight. In cooperation with MileBlaster, extras like Credit Card bonuses, Hotel bonuses, special offers are also available, and the results can be ordered by the percentage of the free flight that can be gained by booking the given flight, so it is definitely a good choice for frequent flyers looking to collect enough miles for a free flight.
Your airline of choice may be a member of an airline alliance, which allows you to earn and use your miles on other airlines in the same alliance as well. The big three alliances are Star Alliance , oneworld  and SkyTeam . With the many frequent flyer programmes out there, it will be ideal to be a member of one programme per alliance at most.
Being a frequent flyer programme of a particular carrier somehow makes it more convenient to make bookings with that carrier. When you log-on using your frequent flyer number and book a flight, your details (such as name, passport details etc.) are automatically filled-in whether the flight is mileage accruable or not.
You may also be able to claim points from other sources. Credit cards affiliated to a program are particularly useful, as you'll typically get miles every time you use them and this can quickly rack up to a free trip per year, but hotel stays, car rentals and even mobile phone bills may garner you points.
The major disadvantage is that your flight details are in one specific airline's computers, so other airlines cannot access them. This is not a problem 99% of the time, but can be a major headache if a flight cancellation requires you to switch to a flight with another airline. If this happens, get an "endorseable" 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 inter-airline e-ticketing agreements are not that common yet.
Not all destinations offered by major airlines are e-ticket eligible. But for the destinations that are e-ticket eligible, your airline may levy a surcharge if you choose to purchase a paper ticket. Airlines generally no longer issue paper tickets for most journeys.
Carry-on only travel
If you do not really need loads of luggage and will be away from home for a very short time, it may be worth considering taking carry-on only. This saves time at your destination because you don't have to wait to claim your checked luggage, and certainly carry-on luggage is less prone to getting lost or stolen. It might also save you money because many airlines charge a fee for each checked bag. Check with your airline to make sure that your bag fits within their size/weight restrictions for carry-ons, and whether your purse or laptop counts toward the limit of how many bags you can carry (or see our List Of Airline Baggage Limits to help you compare airlines). Also, with tight security restrictions on what kinds of items you can take with you into the passenger compartment (particularly nothing that could be used as a weapon and liquids in anything except small bottles), a carry-on-only strategy may not be practical so it is also useful to check the airport which you will departing out of to see restrictions in addition to the ones implemented by the airline you will be using. It is worthwhile to carry all critical items in the carry-on luggage, such as underwear, extra clothes, toothbrush etc.
If you want to travel with carry-on only but also have luggage that should be checked-in, you can use a company that provides a luggage delivery service. Alternatively, you can use a wardrobe management company like The Traveler's Closet that not only stores and ships your luggage belongings, but provides you with a database to 'virtually pack' your items, and cleans them for you between trips. You can even arrange to have clean pressed apparel awaiting your arrival.
Besides the traditional check-in at the airport (see the Checking In section), your airline can allow you to check-in online from anywhere with internet access. They usually open at least 24 hours before your scheduled flight. By checking-in online, you can select your preferred seat in advance, quote your frequent flyer number for mileage accrual, inform the airline how many bags you are intending to check-in thus saving time at the airport. Furthermore, everybody else who is part of your traveling party can also be checked-in along with you.
Online check-in procedures, features, benefits and requirements vary per airline and possibly per airport of departure. For instance, some airlines may offer only online check-in and only if you are departing from certain airports so be sure to check with your airline if online check-in is available from your departure airport. In relation to that, some airlines will allow the printing of a boarding pass at home while other airlines will still require passengers to claim it at the airport. Another example is that for some airlines such as Southwest that do not assign seats, passengers are allowed to board earlier if they have checked-in in advance. Also, some airlines will make this option available only to electronic ticket holders while others will invite paper ticket holders to take advantage of this option as well.
If your airline does not let you print your boarding pass from where you are, be ready to note down or print all the other pertinent information given to you at the end of the online check-in process as they will be used to facilitate the rest of the check-in process at the airport.
The airline will usually provide a special lane for those who checked-in online; be sure to use it for faster service.
Don't know where to print your boarding pass? An emerging trend in the issuance of boarding passes is having electronic boarding pass. Some airlines such as American Airlines, Air Canada and KLM already offer this service to passengers flying selected routes. All you need is a WAP or WiFi-enabled mobile device (such as a Blackberry, iPhone, iTouch) and depending on the airline's system, you can check-in online or via your mobile device. You will receive a link to your electronic boarding pass or sometimes the boarding pass itself via SMS, MMS or e-mail on your mobile device (consult your mobile device manual on how to save SMS, emails). The boarding pass will contain a barcode which will be scanned at the checkpoints and gate. If you are on a "domestic" flight, you will only need to bring the mobile device containing the boarding pass in addition to your ID as required documents.
Other remote check-in methods
Some airlines and stations also offer alternative ways to check-in. Singapore Airlines for instance will allow you to check-in via self-service kiosk, SMS, mobile phone application or at Marina Bay Sands. Lufthansa also offers SMS check-in. If you use a kiosk, you can either manually input information, swipe your cards or scan the 2D barcode located in your printout or sent to your mobile phone for faster check-in.
If you are departing out of Hong Kong and taking the MTR Airport Express train, you can enjoy the convenience of a typical check-in (see the Checking In section) at the Hong Kong or Kowloon station. However, you will need to have already purchased an Airport Express ticket to enter the check-in area as there are faregates used for entry. Once you are done, you can just take the train and proceed directly to passport control upon arrival at the airport. This is very useful if you still have a lot of things to do in downtown Hong Kong but don't want to worry about carrying and transporting your luggage by yourself to the airport or leaving them somewhere. A similar system exists in Kuala Lumpur, with the KLIA Ekspres train leaving from KL Sentral Station.
Choosing a good seat
In addition to the choice of window seats (good views), aisle seats (more freedom to move) and middle seats (lacking the advantages of either window or aisle seats) there are several other considerations for choosing a slightly more comfortable economy class seat.
How close you sit to the front or back end of the plane is a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. In most jet aircraft, seats in the back experience more cabin noise; the difference can be significant enough to cause discomfort, and it's one of the reasons why first class is always located in the front. In wide-body aircraft, rear economy window seats will provide you with a better view than in the front of the economy section, where the view is obstructed by the wings. The effects of turbulence are weakest near the leading edge of the wing, in the middle of the aircraft. Finally, US National Transportation Safety Board data from accidents in which some passengers survived and others did not, indicate that seats at the rear of the plane are statistically safer.
Airplanes also have "ordinary" seats that are less or more desirable for some reason:
It is possible to simulate the comfort of first class by securing a row of unoccupied seats in the middle section of larger aircraft, and raising the armrests to form a makeshift bed. Be on the lookout for these rows as you get on the plane, and be aware that others will be too. The flight attendants are also aware of these rows, and will also use them to relocate people.
Try to be one of the first ones to board, and "secure" the seats with open newspapers or magazines--the object is to make the row seem uninviting until the doors close and seat assignments are more-or-less frozen.
If you want to sleep, fasten your seatbelt over your blankets so that it's visible; otherwise, you'll be pestered by the flight attendents should the "fasten seatbelt" sign turn on mid-flight. Seating arrangements vary greatly between airplanes and airlines, so you'll need to consult detailed seat maps to figure out the good and bad ones. There are a few online sites that provide detailed maps for in-service aircraft and can help when choosing the best seat:
If you know what type of aircraft you are traveling on, you can look up the seat map on all of these sites. SeatExpert also offers a unique feature that allows you to find a seat map by entering your flight information (airline, flight number, date of departure). SeatGuru also helps to find out what aircraft type you'll be flying  (although it gives little help beyond US airlines).
Sometimes aircraft scheduled to fly on a certain day for a certain flight may be substituted for another aircraft at the last minute. Therefore it is a good idea to take a look at all possible aircrafts and their respective configurations to find out the number of your preferred seat. Furthermore, an airline may have a certain kind of aircraft with different configurations. For example, the front row in one of Airline X's A330s may be row 1 but in another kind of A330 of Airline X it could be row 11 even if the front row of both A330s are of the same service class. It is also worth knowing if the an airline's aircraft is 2nd hand or leased from another airline as the seat design may have significant differences from in-house aircraft.
If there is something wrong with your seat, say the electronics don't work, or if you are sitting next to someone who takes more than their share of the seat, or who is obviously ill, then bring this to the attention of the flight attendant. Usually they can reseat you if they know about the problem early enough.
To save time, please ensure that you pack only what is absolutely necessary for your trip as having really bulky or plenty of luggage can cause a security hassle, as well as induce additional, avoidable costs.
Most airlines/flights allow you to bring your own food. If you have a feeling food isn't going to be available, tasty or will cost you too much, consider bringing your own home made meals (or snacks). And your airport terminal may offer light meals/packaged sandwiches to carry on your flight. Ask the agent at the airline ticket counter if they're permitted.
However, if you are traveling internationally (especially to Australia, New Zealand or the U.S.) and you still have any "fresh" food (purchased/ carried-on or even part of an in-flight meal, e.g., fruit) that is not fully consumed when your flight is done, you must declare it, and you may face a significant fine.
At the airport
In the aircraft
Special meal requests
Special meals are a variation from the standard food offered by the airline. They generally match a variety of dietary or religions requirements, such as kosher, halal, vegetarian, diabetic, Low salt etc. Children's meals are often also available as special meals.
Special meals are offered by some airlines, often they can be ordered as part of the online booking process, or subsequently by managing the booking online. Special meals always need to be ordered at least 24 hours in advance, and the chances of getting one at check-in or when on the plane are slim (although it can never hurt to ask, as occasionally there are special meals on the plane from people who failed to board).
Special meals are usually served before other meals, this can be especially useful for children's meals. They can be of higher quality, but can also be lacking in some aspects, for example it is not uncommon for people ordering a vegetarian meal to get a vegan meal such as plain vegetables and rice (rather than that spinach and ricotta pasta they may have been hoping for).
Jet lag is a form of disorientation and fatigue caused by abruptly switching to a different sleeping/waking schedule and different daylight hours. Some people are affected more than others, but it tends to happen when crossing two or more time zones in a single flight (which first became commonplace with the development of commercial jet air travel, hence the term).
It doesn't follow that the greater the time difference between your origin and destination, the greater the jet lag. Often a short 4-5 hour difference that causes you to wake at 2am can be more fatiguing, and take longer to overcome than a complete reversal of day and night.
For places near the International Date Line (IDL), a time difference of 23 hours (eg. Hawaii and New Zealand) would not cause much jet lag (only an hour). The maximum possible time difference between two points is 12 hours. For anything higher, subtract that number from 24.
The basics to remember without going to too much effort, are to get a good night's sleep before your plane trip, and to sleep as much as possible during your plane trip. Ignore timezones, movies and entertainment, and just sleep whenever you can. When you arrive at your destination, forget your origin timezone and exist solely by the destination time.
Attempt to have a normal day in terms of the time zone you've flown into. If you land at 7AM, for example, you will probably have been served breakfast on your flight, so head to your accommodation (ask if they can mind your luggage (if you aren't travelling light), and go and see some of the sights, making sure to get daylight and fresh air. You'll feel tired, particularly by the mid-afternoon, but keep pushing on until an early dinnertime. Eat dinner and then go to bed. You should be tired enough for a good night's sleep.
New scientific research suggests that fasting (not eating) can help to overcome Jet Lag by resetting the body's circadian rhythm (biological clock). Not eating 24 or more hours prior to arriving at your destination contributes to feeling less tired once arrived. The light/dark cycles of the earth affect our circadian rhythms, but so do our eating patterns. Rebooting our feeding cycles can mitigate the time warp.
Check your airlines baggage restrictions carefully. Airlines are increasingly strict on size and weight limits for both carry-on and checked-in baggage, and charges for excess baggage can be steep.
Make sure you always check the actual rules of the airline and aircraft you'll fly. With codeshare flights, luggage allowance may not be the same as the airline you are booked through, or the airline indicated by the flight code. The rules of the actual airline operating the flight apply. If you are a frequent flyer with status be particularly careful, as any increased baggage allowance you have when flying with your airline will usually not apply to the codeshare flight.
Unless you own a business that does a lot of shipping, you probably won't have a scale able to weigh baggage and large packages. The easiest alternative is to purchase a cheap luggage scale that consists of a handle, a small electronic scale, and a large hook...not bar. Hook the scale to the handle of the bag, and lift it up totally off the ground using the scale's handle. The weight will be shown on the display. Avoid buying any scale that won't measure up to the airlines' surcharge limit (e.g. 50 lbs.), or can't switch between pounds and kilograms. You can also indirectly weigh items using a bathroom weight scale. First weigh yourself holding your bag completely off the ground, then without the bag, and calculate the difference. Unlike luggage scales, this method can be inaccurate if the scale is placed on a carpet or other soft surface. Also, be sure to "zero" the scale when it's empty, and step onto the scale a few times after it's been picked up and moved to another location. It may then need to be reset to zero again.
If you find you are taking more baggage than allowed, check with the airline to see what the cheapest way of carrying it is. Sometimes additional baggage allowances can be pre-purchased, especially online where discounts may be given. Excess luggage fees are heftier if the excess weight is detected at the airport than if pre-arranged and pre-purchased.
Many airlines offer discounted cargo rates to passengers, but this must be arranged prior to departure, and destination of the goods your want to ship as cargo must match the destination on your ticket. You will need to deliver your excess bags to the cargo terminal, and you may incur duties and other charges.
Postal services or sea freight can be much cheaper than air freight or excess baggage charges. But check rates thoroughly. It may be a good way to get some baggage back home when you don't need it any longer, or even to send some baggage ahead for longer trips. However, see individual country listings for information on reliability and shipping times of such services.
Luggage delivery services provide an alternative. Luggage is delivered by a specific date, normally between 48hrs and 5 days, with door-to-door service to an address you specify. You don't have to go to the cargo terminal before or after you drop-off or pick-up your checked luggage. All paperwork is provided to you and customs procedures are managed. The price is cheaper than airline cargo rates, but still expensive.
If you have a lot of baggage, consider flying business class or even first class. Domestic tickets may not cost that much more. International flights will cost considerably more and may not be recommended. With most airlines, those seat classes will you get a larger luggage allowance.
Flying with children
Children can get restless and irritable while flying and in airports. There are strategies you can follow to ensure your children enjoy the trip.
Consider safety. If you are traveling with a child who is less than three, have them sit on an approved child carrier, not on your lap. In the unlikely event of an emergency, a lap child may impede your ability to brace. Be aware of whether there is an oxygen mask for infants on the aircraft/row.
Anticipate delays. Even the shortest flights can be delayed, involving additional time both in the terminal and on the aircraft. Ensure you have sufficient food, clothes, nappies, entertainment, to avoid turning a couple of hours delay into a nightmare.