Standing in line. If you are in danger of missing your plane because you’re standing in line, are in the rear of the plane with a tight connection, and so on, bring your plight to the attention of the airline staff while there’s sufficient time to help you. Do not sit there and stew. This isn’t taking skips. They are in the business of flying customers to their destination, you’re a customer, and this is what it takes.
It is way more trouble for everyone if you miss the flight.
Ask for help before the situation is impossible.
IT IS NOT TAKING SKIPS.
It is doing what it takes to get you on your flight. They will call a golf cart to whisk you to your next plane. They will even hold the plane for you. But folks, give them some time to work with, don’t hog those last minutes so they have to jump hoops and sprint on your behalf.
It is LESS RUDE to draw attention to your situation with thirty minutes to go, when you can walk yourself to your gate and the plane leaves on time.
Pretend I’m a fellow passenger twelve people ahead of you in line. Me: “Please, you go first, I don’t want you to miss your plane, mine takes off in two hours, I’m just here to read my Kindle and sip a coffee.” The other eleven people chime in “Yes, I totally agree, I’m not such a meany that I want you to miss your flight, I’m a nice person.”
This is not the grade school lunch line, and the issue isn’t the chocolate chip vs. the oatmeal raisin cookie; this is hundreds of dollars at stake or your once-in-a-lifetime venture, and if you don’t engage a staffer for thirty seconds of help now, in twenty minutes a staffer will spend twenty minutes on you, getting you on some other flight.
IT IS NOT TAKING SKIPS.
If you didn’t manage to get a seat near the front of the plane and have a less-than-forty-five minute layover, or delays on this flight ate up your layover time, talk to the flight attendant at least half an hour before landing. He or she can get on the PA to ask everyone to remain seated for five seconds longer to let the passenger in 31C get to the front to make a tight connection. A golf cart will be waiting for you. Doing this is preferable to requiring the airline to offer a bribe for someone to give up their seat on the next flight so you can board that one.
The flight attendant will check your connecting flight. It may turn out your connecting flight is also delayed two hours, so there you go. No need to get your stomach in a knot.
You are not a little leaf buffeted by winds, powerless to control your destiny. You are a customer, and every employee will mobilize on your behalf to make sure you fly from A to B with the least hassle to themselves. Flying in the seat you reserved, not taking someone else’s seat later on, is the least hassle.
If you miss your connecting flight, stand in line for the gate agent to help you, but also get on your cell phone to call the airline’s customer service number (have it programmed into your phone before leaving). The faster you are served, the more seats are available.
When does ten minutes = $500? When you phone the airline before the flight to say you won’t make it vs. phoning after it took off. They can reschedule you for a fee that ranges from $75 to $250 depending upon airline, but only if you reach them before the flight so someone else can use your seat. Those are the rules. Tip: even if it’s past the departure time, don’t waste a minute, make that call. If the plane was delayed and is still at the gate, you’re in luck. The later in the day it is, the luckier you’ll get, since flight delays approach 30% after 6 PM. Have the airline’s 800 number in your contacts list for just this reason.
The line at the counter for your airline’s boarding passes and checked bags can be long and move very slowly. Taking two hours is common. If it’s an hour before the flight by the time you get to the front, your well-chosen seat could be gone.
A rule of thumb is the more flights an airline has in or out of that city, the longer the line. If flying out of Atlanta, Delta lines will be huge because that is their hub city. Frontier lines, with only three destinations out of Atlanta, will contain only passengers for the next flight out.
Airlines hold your chosen seat, within reason. If an hour before the flight they have not heard from you, all bets are off. Should they ‘know’ that if anything happened to you, your relatives would call to cancel? Actually, there is a slim chance of that happening if something goes awry.
If you printed out your boarding pass and noted that you will be checking a bag, most, not all, airlines have kiosks, little side stands, to weigh and tag your checked bags that take a fraction of the time. Be sure you go to the one for your airline, not some other airline. Things are often pretty close together and not clearly marked.
It hardly bears mentioning, but I will, that it’s important to really listen to the airport staff when they ask questions and not give agreeable answers in small talk tones. If he chirps “Flying US Air today?” as he tags your bag at the kiosk or she says “Going to New York today?” as she prints the boarding pass … when today you are flying to Rome on United with a three-hour layover in New York, this is the way disasters happen.
Correct them! Even if you said uh-huh as soon as you heard the ‘U’ sound, STOP. Say: Sorry, I misspoke, I’m flying on United. Say: Oh no, I’m going to Rome, not New York. Take these points of contact seriously.
If you are checking luggage, get in line immediately upon arriving at the airport because how long it takes is a wild card. That short line may tempt you to grab a coffee first, but ten minutes later it could be sixty-five people long. Go through the scanners with time to spare, because that’s a wild card too. The guy in front of you could tie it up for ten minutes.
After you get through, find one of those Arrivals and Departures signs, usually large black boards mounted high on walls or hung from the ceiling, having lighted columns and rows of airlines, flights, destinations and times listed. You might have to walk a bit and look around a lot before spotting one. Look for your flight number and airline. Check whether the gate and time match the ones on your boarding pass. If not, go to the ones on the sign. You don’t need to get a new boarding pass, but you do need to show up at the right gate.
The cardinal rule of airports is everybody—everybody—keeps their own boarding pass on them at all times. Even very young people. If one person keeps all the boarding passes and another person decides to walk around or visit the restroom and they’re stopped by a guard and found to be on this side of the baggage scanners without one, they could be evicted or detained. Huge hassle and pain in the neck.
Overhead bins. Carry-on luggage goes into the bin in top first, wheels out. Tapered/soft end toward the wall, wider/harder towards the aisle. It seems natural to slide it in wheels first, with the handle facing you. However, it will fit better and take up less space if it goes in top first, with wheels looking at you. Most 21” high carry-ons will fit easily only if their wide end matches the bin’s widest part.
The last thing you want is to draw the attention of the flight attendants with a bag that doesn’t seem to fit in the overhead bin. They may insist you check your bag. Fussing and holding up the line as you wiggle and force your bag in will cost you. Literally. Just remember, lay it on the large flat side, top in first, for the best odds of tucking in perfectly on the first try.
If the weight is a bit much to insert in a smooth motion, make eye contact with stronger people around you; nearly always one will offer to place it up.
Your personal item is supposed to go under the seat in front of you. One bag up, one with you. People who place a 21” suitcase plus their briefcase up there cause delays. That last guy who can’t fit his suitcase in the overhead bin has to check his bag, involving running a credit card and holding up the plane’s departure. The plane can’t taxi away until all bags are stowed. After everyone has boarded, if there’s still room, then sure, throw a jacket, a personal item, or a briefcase up there before take-off.
It is permissible to shove widely-spaced bags as firmly as necessary to fit one more in—but no cursing or comments. Because the space is defined as ‘first come, first serve’ the flight attendants are forbidden to ask previous loaders to stow their personal item under their seat—but you are free to ask.
Since people may unthinkingly place everything up there out of habit with no intention of being rude, bring the situation to their attention in a pleasant helpful voice. If your bag won’t fit because it needs three more inches, asking a family to stow a shopping bag or large purse under the seat is reasonable.
If a flight attendant spots this going on he or she might give you a hard time, but something you and another traveler work out is fine; just say “I got this, it’s a mutual arrangement, there’s no problem.”
Departing. Even up to two hours before your flight, gate assignments and departing time can change. If it’s forty minutes before your flight and you don’t have much company at your gate, or the sign above the gate desk doesn’t say your flight, find a Departures sign for your airline, talk to the airline staff, get help. No one will bother to find you and no one will tell you the plane is at a different gate unless you ask.
Airlines fib. They will say a flight is on-time up until ten minutes of the departure time. If you’re sitting at your gate and forty minutes before your departure time there is no plane pulling up or no plane parked out there, it’s going to leave late. It takes at least fifteen minutes for passengers to disembark, then another fifteen to twenty for the cleaning staff to do their thing, then another fifteen to board new passengers.
I used to check whether the flight was delayed before leaving home, and it’s worth doing for weather-related delays, but some airlines call every flight ‘on-time’ three hours out unless there’s a storm.
Leaving late or experiencing a lengthy sit on the tarmac doesn’t always mean it lands similarly late. Airline schedules take into account some tarmac-sitting, and it’s possible for the plane to go faster, similar to going 75 on a 65 MPH interstate freeway, making up ten minutes each hour in the air.
Most airlines board by zone, but each one does it a little differently. First class and business class boards first, but from then on it varies. Your ticket will have a big number or letter on it, so when they call your zone – “Zone 1 may board now.”—you can go. An exception: if you and your travel companion are different zones, usually both of you can board together at the earlier zone.
It works best if the rearmost seats board first, then the middle, then the front, but some airlines do window seats first, then middle, then aisle.
Other airlines succumb to making a status thing out of it, with those buying more-legroom seats also getting higher priority.
While boarding early guarantees room in the overhead bins, usually there is room for every bag anyway. The advantage of an extra fifteen minutes of sitting loses charm towards the end of the flight when your butt is screaming to get out of that chair. To me there’s no downside to stay standing as long as possible before the flight starts, as long as it doesn’t block traffic.
Do not be the last to board. If you hate to stand in lines so think you’ll sit in the café until five minutes before departure and waltz onto the plane, think again. If the plane is overbooked they will have given your seat away three minutes ago, even if you have a boarding pass. They’ll think, maybe he fell down the steps or something.
Two, when all the waiting people are processed, the gate staff glances up to see if anyone is rushing their way, and if none, give the OK to remove the boarding ramp from the plane. About 20% of the time a plane will close the doors a few minutes before the listed departure time. About 10% of the time they’re actually taxing away a few feet at the listed departure time.
When a plane is overbooked, a flight attendant will walk up and down the aisles looking for empty seats. Those seats are given away before departure.
Food on the plane. After clearing the scanners, you can pick up a sandwich and coffee or soda to eat on the plane. If you have an hour before boarding, you may as well eat at the airport. The food will taste better.
Long ago, food was actually good on the plane. Now they can’t make a ham and cheese sandwich without giving it odd transfer flavors from adjacent materials. Not that they would serve something as universally enjoyed as a ham and cheese or a hamburger with chips. In trying to go foo-foo they mess up almost every recipe into unrecognizability.
Today all the meals and bigger helpings of snacks are purchased via credit card, no cash.
Being hungry when you land is a wonderful thing. Nothing plunges you right into your destination more than grabbing a bite to eat.
Food you can bring from home, in your carry-on, in the US: Fritos, chips of all sorts, nuts, Pop Tarts, gum, granola, trail mix, cookies, crackers, candy bars, hard candies, dried fruit, and bread, to name a few. You can bring dry packages that need hot water to reconstitute, such as oatmeal and soup. When the beverage cart gets to your row, ask for a cup of hot water. They carry it for hot tea.
Food you can’t bring from home, unless it is in a small container in your liquids baggie: liquids, peanut butter, jelly or jar food. Ham salad or other mushy food. Avoid stinky foods like beef jerky, cooked veggies, etc.
Baby and toddler food is allowed; check the TSA website for details.
The important thing is, don’t hide it or forget to mention it. Present it up front. It’s a longer fuss-fuss if they find jars of baby food or formula in your carry-on that you didn’t mention.
My favorite trip food is a baggie of Fritos. It served as my supper on many a trip. When traveling with children, packing some of their favorite cereal or snack food is almost mandatory. Amusing a child on an air flight is a tough job. They’re not going to meet you halfway because they know no matter what they do, you’re stuck playing the nice person to your huge audience of strangers listening to every word. Plus, they sense your general nervousness or heightened excitement about flying, and it’s disturbing to see a parent have anxiety. So they’re going to get rigid about what they like to do and eat. Have their favorites at hand.