Packing, Security, and Airport Tips!
Flying for the first time can be overwhelming! Check out these tips and tricks and make your first trip smooth and easy.
Most Bags Will Have a Fee
Every U.S. airline charges a fee for checked-bags, except Southwest who actually give you two checked-bags for free.
Many airlines charge for checked-bags and carry-on bags, including Spirit and Frontier. If you fly the super-cheap basic economy class on American and United, you will also pay for all bags.
You can view baggage fees for your airline using FareCompare's handy Baggage Fee Tool.
Suggestion: Use a carry-on. Most airlines don’t charge for them, but even when you have to pay, it’s worth it because carry-ons have another advantage: the bag that travels in the cabin with you is the bag that will not get lost.
Even So-So Seats Can Cost You
More and more airlines set aside ‘good’ economy seats – seats with a little extra legroom, seats near the front of the plane, or popular aisle and window seats – for those who pay more for their airfare (including premium economy tickets). Plus, some airlines will not let you choose your seat until check-in time which is 24 hours before departure.
Suggestion: If you cannot choose seats when you book your flight, be ready to check for available seats the moment your check-in window begins (24 hours before departure time) and claim a seat then. The alternative is to pay extra for a seat which can run anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds.
Refunds Are Rare
The cheapest airline tickets are almost always non-refundable, which means exactly what it says: If you decide to change the date of your flight (or make other schedule changes), you will be charged a change fee of up to $200 per ticket (the amount varies by airline). Be certain of your dates before you book a flight. Alternatively, you can purchase refundable tickets, but these are almost always very expensive.
Suggestion: In the USA, you have 24 hours after purchasing tickets to change or cancel them with no financial penalty. Other countries have different laws, and it is worth reaching out to the airline you booked with to find out what these are. If there is a serious emergency (such as a death), call the airline and see what they can do for you but be warned, not all carriers offer refunds in such cases.
You May Have to Fend for Yourself During Delays and Cancellations
This will surprise some new travelers but when flights are delayed or cancelled due to bad weather, airlines typically don’t provide vouchers for food or hotels. Bad weather is considered a force majeure event meaning it’s not the airline’s fault and you are on your own.
Suggestion: Be polite and try to work with the gate agent. Sometimes they have vouchers for problems that are their fault and you might get lucky and snag one. Meanwhile, get on your phone and start checking with local hotels to see if any are offering discounts in the case of bad storms or whatever has delayed you. In the EU, be sure to check if your situation is covered by your passenger rights. You may be entitled to compensation.
Leave Time for Connecting Flights
These days, airlines are very concerned with on-time arrivals and departures which leads us to a dirty little secret of the air travel industry: Sometimes, planes leave early and if you’re not on board the plane might leave without you. Get to the gate area with plenty of time to spare, which may mean leaving for the airport earlier than you planned but it’s a small inconvenience compared to missing a flight.
Suggestion: When shopping for connecting flights, be sure to leave plenty of time between flights, an hour minimum between domestic flights, at least three hours (or several) between international flights. Sign up for the TSA PreCheck program for a faster security experience and try Global Entry for international travel (it includes PreCheck). Other nations have similar programs the U.K.’s FastTrack program; search for yours by using keywords like airport, security and fast.
Extras are Extra
Most airlines dropped free meals for economy domestic flights years ago (although on a few routes, meals are making a comeback). Mostly, though, you’ll have to buy what you want while you are in the airport. Most airlines do offer food for purchase, just be prepared to pay a pretty penny!
Suggestion: Pack a lunch; it’ll be tastier than anything the airlines have, and cheaper. Also, bring a jacket or dress in layers; planes can be chilly. Consider bringing your own neck pillow, too.