Travelling By Air – Some Tips and Advice [2009 Edition]

In the past three years in particular, I’ve been travelling both internationally and domestically on a very regular basis, and I’ve adopted some strategies to try and make the experience as streamlined and hassle free as possible.  Some of these ideas were adapted from the advice of fellow travellers or via word of mouth. 

Perhaps they will be of some assistance to you on your next journey.

#1 – Always budget enough time to get to the airport. 

It sounds stupid, but there are any number of potential delays which could cause you to miss your flight.  Remember, if your flight is delayed, the airline doesn’t (really) pay a penalty, but if you miss the flight, it’ll cost you time and/or money plus stress and inconvenience.  Planning to arrive at least 30 minutes earlier than you have to is just a good idea.

#2 – Travelling by air isn’t guaranteed

This one is so obvious, I’d have thought people would understand it by now, but from the number of impatient passengers I’ve observed at airports you have to wonder. 

Airlines are at the mercy of weather conditions (more so than rail or road) and as a passenger you have to factor that into your planning.  If you absolutely must be someplace at a specific date or time, use common sense and book it at least a day before you have to be at your destination to allow for unexpected weather delays (or other issues).  However, many times it is the fault of an airline or airport (though mismanagement or poor planning) and in these situations, refer to #6 below.

Be prepared to have the odd flight delayed by weather or airline traffic congestion caused by bad weather or mechanical faults and plan accordingly.

#3 – Avoid flying if you are sick

I realise sometimes it is unavoidable, but seriously – if you are unwell perhaps it would be kind not to infect your fellow travellers and work out arrangements for a later flight.

No one appreciates being strapped into a flying tin can populated with coughing, sneezing and highly infectious people.  Be smart and give yourself time to recuperate before flying.  If in doubt, see a Doctor and get advice.  At minimum, it might be an idea to take cold and flu medications and – specifically cough suppressants!

#4 – Travel Casual

Business travellers seem to feel inclined to wear suits (or equiv) on planes.  Personally, unless you have a business meeting at the airport terminal, I’d recommend travelling in your most comfortable clothes (preferably free of metal). 

Comfortable shoes are simply a must, having sore or uncomfortable feet during your flight is one of the more annoying aspects which can easily be addressed.  In general, a comfortable passenger is a happy passenger.

Don’t pack things which are restricted into your luggage or hand luggage.  If you do, you’ll get the items confiscated.  It’s that simple and there’s no point getting angry with staff/security about it (having said that, the list of banned items is getting beyond a joke – see annoyance 5., later on in the post).

#5 – Be courteous to the flight crew

For you this is likely a just a trip from A to B (or routing to C) but for these guys and gals it’s their job.  I’m sure you don’t appreciate loud, ill-mannered people treating you like a personal slave in your work environment, so be fair and remember that this is their workplace.

Also, the flight crew don’t make the rules so shouting or yelling at them because you aren’t allowed to consume your own alcohol on board (believe it or not, I’ve actually seen this happen) is only likely to have the Police meet you at the terminal.

#6 – Make written complaints to the Airline

If for some reason, your trip is less than acceptable, get in contact with the airline by writing a stern letter.  If the airline doesn’t address your concerns to your satisfaction, there are other avenues you can pursue. 

Yelling at airline staff (this is related to #5 above) will rarely return positive results (and makes people less inclined to help you).  If it’s an important issue, ask to speak to a supervisor.  Remember, the staff rarely make the rules (but they can be accommodating if you are reasonable and level headed).

#7 – You get what you pay for

Watching all those airport shows on TV should highlight a pretty obvious point – caveat emptor (the buyer beware).  Cheap tickets are enticing, but typically come with all sorts of catches.  Ensure you know what you are agreeing to before you get to the airport. 

Some airlines charge for checked luggage, for example, which may not be reflected in the final ticket price.  Some airlines enforce weight and/or size restrictions on carry on luggage, so be aware.  Some budget airlines have (some might say “unfair”) minimum cut-offs for passengers (e.g. Tiger’s 45 minute pre-flight) so be aware and make sure you arrive on time.

The more expensive fairs are usually far more flexible (and.or can be fully refunded) so it’s worth taking this into account if you think there is a chance you may not make a flight on time.

#8 – Take only what you need ( survive)

Sometimes, less is more [better].  There is nothing worse than having to get a bag weight reduced at the terminal or having to pay exorbitant excess fees.  If you are running short on space, make a case for each item (and try to determine the likelihood you’ll need it and the cost of buying the item while you are abroad).

#9 –  Plan to amuse yourself

Remember that for take off and landing, most airlines will insist electronic devices are not used.  I recommend taking a good book with your hand luggage so you can read during those times.  They also come in handy if/when your electrical devices run out of battery (if applicable).

#10 – Be courteous/respect your fellow passengers (“do unto others…”)

My biggest complaint this year has overwhelmingly been other passengers.  Especially on the “budget” airlines and specifically on Jet Star.  This is tough for an airline to deal with, so I have no idea what could be done about it.. But seriously folks, can’t we not agree on some modicum of consideration for other people while we are travelling in close quarters??

You’re likely to be in close proximity to other people, so some consideration to deodorant will likely be well received.  Talking very loudly and/or jumping up and down in your seat is likely to tick some people off so just don’t do it.  Just be aware that other people do exist and we’ll all get along nicely.  Repeatedly kicking the seat in front of you is never cool, and ought to lead to having you ejected from the plane during flight.

But seriously now.. If you have a problem with someone you are sitting with (or near), it might be worth asking them politely to refrain.  If this doesn’t work, ask a flight crew staff member to address the concern or, alternatively ask if you can change seats.  If you are on a full flight, you might not have many options (which is the risk of flying really).

Now that we‘ve covered 2009’s list of top 10 tips (and a lot of it speaks to asking for courtesy on the behalf of the passenger), let’s take a look at some common grievances which airlines should be held accountable for:

1. Last minute (second) gate changes

Seriously, this is really unprofessional.  I’m not talking about switching gates half an hour from departure, I’m referring to gate changes within 10 minutes of scheduled boarding time.  Yes, Sydney Domestic – I’m pointing at you.  It must be hell for people with small children, the elderly or people with disabilities to make a quick march across a terminal.

2. Massive queues at check in

Sometimes this is hard to
foresee but at other times it’s plainly obvious.  The airlines need to do a better job at calling up support staff to deal with situations instead of letting passengers take the brunt caused by delays. 

I’ve seen queues out into the baggage claim terminal at Brisbane airport and it’s just unacceptable.  It’s any wonder violence is getting worse at airports.  It also makes it harder for passengers to reasonably determine how much time to budget when planning to arrive at the airport (i.e. “will we be queuing up for an hour to check in our bags?”).  Worse still, when passengers miss their flight due to not enough ground staff or massive lines at security.

3. Boarding/disembarking from forward and rear doors

Sometimes this isn’t always possible due to weather, but in all other situations boarding from the rear and front of the plane should occur by default.  Yes, Jet Star – I’m looking at you since Virgin Blue manages to do it every flight (weather permitting).

4. Overhead stowage should be reserved for passengers only

Another knock on Jet Star who insists on putting life rafts and demo kits into overhead bins, thus depriving passengers of the space.  OK obviously some things need to go up there for airline use, but when three rows of passengers at the rear of the plane are not permitted to put bags up (which is mandatory, by the way unless it safely fits under the seat in front) it’s unfair to the passenger and means luggage often ends up in the middle of the damn plane.

Same applies to people in emergency exit rows – they are not permitted to stow anything under the seat in front, so they should especially have overhead storage allocated.

5. Over-the-top security

Recently I had a pair of nail scissors confiscated at Sydney airport (this is on the return trip by the way).  It’s time for this nonsense to stop.  I’m fine with the majority of security precautions, but it’s just stupid that a Swiss army knife, nail scissors/nail files, screwdrivers and the like aren’t permitted.

It’s just ridiculous and unjustified and it’s about time we relaxed and approached security with a level head.  These items are not deadly weapons except in the hands of those trained to use them as such.  Plan accordingly.

6. First in, last out

Why is it that if you check your luggage in early before a flight, your bag seems to be one of the last off the carousel once you arrive?  Early check in should be rewarded with your bags coming off the plane first – isn’t that fair?

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