Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Air Travel Made Easy

Planning on flying somewhere? Whether you’re only headed to Calgary, or going as far as Australia, even the shortest flight can be a hassle if you aren’t prepared. I’ve put together all the helpful hints and tips I have learned that get me in and out of airports faster. Stick to these tips, and you’ll be sure to skip the headache.

Before You Buy
Know the difference between a “direct” and a “nonstop” flight. If you can, always go for the latter. Although the name can trick you, direct flights can touch down at other airports on the way to their ultimate destinations. Most often, these stops do not require you to get off the plane, and are usually built into the travel time. They do, however, heighten the risk of delays.
Make sure you purchase your ticket under the exact name that appears on your ID. You may call yourself Bob, but if Robert is the name that appears on your passport, then the ticket should say Robert. TSA agents, especially in the USA, have been known to refuse a passenger whose passport does not match their ticket exactly. And if your middle name is not on your passport, leave it out of the ticket for the same reasons. A good travel agent, when booking airfare will show you a copy of the itinerary before it is issued to double check that the spelling is correct. If they don’t, just ask and they would be happy to do it for you.
If you have a disability and need a special seat, tell your agent when you make your reservation. If you wait until you are at the airport, the seats might be taken. Most airlines now have online check-in options, where passengers can check into, and select seats for their flight 24 hours in advance so the seats you want may be taken.
Know the cancellation/change fees. Most airlines charge a penalty fee for any changes made to a ticket, and more often than not, they are 100% non-refundable. If you are not sure about the dates, and cannot wait until you are sure, it might be more beneficial to purchase a more expensive, more flexible open ticket.
What are your passport/visa requirements? Some countries require specific visas to enter their country. In Thailand, for example, you will need a tourist visa in order to stay in the country longer than 15 days. Other countries, like South Africa, won’t allow entrance unless a traveler’s passport contains at least two blank, unstamped pages. Also, some countries require your passport to be valid for 1, 3 or even 6 months after your planned departure from the country. Make sure that if you need to get a new passport, you will have enough time to do so before you make your flight reservations or you could get stuck. Check out the
Government of Canada’s Travel Reports Website for more info.

Packing
Make your luggage stand out. Tying a ribbon to your black bag is not the most effective way to distinguish it. Sometimes, in the journey your bag takes from origin to destination, it can get torn off. Bright, distinct luggage tags are definitely a good idea, but your best move is to purchase a suitcase in an unusual color, such as bright blue or purple.
Keep the free samples. To save yourself the hassle of trying to pour shampoos and soaps into the right sized containers, just use the samples they give out at the mall. Many department stores give you free samples of cosmetics, lotions etc.
Do your own bag check before you leave. To keep from getting stopped in security and losing things you forgot were in your bag, carefully check each piece of luggage at home first. Remember that nail scissors, lighters etc. will get confiscated so leave them at home. Just go through the screening process in your head as you pack and you should be fine.
Make sure you have a change of clothes and personal items in your carry-on if you are checking your bags. Luggage does go missing at times, and it is better to be prepared, than left with nothing. If you are travelling with a significant other, pack some of your things in their bag and vice versa. You'll have a much lower chance of both of you losing your luggage.

At the Airport
Arrive at the Airport with plenty of time to spare. The last thing you want is to be caught up in customs and miss your flight. It is suggested that you arrive for an international flight at least 3 hours prior, and for domestic, 1.5 hours prior. This gives you plenty of time to get through customs, find your gate, and relax before takeoff. 
Check to make sure your baggage is tagged to the right place. In some situations, you may have to pick up your baggage at your connection point and go through customs, so make sure to ask the agent at the desk where you will need to get your bags. It is also good to learn the 3 digit codes for the airports you will be using and double check that they have been tagged correctly.
Always be charging. You never know when you might need your phone and when the next time you can charge it will be. Many airports now offer free charging stations in waiting areas, and in Europe there are even kiosks where you can lock up your phone in a locker and charge it while you do something else for a minimal fee. If all else fails, there are always just the basic wall outlets lying around.
Call for help. If you’ve missed your flight, or there is a major delay, don’t stand in line to rebook with a gate agent. Instead, call the airline’s customer-service number (tuck it in your wallet before leaving). You may speak to someone faster, giving you a better shot at a seat on the next flight. Also, the agent on the phone is most likely a lot calmer, especially in the case of a delay, as they don’t have 10 angry passengers in their face.

On the Plane
Bring a car seat for your child. Not only are they safe, but your child will already be used to it, so it may make them a bit less nervous or excited. Also make sure you have plenty of snacks, if possible, and something for them to play with to keep them occupied.
If your bag is small enough to store under your seat, do just that. It may be an automatic to want to store everything in the overhead compartments, but it not only slows you down, but it may delay the plane as everyone will be trying to do the same. A good tip is to store the things you know you will need during flight in a freezer bag and pop it in the seat pocket for easy access. That way, you will not be holding up the isles or squeesing past your neighbour trying to look for things as you fly.
Protect yourself from the dry air. Airplane air conditioners are the worst. The best way to protect yourself from that awful dry throat, dry skin, scratchy eye feeling is to come prepared. Drink plenty of water throughout the flight and bring lip balm and eye drops (but make sure they are under 3 ounces).
For long haul flights, don’t forget to move around. This is especially important on longer flights, to prevent your body from aching due to poor circulation. Some airlines provide guidance on in-seat exercises you can do (such as circling ankles and stretching arms). The long mid-flight stretch on overnight flights is an excellent time to take a stroll up and down the aisle a few times. There is usually room to do some back stretches at the back of some of the cabins.
If you have sinus problems, bring chewing gum. Chewing something during takeoff and landing can help pop your ears if your sinuses start to ache. This is a major problem for me and I find that I need to go a bit further and take an antihistamine as well. Talk to a pharmacist before you leave and they can help you choose the right one for you.
Once you have arrived in your destination, don’t rush. Everyone is going to try to be the first off the plane, and if you just sit back and wait until it is your time to go, you will definitely be a lot less stressed. Chances are, the luggage won’t be at the carousel yet anyways.

I hope that these tips help you as much as they help me and if you have any questions, feel free to comment.