1. Support socks. Blood clots can form in the lower legs from sitting too long in a fixed position, which is the definition of commercial flying. Wearing support hose on longer flights, especially the return trip, can reduce the odds. For flights under three hours and for people under forty, support hose is not necessary unless you already have some hint of leg circulation problems.
On long flights for people over forty, circulation problems can happen for the first time, which means thinking it won’t happen to you because there are no warning signs is an error.
Take ibuprofen and wear support hose to bring your odds of getting blood clots back to where you thought they were in the first place. Aisle walking and high-stepping in the restroom for ninety seconds is a big help too.
2 Incidentals money. If you checked a bag and for any reason it’s missing when you arrive at your destination, most airlines will either reimburse you for reasonable expenses, up to $50, or give you that amount to get you through the day. Depending upon the case you make with the agent, a larger reimbursement might be granted. If the luggage takes more than twelve hours to find you, some airlines, like Delta, will also reimburse the checked bag fee in the form of a coupon off future flights.
Once you find the baggage service desk, ask the clerk what to check on the baggage claim form or for the relevant form for expense reimbursement so they don’t bounce your request later on a technicality. Save your receipts for items like makeup, socks, sun hat, sweater, hair spray, underwear, deodorant or whatever you purchase during the time your luggage is unavailable. These receipts may be required to get the reimbursement.
Most airlines practice stonewalling, and most people requesting compensation for their out-of-pocket expenses or even totally lost luggage are met with the outrageous demands of ‘proof’ for every item in the luggage. The Department of Transportation requires airlines to compensate passengers for provable loss up to $3,300 per passenger for domestic flights and $1,742 for international. If the airline is being uncooperative or has disallowed necessary expenses (such as a suit for a job interview), go to www.dot.gov/airconsumer to fill out an online complaint. If that has no effect, filing in small claims court, which can cost between $25 and $75, often prompts them to settle with you.
3 Empty water bottle. While you cannot bring liquids over 3.4 oz. past the scanners, you can bring empty bottles. They must be fully empty. Containers less than 3.4 oz. can be full, part-full or empty. An eight oz. bottle with two oz. of fluid left in it won’t get past the eagle eyes of the TSA. Yes, goofy but true. Bring your own empty bottle from home and fill it at any bubbler once you’re past the scanners. All planes have dry air. It sometimes takes the flight attendants one and a half hours to serve drinks to your row, and even if you get your drink early, you may find your throat is dry an hour later. Good luck with trying to get another drink from the cart.
Select a sturdy soda or iced tea bottle instead of a flimsy water bottle. These hold up better if you forget to let it ‘breathe’ when landing, and are less likely to spring a hole if roughly handled, such as pinched in the seatback magazine pocket while half full.
4 There’s big money in being bumped. If you have the time, airlines will pay you to take the next plane. If you don’t get a boarding pass until one hour or less before the flight, you may be involuntarily bumped. They may offer an incentive to passengers with seats to give them up, but sometimes everyone is in a hurry. The rules on how much compensation you get for losing at musical chairs on an overbooked flight are based on how much later you land: for domestic flights, between one to two hours, the cost of the one-way ticket fare, up to $400. Between two and four hours, 200% of the one-way fare, up to $650. Four and up, 400% of the one-way fare up to $1300. You’re entitled to get it in cash, so if the airline offers a voucher for air travel, insist on cash.
International flights are: one to four hours, 200% of one-way fare up to $650, and over four, 400% up to $1300.
When they offer an incentive for a volunteer, they aren’t bound by these rules. Commonly, they offer a free round trip voucher when the next flight might be three to six hours later. If the flight isn’t until tomorrow, they usually include a hotel room and meal. It doesn’t hurt to ask for cash. I have heard there are people who fly at the busiest time and take the bump deal, which keeps them rolling along on free flights for years.
5 What’s a good airline to use? The question is impossible. The true answer, there is no good airline, is of no use. Every airline has its hate club. Each has not ten or twenty but hundreds of people who make it their mission in life to bad-mouth that airline.
Some of the problems are systemic, and it was just luck of the draw that this person encountered it while using that airline, or maybe five or six incidents while using that airline. People in hub cities hate their primary airline the most. If you fly enough, you’ll have stories.
The real answer is, you need to take the reins of your flying experience. Keep the trickiness and special needs to a minimum. Study the airline rules and comply. Be your own advocate. Speak up when there’s still time to do something about it. Don’t count on others to see your predicament. Even when you’re upset, take a breath and describe the situation in clear, unambiguous words, do not keep saying “I’m upset! I’m so angry! This is awful!” or use swear words that shed no light on your situation. A happy trip should not depend upon the intuition of strangers.
6 The couples trick. This may not work well anymore, but I’ll share it anyway. On planes with three-across seats, a couple booking early would pick the aisle and window seats in a row, hoping that by flight time no one will be assigned their middle seat. Result: more room, more overhead bin space. If the middle seat does get assigned and the couple really prefers to sit together, they have to sweet-talk the middle person into switching to either the window or aisle seat.
7 Frequent Flyer points. Overseas travel is not a good use of your points. Not only is it hard to get the best flight times without booking eleven months ahead, but they tack on so many charges in addition to points that you will feel like an idiot for incurring that delay and fuss for a savings of about $500 a round trip. For the same points you can make two domestic round-trips that normally cost $500 each, with a tiny airport fee. Or you can upgrade four round trips to first class for the same points. Earn points with overseas trips, use them for domestic flights for the best bang for your buck—um, point.
8 Checked luggage at connections. The rule of thumb is if there is less than one hour between planes, your bags are unlikely to make it from the first to the second plane. The airline will send them on the next flight to that city. At baggage claim you fill out a form that tells them where to deliver the bags when they arrive. Frequent travelers become indifferent to this. They even like it; now they don’t have to struggle their own bag on trains and busses, it just shows up at the hotel ten hours later. Frequent travelers even take a photo of their checked bag at home and print out a copy to keep in the carry-on. If the checked bag is tardy, the printout can be attached to the missing bag form to help airport staff identify it when it arrives.
9 Falling luggage. I’m always nonplussed at the random items people put in the overhead bins. One would expect a tidy row of wheeled bags and duffels. A typical loose item may be a nine pound computer tipped at an angle between two bags. This item is likely to tumble out when the bin is opened—and guess what, if you are the person clicking opening the bin, you are legally liable for injury to other passengers.
Not the airline. Not the owner of the item. You. The injured passenger sues you. The guy whose belonging was wrecked by the fall sues you. There are lawyers who specialize in this lucrative niche. When you open that bin, do it slowly and have the other hand at the ready to brace against any stray item inclined to fall out.
10 Late Arrival. It’s a good idea to request ‘late arrival’ when booking a hotel, regardless of the time you expect to arrive. If your flight is entirely called off, be sure to call the hotel as soon as you know. If you don’t, you might be charged in full for that night.
If you haven’t requested late arrival and you’re delayed, call the hotel as soon as possible to inform them of your new arrival time. Hotels will sell reserved rooms as early as 7 PM if they don’t hear from you.
Late flight? Strung out from the road? A little luxury might be to call your hotel while renting a car or catching the free shuttle to order room service food, so it will be ready when you arrive.
11 Upgrade to First Class. When you’re at the gate, a half hour prior to boarding you may see a lot of action at the counter. Airlines like to fill the plane up, and sometimes the empty seats are in front. That means some lucky dog who paid for a coach seat bumps into First class. Passengers put their name on a list.
These bumps usually go to passengers who
1) fly often;
2) have a frequent flyer card;
3) paid for a more expensive coach seat, i.e. a refundable;
4) have the airline’s credit card.
As a newbie flyer your chances are slim, but go ahead and add your name to the list if you feel like it. The first time I was bumped to first class I had none of those things going for me, I was just very nice to the staff on a stressful day.