Take these steps and you will ensure that all goes well before the flight, during the flight, and after the flight
Before the flight and airport
1. Check list. Appropriate Travel Insurance; Currency of your destination; At least 2 sources of access to cash – Debit cards/Credit cards stored separately; Itinerary, contact details, and copies of all valuable documents left with a responsible person; Driver’s license, passports and visas; Tickets and documents in hard copy and on phone/laptop; Medicines with scripts; Phone, camera, laptop etc with chargers. What have I forgotten? Please tell me in Comments below and I will add.
2. Checking in. Check in online if possible as soon as it is available, and pay a little extra for exit row leg room if that is offered. Try to avoid seats close to toilets and galley. SeatGuru will help you with seat selection.
3. To the airport. Plan to arrive at least 3 hours prior to flight departure, even if you have checked in online and have seats allocated. At the final check-in an airline can still change your seat allocation, and they frequently do for various reasons, often because someone more “important” than you in the frequent flyer pecking order wants your seat/s. Or there may be problems seating people with handicaps or babies.
Whatever the reason, you cannot argue with the check-in supervisor. They are like the captain of a ship, and have final say on the seating on the aircraft. If you are travelling on frequent flyer points, even if in business class, you are the person most likely to have a seat reallocation if it is deemed necessary.
Recently I read of someone who was reallocated from business class to economy because there was an overbooking problem. When they asked why they had been chosen, they were told because they were on FF points! And they received no compensation, which does not surprise me as the airline involved is known for its arrogance. Off my soapbox. Ha ha.
If you are reallocated a seat, the earlier you check-in the more choice you will have! Also airlines still overbook, and the persons arriving last naturally will be the ones “bumped”. It rarely happens in Australia where there is no compensation to passengers denied boarding with a confirmed ticket, but it is not uncommon in some overseas countries.
In much of Europe and USA you are entitled to compensation if you are denied boarding, but you must ask for it. When I was denied boarding an Air France flight from Paris to Bordeaux, and put on a flight 3 hours later, I was give a meal voucher. Knowing my rights, I politely asked for financial compensation and was given an MCO (Airline IOU) for about $300. The flight only cost $150 so I was well ahead! But arriving 3 hours later and facing a 2 hour drive to my destination did disrupt my plans a little.
So get to the airport early and allow for traffic if crossing a major city!!!
4. Check-in. So you have arrived early, in the check-in/bag drop queue near the front, and you reach the counter. Always be polite, smile, say hello, and be moderately well dressed – not over the top but don’t dress like a slob as some do these days. If there is a problem with your seating, the polite, friendly and smartly dressed person will be treated with respect, and given the best result. Believe me it works. The check-in person may have more power than you realize, and if they like you then they will do all they can to assist any request. Yes there are some miserable ones, but even them you can win around.
If you are hoping for an upgrade, all the above is even more important. Don’t make some lame joke about a free upgrade – they have heard them all before, and it will work against you. Simply ask if an upgrade to …… class is possible if you pay extra or perhaps with points. Some carriers allow that now on flights which have the space up the front. Why offer to pay? It shows that you are serious, and not a cheapskate looking for a freebie! And if you have followed all that I have said so far, you may be pleasantly surprised. And even if you don’t get the upgrade, you may get a better seat in economy. But get there early.
5. Security, Immigration, Duty Free, To the gate. This is where you allow at least an hour to get to the departure gate. Expect queues at Security and Immigration so be patient and be early! No sharp objects in carry-on and of course liquid limits. I won’t go into details, but be aware that anything that has any liquid content is viewed as liquid. I lost a nice jar of marmalade at Heathrow Airport – liquid. Also in many countries now, including EU, you cannot have liquids in carry-on even on domestic flights so be sure to pack your duty free grog in your check-in luggage.
Now Duty Free shopping? Keep a regular eye on the monitors and the status/departure time of your flight. Also now many large airports tell you how long it takes to walk to each gate, and take that seriously as some can be as much as 20 minutes. Sometimes you need to take a train to another terminal! You don’t want to be chased and yelled at by airport staff, as they hurry you to your gate for a fully boarded aircraft that is waiting just for you!!! I saw it recently at Heathrow London.
Plan to get to the boarding gate at least 15 minutes(even 30) before the designated boarding time and get near the head of any queue. Why? Two reasons. Those first on board get best choice of the overhead locker space. Yes each locker space has a seat number but that us rarely honoured, and you may find someone’s bag already in your locker and you have to find a nearby one. But also when they do the final ticket check before you board, very very occasionally there is a seat change, and if it happens to you then you need time to discuss with them and sort.
During the Flight
1. Your seat. Check that all the controls work including the video/audio system and lights. If there is a problem then you will need to move. I once spent a flight with no controls, hence not even a reading light – for 12 hours! Be aware that if you lose something down side of the seat in some cases it is irretrievable. It happened to me.
Clean the tray table, arm rests, seatbelt buckle, and controls device with an anti-bacterial wipe. Experts say that these carry more germs than almost anything else including public toilets!
2. Your belongings. Keep your valuables with you at your seat and not in the overhead locker. Once they were safe there, but not any more. There have been cases recently of valuables disappearing from overhead lockers during the flight. When you go to the toilet take them with you or leave with your companion.
3. Food/Meals. Take some light snacks that you enjoy – nuts, dried fruit, bars. You may not like the meal that you get and it pays to have a backup. In Economy class you normally get a choice of 2 main courses, but they may have run out of your choice before they get to you, especially if you are furthest from the galley. There is a wide range of special meals that can be pre-ordered, and this could be the solution for you. Also they are generally served first. You may not find airline food very exciting, but you won’t starve.
In Premium Economy and Business Class there is much more choice, but they still can run out of your choice. If you really don’t like what is left, then ask for a meal from Economy. Or if in Economy ask for a Business class meal – good luck on that one. Ha Ha.
4. Drink. It is generally agreed that one should avoid alcohol consumption when flying, or at least keep it to a minimum. Evidence shows that its impact in the air is double that at sea level, it dehydrates you in what is already a very dry atmosphere, and it increases the adverse affects of jetlag. The gurus say to drink lots of water to counter the dry air and lessen the impact of jetlag. When I have managed to contain my consumption of the free grog, I certainly arrived feeling much better with less jetlag. Over to you.
5. Your travel neighbours. Unfortunately when you fly you have others around you. If you are lucky they are small, quiet, sleep all through the flight, and don’t grab the back of your seat and shake it just as you are dozing off – or constantly kick it. And another – don’ t suddenly put their seat into maximum, instant recline, just as your meal arrives!
On a long flight I may exchange pleasantries with my neighbours if they seem approachable. The rest is in the lap of the gods. But if someone seriously annoys me by constantly kicking my seat or loud talking when everyone is trying to sleep etc I will politely ask them to desist. If that doesn’t work, then I politely complain to a crew. That is when your demeanour and dress will come into play. Speak politely but firmly, be moderately well dressed and it works wonders with aircrew. Look like a slob and speak like one and do you think you’ll be taken seriously? That’s life!
Once with a group on a flight from Paris to Singapore, one of my guests complained to me that the person behind was shouting at them, and threatening them when they reclined their seat. They were concerned that the person was mentally unbalanced. A few polite words from me to the cabin crew, and they assured me that they would speak to the passenger. If he persisted, then they would warn him that he would be restrained by one of the on board crew. I saw a few quiet words being spoken by the attendant to the offending passenger, and not another peep out of him! Major international airlines today take a dim view of troublesome passengers, and do have trained staff on board (with handcuffs!) to take action. We no longer have to put up with ” Yobbos”.
Finally be considerate of others and advise the person behind when you are going to recline your seat, and never during meals. Don’t kick the seat in front, talk and laugh loudly, especially when others are sleeping. And don’t grab the back of the seat in front when you get out of your seat. Do all that and you can sit next to me. But only if you are also tiny and don’t overflow your seat and hog the armrest. Ha ha.
6. Changing seats. If you do spot a seat nearby with an empty one next to it and you want to move to it, first ask the crew before take-off. They will tell you when you can move. Normally it is after take-off and seat belt sign is off, but if you are polite they may let you move once final doors are shut. Move fast – others have their eye on it. Good luck.
7. Comfort, Resting, Exercise. Neck pillows, eye masks, noise cancelling headsets all help with comfort. On a long flight I like to change into some track pants, but I must time my change back before we land. If you want to forego a meal and sleep, let the crew know.
Make sure you move your legs and do some recommended exercises, and get up and move about every 2 or 3 hours. The seat cuts off circulation to your legs, and DVT is a real threat. One of my group passengers sadly died from DVT shortly after returning off a long flight back to Australia. Exercise your legs.
8. Timing your loo visits. This is a vital part of flying, so don’t laugh. Firstly work out when the trolley is coming and where it might be when you exit the loo. Secondly, most on board want to go at the same time – often after a long meal session. So instead of waiting for my tray to be collected, I leave it on the tray table and go to the loo – I beat the crowd. Finally, on a long sector be aware that some ladies may spend considerable time in the loo putting on makeup etc, so beat them to the jump – an hour before landing is a good time.
9. Paperwork. You will be given some paperwork to fill out for the country of destination. Fill it out very carefully – no blanks and tell the truth.
10. Preparing for landing and departing the plane. Check all seat pockets, down side of seat and under seat before seat belt sign goes on. Ensure you have all valuables accounted for. Check again the essentials before you pass down the aisle from the plane, including whether there is anything left in overhead locker. Take your time to do this.
After the flight
1. Exiting the plane and Customs/Immigration. On exiting the air bridge I look to see if any small luggage trolleys are available as I like to put my carryons in those. Look for the Exit/Baggage Collection/Immigration signs and make your way swiftly to those. It may be a long walk so use any travelators to best advantage. As you approach the Immigration counters look for the signs which indicate which lane/s you should join as a foreigner. If you have a choice, try to pick not just a short one, but one with the locals who will get through fastest. Avoid queues with lots of backpackers – they get the grilling by immigration staff and slow up their queue. If are fortunate to have an Express Lane voucher, look for it as you approach. Some are not easy to find and are poorly signposted – Bangkok!
When you reach the counter, do as you are told and look into any cameras which may be used to compare you with your passport. Even if you have a valid visa, no country is obliged to admit a foreigner if they do not like what they see. So this is not the time to be a comedian or rude – it could backfire and you could be back on the plane.
2. Baggage Collection. In the baggage collection area there may be many carousels, so look at the signs and for your flight number as to which one will have your bags. Find some luggage trolleys (they are usually plentiful) and collect your baggage. MAKE SURE IT IS YOURS. I forgot to mention that you should have attached a number of distinctive coloured ribbons. This allows you to spot yours and discourages others from taking the wrong one. Once baggage is collected, look for the green lane for customs (assuming you have nothing to declare), and make your you way past officials who will be looking at the passing parade deciding whom to stop and examine. If like me you are lucky, they will not stop you.
3. Travel to your hotel. You are now in the Arrival Halls with masses of people waiting to greet their friends/relatives, and you have to make your way to your hotel. It has been a long flight, you are tired and cranky, and just want to get to your hotel, shower, relax and lie down!
So you now look for the public transport that you have investigated on the internet. You just have to drag your bag a few hundred metres to the bus stop, buy tickets, wait for a bus, load your luggage, and then board a crowded bus full of locals and travel to the city. There you alight at the bus station and make your way to your hotel. No? Doesn’t sound the way to go?
Ok do it by train? In some cities it is the way to go, but again it may involve dragging those big suitcases a long way to the station and platform and then on the train etc.
Taxi? Again may be OK in some cities. You are at least being taken right to the door. But there can also be impossible long airport queues in some cities – Beijing..
Shuttlebus? These are popular. You pre book and meet your driver in the arrivals hall at a prearranged spot. But then you may go on a tour of the city dropping off others before you.
Private car/limo. You can pre book a driver and car who will meet you upon arrival, take you and your baggage to the car park, and drive you to your hotel This is my preferred way of doing it. I am not battling the crowds with luggage after a long flight, and if for perhaps $100 or some places less I can let someone else do all the hard work then way to go!!! But of course the final decision is yours and may very much depend on your age, fitness and finances.
Just don’ t be like the mature couple I saw coming into London from Heathrow airport at 8am on a packed tube train. There they were battling the masses of early morning commuters. With two suitcases and hand luggage, they faced an almost impossible task standing there squashed between the hordes, and then trying to work out when they should try to alight. The pair of them looked like they were about to expire. Why did they put themselves through it? They thought it was a good idea before they left home, and didn’t want to spend money on a transfer. Now they wish they had!
If you are spending thousands on an airfare, spend a little bit more so that your arrival is comfortable and stress free and not a nightmare. Off my soapbox – again. Ha ha.
I trust that you had a good flight..