Or -- next time I'll take a bus.
A while back I read a news posting in one of the software
newsgroups I follow bemoaning how the computer industry has simply
a millionfold improvement in performance, with result that a basic
still costs the same as it does 17 years ago and does the basic things
does on a computer less well than in 1984. He's right of course, but he
lost his case with me when he went on to proudly proclaim how in his
as an aeronautical engineer he has seen enormous progress in commercial
result form dedicated engineering. Fat Chance -- I've been a frequent
since the early 1970's, and can relate that in those days travel was
reasonable (for me at least), every airline took every other airline's
and had the same rules on fares, space was if not generous at least
comfortable, planes were never full and ran on schedule most of the
time, and the food
and service was something special. Now?? -- if you fly I don't need to
it out. What follows here is some hopefully useful insights on air
airlines, and airports.
Picking Airlines and Flights
Some General Considerations
Usually your destination and schedule will significantly limit your
but here are some things to think about in picking flights and
- Many areas have more than one airport. In some cases the city
is not even the closest one to where you are going. You may want to
at all the airports in the area. For example, the Manchester NH airport
is actually closer to many tech companies in the Boston area
Boston Logan, and much less hassle. When flying to the San Francisco
SFO, Oakland, San Jose, or even Sacremento can be viable options. And
Northern European destinations often have several airports that are
- Check early and often -- many destinations are MUCH cheaper if
you buy 1-3 weeks in ahead. Sometimes it doesn't matter at all. If you
to go somewhere check early, and look at the requirements on the fare
are considering. If it's not urgent to book it, don't, but keep
back, the price may drop, particularly if the trip is in a low travel
when airlines run specials or have fare price wars.
- Consider changing your schedule. Airline fare rules have gotten
too complex. It used to be that staying over a saturday night and
a week in advance got you a cheap fare. Now simply picking a different
on the same day may make a huge difference.
Connecting -- don't
The above is a good general rule if you can get away with it. Living
a major airport helps. (From Ohare I can go almost anywhere in the
non-stop.) If you are stuck connecting here are some thoughts
- Don't connect onto the last flight of the day. For obvious
if you miss your connection you get stuck somewhere you never intended
- Think about what the weather will be where you are making the
connection. Connecting in Dallas or Atlanta in January is probably a
better bet than
Denver or Chicago, but in June the tables may be turned and
may make the south less relaible.
- Leave enough time. You would think Airlines would understand
this, but they often are willing to book connections that are too
tight. If you
absolutely, positively, have to get there, leave a longer gap in the
city. If your flight is on time, you can still stand by to go on an
one out and often get on, but if you miss the connection, you are often
Everyone has their own favorites, so these are my opinions, not
everyones. A few years back I would have suggested the big airlines
(United, American, and Delta) were a cut above the rest -- sadly this
is no more. All have been in or near bankrupcy and there is
little to distinguish service any more among airlines. Frequent
flier programs and miles are a consideration in picking (see below), as
is price, but the deciding factor for most people is who has a flight
when you want and where you want. It's worth considering though
whether that airline has many flights or only one (in case you miss
it). The big airlines aren't likely to stop flying even if they do go
bankrupt, but smaller carriers have vanished before leaving passengers
to try to convert their tickets to other flights. Finally there's
Southwest, in a class by
itself in my view. Southwest flights are basically like bus routes,
stops in intermediate cities. They are reliable, cheap, and the people
really do seem to be more enthusiastic about what they are doing than
elsewhere. If you fly them, show up early at the airport if you want
your choice of
seats. First people at the airport get on the plane first.
Frequent Flier Miles -- a legal addictive drug
Many years back I was lucky enough to get a first class upgrade and
up a conversation with the man in the seat next to me. He was from Bell
Labs too, and turned out to be VP of Human Resources. He went on at
on how the frequent flier programs were really illegal bribes, since
influence the choices made by employees taking trips their employers
for. He's right of course, but after 20 years the industry has shown no
signs of giving them up, and threats to tax the benefits have never
been carried through. You can't of course pick an airline just because
frequent flier miles, but many times you are free to make a choice
among equal alternatives and
the choice you make influences how many miles you keep or how many you
- Fly as many miles as possible on one airline. Generally airlines
you more miles the more often you fly on them. The bonusses can be VERY
substantial. United, for example, gives a 25% bonus on every mile flown
for those flying over 25K miles in a year, and a 100% bonus to those
50K. That's only the start, however. The very frequent fliers get extra
miles for enduring labor problems (another 100% bonus for United Year
woes), filling in surveys, and many other things. In addition the high
levels entitle you to early boarding, priority wait listing, free
baggage, and fewer
on using the miles which are often worth more than the raw miles
- Look at special promotions. One year I collected and extra
5,000 miles on each of half a dozen or so short flight segments just
was seated in the "Economy Plus" section of the plane. Actually this
no conscious choice on my part -- as a frequent flier, that's where
they put me. Airlines also have promotions for
trips to particular destinations. These often require special codes or
registration when you do them. Visit the websites of the airlines you
before booking to know what to do.
- Look at other ways to earn miles -- I said look don't
necessarily do. All the airlines offer credit cars that earn miles, but
they often have
big annual fees and/or high interest rates if you carry a balance, so
careful you aren't spending more in fees and interest than you are
saving. Signing up for miles when you rent a car or visit a hotel is a
painless way to get a few extra, but don't expect miracles.
When it comes time to spend your miles, there are a lot of choices
be made. Here are some considerations
- If you don't have many, look at magazine offers. I sign up for
the program on every airline I fly. On Most I never get enough for free
butthe airline offers to buy them back for magazine subscriptions,
can be a good way to use them.
- Look at upgrades. United, and presumably other airlines, offer
an interesting option for me, which is to use the miles to get a
upgrade to a distant place. Flying to Europe, Hawaii, or Asia in coach
much fun, but you can often get very cheap coach fares, then upgrade to
or first. First class service on long overseas flights is still a
After 9/11/2001, Flying got more intimidating. Not really harder,
more intimidating. It's pretty standard now most places in the US
(Security is different in Canada and overseas) Here's basically
what to expect:
Whatever you do, don't be afraid to fly and enjoy being in a country
you can still travel freely easily.
- Photo ID at Checkin. Wherever you check in for the
with a live person you will usually be asked to produce a photo ID.
They will usually
want to see it's expiration date, so that often means taking it out.
a clear plastic holder for your license that can be hung around your
may make this a bit easier, but make sure it's clear on both sides if
expiration data is on the back. You can of course avoid this
using checkin machines or internet checkin, so it's hard to see what is
really being checked.
- Checkin Lines. Confusion over check in requirements
more people to check in at the ticket counter. Take advantage of
lines if you can, but the best advice is to avoid the check in counter.
the automated check in if its available (United and others will even
baggage there), but beware that you can't do this if you are more than
5 hours early). If you are not checking baggage, you can avoid
line by checking in on-line or bringing a reciept to get past security
and then checking in at an airline lounge or at the gate..
- Lines for the security checkpoint. This is where the
factor is since it's so unpredictable. Most of the time (and I
fly frequently) it's not much more than it was pre-2001, a wait of 5
less, but I've seen waits of 30-45 minutes under "normal" conditions.
depends on how many flights are departing in the near future, so get
earlier during peak hours. Keep in mind that many airports have
multiple security areas all of which connect to the same bank of gates
and sometimes you can get through faster at a less popular check in
- Security. Mostly this is no big deal, as long as you
banned items. Expect them to xray everything. packing keys,
pda's, etc in you carry on bag or in a coat (which you have to remove
and put through the machine helps avoid one hassle. Also expect
a laptop through separately. The metal detectors are set more
than before, and you dont want to set it off. Wear a minimum of
in your clothes, and watch out for things like knee braces, hair clips
and other items with "hidden" metal.
If you set
it off, you get wanded and have to reveal anything metal. It's
threatening or particularly embarassing, just doing a job. Thanks
to some loony's attempt to make bombs out of shoes, you now
have to put your shoes through the xray. To make it easy, wear
shoes you can easily remove and replace and tough and sound socks.
To clear security you
need a ticket or an e-ticket receipt.
- At the gate. Most places you don't need to show ID
again at the gate and there is no more random screening in the
US. They do randomly screen people at the gate in some foreign
airports. I suspect this is
more likely if you look suspicious or have risk factors, but I've seen
old ladies selected. If you are selected, they wand you again and
through your carry on bags, again just their job. you do get to
straight on the plane afterwards.
- Carry on. Keep it light. you can use a laptop
briefcase, or sometimes a backpack as your personal item in addition,
again be aware of the potential for a random search.
- On the plane. The first rule is dont get rowdy.
has a sense of humor about threats or physical force. Other than
you probably wont be able to wait for the bathrooms near the cockpit,
be up near the cockpit when the door is open. Some inconvenience
people in First Class.
Airports and Cities
While you often have little choice about where you fly, it's worth
a bit about the airports. Airports come in one of 3 basic designs:
- Hub and spoke -- these airports have a central terminal hub with
and baggage claim for everyone, then radiating concourses or transit to
concourses where the planes depart. Convenient for connecting between
and little need to worry about what airline you are on in returning a
car or taking a cab, but often this design means a long walk to the
- Multiple terminals -- These have different terminals for
different airlines. The walk to the gate from checkin is often less,
but to get between
airlines you often have to ride a shuttle of some sort or walk a LONG
- Curbside gates -- perhaps the extreme of multiple terminals are
where all the gates are right next to checkin and baggage claim. Great
you are coming or going, lousy if you are connecting. With these
you need to know what gate you are going to before deciding where to
a car or get out of a taxi.
Beyond the design, it's worth knowing where the rental cars are,
what the transportation system is like in the city. Here's a list of
and some basic advice:
- Chicago/Ohare -- my home base. This is a multiple
design, but it's compact enough you can walk from end to end (except
in 10-15 minutes if you have to. Ohare used to be the busiest. It still
has the most runways (6), and utilizes its gates far more heavily than
big airports. While it has a bad repuation for delays, In my experience
it's exaggerated. The number of runways running in different directions
it more options to handle bad weather than some airports, (though wind
limit what can be used more often than in some airports) and it has an
of snow removal equipment to deal with winter. The worst weather
at Ohare is thunderstorms, mainly in Spring and early Fall. You can
at the airport, walking to the terminal, but it's expensive ($31), or
a train to a remote lot or park at a non-airport lot. Rental cars
a bus ride. Ohare has cheap transit service to downtown chicago, but
Chicago has little public transport, so visiting the suburbs requires a
- Chicago Midway -- A brand new hub and spoke airport. The 2
usable runways, however are old and short, limiting the airport to
smaller jets. Like Ohare it has a convenient garage and transit to
downtown. Midway is
much closer to downtown, but an awkward drive to the northern and
- Boston Logan -- This airport has been under construction for
years. It's busy, but has a limited number of runways (one long one and
shorter ones usable for the smaller jets. It's prone to snow in the
and fog in the summer. If you are going to downtown Boston it's the
bet, and don't bother with a rental car. Taxis aren't expensive, and
Boston subway is cheap and safe (though it takes a bus ride from the
to get there.) If you are going to the western or northern suburbs,
Manchester NH, since you will need a car and driving in and out of
- Manchester NH -- This is a brand new airport. Only 1 or 2
parallel runways, but away from the coast (and coastal fog and
and rental cars are a walk from the single terminal.
- Newark NJ -- This is my personal least favorite airport,
it's been the source of several overnight delays. It's a multiple
airport with a convenient monorail system to connect them and connect
parking and rental cars (when the monorail is working). The big
it has are only 2 usable runways, both parallel, meaning it doesn't
northwest or southeast winds well, and it always seems to be last
for the routes into and out of the NYC metro area in bad weather.
has a bad habit of cancelling at least one of it's flights to Newark on
days, and on bad days most of the schedule goes. Continental is a bit
- Washington National (Reagan) -- I'm not big on renaming things
politicians. For years the FAA tried to close this airport, but since
so convenient to the government they never will. Instead they rebuilt
as a new hub and spoke airport. It has convenient subway transit to
though highway access is a bit awkward. Again it has only one usable
most of the time and flightpath restrictions that give it trouble in
- Washington Dulles -- This is a much bigger airport but 20 miles
from the capital. Dulles is very near the high tech businesses of
the DC area though. It's a hub and spoke design with a transit
system and construction for the next 4 years on an upgrade to that
system. Rental cars are a bus ride away and a trip to town
requires a car or a taxi.
- Raleigh/Durham Not a bad airport really, 2 parallel runways and
multiple terminal design, but it's small enough that each terminal is
very compact. You ride a bus to rental cards, which are convenient to
and anything in the area.
- Columbus A Hub and spoke airport with 2 runways, a bus to rental
and convenient highway access.
- Atlanta The new traffic king in number of flights and
but Atlanta has only 5 runways and all are in the same direction, which
it trouble when the wind blows hard from the North or South. You ride a
from the single terminal to most gates, which takes some time. (The "T"
gates, used by United and American avoid the train ride and have their
own security line which is generally shorter than the main line)
passes through one big terminal, Security, rental car busses, and other
points can develop long lines. Atlanta does have a cheap train to
well worth avoiding a car if you are going there. The Atlanta metro
is rumored to have the current lock on worst traffic jams in the US.
- Toronto Canada Torronto is to eastern Canada like Ohare and
are to the US, virtually unavoidable. It's a big airport with multiple
terminals and radiating concourses. One thing to note is travelling to
and from the
US you go through customs there in both directions, and fly in and out
domestic terminals in the US. Nice to avoid the problem here, but it
extra delay when you arrive. Word of warning -- don't say your are
Canada to do business if it's just routine travel, or you get singled
for extra interrogation in Canadian immigration and customs. The thing
about Torronto to know if you go there is it's a huge city, with really
and no good freeway access to downtown. No easy way to avoid this, just
plan on the delays.
- Orlando. Disneyville has a nice new hub and spoke airport with
that take you to terminal pods. Rental cars and parking are walking
to the terminals. The only downside is you will pay major tolls on all
freeways on the area. A bit of a pain.
- Miami. Miami has a hub and spoke airport and 3 runways. It's a
big connecting point for central and south America, as well as Europe.
is in a sleazy part of town and rental cars are tucked away and a bit
to find. If you are going downtown or to Miami beach don't bother,
are probably cheaper than parking your rental car and plentiful at all
- Dallas/Fort Worth -- This is a "grand vision" airport, a
design on a grand scale. If you know where you are going this is very
but it makes it a LONG walk and/or shuttle ride between gates.
If possible, stay inside security and take the sky shuttle which is
faster than shuttles using the road. Everything
is Texas sized here. The airport itself has 5 or more runways and
most conditions well. It's a long drive to just about anything in the
area, with few other options.
DFW has recently "improved" it's rental car center, having all
the vendors in one beautiful new building -- 5 miles from the gates on
side of the airport (Wrong if you are going to telecom alley). Two tips
-- don't believe the maps that show Texas 161 as a freeway, it's a 10
construction zone with traffic lights. Second, while you can go through
airport, it's awkward, not a freeway but a slow local road with traffic
- Kansas City -- This airport is DFW in miniature. Only 2 or 3
and only 3 "curbside gate" terminals, but the same basic
characteristics. It's also almost an hour away from most of the high
tech companies on the
south side of Kansas City.
- Denver International -- Once upon a time Denver had a nice
airport, but that wasn't enough for the politicians, so they built a
one -- 20 miles east of town miles from anywhere (except, as I
it, land owned by the very same people who decided Denver needed a new
airport). The decision cost them a second airline hub (Continental
pulled out, United
stayed). The airport itself is nice, a hub and spoke design with a
that takes you to your concourse, much like Atlanta. With 4 runways and
latest in instrumentation it does pretty well under most conditions
pea soup fog wasn't bad enough to foul up major jets, unfortunately
in the engines was enough to ground me an extra day). The biggest
is it's a zillion miles from nowhere. Even the airport hotels are a $20
cab ride away. Downtown is about 25 miles, and the closest ski area
- Phoenix -- This is a multiple terminal airport. The United
is one of those small and quaint ones with parking and rental cars
walking distance -- great. Phoenix rarely has weather problems.
- San Francisco -- A hub and spoke airport in perpetual
reconstruction. It has 3 or 4 runways and is subject to fog delays
mainly (no snow or thunderstorms). The big problem with it is extreme
crowding in the early AM, when most big
flights depart for the east. SFO recently completed a new transit
system that is used to access rental cars and the BART public
transit. It's an example of how you can spend a lot of money and
make a bad situation worse. The old rental car system used busses
that ran directly from the terminal doors to the rental car center,
while the transit system requires you to climb several escalators to
reach it then ride 4-6 stops between the common terminals and the
rental center. San Francisco is of course a city where cars are
a handicap, not an asset. If you are going to Silicon Valley, route
101, the main route south is always
congested. Consider I280, which often isn't if you are going to San
or Cupertino. There is no good way to get from SFO to 101 North (the
Golden Gate bridge) SFO has far more flights than the other bay area
but it's worth considering offerings at San Jose or Oakland if you are
for silicon valley.
- Oakland -- an anachronism, one runway and a little hub and spoke
out of the 1950's. Rental cars are at the terminal. It has reasonably
freeway access to I880 and the bay bridge to San Francisco
- San Jose -- a multiple terminals airport. The United terminal is
and quaint -- drive/park near the terminal, walk on the tarmac to your
flight. The other terminal is more modern. San Jose is the most
to most silicon valley locations, which means it's the hardest of the 3
get a decent fare to.
- Seattle/Tacoma Seatac is a hub and spoke airport with transit to
"pods". It has 2 runways, and is subject to wind, rain, and fog in the
winter primarily. It's convenient to freeways and rental cars and
parking are right
at the terminal. Seattle's freeways are often heavily congested.
- Honolulu One thing to keep in mind is that inter-island flights
to other destinations fly out of different terminals and it's a LONG
inbetween them. Rental cars can be a long ride from the airport, but
don't really need one for Waikiki.
- Other Hawaiian Airports -- Maui, Kona, Hilo, and Kaui now all
have direct flights to the US mainland and airports that accomodate
large planes. Maui is definitely the bussiest of these and resembles a
US mainland airport,
while others have a more laid back and underutilized feeling. I believe
you ride a bus to the rental car everywhere except Hilo though. Molokai
and Lanai have small airports served only by inter-island prop planes,
seem more like a bus depot -- virtually nothing there but get on the
plane (always a walk on the tarmac)
- Anchorage -- This is a small passenger airport, one terminal and
couple of concourses, and hasv2 long runways. The big problem
is lack of automation. No preferred rental car service, no
return, No flight info boards, and no decent restaurants past security.
everyone has tons of unusual baggage (coolers, fishing gear. kayaks,
- Heathrow (London) This is a multiple terminals airport with a
ride between. Not bad.
- Charles DeGaul (Paris) Another multiple terminals airport with a
and infrequent bus ride between the two major terminals, one of which
the US airlines among others and one most of the flight sin France and
the rest of Europe. You can connect between the two but leave lots of
time, even after the new train to do it was put it. The airport also
has direct access to France's train network,
be a better option for connections to other cities If you can,
check your bags through if possible to avoid delays. There is now
a train connecting the 3 terminals that is faster than the old bus, but
it will still take 20-30 minutes to get between terminal 1 and terminal
- Schipol (Amsterdam) My favorite european airport, a compact
terminals design with rental cars in the garage in the middle. You can
access trains easily. One interesting feature is the Casino in the
terminal, which is a good place to dispose of miscelaneous coins and
-- if you win, you can collect your winnings in dollars.
- Brussels Another connecting hub for flights from the US. This
has 3 terminal areas serving different partsof the world. it's a long
between them with passport/immigration check in. When I flew through
airport in 1998, it wasn't effectively air conditioned and was very
Baggage -- we all have more than enough.
It would be so much simpler if all the planes had to carry was
passengers. Unfortunately we all insist on carrying around
way too much stuff. To solve this problem airlines invented
checked baggage -- and passengers responded by trying to carry their
stuff onto planes anyway. 50 years later it's still pretty much
the same, except that now that most airlines charge most passengers to
check bags people will do almost anything to avoid it.
Carry on Baggage
"Carry on" is really a misnomer. Ever since someone put little
wheels on suitcases nobody carries anything. That alone
contributes to the problem since someone dragging a bag behind them
catching on the seats takes up a lot more room in the aircraft aisle
and a lot more time stuffing that little steamer trunk away.
Planes vary a lot in what they will accomodate as carry on bags and
keep in mind that those hard framed bags most folks carry are not very
adaptable to be shaped to fit in odd spaces. Some planes (those
little regional jets that now get flown on many routes) take very
little carry on at all and instead those bags have to be checked at the
gate and usually returned there -- not too bad unless the contents are
fragile. Some suggestions:
- Take less stuff! I've travelled with lots of people hauling
a steamer trunk for an overnight trip who had no idea what was in it --
they travelled so often it wasn't worth it to them to figure out what
was needed for this trip. The few minutes it takes to figure out
what you need and pack in the smallest bag you can will save lots more
in avoiding hassles (and strained backs and muscles).
- Consider soft sided bags -- they are easier to stuff into odd
sized spaces in the bins.
- Know your limits -- Foreign airlines and international flights
often limit you (severely) on carry on by weight, it's no fun having to
reshuffle your luggage at the check in counter to try to get all the
breakables and valuables into something that stays within the weight
- Get on the plane as soon as you can to maximize the opportunity
to get your stuff into the bins if there is any doubt, but don't be a
pig about it.
If you can't or don't want to carry it on, you have to check it at the
desk or at curbside check in. Be prepared for long lines and a
30-40 minute wait to get the bags back after the plane lands (but often
you get "lucky" and it takes you nearly that long to reach baggage
claim from a distant gate). Most airlines now charge you to check
a bag, so you will need some way to pay for it when you do. Some
- Make sure your bags are easily identified. If you
have a black rectangle, put a colored strap around it or stick stickers
on it -- anything to help you pull it off the belt.
- Leave lots of time at checkin. You can't predict it.
Sometimes going outside to the curbside check can help here. Most
of the time there is nothing you can do but wait, so make sure you have
- If your bags don't make it, find out if the airline knows where
they are and have a backup plan -- like having enough stuff in your
carry on so you can live a day without the checked bag. Most
checked bags will find their way back to you in that time.
Airlines may offer to deliver, but if the bag is on the next flight you
may want to pick it up yourself anyway.
When things go wrong
The thing to keep in mind is no matter how chaotic things seem,
are still the safest mode of transport around. They are also much
than you would probably expect. Things happen to planes all the time
knowing what can happen is sometimes reassuring. In the years I've been
flying I've been on planes:
- Hit by lightening. -- This felt like an explosion. I remember a
flash, a tremendous noise, and being kicked in the side as the side of
plane pushed into me, presumably from the force of expanding air near
strike. The plane continued to fly normally though and the pilot said
happened occasionally and was not a problem.
- Subjected to severe turbulence. -- once enough to injure another
passenger. Keep your seat belt on and stay away from any food or drink
nailed down. (The injury was from a coffee pot knocked off the food
cart). Also watch out for luggage knocked out of the overhead bins,
if you are on the aisle.
- Aborted landings -- This is more common than you would think.
abort landings because the traffic ahead is slow to clear the runway,
because they hit turbulence caused by other aircraft. It's no big deal
than a delay. At some airports noise abatement or security
restrictions require planes to attempt to land in a particular
direction regardless of weather. If the weather isn't right the
pilot will go through the approach then pull out in order to make an
approach from another direction. Not a big deal.
- Near misses -- These too happen more often than you would think.
It's a big sky out there and usually it means nothing other than an
turn, perhaps a sudden one. Another reason to keep your seatbelt
- Planes with mechanical problems -- Everyone hates on the ground
delays for mechanical issues, but it's worse if it happens in the air.
though, there are big safety margins. I once flew in a plane which lost
a hydraulic system, making it unameuverable on the ground, but the
landed normally. Exciting though to watch all the emergency vehicles
your plane as it lands. My favorite may have been the flight from
Australia to LA where the pilot came on as he was starting the engines
tell us not to worry about the flames coming from them -- that's just
our alternate way of getting them started -- the flight to LA was
Delays and cancellations
My one biggest wish for the airlines is more honest about what's going
and better reporting.Flight delays under bad weather are inevitable,
that throw your schedule into chaos, even when your flight was the only
cancelled, are something else. When (not if) you are on a cancelled
consider and use your options:
- Get booked on another flight. The airline will probably do this
you immediately. Your frequent flier status will help or hurt here, but
it's often chance to see what happens. When in doubt, call the travel
use the web, or call the airline's hotline directly rather than stand
an hour in an airport.
- Consider other airports or destinations. Sometimes the fastest
way home is to fly to another airport or leave from another airport.
are accomodating in cases like this, so if it fits your schedule they
often let you use the ticket you have.
- Get on another airline. Airlines DON'T want you to do this and
make it hard. It's easier if you have paper tickets (a vanishing
but worth considering when you suspect trouble). Again if the airline
are leaving or the one you are getting on has you as a very frequent
this is easier. The attendants in the airline lounges are often better
this sort of thing than the gate agents. If all else fails and you
get the other airline to accept your ticket, consider tricks like
a round trip, if you KNOW you will be flying the route again, and using
your unused ticket to complete your next trip to the same destination.
- Rent a car and drive. Seriously, I've done this several times.
Driving several hundred miles is clearly a desperation move, but when I
a short commuter flight I discovered it was faster and cheaper to rent
car. Remember that you will pay mileage rates on a one way rental,
and the companies aren't anxious to let you do it.
- Remember that lots of people flying in to where you are won't
get there. Hotel rooms and cars are often a big problem when an airport
is closed due to weather, but at least a couple of times I found them
getting a travel agent to find incoming passengers on cancelled flights
would now not need them and switch the reservations.
- Stay calm and prepare for it. Make sure you have plenty to
on, and several days extra of any medications you use before leaving.
way a long delay or cancellation becomes just a chance for some
time to get the work/reading done. Above all, don't take out your
on the airline personnel, who are often stranded themselves and always
Some suggestions for the airlines:
All of us have things we wish we could change about the world.
Here's my list for airlines:
- Make the carry on limits consistent across airlines and enforce
them. I don't think I've flown anywhere where people haven't
carried 2 or more big bags onto a plane. Luggage makers and
airlines have always been engaged in a game of chicken over bag
sizes. Every time airlines expand the bins so bigger bags fit,
luggage makers introduce ones that are just a little too big to go
normally and have to be put in crosswise, thereby taking up the space
for 2 or 3 people. Airlines should simply say no to bags over the
limits, and blacklist makers and models that don't qualify.
Frequent fliers don't like checking bags and will quickly learn which
models to buy.
- Along with this, insist that "Carry on" baggage actually be
carried onto the plane -- no dragging it down the aisles. If you
can't carry it that far you shouldn't be taking it onto the plane
(obvious exceptions for those with physical handicaps). The big
reason though is simply that dragging bags behind you down the aisles
takes up lots more space and leads to accidents as people trip over the
- Stop lying to us about boarding and departure times -- Airlines
never update these when the incoming flight is late. I can't
imagine why not, since the last thing they want is more irate pasengers
crowding the gate area when if the times were honest many would stay in
the lounges or bars and restaurants until they really can get on the
- Stop nickle and diming us over service. Not that long ago I
flew one of those "low frills affiliates" of a major carrier. I
had an argument with a flight attendant over of all things a can of
diet soda. Seems their rules say you can't have a whole
can. I could get them to pour multiple glasses, taking more time
than simply handing over the can. Likewise stop charging silly
fees for changing flights or seats, at least if we do this without
- Go back to exchanging tickets with others, at least when you have
cancellations or delays -- on balance it will cost you nothing -- you
will pick up as many passengers from other airlines as you lose, but
you will make life much easier for passengers in the event of
trouble. Do you really think anyone is going to calmly wait 2
days of sold out flights because you won't let them transfer that
ticket to another airline with a flight? No, that person will do
something else and will probably avoid your airline in the future.
- At any airport big enough for multiple check in lines reserve
some of them for simple check in only -- no changes. Today it
seems inevitable that no matter how many agents they put in an airport
sooner or later all of them get occupied by "people with
problems". This means that lots of other people back up in line
to the point where they or their bags miss their flights and they
become people with problems. Someone who has to reticket a trip
can wait longer than someone who has a plane to catch now.