Between making sure your suitcase isn't an ounce over 50 pounds and rushing to your gate before the doors close, air travel can be a stressful experience — but it doesn't have to be. We've rounded up 25 things you should do before your next flight, so you can relax and know that you're totally prepared.
Note that some airlines' guidelines and policies have changed due to the coronavirus pandemic, so be sure to check their websites for the most up-to-date travel information.
1. Download and Use Your Airline’s App
Unless you’re checking a bag, there’s no reason to queue up at the check-in desk or deal with a fingerprint-smudged kiosk at the airport. Download your airline’s app ahead of time, make sure your reservation details are in, and then use it to check-in. That way, you can head straight to security when you arrive at the airport. Delta’s app will even check you in automatically 24 hours in advance of your flight. Several airlines, including Alaska and Southwest, now offer free onboard entertainment via passengers’ personal devices through their apps, so you should have them on your phone anyway.
2. Get The Airline Credit Card
Don’t fly enough to earn elite status? Airline credit cards like the United Explorer and American’s Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select offer cardholders perks similar to elites, including free checked bags and priority boarding. Carrying one of these cards can save you money on luggage and ensure you’ll find carry-on space in the overhead bins ahead of the crowd.
3. Have a Status Strategy
Speaking of airline status, if you are going for gold (or silver, or platinum) this year, make sure your frequent-flier number is attached to all your airline reservations. Even if you’re not flying your usual carriers, chances are the airline you’re on is partners with another you fly more frequently thanks to alliances. That way, you can earn airline miles toward status on every single flight you take.
4. Check Aircraft Alternatives
Seats and amenities can vary dramatically, even from plane to plane within a single family of jets in a particular airline’s fleet. Once you settle on an airline, double check the aircraft type and seat map on the carrier’s site to make sure you’re flying the plane you want. After all, you don’t want to think you’re booking one of Qatar Airways’ QSuites only to end up with a random recliner.
5. Assess Your Seating Situation
Whether you like a window or an aisle, it’s worth checking SeatGuru‘s detailed seat maps to confirm your chosen place on the plane won’t be too close to the galley or the lavatories, with their associated noises (and smells!).
6. Stay Organized
Keep all your information in one place by using App in the Air or TripIt, two apps that do things like consolidate your flight statuses, check-in times, gate numbers, and nearby lounge locations, and will update you on schedule and gate changes.
7. Check Real-time Reports
Like a jilted lover, airline apps are usually the last to know when things are going wrong. Use FlightStats to track flight statuses, on-time performances, weather conditions, and even the flight history of your specific aircraft, all in real-time so that if your plane is delayed, you can be the first to know and the first to get rebooked.
8. Remember the Liquid Lowdown
Remember, any liquids you’re carrying through TSA checkpoints must be less than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) and placed in a see-through bag no larger than a quart.
9. Sign up for PreCheck, Already
Keep those shoes and belts on, leave the liquids and laptops in your bag, and forgo the full-body scans by getting TSA PreCheck. You could pay $85 for PreCheck itself, or spend $100 for Global Entry, which also confers PreCheck (usually) as well as expedited immigrations and customs access. Several credit cards, including the Capital One Venture and the Bank of America Premium Rewards card, will even refund you the application fee for either program.
10. Investigate Security Speed
Bypass the worst security checkpoints at over 200 airports around the globe by tapping into the MiFlight app’s crowd-sourced, real-time checkpoint waiting times.
11. Size Up Your Bag
Sighting a new revenue source, many airlines have instituted strict size limits for carry-on bags, which are stringently enforced by eagle-eyed gate agents. Check your bag’s dimensions at home and make sure they adhere to your airline’s limits. Keep in mind that European carriers’ limits vary slightly from those in the U.S. Blame it on standard versus metric.
12. Gather Your Gadgets
Phone: check. Laptop: check. Tablet: check. Camera: check. Spare charger: check. Power cords: check. Travelers are carrying more electronics than ever. Luckily, there are organizer cases galore to keep all your devices and cables within reach and ready for security screening.
13. Remove Those Batteries
Due to fears of onboard fires, airlines have instituted smart luggage battery bans since January 2018. If your bag has a battery pack, be prepared to show that it is removable in case your bag has to be gate-checked. But don’t leave that battery pack at home, necessarily. Just because your airplane seat is supposed to have power ports does not guarantee that they’ll actually work when you’re on the plane.
14. Grab and Go
Hate airplane food, but afraid you’ll miss boarding while waiting in a line at an airport restaurant? Use the Grab app to pre-order and pay for items at participating restaurants and vendors at over 30 airports in the U.S. and U.K. Place your order on your ride to the airport and pick it up on your way to the gate without breaking stride.
15. Connect for Less
Many airports offer free Wi-Fi, but beware of hackers. Using a VPN offers a measure of protection.
16. Lounge Around
Why wait at the gate when you can enjoy free Wi-Fi and snacks in the comfort of a lounge? LoungeBuddy posts reviews on airport lounges around the world, including their entry requirements and how you can score day passes. Several premium credit cards, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Platinum Card from American Express, confer access to hundreds of Priority Pass lounges worldwide. Frequent travelers can also consider airli
ne-specific cards such as the Delta SkyMiles Reserve or United Club Card, which get you into a particular carrier’s clubs. The agents in them can also usually help you faster than those out in the terminal, and get you rebooked if something goes awry with your travel plans.
17. Wear Comfortable Clothing
Airplane cabin climate settings seem to vacillate between icebox and toaster oven, with no habitable happy medium in between. And no one wants to touch those germy air nozzles, which only provide a hissing draft of dry air anyway. Dress for any contingency by wearing multiple light layers, and look stylish to boot.
18. Stick Your Neck Out
As airlines squeeze more and more seats into coach, ergonomics seem to be flying out the window. Luckily, travel pillow technology has never been better, with options for every type of sitter and sleeper. It’s time to invest in a quality travel pillow that will spare your neck and back the worst effects of a long flight in cattle class.
19. Bring Your Own Bottle
Avoid single-use plastic (and a bottle of water that costs $8 post-security) by bringing an empty travel water bottle with you instead. Some are even collapsible to save you space, and more airports have installed water bottle filling stations next to drinking fountains to make carrying your own that much more convenient.
20. Disinfect Everything
Due to the number of people passing through and touching everything, airports and airplanes are some of the germiest places around. Protect yourself as much as possible by using disinfecting wipes on your hands and your airplane seat once you get settled. Because they’re not liquid, like hand sanitizer, wipes will also not count toward your carry-on liquid limit.
21. Moisturize Like a Maniac
Even on next-generation jets like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A350, cabin humidity levels rarely top 20% (and are only around 8-10% on conventional aircraft). To avoid looking like a prune after your flight, pack a light moisturizer and apply it frequently.
22. Get a Jump on Jet Lag
Flying across multiple time zones? Use an app like Entrain or Timeshifter before you fly. Both help you gradually shift your pre-travel schedule toward your destination time zone based on your specific plans and preferences so that by the time you fly, you’re already ahead of jet lag.
23. Park Like a Pro
Airport parking lots can fill up quickly during the busiest travel times. Use SpotHero to reserve a place in advance at lots near over 40 airports throughout the U.S.
24. Understand Your Credit Card Protection
Flight delays and cancellations happen. If you travel frequently, it pays to carry a credit card you know will protect you under certain circumstances. Many offer compensation for delays, cancellations, lost luggage, and more if you use them to pay for travel plans. So if you have to spend money staying somewhere overnight or to replace certain items, it won’t come out of your bottom line. Before traveling, read your card’s benefits packet carefully to understand what you’re entitled to and how to go about claiming it.
25. Investigate Intelligent Insurance
Beyond delays, cancellations, and lost luggage, which are covered by most major credit cards, you might want to insure an expensive trip with a policy that includes provisions for emergency medical evacuation and cancellation for any reason. InsureMyTrip.com is a convenient resource for comparing travel insurance plans from major providers.
Bonus: Don’t Forget Your Mask
If you're flying during the pandemic, you'll want to check your airline's guidelines for travel as well as your destination's requirements for incoming visitors. Stash extra face masks, wipes, hand sanitizer, and any other essentials in both your carry-on and checked luggage so you're never without them.
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