It's here. The holiday season. Traveling isn't for the faint of heart, especially at this time of year when airports are full of people trying to take their well-deserved vacations, and winter weather can throw a wrench in the works. If you've ever noticed that airline crew members seem to glide effortlessly through chaotic airports, shoot through the security lines and rebound flawlessly after travel snafus, you're on to something. I'm going to share a few of our secrets, both in booking flights and what to do when bad weather starts rolling in, so that you can navigate the travel system like a pro:
1. Bigger is Better.
Pilots love to say this, about jets that is, and with good reason. As a general rule, newer and bigger airplanes are better because of the technology (Autoland and CAT 3) enables them to land in adverse weather conditions like snow and fog. Smaller regional jets (airplanes with approximately 100 seats or less) typically don't have this expensive equipment in the cockpit. Aircraft types are listed in small print along with the departure, arrival and flight time details on websites. But you can also go to SeatGuru.com, enter your airline and flight information, and check the size of your aircraft.
2. Bigger Hubs = More Options
Making a flight connection? Pick the airline's biggest hub, the one with more flights to your destination just in case you are delayed or miss your connection. Flying Delta, you'd be smart to connect in Atlanta or Minneapolis. Booked on American, pick Dallas or Miami. If it's not obvious what your airline's major hubs are (i.e. Delta has ten connections for your flight in Minneapolis verses three in Cincinnati) you can look it up AirlineRouteMaps.com.
3. Some Airports Are Better Than Others
The other thing I consider when booking a connecting flight, is "what if I get stuck there?" If things go wrong, it could be five hours or two days, I want more hotel options and nearby city attractions. What to do with an extensive delay in Boston? My childhood favorite, The New England Aquarium and Faneuil Hall Marketplace are an easy ten minutes away by cab. Stuck in Miami? In 20 minutes you could be in South Beach! Canceled flight in Las Vegas? Estimated driving time into in "The City of Lights" to see an incredible Cirque du Soleil show is 12 minutes!
4. When To Cancel or Not?
Once you're booked and prepared to depart, what should you do when bad weather is rolling in? Do what the pros do. We don't cancel, we act fast to reschedule our flights and try to get out in front of the weather. In preparation for a big storm, airlines will sometimes offer you an incentive to change your flight by matching fares and waiving the change fee. But beware! Airlines have become very proactive about canceling flights, sometimes a day or two out, so that people aren't stranded (and to protect the airplanes). If bad weather is heading your way, but your flight hasn't been cancelled yet, do think twice before heading to the airport. Flights can cancel last minute, the airport may close and there may be way to get back home or to your hotel (no taxi's or metro running). Factor in what else is going on, and if the weather is getting progressively worse and all the other flights are canceling, then I would cancel too.
5. When Your Flight Cancels You Have 3 More Options!
A) If you are already at the airport, make a B-line for the Airport Lounge. It pays to be a club member (many lounges including the Delta Sky Club offer a day pass for $50.00). With shorter lines, if any, these lounges have agents available who can help you with your reservation.
B) Use a Ticketing Assistance Phone- Yes, those phones you have walked past a million times. Dedicated to help passengers with rebooking their flights, Delta Air Lines has these phones available near the gates, United Airlines has Help phones near the customer service counter.
C) Don't Forget Your Credit Card Perks- Provided you booked directly with your airline or credit card travel program (no third party like Travelocity), cards like The American Express Platinum card and Visa Signature card have a concierge service available to their members 24 hours a day to help book flights (plus concierge for hotel, car, restaurants, etc.).
6. Get On the List!
Sign up for the loyalty program. Are you aware that (on many airlines) the flight attendants have a list of frequent flyers? On every flight. Trust me, as soon as the airplane door closed... if there was a perk to be had, I would walk down the aisle (with list in hand) and "cherry-pick" the loyal passengers to spoil with upgrades, improved seating, free drinks, help with connecting flights and First Class treats!
7. Being Flexible is too Rigid...
When all is said and done, it's your mindset that makes the biggest difference. Captain Steve Skupien, a former Air Force Fighter Pilot, once gave me a golden piece of advice. "Want to know the real secret to traveling like a pro? Being flexible is too rigid... you need to be fluid."