Some whine, and others are very stoic and “stiff upper lip” about it all. But, in either case, many travelers are fairly passive about flying. They purchase their tickets, and then they put up with flight delays, confined seating situations, lost luggage crises, bad food, and much more.
But relatively few travelers, I’ve found, approach flights and flight schedules with an “activist attitude.” Rather than accepting roles as victims of circumstances, these are people who’ve become advocates for themselves and their traveling companions—people acting preemptively to minimize hassles and maximize every possible opportunity.
What are some ways to adopt a more “activist” approach for a better personal flight experience? Here are 6 practices I’ve learned from the hundreds of flights I’ve taken over the years:
- Never check luggage. Some of us prefer to bring extra bags on a trip and check our luggage when flying, and—if that’s what’s important to you—then go for it. But, if control is your goal, checked luggage is often an impediment. First, it greatly limits your flexibility if an unexpected flight delay occurs. Say, you’ve already checked your luggage and you’ve just found out that your flight is being delayed for several hours. Then you learn that another airline’s flight to your destination has seats available and is leaving in just a few minutes. Your checked baggage kills this opportunity on the spot. But, if you just have a carry-on bag with you, you can probably seize the day. Second, not checking baggage means that you don’t have to wait for your baggage at the airport carousel. Third, it means that the airline can’t lose it.
- Before you buy your ticket, check out SeatGuru, Seat Plans, and other sites that provide information about various seat-related considerations such as width and location. The quality of the seats on a flight or the location of available seats might affect your choice. If you’re not happy, you might look at some of the other flight choices to your desired destination. For more information on these seat sites and some current seating issues on various airlines, you might also want to peruse this recent article.
- Before you fly, learn about the other flights leaving for your destination at about the same time as (or soon after) your flight. This just takes a few minutes to do online, but it gives you an excellent big picture of what else is available if your flight is delayed. Airline personnel also like this “heads-up” attitude. In fact, if you can cite specific alternatives, they are more likely to help you find a seat on an airline that has a reciprocal (or “seat swapping”) agreement with theirs.
- Learn about “Conditions of Carriage.” This is a handy option most people don’t know about and most airlines aren’t eager to talk about. It’s based on “Rule 240,” an old Federal Aviation Administration regulation requiring an airline with a delayed or canceled flight to transfer passengers to another carrier if the other carrier can get passengers to the destination in less time than the original one. While Rule 240 is no longer in effect, the main U.S. air carriers have filed “conditions of carriage” with the Department of Transportation, which make similar guarantees. The specifics vary from airline to airline, and they usually apply only to delays that are the airline’s fault such as mechanical issues—not delays due to weather, strikes, etc. But, if you fly often, they are absolutely worth looking into. Here, for example, is the Contract of Carriage for Hawaiian Airlines. Finally, if you’re flying on a European airline in Europe, there is an equivalent mandate you might want to check out— EU Regulation 261/2004.
- Board your flight as soon as you can. This is especially important on crowded flights so you’re sure to find space for your carry-on luggage in the overhead compartments. If you don’t, the only option is underneath the seat in front of you, which makes the already cramped flying experience even more uncomfortable.
- If you’re flying on an airline not known for its good food, pack some food you like and bring it on board with you. Light, non-perishable snacks are easiest, of course. But, if you’re creative, you can do a lot more. I’ve packed some gourmet sushi in a very small ice bag, for example. It stayed cold for hours, and it tasted wonderful when I ate it.
If you fancy yourself as someone with an activist attitude about flying and flight schedules and have a tip or 2 or your own to share on this subject, we’d love to hear from you. Please take a moment and post a comment after this article.