Every year around Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's and other long winter weekends, mother nature wreaks havoc on already overloaded airport infrastructure. Invariably, flights get delayed, even cancelled, travelers get stranded and holidays get off to frustrating starts. Here are a few practical tips and technological tools to maximize the probability of a timely take-off.
- Use FlightCaster and FlightStats to monitor your inbound aircraft
- Use WhatsBusy to monitor security lines
- FreedomPop gives you free WiFi anywhere
- The Gate Attendant is your best friend
- If you’re connecting, sit near the front of the plane
1. Booking the right flight - fly early
It starts with booking the right flight. To the extent it fits your schedule, try to get on flights earlier in the day. Over the course of the day, delays mount, with knock-on effects. A delayed flight early in the day can cause a gate slot to be missed that compounds that aircraft’s delays throughout the day.
2. Before your flight - monitor your inbound aircraft
full overbooked during busy travel periods, so make sure you check-in as early as possible...usually 24 hours before departure. Put a reminder in your calendar - you’re not the only one - to make sure you get allocated an actual seat.
Flights will get delayed - it’s up to you to see it coming before others do, so you maximize your chance of getting a seat on another flight. To do this, you need to keep an eye on your inbound aircraft and airport weather conditions. Fortunately, there are great apps to help you do this. Use FlightCaster to monitor key delay factors. The most important factor is the timeliness of your inbound aircraft - so find out how it’s looking one or even two legs before your route.
My flight from SFO to LAX is looking good because my plane left Chicago on time, and will therefore probably leave LAX on time to pick me up at SFO (FlightCaster).
If it looks like your inbound aircraft is delayed by more than an hour, try to get on a different flight. Check online or call the airline. In very bad weather, it’s a good idea to head to the airport early - you’ll be able to facilitate changes more easily there.
3. At the airport - an app to monitor security lines
If at all possible, do not check in any luggage. Lines at the airport can be terrible, and more importantly, checked-in luggage can make it difficult to change your flight last minute.
The last thing you want is to miss your flight because of overloaded security checkpoints at the airport. Use WhatsBusy to check the average wait times at your terminal. If you wind up with idle time at the airport, you can be productive using the airport’s WiFi or order a FreedomPop Bolt - a brilliant little USB device that gives you free WiFi anywhere. The crux: make sure you opt out of pretty much everything except the basic 500MB free access per month. The company makes money off of premium subscribers and all those folks who forget or neglect to opt out of ancillary services.
WhatsBusy helps you anticipate delays at security
4. At the gate - befriend the gate attendant
The two best sources of information regarding your flight’s status are the apps recommended above and the gate attendant. You might as well ignore the airport monitors. They’ll show an on-time departure even if your plane is stuck in Boston. Regardless of the flight’s apparent status, ask the gate attendant whether the flight is on time. Be friendly and patient, this is a stressful time of year and the attendant has probably been yelled at by dozens of aggravated passengers before you.
If you suspect a possible delay, try to get on another flight ASAP. You’ll need to go to the transfer desk or airline counter ASAP. There might be a few seats on other flights, but certainly not enough to accommodate all of your fellow passengers. In seeking alternatives, note that there are often flights to other destinations within a two hour drive of your ultimate destination, that staff won’t necessarily look for unless you ask them.
5. Boarding - soft bags
The carry-on trolley has become the symbol of US travel… but I swear by my soft duffel. Soft bags are much easier to get rid of in overhead bins, or if push comes to shove, under the seat in front of you.
If you do have a trolley and you’re in the last boarding group, one cheeky move is to zoom in to the barcode on your mobile boarding pass so the boarding group isn’t visible and board earlier. Getting on the plane early also means you'll be able to sit further towards the front, which if you're connecting to a second leg could mean the difference between being 10th in line and 50th in line at the transfer counter.
6. During your flight - order vegetarian to get a better meal
If your flight has in-flight meals, it’s a little-known fact that the vegetarian meals that you can opt-in to when you book your flight are usually more carefully prepared, of higher quality and they’re served first (before the food carts make their way down the aisles). This’ll ensure you arrive at your destination well-fed and refreshed!
These are just a few tips and tricks to reduce the stress of holiday travel. If you have any to add, let us know in the comments below!