Stress on travel days is no joke and when things go wrong, you’ll see a lot of frayed nerves on display.
You hear a lot of people grumbling that flying is less comfortable and more inconvenient than it used to be and it’s obvious that there are more people on the move than ever before. Many airports and air traffic control systems are at capacity and so are the planes we’re crammed into.
There are some costly ways you can mitigate some of this, of course. If you’re willing to always buy business class tickets or you fly on a private jet you will certainly experience less stress on flight days. But even for well-off travelers that can be difficult to pull off over multiple long-haul trips per year. (And at some airports, you’ll all pile into the same bus taking you from the gate to the plane parked on the tarmac, biz class and economy class together.)
Here are a few small purchases and strategies to consider that will dial back the stress on travel days and make getting there almost enjoyable instead of a chore.
Get an annual travel insurance policy
I’ve talked before about this “set it and forget it” travel protection option. If you travel more than once or twice a year, an annual AllTrips plan will have your back every time without you having to add this to your to-do list when you book a flight, tour, or cruise. Many adventure tour companies now require that you have insurance anyway in case of an accident, but the medical coverage is just the start. These policies can also eliminate or lessen the stress that comes from lost luggage, delayed luggage, flight delays, or arguing with the rental car counter person about collision damage protection.
Rates start as low as $130 annually for the basic plan and max out at $450 for an AllTrips Premier plan that includes higher dollar amounts for a whole family and includes coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. Compare that to what you’re paying per month for your regular high-deductible U.S. health insurance. Plus with this company you’ll actually be able to reach someone on the phone for help or advice! See all the options here.
This is one payment I don’t mind making each year because it’s easily worth the modest policy price to know I’ve got back-up in case of trouble on the road.
Don’t book tight layovers
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to sprint through the airport to catch a connecting flight, I could buy a nice new pair of running shoes. Some airports make you walk a few miles just to get through immigration (I’m talking to you Montreal) and others make you go between the two most distant corners just to board another plane.
If your flight coming in is delayed or late, a one-hour layover that looked fine on your computer screen is going to be big trouble upon arrival. You’ll be stressed in the air and stressed when you land. In most cases, you’re going to want to pad the connection time more than that, especially if you’re returning to the USA from abroad and have checked luggage. In those cases you usually have to get through immigration, pick up your bag, recheck it, and go through security again. All of that alone can take an hour if the baggage handlers take their time getting luggage transferred and the immigration or security lines are long.
Take an early flight
Few people relish the idea of getting up at 4 a.m. to travel to the airport for a flight that leaves when it’s still dark outside. If you do that, however, you’re statistically far more likely to get to where you’re going that day than if you take a flight in the afternoon. That’s because your plane is likely already sitting there on the tarmac and the crew is sleeping at a nearby hotel or their home. They’re not coming in from another city on a flight that could get delayed.
This is especially important if there’s any chance of a weather delay. When one of those hits, it sets off a chain reaction that gets worse and worse as the day goes on. The later your flight, the fewer options you have of getting a seat on another plane out.
Join Global Entry with TSA Pre-check
At $100 for five years, this is probably the best value for money spent I can think of over my last few years of expenditures. Even better, some credit cards with a high annual fee will cover the cost of this if you don’t have it already. That makes it a double no-brainer. You can leave your shoes on, leave your belt on, and leave your laptop in its bag when going through security. That alone brings my stress on travel days down multiple notches when I’m going through the airport.
For Canadians, get Nexus instead. It’s $50 and your kids get it for free upon your approval.
Pay for a place to relax in the airport
If you fly a lot for business and you have elite status, then good for you. Go enjoy your lounge perks when you’re able. Even those options can be limited though: all the legacy U.S. airlines have limited access in recent years so you may not be able to get in an affiliated alliance lounge abroad without a business class ticket.
The other option is to buy your way in, either by paying outright at the airport lounge or having Priority Pass access through membership or through your premium credit card. Amex Platinum cardholders can also get into Centurion lounges.
Otherwise, it’s getting easier in most airports to find a restaurant or bar with electrical outlets and WiFi, so it might be easier to just find a seat in one of those, plug in the gadgets, and order whatever you want to eat and drink. Many airports now have napping pods and spas as well, so you can recharge your body before getting onto the next flight.
Carry a credit card that gives you perks
I mentioned before that some premium credit cards can give you lounge access, but some will give you other perks too with the airline. The cards from American, United, Delta, and Avianca can save you a fortune on baggage charges by including one checked bag each flight. (Or with Avianca Vuela, a second one on top of the free first one.) The U.S. ones also give you priority boarding, so you’ll always be able to find space for your carry-on. Some also give you lower mileage redemption levels or rebates when you book with frequent flier miles.
Have some hotel points in your bank
Just as the right card can give you perks with the airline, others can give you some peace of mind in terms of hotel points waiting to be redeemed when needed. Twice I’ve been stuck overnight at an airport because of weather delays. Since I had a points balance with Hilton and IHG both though, I just pulled up my account and exchanged points for an airport hotel so I could get a good night’s sleep.
With most of the hotel credit cards, or premium ones like Chase Sapphire Reserve where you can transfer points out to various partners, you get enough from just the sign-up bonus to cover two or three nights at airport chain hotels you can reach via shuttle.
Add an extra day before a tour or cruise
Some people cut it way too close and try to fly in the day their cruise or organized tour departs. This is just asking for trouble because there are too many things that can go wrong. You’re up against a hard deadline, so don’t tempt fate by leaving no margin for error with you or your luggage. There’s enough stress on travel days without also worrying that you’ll miss the cruise departure or have to fly somewhere to connect with your tour group.
Come in at least a day before you are scheduled to depart so if something goes wrong, you’ve got a buffer in there. Preferably two. The worst that can happen is you arrive early and have a little time to recover from the flight and explore the departure city a little before leaving again.
Have your airport transportation sorted out
Nothing raises the average travelers stress level like a gauntlet of timeshare hawkers and unauthorized taxi drivers all bombarding you with greetings and come-ons as you try to leave the airport. This is especially true in a place like Cancun, where it’s worth booking a car service just to have someone waiting who is holding up your name. You can breeze right past the touts.
Sure, you can take a regular taxi outside or try to find an Uber driver, but in some airports those are not even allowed to pull up to the curb. You have to walk to the far end of the terminal…again. If you book with a car service though, they can pick you up outside baggage claim. Or if your hotel offers this service, it can be worth it to just add the pickup to your bill and have their driver waiting.
One last note: although it’s easy to think that air travel keeps getting worse and worse, there are plenty of bright spots to consider. Overall, international flight prices are way down in inflation-adjusted terms from any point in decades past. There are very few accidental plane crashes these days despite millions of flights annually. (Only 257 people died worldwide in 2019–or 0.18 fatal accidents per million flights.) Your checked luggage is far less likely to get lost than it was 10 or 20 years ago too thanks to better bar code tracking systems.
So look on the bright side, follow the steps mentioned here, and enjoy the magic of air travel, something people could only dream of just a century ago.
This post was made possible by sponsorship from Luxury Latin America’s travel insurance partner Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company). We have received financial compensation for sharing their offerings with our readers, but all thoughts and opinions are our own.