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10 Commandments of Flying Around the Holidays
Follow these rules when flying the friendly skies during peak season.
These tips will help you stay calm and fly on.(Getty Images)
With the winter holidays just around the bend, it's the time of the year when flying becomes a feat of endurance. Apart from recovering from delays, lost luggage and overbooked planes, the holiday rush ushers in crowded cabins and frustrated fliers. Between squeezing into cramped seats, trying to tune out crying toddlers or avoiding seat kickers, navigating the tricky scenarios that arise isn't always a simple task. But experienced travelers know that being a courteous flier not only helps create a better in-flight experience, it's also a smart way to defuse tense situations to help make sure your plane gets from point A to B smoothly. To stay calm and fly on, follow these tips and ensure you reach your final destination with your sanity intact.
Thou Shalt Check in Early and Stay Informed
"Check your reservations frequently," says Scott Mackenzie, creator of the travel advice blog Travel Codex. He cautions that changes can happen at the last minute, including delays and seat reassignments, so if you need to make adjustments on the fly, it's best to stay looped in ahead of time so that you can react quickly and swiftly. "In particular, use a site like FlightAware to check not just the status of your own flight but also the current position of the inbound aircraft. It's possible that the inbound flight is delayed even if your flight still says on time," he says. Other flight trackers that make the journey a little more painless with real-time flight alerts that notify you of changes include GateGuru and FlightBoard (both available on iOS and Android).
Thou Shalt Not Skip the Line
"Never cut in line," Mackenzie says. "Everyone is in a rush and stressed out, so your situation is no different," he adds, emphasizing that even if you are an elite-status traveler, it's critical not to behave badly or cut in front of other passengers. "If you arrive at the gate after the elite passengers have boarded, you can use the priority queue, but wait for the gate agent to hold the line and wave you over," he advises.
Thou Shalt Listen
"Listen to boarding announcements," advises George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. As you listen to important announcements, he also says to avoid overcrowding an already packed boarding area. That way, you'll prevent aggravating the gate agent and fellow fliers if you're zone is not yet boarding. Sure, it may be frustrating waiting for other folks to board and take their seats if you're in the last boarding group, but trying to to curtail others who are patiently waiting will only irritate everyone around you.
Thou Shalt Treat Others with Dignity and Respect
"Where people get into trouble is when too many passengers feel or act entitled and that creates a ripple effect," says Mike Maughan, the head of brand growth and global insights at Qualtrics, a technology analytics company that recently released an Airline Pain Index study highlighting the top frustrations among fellow fliers.
People just want to be treated with dignity and respect, he adds. Instead of fanning the flames or contributing to a flight diversion, communicate with your fellow passengers and work together to de-escalate a situation, he advises. If someone is encroaching on your space or doing something to create discomfort, try communicating with the person, he says. And alert the flight attendant only if your seatmate is unwilling to be courteous after you've tried to remedy an uncomfortable situation.
Thou Shalt Consider Checking a Bag or Paying for Priority Boarding Access
If you prioritize easy access to your luggage or being among the first to board and exit the plane, Maughan suggests that you consider springing for a priority boarding pass. "A lot of people will get very frustrated that cabins run out of space in overhead storage bins," he says. If that's a major factor to you, mitigate your frustration by paying to board and settle into your seat early. When passengers to ask themselves, "What's most important to me?" it makes a smoother journey, he says.
"No one wants to be stressed when traveling," Mackenzie says. "Pay extra for a seat with extra legroom or for lounge access if it helps you relieve pressure during the trip," he says. And Tim Winship, editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, recommends dodging a congested coach cabin during the peak season by using frequent flier miles to upgrade your seat or investing in premium economy seating.
Thou Shalt Not Attempt to Smuggle Items Past Security
"Don't tempt airport security," Mackenzie cautions. "Everyone knows you can't bring large bottles of liquids through airport security, but that can also apply to the filling in a special holiday pie," he adds, pointing out that some presents may need to be re-wrapped if they require inspection during security screenings. "And be careful of trying to bring anything with sharp metal points or large batteries," he cautions, adding that its typically safer and more convenient to ship holiday presents in advance than squeezing them into your carry-on bag. Hobica also advises reading the rules and guidelines on the Transportation Security Administration website for tips on what's allowed through security to avoid slowing down the line. The site's "Can I bring my … through the security checkpoint?" section offers a helpful breakdown of what you can and can't stow away in your carry-on.
Thou Shalt Exercise Problem-Solving Skills
"Take initiative to fix problems," Mackenzie says. Though it can be challenging to find proactive customer service from an airline, don't wait for someone else to complain, he says. If you contact customer service to change your reservation, you may be rerouted on a delayed or cancelled flight faster than if you wait in light at the gate, he adds. And in the event your flight is cancelled due to a mechanical issue (in which case the airline would cover your lodging and meal costs), you might be able to cover your travel expenses and ask for reimbursement at a later time rather than requesting a voucher, he explains.
Thou Shalt Control Your Own Environment
While certain situations are out of your hands, such as a crying baby or squabbling siblings, there are easy steps you can take to maximize your own level of comfort. Maughan points to purchasing noise-canceling headphones as a smart investment for a more enjoyable in-flight experience. He also stresses the importance of being cognizant of others around you while in traveling a compact space. For example, reclining a seat suddenly can be jarring to the person sitting behind you and may be the catalyst for a smashed laptop, he says.
Thou Shalt Not Drink to Excess In-Flight
"Watching alcohol consumption is important," says Hobica, pointing out that the effects of alcohol are stronger at higher altitudes. In fact, 35 percent of 520 participants surveyed in Qualtrics' Airline Pain Index study reported sitting next to a drunk flier as a top trigger of aggravation. And according to the 2015 Expedia Etiquette Survey, 45 percent of the 1,019 participants reported sitting next a boozer as the most frustrating in-flight behavior.
Thou Shalt Switch Seats Upon Request
"Be willing to change seats with parents with kids who aren't sitting together and with the elderly," Hobica advises. Not only is this basic common courtesy, but sometimes flights are delayed simply because the passengers aboard won't volunteer to switch seats, he cautions.
And while the Airline Pain Index study revealed that passengers are irritated by aggravations such as sitting next to folks with poor hygiene and seat kickers, interestingly, 49 percent of survey participants reported not being annoyed by requests to change seats with someone else.
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