Part 1 of the Top Tips For Trouble Free Travel Series
Does your next vacation include traveling by airplane? Whether you are flying across the country or across the world, air travel can be stressful. Airport security check points, flight delays, weather issues, the crowds, navigating unfamiliar airports. It’s enough to stress even seasoned travelers. I’ll admit it. Despite my love for travel, traveling by air can cause me a fair amount of stress.
What if I told you there are things you can do before, during and after booking a flight that may make your next flight go more smoothly? Well, here they are – my fifteen stress reducing pre-flight tips. They may not eliminate the stress, but they will do their part to ensure your next trip begins with less airport turbulence.
Three Considerations Before Booking A Flight
Before you book that next vacation, review your travel documentation requirements. A quick review should inform you whether or not you need additional documentation. You don’t want to find out at the airport that your papers aren’t in proper travel order.
1. Check Travel Identification Expiration Dates
You will need a valid travel photo identification (ID) with an expiration date that extends beyond your return date as well as departure date. You don’t want the unpleasant surprise of being stopped at Security because your ID expired last week! Read more about TSA guidelines for Acceptable IDs.
Traveling internationally? Check your passport expiration date and compare it with your destination country’s passport requirements. Some countries require that passports are valid as much as six months past the travel return date.
2. Review International Travel Document Needs
Do your travel plans extend beyond your home country? Then you need to review the destination country’s travel document entry requirements (passports, visas, proof of vaccinations or immunizations, ect.). Make sure you have plenty of time to complete applications and secure the necessary travel documents.
3. Register for TSA PreCheck
The thought of waiting at Security check points enough to make you cringe? If you meet the criteria, have your documentation in order, and are willing to pay the fee, enroll in TSA PreCheck. Clear security without ever removing your shoes or belts. Sweet!
Five Considerations When Booking Your Flight
Travel documentation review complete and travel dates established. It’s time to book flights for that dream vacation! Here’s five flight booking tips to help make for a less stressful travel day.
1. Book Enough Time Between Connecting Flights
Book sufficient time between flights and avoid the stress of a tight connection. Don’t be left standing at the gate, watching your next flight take off without you. Traveling with kids? That extra time will come in handy! Think – easier bathroom breaks, snacks and energy release before the next flight.
Travel Tip: My rule of thumb is a minimum one hour for domestic flights, and two hours for international flights, perhaps more if connecting through a mega-large airport hub or if clearing customs before connecting to our next flight.
2. Book the Earliest Departure Time Possible
Earlier flights are less likely to be delayed than later flights, especially when flying through major airport hubs. Just one ground delay in the morning can quickly lead to longer flight delays later in the day.
3. Book Tickets In the Same Name As Your ID
Don’t use nicknames – if your ID states your name as William or Margaret, don’t purchase the ticket using Bill or Meg. Security agents match airline boarding passes to photo ID’s. They don’t know that your friends call you Bill or Meg.
4. Pre-Select Seat Assignments
If the airline you are traveling with allows it, select seat assignments as soon as you book your flight. Letting the airlines choose your seats, or waiting until flight check in, could find you seated in the least desirable locations on the airplane and quite possibly separated from your travel partners.
5. Purchase Early Boarding Privileges
Flying an airline that doesn’t allow pre-flight seat selection? Not able to check in at the 24 hour mark? Consider purchasing early boarding privileges. It will secure your place in the boarding process and avoid that less than desirable seat, or your carry-on whisked away because the overhead bins are full.
Travel Tip: We are a party of four, yet I only purchase two early boarding passes, not four. Two board early, secure carry-ons in the overhead bins, and claim our seats.
Seven Suggested Post Flight Booking Tips
Got your flights booked? Great! Now sit back and relax until the arrival of your departure day, right? Well, you can. But I don’t. Here’s seven tips to consider between booking that flight and your departure date. A few well placed checks and calls will go a long way in reducing flight day stress.
1. Check – Then Double Check – Air Reservations
Review air reservations a month prior to departure. Verify that there have been no changes to your flight plans. An unexpected change can wreak havoc on your trip, like flight time changes that leave you running for your connections, or flight number changes that have you searching for non-existent flights.
Travel Tip: Also review seat assignments. Sometimes airlines “reshuffle” seats due to an equipment change or airplane seat reconfiguration.
2. Triple Check Code-Sharing Flights
If your flight includes flying on a code-sharing partner, verify your flights on both airlines. A call to the code-share partner verifying your reservation exists in their system as well as the airline you booked with can save travel headaches down the road.
Travel Experience: Though rare, mistakes happen. Last summer’s flights were booked with United. Two of our four flights were with code-sharing partner Air Canada. Somehow, one of the Air Canada flights was “dropped” from our reservations. I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t called Air Canada to confirm our flights.
3. Review Weather Forecasts
The week before departure, check the weather forecast for both your departure and arrival destinations, as well connecting airports. Know in advance of any potential poor weather that might cause flight delays. If the weather is looking dismal, create a contingency plan with alternate flight options.
4. Load Mobile Devices With Travel Apps
Access to key travel apps can quickly smooth out a bumpy travel day. At minimum you should have your airline app and a general flight booking app for on-the-go flight changes, a trip organizer to keep travel information at your finger tips, and a flight status tracker to keep on top of flight status and gate changes.
5. Set Up Travel Alerts
Most airlines will send flight notifications right to your mobile device so long as you provide them with the necessary information. Do it. Advance notice of a flight delay, gate change or cancellation can be the difference of getting on that next flight, or being left stranded at the airport.
6. Pack For Clear Sailing Through Security
Pack your carry-on bags appropriately for a smooth, less stressful security check. Don’t put contraband items like knives, scissors, or large bottles of liquids into your carry-on bags. Don’t wrap gifts. Do follow the TSA’s Prohibited Items guidelines. Do pack light and efficiently. Do follow the TSA 3-1-1 for Carry Ons Rule.
Tips for Packing: Learn more packing tips at Five Tips For Efficient Suitcase Packing and Seven Space Saving Tips For Packing Two Weeks Into A Carry-On Bag.
7. Complete Flight Check In as Early as Possible
Most flights are open for check-in 24 hours before your first flight. Checking in as early as possible can ensure you have seats as well as put you on notice for potential flight issues.
On the go at check-in time? Have a mobile device? Check in via the airline’s mobile app, then print your boarding passes at home, the airport, or your hotel. At a hotel? Many hotels now offer airport check-in kiosks to facilitate the check in process. Some airlines and airports are also “mobile ready” so you can use your mobile phone as a boarding pass.
Travel Tip: Your day’s activities preventing you from an early check in? Consider purchasing early boarding privileges just for that first flight.
Let’s Get Traveling, Shall We?
So there you have it. My fifteen “pre-flight” check list items I complete in the months prior to heading off to the airport. Most are easy to complete, and all will help you avoid unexpected airport turbulence when flight day finally arrives. Happy travels!
Are you like me? Do you get stressed as your departure date approaches? Or are you calm as a cucumber, as my husband is? (Hey, maybe he’s so calm because he knows I’m doing all the checks!) Do you have any “pre-flight” tips to share with us? Do share in the Comments section below.
Other posts in the Top Tips For Trouble Free Travel Series:
- Navigating Through Airport Security
- Your Flight’s Been Cancelled – Now What?!
- You’ve Arrived! Don’t Let Jet Lag Slow You Down
Images from Delta, TSA, United and FlightStats.