Watch any news program and one of the primary topics for months now has been the nightmare of flying. Cancelled and delayed flights, nights spent in airports, missed weddings and funerals – if you’re considering flying, you’re probably dreading it.
But maybe it’s not quite as bad as the media is suggesting. As a travel writer, I fly every other week, both direct and connecting flights. I’ve flown four airlines this year and over 50 flights total. Of all of these flights, I’ve had one cancelled and rescheduled for 10 hours later and about 5 delays, total.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few fun facts and developed some pointers for your next flight. Here are my takeaways:
- United has had the best track record for leaving on time, and even though I fly them 90 percent of the time, I’ve never experienced a cancelled flight with this airline.
2. Delta, by far, has been the worst in terms of reliability. Literally every flight I’ve taken with them has been delayed. When I was trying to make a connection and spoke to a flight attendant about the delay, her response was, “Hey, just be glad we’re getting you there.” Yep, that’s the mentality of Delta. Pretty sad.
3. Southwest was responsible for my one cancelled flight, and here’s the really bad thing about this airline: They don’t partner with other airlines. That means if your flight is cancelled and there’s availability on an American flight, for instance, they won’t put you on that flight, even though it’s entirely their fault. They are the only airline with this policy, so beware before booking with them!
4. Try to fly Tuesday through Thursday when airports are less crowded and mostly business travelers are on board. They are usually pros at traveling, meaning they’re prepared for security, know exactly what to do, and won’t make the check-in process longer by carrying strollers and ushering children through security. Even just one leg on one of these days will help.
5. Download the app! This is an invaluable tool for checking in, getting status alerts (delays, gate changes), and rebooking if your flight is cancelled. Quickly hop on the app and choose a different flight. When one of my United flights was delayed, causing me to miss a connection, I immediately received a list of hotels to choose from for an overnight stay. One click ensured I wouldn’t be spending the night on the airport floor.
6. Avoid checking a bag if at all possible. Become an efficient packer and add on a large personal item bag to carry whatever doesn’t fit in your suitcase. Most people have a carry-on and a backpack, tote, or computer bag. This allows you to avoid the long baggage check line and the wait time at the baggage carousel when you arrive. And it keeps everything with you so there’s no chance of lost luggage. Planes with smaller overhead compartments will check your bag at the gate free of charge, so you have absolutely nothing to lose.
7. Arrive early and grab a bite to eat before your plane takes off. It will give you peace of mind to know you’re there and ready to board. And with airlines serving little more than crackers and drinks nowadays, you’ll be glad you ate beforehand. If you end up sitting on the runway waiting for a final check or for a runway to clear, it will help with stress to not be hangry.
8. Try to earn miles and be loyal to one airline, as the perks can be life-changing. As much as I fly, I still only have Silver status (airlines make it much harder than it used to be to earn status), but that gets me free upgrades at check-in and one free checked bag. The best I’ve ever gotten is an exit row seat or a seat in Economy Plus, but it really does make a difference in leg room and comfort. Plus, I can get off the plane faster when I’m seated in the first few rows.
9. Be nice to the flight attendants. They have been put through the wringer over the last couple of years, and they need kindness. I always give them a friendly hello, thank them, and ask nicely for coffee and Biscoff. Sometimes I make conversation or joke with them. I’m not looking for anything in return, but often they gift me with extra treats or another cup of coffee. And it makes my flight more enjoyable and puts a smile on their faces. It’s a win-win.
10. Take everything you need for comfort in your personal bag. Include headphones for watching movies or listening to music, a book, phone games, a sweater or lightweight jacket (airports and planes are notoriously cold), a refillable water bottle, and a laptop for working. Many airplanes have chargers between the seats, so you can now keep your electronics charged so as soon as you land, you’re ready to go!