by Kathi and Wayne Jacobs
Let's face it, flying just isn't as much fun as it once was! Everyone has seen movies from the 50's and 60's where the stewardess was so attentive to making your flight as perfect as possible. On my first plane flight in the 1960s as a college student, I remember carefully selecting just the right outfit to wear on the plane! (You see, in those days, everyone who flew "dressed up.") Today, flying on a major airline in coach boarders on being "cruel and unusual punishment." To minimize the "pain and suffering" of getting to your destination, you need to plan ahead, explore your options, be flexible, ask a lot of questions, and a little luck doesn't hurt either!
Most airlines are using a fleet of aging aircraft and those older planes are, therefore, subject to more mechanical problems. Result: today's traveler faces even more flight delays and cancellations than in the past. Nothing ruins the excitement of getting to your dream vacation more than delays and cancelled flights!
Recently, our first flight of two connecting flights was cancelled at the last minute because the plane's air conditioning system developed a problem. That caused us to be switched to a later flight which then caused us to miss our connecting flight, which caused even more headaches.
TIP:If at all possible, book your flight with no stops or layovers. Having a direct flight to your destination will eliminate the possibility of one of your connecting flights being delayed, and subsequently missing your next flight. This is so important to the overall success of your trip that we're going to go one step further. If you can't book a direct flight, reconsider your plans: Could you depart from a larger airport that does have direct flights to your destination? Or is there another city close to your destination from which you can get a direct flight? We've done flights to Europe with three stop-overs and we've done direct flights - guess which one was more fun and less stressful?
TIP:Once you reach your gate, go to the counter and check with the representative to A: verify that your seats have not been changed and B. to ask if bulkhead or exit row seats are available on this flight. Exit row seats have more leg room than regular coach seats and bulkhead seats have much more leg room. When we've asked in the past, we've been told that airlines regularly hold back bulkhead seats for customers traveling with small children, but that if no such families show up by boarding time, they will release those seats to whomever has requested them. This has worked for us on several occasions.
TIP: A number of airlines have credit cards which automatically permit you to board immediately after First Class, in Zone 2. If shopping around for such a card, consider applying for one whose airline has a major hub near you. In our case, we often use US Air, and our card offers yearly incentives in the form of Companion certificates for domestic flights and complimentary day passes for the US Air Clubs in major airports. If you have a long wait for a flight, this latter amenity will lower your stress and make for a more pleasant flight.
TIP: Always print your boarding pass at home so you will not have to stand in any lines at the airport. And at the end of your vacation, on your last night in Europe, ask the desk clerk if the hotel has a provision for printing out your boarding pass - many do. If they do not, then ask if you can use one of the business center's printers (for free) to print out your boarding passes - many will be happy to let you do so. Although we have not yet tried this method, travelers can now email their electronic check-in documents to their smartphone and eliminate the need for a paper boarding pass.