There was probably a time in the “good ole days” when flying was a pleasant and comfortable experience, even in the economy seats, but with airlines trying to squeeze out every penny, flight days often feel more like a day of heading into battle.
If you have platinum elite status and enough cash to always fly business class every time, you probably have a more pleasant flight day move through the process than others. Even at that level though there are still plenty of great levelers: the security line, the packed tarmac shuttle bus, the crowded airport boarding area, and getting your checked luggage on the other end.
With the right steps, you can get around some of the anticipated stress factors and lessen your chance of flight day starting off your vacation or business trip on the wrong foot.
Get Global Entry with TSA Pre-check
This is only going to help you to and from the USA, but it makes a big difference on those legs. With TSA Pre-check you go into a different line that is usually shorter and it moves much faster because you don’t have to take off your shoes or remove your laptop. The agents in that line are far less likely to make up contradictory local rules than the power-drunk ones in the main line.
Then Global Entry allows you to fly through immigration faster on your return to the USA. I once got through immigration and customs at Houston’s airport in four minutes flat with a carry-on. It costs a reasonable $100 for five years plus an in-person interview. Some premium credit cards with a $400+ annual fee throw reimbursement for this into their perks.
If you have Global Entry, you can supposedly get into a corresponding Mexico program called Viajero Confiable México, but the website is in Spanish only and there are only three Mexican airports where you can apply. I haven’t met anyone who has gone through this process or experienced it, so leave a note in the comments if you have.
Fly a European Airline to or Within Europe
I’ve done rundowns on this blog for Latin American Airlines like LATAM, Copa, and Avianca, but the truth is that if there’s any chance of your trip to Europe being delayed, you’re better off flying with a European carrier. That’s because you’re entitled by law to compensation for any delays or cancellations.
You can check this handy flight delay checker from Airhelp to see all the conditions, but in short, if you’re on a European airline to/from Europe or traveling within Europe on any airline, delays that are their fault should result in compensation. If they offer it on the spot, ask for money rather than a voucher.
If you don’t relish the thought of dealing with bureaucracy after the fact yourself, you can hire a company to get the compensation for you in return for a commission.
Get Lounge Access at the Airport
If you fly business class, you’ll have access to the airport lounge for that airline if they have one. There you’ll have more comfortable furniture, good coffee, complimentary alcoholic drinks, and snacks. Some of them, like the Copa one in Panama City, even have showers.
There are several ways to get into airport lounges without flying business class though, including buying your way in. You can purchase a day pass on the spot, you can get access through a Priority Pass membership, or you can get a credit card that includes that or other lounges as a perk. For a while I carried the Amex Platinum card, which included access to Amex Centurion lounges. There’s a nice one in Mexico City’s Terminal 2 that was a good place to relax.
More Than One Flight a Day? Take the First One
Not all savvy frequent flyers are morning people, but most learn to get up early on flight days because that significantly betters their odds of arriving the day they planned to arrive. If there’s more than one flight heading to your destination, you’re much better off taking the very first one than a later one.
In most cases, the first flight is manned by a crew who spent the night in town or is local, plus on early flights the plane is already on the runway instead of having to arrive from somewhere else. That means fewer chances of something going wrong and a better chance of getting on a later flight if there is a problem.
Belong to Every Frequent Flyer Program
Yes, joining a “loyalty program” implies that you are going to be loyal to an airline, but really you just need to make it look that way. It’s no secret that when assigning passengers during a snafu, elite frequent flyer members and business/first passengers get first priority, then regular members, then everyone else. If you’re just an “everyone else,” you don’t have much clout.
Besides, if you’re not collecting miles when you travel, you’re essentially leaving money on the table. So sign up for free with every program unless you’re already covered by Star Alliance, OneWorld, or Skyteam. Either way, make sure your membership number is in your flight record.
Get the Right Apps and Alerts
There’s usually a little box to check when you buy your flight online that asks you whether you want to get text alerts about your flights. Yes you do! You want to know right away if there’s a delay, a gate change, or a cancellation. This way you can react before the non-texters know what happened.
It can also make sense to have the airline’s app on your phone, or even better have all your travels stored in a pan-travel app like TripIt. Sometimes I have gotten a delay alert from them before the airline employees even know there was one.
It’s good to have a search app like Skyscanner or Kayak on your phone to look for alternative flights or a hotel if cascading weather delays leave you on your own to make other arrangements. If you have points banked with a hotel program, have their app handy to look for an airport hotel you can book with points.
How about you? What do you do to keep the stress level down on flight day?