Flight Survival Guide: Bookings to Perks

by adventurejosh
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Surviving air travel is just that — survival. Humans were never meant to be cramped into these ultra tiny airline seats, or spend hours roaming huge airports looking for amenities and the right gates, all while running on low sleep thanks to redeye flights.

Over the years I’ve been able to compile a variety of important travel tips to make life a little more sane while abroad. Undoubtedly, there’s tons more out there, so please comment if you have a handy hint that I’ve missed!

First Night’s Hotel & Vehicle Booking

Always book a minimum of your first nights hotel and vehicle well in advance. The same day that you book your flight. An arrival address may be required at customs.

Vehicles at busier airports at certain times of year can also easily sell out! Mardi Gras in New Orleans, for example. Your driver’s license should always expire beyond the last day of your rental. Renew it early if necessary. An International Drivers Permit may also be required for some countries. No exam required. Go to an issuing business to get the booklet and pay the fee.

Twizy Rental Vehicles in Bermuda!

Compare Prices

Make the best use of multiple web sites like Hopper, SkyScanner, and Google Flights to compare prices. Google Flights has one of the most flexible methods to compare prices on various departure and return dates. Shifting your travel plans a few days one way or another could save hundreds of dollars.

Web sites like Expedia and Booking.com often do not cover a lot of smaller airlines that may be featuring substantially cheaper domestic flights.

Be wary of ultra-cheap flights as they may have excessively long layovers, or be from airlines that charge extra for everything for in-person check in to carry-on baggage.

This Discount Airline Shall Remain Nameless

Book Direct & Collect Points

Third party booking sites earn a commission on every flight they book for an airline. Try booking directly to save a few bucks.

Sign up for every rewards program you can find; this includes your credit card. The points add up, and you’ll also wind up on travel newsletters for any special deals.

Fly Domestic First

If you live near a big city that you would normally commute more than two hours to for international flights, rethink your plan. Consider flying out of your local domestic airport to connect with this larger one. Not only will you be able to clear security and likely head straight to your gate, but you’ll be able to avoid rush hour and insanely high parking rates.

Industry Friends

Treat your friends that work in the industry like gold as they will be able to swing you free upgrades at hotels, share friends and family discounts from airlines, and not to mention provide valuable travel insights.

WestJet regularly offers 35% off for friends and family of employees. AirCanada, a measly 10%. However, with AirCanada you’ll have a much better flight experience and more destinations to choose from.

Evening Flights Only!

One of the worst feelings is being on a short vacation and spending most of your time at airports switching cities. You’ll have to pack, drive to the airport, check-in, clear security, be at the gate early, wait for delays, board, deplane, wait for baggage. It seriously adds up! Even a short 1-hour flight can mean wasting four hours of the day.

For any length of trip, book late-night flights from 7pm onwards when possible. Get out and enjoy the useful part of the day, and save airport downtime until after most businesses and attractions have closed.

Redeye Flight

Early Bird Pricing

As a general rule, book at least a month in advance to avoid more expensive last-minute fares. Same-day flight bookings are substantially more expensive. However, often booking more than three months ahead and you’ll miss any early bird pricing and get standard rates.

Nicknames & Flight Changes

The number one mistake people make when booking tickets is using their nickname. Even small variations are not permitted. For instance, “Josh” versus “Joshua” could result in a boarding pass having to be reissued. The name on your boarding pass should identically match the one in your passport.

Keep an eye on the displays around the airport. Keep checking and rechecking your flight’s gate and departure time. Be at your gate 30 to 40 minutes before departure. My flight gates have changed so many times over the years. Apps from airlines, or TripCase, will often inform you of delays and gate changes.

Missing Connections

Airlines will automatically rebook connecting flights for you at no cost if things are running behind schedule. If you’ve booked separately and you miss a connection, you’re out of luck and will likely have to buy an entirely new ticket. Sometimes it is possible to fly standby if you miss a flight and don’t mind waiting for a seat to open up from a no-show.

Personally, I’ll always leave at least half an hour to get through security, an hour of downtime, and half an hour for boarding. If you’ve booked your own flights separately, try to leave a three or four hour gap between landing and departing on the next flight. Delays in the airline industry are incredibly common.

While delays with international flights do happen, I have often found domestic flights to suffer the worst delays. In the event of a delay, I’ve come to expect departures running approximately 1-hour behind schedule. In one case, after a two hour domestic delay due to technical issues, we were forced to deplane, and re-board an entirely different aircraft. This added three hours to my travel plans.

Agnes when we missed our flight out to New York!

Seat Selection

Check-in early online to save time and have first pick for a seat. However, for the penny-pinching traveller, wait until you’re at your gate and ask the agent if you can board last and take any available seats that were abandoned closer to the front of the plane. Do this before anyone begins boarding. Waiting until the last minute after most passengers have boarded will likely mean the request will be denied. Window seats often have more head room for a snooze. While exit rows often will not recline, they will offer substantially more leg room.

Sitting near the rear of the plane will give you your best chance of survival in the unlikely event of a crash — with first class at the front of the plane being first to perish!

Avoid selecting a seat near washrooms, especially on smaller planes, to prevent being constantly surrounded by the sounds, smells, and people using the stalls.

While most airplanes will now have a universal power plug (compatible with almost any configuration), the USB charging ports as of 2019 are often a mere 1 Amp. This may not charge (and only sustain) higher power devices, or trickle charge them painfully slowly. Bring your own 2 or 3 Amp charger to plug directly into the power outlet. While I’ve never been in a situation where the front of the plane has plugs where the rear doesn’t, I have heard that this does occasionally happen.

Some airlines will publicly promote the amount of leg room available on their flights. Alternatively, looking up the standard configuration based on the airplane make and model can give you a great indicator of just how badly you’ll be suffering!

Flying with a friend? Book your seats one seat apart, leaving the middle one empty. These middle seats are much less desirable. On a less busy flight you might find that you’ve just netted yourself some first-class space for free!

Layovers, Lounges & Napping

Sometimes layovers can be a pretty painful experience. Whether it’s a mere two hours or upwards of a full day.

Napping at a gate in the airport on the chairs can put your carry-on luggage at risk for getting snatched. Use it as a pillow and attach it to yourself with a carabiner. Many larger and newer airports have snooze boxes. Buy a certain amount of time and get a full-on bed in a private enclosure.

Lounges are an excellent way to kick back in a quieter area if you can afford the heftier price tag. From snacks and comfortable chairs to potentially showers. Use the LoungeBuddy app to find and book lounges at hundreds of airports around the world.

If you’re kicking around for a half or full day before the next flight, consider using the DayUse site to book a nearby hotel for daylight hours at a substantially reduced rate. Or, why not book a quick tour or Uber to a local market? Maximize your time. In China I was able to take a six hour tour with pickup and drop off at the airport to finish bucket listing a visit to the Great Wall! No visa required.

Seat Gear

Entertainment. As mentioned previously, always bring your own 2 or 3 Amp USB charger along with your mobile device of choice plus one primary charging cable and one more as a backup. A high milliamp hour (mAh) rated battery pack can also be life-saver if no power outlets are available.

Not a techie? Sitting watching the hours tick by can be incredibly painful. Bring a book or deck of cards to keep your brain active and distracted.

Lucked out with seat selection!

Laptops larger than 11-13″ are almost too large once the person in-front of you reclines their seat. Bring a netbook or tablet with a case that props it up instead.

Clothing. Wear loose fitting long-armed, long-legged, clothes. Planes are almost always kept extra chilly and blankets may or may not be available. I’ll always wear an undershirt and long-johns. Layers, people!

Resting. A high quality eye mask and ear plugs (or noise-cancelling headphones) are essential. You never know when you’ll be stuck next to a crying child or get the yawns mid-day when the passenger next to you is clicking away on their laptop with the screen at maximum brightness. Finding the right ear plugs can be a lot of trial and error. For me, pharmacy grade ones which compress very well and slowly reflate are the best conforming to my ear canal

I’ll almost never bring a clunky neck pillow with me; most airline seat headrests have two hinged flaps that can hold your head in place. If I do, I’ll bring one that air-inflates with a mouthpiece. Straighten your body out as much as possible, and don’t feel discourteous if you need to fully recline your seat.

Avoid buying douche-bag products like the “Seat Defender” which prevent the person in-front of you from reclining their seat. We’re all in this this together. Treat your seat neighbours with respect and permit them the same freedoms that you enjoy.

Melatonin, for those who have a hard time falling asleep, can help induce sleep. More serious sleeping medications should be avoided as they can leave individuals feeling groggy for days.

Essentials on-hand. Try to keep basic essentials like a pen, paper, medication, a toothbrush, toothpaste, gravol, earplugs, sleeping mask, your passport, glasses, and a quick-dry towel (for washing your face) in the seat pocket in-front of you. Accessing the overhead bins mid-flight is strongly discouraged and may even be forbidden.

Return capsule at NASA in Houston. Definitely no WiFi on this baby!

WiFi

WiFi may not be quick, constant, or even available. It’s good practice to anticipate long-stretches of the flight where WiFi will be temporarily unavailable. Preload tons of offline content into your apps, and buy any “in-app purchases” well in advance. Have the airline’s app pre-downloaded to access onboard movies and music without having to pay for an expensive in-flight internet package.

Some airlines will offer cheaper WiFi plans depending on which type of device you connect using. Laptop connections can be more expensive. Use the “User Agent” feature of a web browser on a laptop to trick a hot spot into thinking your a handheld device and same some bucks! You may need to also erase the cookies and internet history if you’ve tried to get pricing on this device previously without enabling this trick first.

Remembering that you will have WiFi access only, disable any two-factor cell-phone authentication on accounts that you will need in the air. Alternatively, some sites will also have a “Recovery Codes” option. These will be codes that can be used instead of receiving a text message. FaceBook has this option.

Using iMessage or WhatsApp over WiFi is a great to way to stay in touch with friends while in the air without having to use your cellular connection to send messages. Both have a much smaller overhead than FaceBook messenger and include roughly same same feature set.

Voice and video calls, even over WiFi with Skype are almost never permitted during a flight. With the lack of connection speeds, the quality would likely immensely suffer anyway.

Personal Hot Spot

Did you bring a laptop with you? Share your internet connection from WiFi over USB and bluetooth so that it can be used across all devices at once without buying multiple plans!

Ask for the Can

There will often be plenty of paid options available for food or drinks. However, most flight attendants will be more than happy to accommodate if you politely ask to have the can of pop instead of a glass with ice. Not only will you be getting more, you’ll be saving the environment by not wasting all that plastic!

Tap Water & Smoking

Never — ever — drink restroom water on an airline. It’s not even advisable to brush your teeth with it. It has not been sanitized. Often warning signs will even be present near the sink as a reminder. Drink and use bottled water.

Smoking on an airline is internationally prohibited and has been for many years. It is drilled into your head during every pre-flight safety briefing. Breaking this rule could land you with criminal charges!

Emergency Travellers’ Diarrhea Pills!

Hands-Off

In the era of #MeToo, everyone seems to have an extraordinarily heightened awareness of consent. It is no longer acceptable to tap someone on their shoulder to get their attention, even if it is the flight attendant and they didn’t hear your voice. A news story in 2018 saw an American man forcibly removed from a plane by police when he was trying to get an attendant’s attention in a non-sexual and non-aggressive manner. Simply put, don’t risk it.

Booking ≠ Confirmed Seat

Unless you’ve prepaid for your seat, having a flight confirmation in hand does not necessarily mean that you are guaranteed a seat! Airlines often overbook flights as passengers frequently no-show. It’s an easy way for them to make an extra buck on a route. In recent years, this has received a lot of media attention from passengers throwing a hissy fit when being bumped off of a flight.

While legally airlines are allowed to do this, customer service is usually a primary concern as well. Politely ask what compensation is available and don’t be afraid to ask for a little extra. Maybe this is as simple as a free meal or it could be as grand as a free domestic flight, or an overnight stay at a local hotel. Local laws may enforce a minimum monetary compensation from the airline. Know your rights.

Customs

Occasionally, it is possible to pre-clear customs when travelling to countries like the United States from Canada. This can be an incredibly useful time saver at busier airports like JFK and LAX. Apps available from certain countries can aid with this like myTSA.

The longest I’ve ever had to wait to clear customs was an hour and a half. The best? Two minutes. When deplaning, sprint ahead of all of the other passengers en-route to the customs line. Most passengers will be quite docile after a long flight with low oxygen content air.

Be aware that some countries will charge an entry fee. This may not be payable on credit or debit. Always bring cash in USD and the local currency. Others will also require a separate standard 5 cm passport photo that has been stamped, signed, and dated. Print a hard copy of all entry visas and proofs of vaccinations as well. Double check and satisfy entry requirements two months prior to going abroad.

Private driver in Hanoi, Vietnam

Airport Pickup

Uber, if available at your destination, is your best bet to get to your hotel in the most cost effective and safe way.

Hotels, if not already providing a complimentary shuttle, can have substantially higher rates for a private driver than even hiring a standard taxi. If the hotel does offer this service and you plan to use it, make sure to provide them with your flight details and call as soon as you’ve exited from baggage claim.

If going the taxi route, always try to buy a voucher within the airport before hailing a random cab on the edge of the road. While this can sometimes be more expensive, you will receive a guaranteed rate from a safe airport-approved company. See my other article on travel safety for more taxi tips!

Over the years I’ve been able to compile a variety of important travel tips to make life a little more sane while abroad. Undoubtedly, there’s tons more out there, so please comment if you have a handy hint that I’ve missed!

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