Snags and solutions: How to make your next flight lots easier
With delayed and canceled flights, understaffed ticket counters, long lines, intrusive security procedures, lost luggage, no meals, surly passengers, stressed-out flight attendants and the specter of terrorism, chances are your next trip won't be a lot of laughs.
But there are some things you can do — and things to avoid — in order to make flights a little more bearable, especially as the busy winter travel season approaches.
Getting to the airport/parking
SNAG : You're not sure how early to leave for the airport.
SOLUTION : Before you leave, phone your airline to check on any flight delays.
Besides contacting the airline, you can find out a flight's status within a two-hour window by airline, flight number, city, airport, etc., at www.flightarrivals.com. Also, www.fly.faa.gov publishes a map of U.S. airports color-coded to indicate flight delays.
Check wait times at security checkpoints on the Web at waittime.tsa.dhs.gov. The Transportation Security Administration site reports average and maximum wait times at concourses nationwide — historical data only, but it can be helpful in planning.
Carry your cell phone, pager or PDA on the way to the airport so you can receive updated flight and travel info from your airline or travel provider. Most major airlines, including American, United, Northwest, Delta, Continental and Southwest, will send you updated flight information, including gate changes and flight status, via phone or e-mail. Online ticket brokers such as Travelocity.com and Orbitz.com will also keep you abreast of changes on flights booked through them. You must sign up for these notification services before you go.
SNAG : You get to the airport and there's no parking or you've forgotten how expensive it can be.
SOLUTION : Yeah, you should've left earlier and checked the rates and availability (at Sea-Tac: www.portseattle.org/seatac/ground)But now that you're in this jam, consider an off-site lot, which can be cheaper than airport lots. Before you leave, find out where they are (www.longtermparking.com lets you compare discount options at airports nationwide and in the United Kingdom). You can sometimes print out a discount coupon.
Another option: Pay to park at an offsite parking lot or airport hotel (see next snag).
SNAG : Your flight leaves at the crack of dawn and you don't relish the 4 a.m. wakeup call to get to the airport in time.
SOLUTION : Stay at an airport hotel the night before. Bonus: Many offer sleep-park-and-fly packages that can be considerably cheaper than airport parking lots, and often include a ride to the airport. For a list of hotels offering parking packages in the United States and abroad, go to www.parksleepfly.com.For hotels near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, see www.portseattle.org/seatac/tourist/hotels.shtml
It may not be an option for early or late flights, but if scheduling permits, consider taking the bus, a taxi or shuttle to the airport. Another option: Trade a ride to the airport from a friend for a dinner out. It may cost more, but the bottom line is a much easier commute.
SNAG : Items are stolen from your suitcase after you've checked it.
SOLUTION : First, don't pack valuables in your checked bag. That means the $500 digital camera goes in the carry-on. Security personnel can and will break open locks to screen baggage, so use a special TSA-approved padlock, sold in luggage stores and online (the TSA Web site, www.tsa.gov, has a list of brands). Security personnel can open it with a special key, and the lock alerts you afterward if your bag has been opened.
If you believe something was taken from your bag, contact the airline, call the TSA at 866-289-9673 or download a claim form at www.tsa.gov.
SNAG : The airline loses your luggage.
SOLUTION : Learn to pack light (it's an art) and carry your bag on board. If you must check it, label it inside and out, and include your destination, not just where you're from, so the airline has a better chance of finding you.
Pack essential items such as eyeglasses and medication, expensive or irreplaceable items, and a day's worth of clothing or at least a change of underwear in your carry-on.
Start negotiating with the airline right away on replacement, compensation, etc.
In the air
SNAG : You're stuck in the dreaded middle seat with no leg room.
SOLUTION : Check out airline seating charts at www.seatguru.com. Everything you ever wanted to know about airline seating including leg room, seat width, pitch and proximity to the bathrooms for 21 airlines is there. Armed with this info, ask for a change of seats once you get to the gate. Remember that bulkhead seats give you more space, but you may be sitting in front of the restroom. You can also ask for roomier emergency exit seats if they're available and you're willing to assist in a potential evacuation.
SNAG : You get on your flight, you're starving, and dinner is ... pretzel mix. If you're lucky.
SOLUTION : Pack a snack: cheese and crackers, or trail mix. And bring a bottle of water it's expensive at the airport. If you decide to grab some food at the airport before your flight, look at a services map before you go through security, since the only things on the other side may be a McDonald's and a newsstand.
SNAG : The guy in front of you has reclined his seat so far back your knees are in your face.
SOLUTION : If he won't compromise, whip out your Knee Defender (www.kneedefender.com), a plastic device that snaps onto your tray table and controls how far your nemesis can put his seat back. Some folks have been known to aim their fresh-air nozzle directly at the noggin of the offending passenger as an incentive to un-recline, but we cannot condone this antisocial behavior.
SNAG : You can't fall asleep.
SOLUTION : Pack special noise-reducing earphones to mute engine racket (Bose makes a nice set www.bose.co.uk/) and wear a blindfold. Another product, the Dream Helmet (www.dreamhelmet.com), is a combination blindfold and pillow that looks goofy but blocks out sound and light. Or try ordinary ear plugs or EarPlanes, which are designed to help with air pressure discomfort, too (www.cirrushealthcare.com)
SNAG : You're grossed out by the aircraft's oft-used pillows (if you can even find one).
SOLUTION : Bring your own pillowcase, or even your own mini-pillow. One new stretchable model by Bucky molds to the shape of your body and comes with a snap that allows the pillow to be attached securely to luggage, backpack or carry-on. (www.bucky.com).
At your destination
SNAG : You've landed, you're jet-lagged, you need to catch a cab to your hotel and you have no idea what a euro is worth.
SOLUTION : Before leaving home, go to www.oanda.com/convert/cheatsheet and print out a wallet-size currency cheat sheet so you won't get blindsided.
SNAG : Your passport is stolen.
SOLUTION : Make the replacement process easier by making two photocopies of your passport before you leave. Pack one in your suitcase, separate from your real passport. Give the other one to a contact back home. It's something you can give embassy personnel to facilitate the replacement process. For complete instructions on replacing a lost passport, check the U.S. State Department's guide at www.travel.state.gov/travel/
SNAG : You try to use your credit card and it's denied.
SOLUTION : Your credit card company may think your card was stolen because you've deviated from your usual spending pattern. Before leaving, call the company and tell them the dates you're going to be out of town and where you'll be.
SNAG : You're in a remote Alpine village and you've found the perfect souvenir, but the merchant won't accept your travelers' checks.
SOLUTION : Many places don't accept travelers' checks anymore. Take your ATM card with you and withdraw money as you need it. The exchange rate is usually better than going to a currency change place, and the machine spits out the money in the currency you need. Beware of the transaction fees, though. And make sure your PIN is four digits or less, since many foreign ATMs won't accept longer PINs.
SNAG : You can't find an ATM at your destination.
SOLUTION : Locate ATMs in advance by going to MasterCard and Visa's ATM locators (www.mastercard.com and www.visa.com), which allow you to search for ATMs by country, region, city, etc. They also have info on 24-hour and disabled access.
SNAG : It's time for your return flight, but you can't find your itinerary and e-ticket airfare confirmation.
SOLUTION : E-mail yourself your itinerary and e-ticket confirmation so you can access them at a cyber cafe if you lose them. And set up a free e-mail address ahead of time at Yahoo.com or Hotmail.com so you can sign on.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company