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For some people, flying is an opportunity to see the world and to do so in style, soaring above the Earth, but for others the opportunity to sit for hours in close proximity to hundreds of other people is not one that is relished. Whatever your outlook on this form of transportation, it truly is a modern travel phenomenon. On some routes the mere existence of aviation has nearly eliminated all alternative modes of travel, especially ocean liners and thus some destinations are not practicably reachable any other way.
Choosing a flight
If you consider to fly, you might have the choice between several routes, flights, and airlines.
Nowadays air travel is only rarely booked directly through the airline without first searching and comparing prices. Sometimes the same flight can have vastly differing prices at various aggregators and it pays to compare search results and to also look at the website of the airline itself before booking.
- See also: Metropolitan Area Airport Codes
Take a look at all airports within reasonable distance overland. In cities like London, larger airports like Heathrow and Gatwick offer more full service (international) carriers, with lounges and airbridges, whilst the newer Luton and Stansted airports serve short haul budget carriers, with fewer shops and paid lounges, and are further from the city center. Some ticketing systems allow you to search using a code that covers more than one airport.
Rail and bus transfer can be practical even for long distances; for instance Frankfurt Airport has rail connections to most German cities. A well-connected airport can be the best option even for neighboring countries. Vienna International Airport does not only serve eastern Austria, but also nearby provinces in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary.
Regional, national and international hub airports may have good connections onward even if distant from your destination. If you are going to Kirkenes (with few international flights) it probably makes more sense to fly via Oslo than via the much closer Rovaniemi (which has few flights to Norway). If you find a direct flight to Tromsø, you will easily find a flight onward.
It generally pays to double check that the ticket you bought is for a flight going to your actual intended destination, as multiple cities and towns often share the same name. For instance, San Jose can refer to a city in the United States, a city in Mexico, or the capital city of Costa Rica. There have been even cases of passengers heading for Sydney, Australia mistakenly purchasing a ticket for Sydney, Canada, which is located 17,056 km (10,598 miles) away. Check the Airport code of your destination as well as departure point and transfers.
Non-stop, direct, or transit
Direct vs. non-stop
In the airline world, a direct flight means that it uses the same flight number, but there may still be a stopover along the way — this means that you may have to disembark the plane with your cabin baggage and, in countries like the US, even go through immigration. Look for a non-stop flight if you want to get from point A to point B in one flight.
If either the departure or the destination airport is a traffic hub, and the destinations aren't on the other side of the world from one another (e.g. London or New York to Sydney), there is a chance to find a non-stop flight. The alternative is a transit route, where you connect between two or more flights.
A non-stop flight is typically the fastest and most convenient route. They might however not be cheaper, or fit your schedule better, e.g., if non-stop flights are infrequent. Transit routes mean you'll stop somewhere en route to your destination. "Connecting" or "transit" flights require that you leave that plane and go to the in-airport gate for another, without claiming your checked luggage.
If an airline sells you a ticket requiring that you change planes, it's known as a single ticket and the connection is almost always guaranteed, meaning that if you miss the connecting flight for any reason beyond your control (late flight arrival, cancellation, etc), they will put you on another flight for free and possibly even give you a meal or hotel voucher while you wait. This applies even when connecting between different airlines, occasionally even different airports, and the connection times are calculated so that it's possible to make the flights.
However, some travel agencies, notably Kiwi.com, offer so-called self-transfer flights, an euphemism for two separate tickets without any kind of guarantee: if you miss the second flight, you may need to buy a new one at high last-minute prices. When planning your itinerary, if you are purchasing separate tickets for each flight, do not combine flights with too little time between the scheduled arrival of your first flight and the departure of your connecting flight. This is particularly important for intercontinental flights between big and busy airports, where there are a lot of factors that can delay flights and hamper you getting around at the connecting airport. Budget at least 2-3 hours to allow for "normal" delays. If everything goes as planned you'll sit around for an extra hour or two, whereas if you budget too little time and miss your connection you can expect hassle and costs, and you will sit around for a lot longer. Furthermore, if you need to get a visa for the country you are "connecting" at, you will need to apply for it to claim your bags and check back in again. This means presenting the usual required documents and demonstrating eligibility (e.g. strong ties to your home country, sufficient funds) at the embassy of the country you do not intend to visit at all.
Time of departure and arrival
If your flight date is flexible, and neither departure nor destination is in the middle of nowhere, you can often choose between daily flights. A busy route has many flights a day.
When booking flights, keep in mind that as far as flight scheduling is concerned, a new day starts at 00:00 (midnight). For instance, if your flight is scheduled to depart at 00:10 on 1st April, you will need to be at the airport by 22:10 31st March to check in. Many travellers have missed flights due to this confusion by turning up to check in at 22:10 on 1st April instead.
While a business or weekend traveller might have few choices, a patient traveller can usually find a cheaper flight. As a rule of thumb, Monday mornings, Friday evenings and major holidays and events tend to be overbooked; these times are not only more expensive, but also less pleasant both on board, at the airport, and in airport transfer.
Time of departure and arrival affect the availability of airport transfer and amenities. If you depart or arrive in the middle of the night, you might find yourself stranded at either airport for hours, with few stores and restaurants open, if any.
While airlines differ in price, quality and reputation, they can be roughly divided into these categories:
- A legacy carrier, also called a major airline or full-service carrier, is an airline where cost and service level is above average even for economy class (though bargains might be found). Passengers can pay extra for business class seats, and some aircraft have a first class. Many of these airlines have a heritage from the days when flying was a luxury.
- A flag carrier or national airline is a legacy carrier which is, or used to be, owned by a national government. Some are very old (KLM and Avianca have been in flight since 1919), but struggle to remain competitive today. A flag carrier usually dominates their home airport, where they might have a whole terminal on their own. In certain regions, particularly the Persian Gulf, flag carriers are still owned by or closely aligned with the national government, and arguably the beneficiaries of many open and hidden subsidies. The Gulf carriers in particular have taken to selling themselves as luxury brands.
- A budget airline, low-cost carrier, startup airline or no-frills carrier offers a minimum of land and in-flight service. Extra fees for booking and check-in service (except when booked online and paid upfront), insurances, baggage, seat selection, meals and even water might in total cost more than the ticket itself. These carriers are usually not part of an airline alliance, and often call at less busy airports, far from the nominal destination. Usually, budget airlines only sell point-to-point tickets, with no responsibility assumed for any missed connections. If you are scheduled to arrive late at night, air transit might be closed for the day, without compensation. When the flight is full of passengers there is possibility that some of the baggage will not fly with the passengers and will arrive later on another flight.
- A regional airline operates on less-travelled routes, usually with smaller aircraft. Some of these are owned by, or associated with, a legacy carrier. Expect prices on such routes to be higher than those between major hubs for the same distance travelled.
- A charter airline lets out planes to a client, such as a travel agent. While they dominate the resort flight market, flights are advertised through the travel agency, so the airline brands are not well known among the public.
- General aviation includes all kinds of unscheduled civil aviation, such as business jets, and bush planes. They are useful for a VIP in a hurry, or for reaching isolated places.
The name of an airline can be deceptive: Norwegian is not the flag carrier of Norway, but an independent budget airline (albeit a decent one), and Hong Kong Airlines is not the flag carrier of Hong Kong (that honour goes to Cathay Pacific). China Airlines is the flag carrier of Taiwan (officially the Republic of China), and not of the People's Republic of China (whose flag carrier is the similarly-named Air China).
In economy class, the line between legacy and budget airlines is increasingly being blurred, and particularly on flights within the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Europe, flying in economy class on a legacy carrier generally provides the same level of no-frills service as a budget carrier, and you will need to fly first or business class to get the full-service experience. Legacy carriers in Asia and Australia generally still provide full service in economy class.
An airline alliance is a network of airlines, which provides international connections. Alliances frequently use codesharing, where flights booked through one airline are operated by another, with a substantially different aircraft.
There are several airline quality ratings (like Skytrax) that can help you understand how airlines compare in levels of service, timeliness and comfort. Such ratings are one indicator, but some ratings have come under criticism by air travel insiders, e.g., the Cranky Flyer, or where user comments/ratings disagree with an overall star rating.
As for safety and security in particular, the European Union maintains a list of airlines it explicitly bans from its airspace, and while some of those bans are arguably connected to politics, they do give a good indication which airlines might not be up to Western standards of safety.
If you have settled for a route, there is usually not much choice between different aircraft models, since aircraft size mainly depends on distance travelled, and traffic volumes. Shorter and quieter routes tend to use narrowbody aircraft with a single aisle and up to 6 seats abreast; while longer and busier routes tent to use widebody aircraft with two aisles and 7 to 10 seats abreast. On some relatively short but high density routes, however (such as trans-continental flights in the United States, flights between two airlines/alliance hubs and many flights between major East and Southeast Asian cities), both smaller and larger aircraft can be found. The larger aircraft tend to be more comfortable, with wider seats (even flat ones in business class and above), in-flight entertainment and even meals. Usually taking a larger aircraft isn't more expensive than a smaller one on the same airline, but it isn't always the cheapest option.
Today, airlines rarely tout their models, unless it is state-of-the-art, such as the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787. Though newer planes are generally a bit more comfortable and quieter, few passengers but the enthusiasts will notice the difference between mainstream airliners.
There are only two major players in the large commercial aircraft market: Airbus, based in Europe with its A3xx line (A320, A330, A350 and A380), and Boeing, based in the United States with its 7x7 line (737, 747, 777, 787). On "short hops" and "puddle jumpers" you'll find other manufacturers such as ATR, Bombardier and Embraer. In the late 2010s Embraer has been taken over by Boeing and Bombardier sold most of its aviation projects to Airbus and Mitsubishi. Still, planes under the names of those manufacturers as well as defunct companies like McDonnell-Douglas can still be found flying. Bush planes and other general aviation vehicles are still manufactured by a wider range of companies with Cessna and Gulfstream being some of the most well-known.
Sometimes you want to avoid the (proximity of) airspace of certain countries. There may be an unplanned refuelling stop, a divert of airports because of adverse weather, or the country may even demand the flight to land. If you have a reason to avoid the U.S. you may need to choose your flight carefully. You might also want to avoid conflict zones if you think that the situation may deteriorate such that flights are affected.
- See also: Flying on a budget
Obviously, riding first and business class is costly, but even economy tickets on the same route can differ with as much as a factor of 5. You could face trade-offs, including
- Opportunities for rescheduling or refunding
- Baggage allowances, or major fees for baggage
- Seating within a cabin class
- Meals, drinks, and service on board
- Check-through facilities, or baggage checking to final destination
- Flight mileage or point accrual
Even legacy carriers may charge for other amenities and services, even if you purchased a full price economy ticket. Pre-booking these services or amenities on-line where available may be cheaper. Nowadays the advertised fare includes taxes or surcharges (the Philippines is one notable exception where only the base fare is advertised). Those prices may come with surcharges for baggage, meals, and other things. In general "extras" such as seat reservation, meals, luggage, priority boarding and so on are cheaper when booked together with the ticket and more expensive when booked later on or at the gate.
Finding cheap tickets
Airlines try to fly full planes, to maximize revenue for each flight; then supply and demand, yield management, and competition take over. The result can be large variations in airfares, depending on flight date, time of booking and payment, and ticket class.
- Book early. As the bargains and cheap fare classes fill up fast, tickets get more expensive over time. Also, you have no claim about a special deal until you pay for your ticket(s). The days of ultra-cheap last minute offers are not entirely over, but they are mostly available through resellers who want to make some money back on their sunk investment of unused contingents and they may only be worth it when bundled with accommodation or other stuff unrelated to the flight itself. If you are flexible enough in your destination and can live with either not flying at all or paying more than you'd hoped, last minute can still net you some bargains sometimes.
- Holidays are times of high demand. Worldwide biggies include late December to early January, and July–August. Watch out for local holidays, such as the Golden Weeks in China and Japan or Easter Week (semana santa) in Latin America. Flights on the actual holiday days, such as Christmas Day, are often discounted, as are flights against the peak travel flow, such as flights out of Saudi Arabia during Hajj.
- Transit flights can often be cheaper than a direct route, especially if said direct route is popular.
- Monday morning and Friday evening are in high demand by business travellers, and to some degree Sunday evening flights by returning leisure travellers.
- Budget airlines may offer cheap tickets. However, additional fees may increase the final cost.
- Consider the cost, time and hassle of airport transfer - rail air alliances can open up many departure airports at no or low additional cost while budget airlines may force you to take an hour long bus ride into the boondocks to get to their airport.
- Negative news about a destination obviously affects the travel price there. While it would be foolish to fly to a war zone and you might wish to judge for yourself whether you want to fly to a place where the human rights record has worsened, bargains may be had for places that received a lot of bad press lately - even if unjustified.
There are third-party online services which compare airfares. Many airlines guarantee the cheapest airfares on their websites, and independent web sites may charge a fee for their services.
- To find a low-cost/no-frills flight it can be good to check one of the comparison tools, such as e.g. flylowcostairlines.org.
- For international travel, you may get the best deals by booking from an agent at the starting point. But try travel search sites such as Momondo and Vayama to understand costs, flight frequencies, routes, connection times and total times en route. If you are a student, or under 26 or over 65, some travel sites and agents are tailored to offer low fares to you.
Use of different flight search sites can produce different results, e.g., some sites charge fees for booking through them. Always try the airline website itself as well. Flight search websites may be cheaper in some cases, but increasingly airlines want to offer the cheapest price for their own tickets on their own website.
- See also: Frequent flyer programmes
Many airlines offer a frequent flyer loyalty program, rewarding patrons based on segments, points, miles or flight costs. Business and first class passengers may receive bonus miles for each journey.
Consider joining a frequent flyer program - especially if you fly a lot. The price is that your data profiled and used for advertisement. Brochures are handed out at the airport, an airline's lounge or an airline's ticket office. Most frequent flyer programs don't charge a fee, but some such as Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo Club do, in exchange for a few perks such as dedicated check-in counters and priority boarding.
Frequent flyer rewards can include:
- Free flights and upgrades. You might still have to pay taxes and surcharges. Airlines often limit the number of seats or upgrades which can be obtained through "rewards"... especially on flights on busy routes.
- Redemption of free goodies (such as consumer goods and hotel stays) on other non-flight partners.
- With many points you can become an elite member, and receive perks such as check-in at the first/business class counter, early boarding, priority in waitlists, complimentary upgrades, and access to airport lounges. Lounges are also available to holders of some credit cards.
Not all fares are eligible to earn miles. You can claim miles for flights up to 12 months after you've taken them, as long as you were a member when the flight was taken, but you need to save boarding pass stubs. It is easier to log-in using your frequent flyer number prior to booking.
Travelgrove's is a meta search engine for miles that can be earned for each flight. In cooperation with MileBlaster, extras like credit card bonuses, hotel bonuses, special offers are also available. Results can be ordered by the percentage of the free flight that can be gained by booking the given flight.
Airline alliances might allow transfer of miles between airlines.
You might claim points from other sources; especially credit cards. Hotel stays, car rentals and even mobile phone bills may also garner you points but this will differ per country and airline.
Reservation and ticketing
Phonetic alphabet - it's useful
When calling an airline or travel agency to make changes, the fastest way to find your ticket is to tell the reservations agent that you will give them your Passenger Name Record (PNR), and spell it out with the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliet, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, Zulu). This is much easier than trying to spell out your last name, and you will gain some instant respect for sounding like a pro.
Booking a flight the old school way, over the counter or on the phone, is a two-step process.
First you make a reservation. The airline will hold a seat for you until a given date, typically for a week or so. If you do not pay before the expiration date, the booking is canceled. Reservations can be changed and canceled freely, which is useful if the itinerary is uncertain. You get a six character-long alphanumeric code called the passenger name reference or PNR which you quote to purchase the ticket.
- A seat reserved will be listed as confirmed in your reservation, and will not be taken away until the time limit has expired. However, you can't fly yet until you purchase the ticket. You can confirm only a single seat in each direction per ticket.
- If a flight is fully booked but you want to try to get on it, you can make a waitlisted reservation. If the waitlist "clears" (somebody else cancels and you get their seat), the waitlisted reservation becomes confirmed and your previously confirmed seats on other flights are canceled. You can usually waitlist multiple flights, but really cheap nonchangeable tickets may not allow any waitlisting at all.
Turning a reservation into an actual ticket, issuing a ticket, requires monetary payment or redemption with accumulated frequent flyer points/miles or a combination of the two. Depending on ticket type - some or all of the following restrictions may now apply to your ticket:
- nonchangeable/nonrebookable: you cannot change the flight time and date (without paying a heavy change fee). In cases of rebookable flights, whether there is a rebooking fee or not, you still need to pay for the fare difference.
- nonendorsable: you cannot fly with another airline if your original airline encounters problems (if your flight is cancelled, this is usually overruled by local legislation)
- nonrefundable: you cannot get your money back if you don't fly (in North America the fare might be used as credit for another ticket at a fee; in many other places the entire fare is forfeited)
- nonreroutable: you cannot change to another route, even if the airport serves the same city as the original
- nontransferable: you cannot give or sell ticket to somebody else
- non mileage accruable: you cannot earn frequent flyer miles on that ticket
- nonupgradable: you cannot upgrade to a more premium class using frequent flyer miles
The higher ticket class, the fewer of these restrictions apply. Typically, a no-frills economy ticket has all the above restrictions, while a first or business class ticket has fewer although nonrefundable and non-rebookable fares are nowadays relatively common for more premium travel.
Online booking, either through the carrier's website or a third-party consolidator like Travelocity and Expedia, usually has no option for standalone reservations. Normally, reservation and ticketing happen at once, so the booking service requires immediate upfront payment, through debit/credit card, PayPal or similar service, invoice, or redemption from frequent-flyer miles. Some budget airlines levy a service fee for ticketing done through phone or in-person booking, and some bargains are only offered online. Some carriers, particularly in Europe, may also levy a small charge for credit cards and/or PayPal bookings which does not apply to VISA or MasterCard-branded debit cards.
If you are still waitlisted for a flight that you would like to board, or if you would like to take an earlier or later flight than you're booked on, you can try to fly standby. This means simply showing up at the airport check-in counter and asking to be put on the next flight. If there is plenty of space, you'll be checked in right there. However, if the flight is looking full, you will have to wait until the flight is closed (typically 30-60 minutes before departure) and the airline can count how many seats it has left. Don't count on any special ticket savings if you fly standby and conversely, don't count on flying standby if your ticket is highly restricted.
If you don't check in by closing time, you will be declared a no-show. Your seat can now be given to somebody on standby. The result depends on your ticket restrictions and conditions, which can be either total loss of your fare, or on some flexible tickets you can just book onto the next flight. To buy a new ticket for the same day or day after can be very expensive, for example up to $3000 for a transatlantic flight, so make sure not to miss the flight without contacting the airline beforehand.
While a reservation guarantees you a seat, it may not necessarily guarantee the fare that was quoted. Hence the fare at the time of reservation may differ from the one given at the time of ticketing. The fare quoted is only guaranteed if you're ready to book right away. Although most flights booked online must be paid for straight away, a few carriers may offer the option to lock-in a reservation done online and fare for up to a week for a small fee which is on top of the total fare
Flight restrictions can be draconian — some companies even ban standby changes — so you'll have to pay (sometimes dearly) in addition to any fare differences to make any change; some also do not allow refunds. Check your conditions carefully.
Writing your name
Many airlines require the name on the ticket to be identical to the name on the passenger's passport or ID, sometimes without slight misspellings. Airlines often charge a lot to change the name. This is particularly strictly enforced for flights departing from U.S. airports, where the TSA inspects all boarding passes and identification documents to ensure that the spelling of names matches exactly.
- Only the first name and family name/surname need to be included, not the middle name, though if your first name contains two parts, both parts need to be included.
- If the first name is not the one used on a daily basis, then the first and the daily used name plus the family name/surname should be included, For example Hugh Laurie should write James Hugh Laurie, since his full name written in the passport is James Hugh Calum Laurie. If there are any doubts, stick to the name as written on the passport (except the middle name).
- If you have a double family name, both should be included (with a hyphen replaced by space)
- Letters with diacritical marks (such as É or Ä) should be written like in the white machine-readable zone in the passport, which normally means stripping all marks, but can mean that e.g. Ä is written AE. Hyphens should be replaced by space and apostrophes be omitted. If a visa or ESTA is used, all should be written in the same way.
- Nicknames should not be used, even if using them on a daily basis. For example Bill Clinton should write William Jefferson Clinton since that is written in the passport.
- If you plan a flight when doing a name change, such as at a wedding, the name you use still has to match the one on your passport or ID. If the passport is not replaced before the trip, use the old name. Several honeymoons have been destroyed that way. You can take care of the formal procedures to reflect name changes after the honeymoon.
- Infants should not be booked before birth unless the parents are sure about the gender and name, or are willing to pay the cost of a name change, if that is possible (this must be checked).
- You can save yourself the hassle of inputting your name each time you book by creating an account for use on the airline's (or trip consolidator's) website or enrolling in a carrier's frequent flyer programme. When you enrol, you of course need to make sure that the name you supply matches the one stated in your passport. At the same time, you can also provide other relevant details thus saving you time when you book.
Most airlines use electronic tickets (e-tickets); electronic records of each booking detail. Formerly passengers got a paper ticket, consisting of a booklet of flight coupons. In most cases, an itinerary receipt with your flight details is prepared and e-mailed or printed for your reference. It contains a unique six-character Passenger Name Record (PNR), which is used to identify your booking.
The itinerary receipt tells the ticket number, baggage allowance, computation of the fare and surcharges, mode of payment, etc. It also comes with the conditions of carriage, including your rights in case something happens to the flights you are booked with.
In theory, an e-ticket allows you to just show a valid ID upon check-in. For security reasons, some airports require a print-out of the itinerary receipt as proof of your booking before entering the airport and/or upon check-in. In addition, immigration authorities often require proof of onward or return travel. Always bring a print-out of the itinerary receipt with you.
Due to concerns of credit card fraud, when you book a flight over the Internet with a credit card, some carriers require you to show the credit card used to purchase the tickets at the airport or their ticketing office. If the credit card holder is not part of the travelling party, they need to see the credit card, not the authorized signature of the credit card holder. Failure to do so may lead to re-issue of the ticket with the same (or higher) fare, and refund for the original ticket after many weeks or even months (if refundable; refund fees may apply).
In the rare event that you are issued with a paper ticket, you must present it when checking in for your flight. Look after your ticket; you cannot check in without it. If you lose the ticket, expect a lot of paperwork and/or hassles: you may be required to buy another ticket for the flight and have to apply for a refund later, or pay a re-ticketing fee. Not to mention that some jurisdictions will require you to file a police report. Hence if you're afraid of losing or forgetting your paper ticket, request for an e-ticket whenever possible. When you lose or misplace a print-out of the itinerary receipt, you can always freely and easily print another copy out from your email or request the carrier/travel agent to email it to you again.
Your travel plans can be altered without the need to print and deliver a new ticket. If your airline offers online or self-service kiosk check-in, you can use these to print boarding passes, thus saving time at the airport.
The major disadvantage is that your flight details are in one specific airline's computers, so other airlines cannot access them. This is not a problem 99% of the time, but can be a major headache if a flight cancellation requires you to switch to a flight with another airline. If this happens, get an "endorsable" paper ticket from the original airline as backup before heading over to the other airline's counter. Likewise, for complex itineraries involving multiple airlines (like round the world flights), you should opt for a paper ticket, especially since inter-airline e-ticketing agreements are not that common yet.
Not all destinations offered by legacy carriers are e-ticket eligible. But for the destinations that are e-ticket eligible, your airline may levy a surcharge if you choose to purchase a paper ticket. Airlines generally no longer issue paper tickets for most journeys.
You need an airline boarding pass to board your aircraft...usually just to go airside. You get it by presenting a paper ticket (if you were issued with one), and a photo identification (perhaps less for toddlers). If you printed a boarding pass earlier, identification will allow airline staff to validate the pass and check your hand baggage.
If you travel to another country, you need a passport with an expiration date at least six months after the return date. Depending on destination and connection countries, you may also need one or more visas. They usually must be obtained before starting travel. Check-in staff may deny you permission to board if you do not have a necessary and proper visa.
Check in advance with your agent or airline. Without all necessary documentation, your trip may be at risk. The credit card used to buy your ticket may also be required for boarding pass verification, so bring that as well.
Any authority looking at airline tickets, boarding passes, passports or other identification will examine names carefully. They often require that key documents precisely reflect your full name (at least the first- and surname, if your first name has two parts, be sure to include both). Make sure that whoever books your trip accurately enters each full name on the reservations, tickets, etc.
Have documentation that all medications belong to you, e.g., labeled bottles, copy of the doctor's prescription...for some countries, even more. After any international flight route is set, consult official sources that describe limitations on carrying medications and medical devices set by the country of your destination and all en route stops. In some countries, the consequences for carrying illegal items without permission can be substantial, even severe, e.g., in the Middle East, Singapore, Japan. Some Wikivoyage country and airport articles may help with this.
If you bought travel insurance, bring something a copy of the insurer's description of the coverage, the policy number, and how to contact the insurer wherever you are. Share that information with someone at home who would help you use the coverage, or benefit from it.
Other health documents (e.g. vaccination, proof of negative testing within a given window) should also be brought if required for your destination.
- See also: Arriving by plane
Flying from point A to point B often involves a transit or a connection in point C, where you have to disembark, find your connecting flight's gate, and re-board, and maybe pass a border checkpoint at the airport. If both flights are on the same ticket, the airlines are responsible for broken connections and will try to get you on the next flight if you miss your flight. This may also be the case if you fly the same airline or alliance, and you have allowed the required connection time between flights. Another advantage of booking connecting flights on the same ticket: if you have a shorter and longer leg with different baggage policies from each other, the baggage allowances will follow that of the longer leg, which is usually more generous. Moreover, you may also avoid some of the fees that are levied on passengers departing or arriving at that connecting airport.
To ensure you are selecting a connecting flight, enter the origin and final destination of your trip, not a hub of the airline you wish to connect with in either field (unless that is one of your destinations). Be careful when looking at options suggested by services like Skyscanner and Momondo as they list out flights which are self-transfer. In that case you will be responsible for what happens on each leg.
In 2016, some airlines/alliances were considering an extra baggage fee on connecting flights. To collect the fee, some may require you to exit the secure area of the terminal at the connecting airport, claim your checked baggage, re-check it on your continuing flight, and again go through security check to reach the gate for your next flight. This requires considerable time. Check with the airline regarding any such fee and need for extra time for flights you find interesting. Answers may be cause for you to look for other arrangements.
If you book separate flights on separate tickets (especially on different airlines), making the connection is solely your responsibility. If you are flying on an airline or fare type that doesn't permit last minute changes, you may lose your fare when one airline's delay makes you late for the next one. Paying a little more for a flexible fare on the final connection may not only avoid this risk, but can also let you catch an earlier flight if you make the connection ahead of schedule.
Airlines may consider a connection as tight as 35 minutes to be valid; which might be reasonable if you don't have to clear customs or security checkpoints, and the arrival and departure gates are within the same building. However, you can get unpleasant surprises at unfamiliar airports; gates could be at opposite ends of the terminal, or even in separate terminals. Even staff shortages at your connecting airport could set you back (especially those involved with bringing you or your plane to your arrival gate and those at security)! In that case you select at least 90 minutes from landing to take-off for domestic-domestic flights within the same terminal building, at least two hours for same-terminal domestic-international or international-international flights, and at least three hours for international-domestic flights and all other connecting flights involving inter-terminal transfers or those requiring an exit from the transit area. Add time for border checkpoints; preferably an hour for each. You can use slack time to eat at the airport, where the food is likely better than what you may (or may not!) get in the air. For that matter, if you need to get on a scheduled ground transport at your final destination (especially one with infrequent departures), you should reserve enough time to get through immigration, customs and baggage delivery if applicable, an extra half hour or so for plane delays, plus possible time for standing in line at a busy ticket counter.
Online travel searchers/arrangers show statistics on how often a given flight arrives on time. Generally, the last flight of the day into a given destination will be delayed more often than earlier flights, as plane used for that flight may have been involved in delays earlier in the day and the airlines use that flight to "sweep" travelers whose inbound connecting flights run late. While the statistics alone won't tell you whether your particular flight is likely to be delayed, it may help in making an informed guess.
With separately-booked flights, you are responsible for claiming checked baggage, taking it to the next check-in counter, and checking it for the next flight leg.
With international connecting flights, check to see if the country where you will be making a connection requires a transit visa to go through their airport. Some countries require all passengers to pass through customs and immigration even if they are just transferring between international flights, e.g., the United States, Canada. You may find it easier if you can avoid passing through these destinations, particularly the United States which has the same requirements for a transit visa as for a tourist visa. Others, such as Hong Kong and Australia, require certain nationalities to obtain a visa even if they plan to remain in the sterile area. You are responsible for procuring all the necessary visas before you fly; request them as early as possible.
If you book your flights separately or with low-cost carriers, you will need to follow the entry requirements that apply to normal visitors (e.g. tourists and business travellers) from your country of nationality as you need to access landside facilities (e.g. check-in desks). This also includes quarantine, testing requirements, securing documents of those, and other health protocols.
Even if you have no bags to check for your "connecting" flight but booked your flights separately, you may still be required to exit the transit area.
- See also: Aircraft seating
Comfort is mainly determined by cabin class.
- First Class is at the front of the largest aircraft, with top-level comfort and service. In most of the world, this is an endangered species, but in America, the term is used for what the rest of the world would call business class.
- Business Class is near the front. Seating is comfortable, often with seats that convert into beds for longer flights, and meals and drinks are usually included.
- Premium Economy might have more leg-room than Economy Class; usually at exit rows.
- Economy Class (standard economy or coach) makes up the bulk of aircraft seating.
Most airlines assign you a seat at booking. In some cases, you can change it. If you check in at the counter with no seat yet assigned, you can ask if a seat is still available. Budget airlines usually have a surcharge for assigned seating.
- Window seats give a view, and better sleeping comfort, but are further from the aisle, and have less floor space. The wall can be cold.
- Aisle seats may have more leg space, and make it easier to get up. Sleeping comfort is worse, though.
- Middle seats have the disadvantages of both aisle and window seats.
- Large aircraft have 2-3 outer seats near the windows, with 3-4 (or even 5) between the aisles.
- Some seats in each row may have entertainment electronics installed underneath. These intrude on foot room for those seated behind.
There are also some special seat rows:
- Exit row seats have more legroom and easier access to the aisles; some airlines brand them "Economy Plus". There are some drawbacks: armrests are fixed, and you may need to store baggage overhead. Passengers must be able to help operate the exit in case of an emergency evacuation, so passengers with disabilities, pregnant women and children will not be seated in these rows. Tall passengers might be assigned these seats, but there is no guarantee. Ask at check-in and state the reason you want/need one.
- Upfront seats are the first few rows of an airline's economy class section. Passengers seated here may have the advantage of disembarking first, which is useful for international flights and passengers with tight connections. Be aware that on some aircraft (e.g. ATR 42 and ATR 72 turboprops) the main boarding door is at the rear, so those in upfront seats will be last to disembark.
- Bulkhead seats have no seat in front of them. You may have to store your baggage overhead. They are often reserved for families with small children. You might snag one on check-in or even at the gate, but count on sitting next to a baby. They have the tray table in the armrest. Some bulkhead seats have a bulkhead behind, meaning that the seat cannot be reclined.
- Window seats near the end of the plane may have more elbow room. However, "window seats" in the back row may in fact have no window. In most jet aircraft, seats in the back get more noise. They increase the chance to survive a crash. Rear-end rows often have no middle seats, and more room to spread out.
- Seats in the middle of the aircraft vibrate less from turbulence, decreasing risk for air sickness. The view from window seats in the middle is obstructed by the wings.
- Seats just before the exit row and at the end of a section may not recline.
- Seats near toilets may be affected by odors, and have people queuing outside.
- Seats near the galleys may be exposed to noise, smells, and lights.
- A row of unoccupied seats might be used as a makeshift bed. Watch for such rows as the last passengers are taking seats. The flight attendants are also aware of these rows, and may use them to relocate people.
- Aircrafts that normally have three seats in a bloc may have a few rows that have two seats. These are found near exit rows and the rear of the aircraft as well as the upper deck of some carriers' A380 aircraft.
Sitting in extra legroom seats, upfront seats, and two-seat blocs largely used to be free but carriers have realised that not all economy class seats are created equal, and charge more for the privilege of sitting in such areas. These can be paid using credit cards or frequent flyer points. Expect to be charged on the spot if these premium seats have not been reserved/allocated and you wish to sit on them. However, members of a carrier's frequent flyer programme who belong to the upper tiers or who have a premium credit card (e.g. gold and platinum) associated with that airline may be able to book these seats for no extra cost or a reduced rate.
Amending trip details and special requests
Sometimes trip plans fall through for whatever reason or you may have additional requests (e.g. seating or meal preferences). If you purchased your ticket from a travel agency or a consolidator website, contact them or visit their website first before getting in touch with the carrier directly. This is especially the case if you purchased your ticket as part of a package (which includes accommodation and other tours). If you purchased your ticket directly from the carrier, you should contact them directly or go to their website to manage your booking. Legacy carriers support special requests on their web sites.
Once you have confirmed your flights, be sure to let the carrier or your travel agent know if you have any special requests. Typical examples include:
- special meals (vegetarian, kosher, medical restrictions, allergies, etc.)
- special seats (exit row seats for tall people, bulkhead seats for baby bassinets)
- airport assistance (wheelchair or unaccompanied minor)
You can check to see what meals to expect on Airlinemeals.net.
Airlines not providing meals in the price of your ticket can be viewed here.
With some airlines, you need to remind the crew about your special meals order before the meals are served, to save them from browsing the passenger list and finding you in the cabin (or even finding your special order after serving you regular meals). Travel agencies have a tendency to lose track of the many requests they get, so if it's really serious it's wise to contact the airline directly and make sure the message has gotten through, and to mention it at check-in.
Special meal requests
Special meals are a variation from the standard food offered by the airline. They generally match a variety of dietary or religious requirements, such as kosher, halal, Hindu, vegetarian, diabetic, Low salt etc. Children's meals are often also available as special meals.
Special meals are offered by some airlines; often they can be ordered as part of the online booking process, or subsequently by managing the booking online. Special meals always need to be ordered at least 24, and sometimes up to 72 hours in advance, and the chances of getting one at check-in or when on the plane are slim (although it can never hurt to ask, as occasionally there are special meals on the plane from people who failed to board).
Special meals are usually served before other meals, this can be especially useful for children's meals. They can be of higher quality, but can also be lacking in some aspects; for example a vegetarian meal could be a vegan meal such as plain vegetables and rice (rather than that spinach and ricotta pasta they may have been hoping for). Kosher meals (which were among the first special meals to be widely available) have a notoriously shoddy reputation in the US, but again, what you'll get will vary widely by airline and on some carriers you'll automatically get a meal that conforms to certain dietary standards. Israeli flag carrier El Al for one has never served a non-kosher in flight meal in all its existence. Similarly, the carriers of most Muslim-majority countries, including the big three Middle Eastern airlines Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways only serve halal meals on their flights.
- See also: Travelling with children
Unaccompanied minors are children, typically 12 or younger, for whom the airline assumes some duty to care for them. They will disembark last, and will only be handed over to the person identified on a check-in form. If the assigned person does not meet the child from the flight, the airline reserves the right to return the child to the origin immediately at the guardian's cost.
Some airlines (mainly budget airlines) will not accept unaccompanied minors, and might require that children 12 or under must be accompanied by a guardian 18-years or over. Online booking and child discounts might be unavailable for these children. Generally a child must be over 5 to be accepted as an unaccompanied minor. Sometimes the minimum age for a connecting flight is 8 years or over.
Help with complexities
If all the above planning, flight trade-offs and ticket purchasing seems complex (especially for international travel), look for assistance.
- You may have friends with practical experience. Ask them what they've done to plan, choose airlines, make such arrangements, and prepare for your kind of trip. Objectively balance their experiences with your on-line and other research.
- Consider using a travel agent. You may pay a premium, but it will often be worth avoiding the considerable work and hassle of finding and booking the best, practicable tickets by yourself. And the agent may fully or partly pay for his/her services by finding special savings at sites you cannot access, e.g., he/she has access to air travel brokers and consolidators not usable by the public, at times offering better deals. He/she can also arrange special requests (special diets, baby bassinets, wheelchair assistance, etc.) directly with the airline. If you wish, they can advise you on accommodations, airport transfers and guided tours that may save you money (perhaps as a package) compared to arranging each need separately. As above, the fee (if any) you pay for such services is real but often "built into" better airline fares and flight selections.
- See also: Flight baggage
There are two basic types of flight baggage. Checked baggage, check-in baggage or hold baggage is handed to airline staff at check-in, loaded into the hold of the aircraft, and picked up on arrival. Cabin baggage, hand baggage or carry-on baggage is carried by passengers in the cabin.
Baggage allowance is stated on your ticket. Weight and size limits differ between airlines and ticket classes; full-service airlines, higher ticket classes and longer flights tend to be more allowing. The airline's website can tell about fees for additional baggage. Cabin baggage is included with the ticket, except for some budget airlines.
Usually, one piece of check-in baggage is included in business class ticket, or at an intercontinental flight. Each additional bag has a fee, usually less when paid in advance. Weight limit for international flights and domestic US flights is usually 23 kg (50 lb) per piece, not to exceed 60 inches (152,4 cm) total for length, width and thickness. Within Europe, it is often 20 kg (44 lb), with total size varying by airline. Checked items may be limited by total weight of all checked pieces, rather than each piece.
With codeshare flights, baggage allowance may differ from the airline indicated by the flight code, and frequent flyers' increased allowance might not apply.
On most aircraft (except the smallest), each passenger can bring one piece of baggage within 55×40×20 centimeters (9×14×22 inches; exact dimensions vary between airlines). A cabin suitcase is designed with these dimensions. Though weight is rarely checked, nominal weight limit is sometimes as low as 7 kg. Most airlines also allow a small bag, such as a purse, handbag, or laptop computer bag, and an umbrella but some low-cost carriers may count these against the one hand luggage allowance passengers are entitled to. Passengers can also carry their own outdoor clothing.
Never put high-value or irreplaceable items in your checked baggage. Most travel insurance and airlines will not cover such items when placed in checked baggage. Checked bags do get misplaced/misrouted, or emergencies may happen during flight, and you may need immediate access to something.
Liquids and dangerous objects
IATA guidelines apply the 3-1-1 limits to all international flights. They impose 100 ml (3.4 oz) limits on liquids, gels and pastes in cabin baggage, including aerosols, toothpaste, deodorant, drinks and water. Containers must fit in a single clear bag/pouch smaller than 20cm x 20cm or 1 quart. Each container inside must meet the 100ml/3.4oz limit. Exceptions are possible, e.g., for medication or baby care items.
Duty-free items purchased airside may be allowed on board. In the worst case, en-route terminal changes may force you to re-check through security. Even if sealed in a tamper-proof sack, containers of liquids originally bought "airside" elsewhere may not be allowed through "re-check".
Place medications and liquids where they can be easily seen at security check. Ensure that medications are kept in original containers and clearly labeled. Place other liquids in your checked baggage. You may need to demonstrate the harmlessness of any liquid you carry on request by security officials. Expect to discard liquids and gels that don't meet regulations. Bottled water might be bought airside, or refilled in an empty bottle from a bathroom tap.
Sharp or weapon-like objects are prohibited, including pointed scissors, knives, metallic tools, baseball bats, martial arts weapons, as well as "convincing looking" toy weapons. Pack sharp items in your checked bags in ways that don't create risk for baggage inspectors.
The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have strict rules regarding bringing in food. All food must be declared to customs and inspected, even if the items are permitted, and failure to do so is punishable by fines and a possible jail sentence.
- Headphones with electronic plug adapters. For long flights, some carriers provide them, often for a fee.
- The airline's web site should list permitted electronic devices; on board, look in the in-flight magazine to find the "rules". Perhaps even better than all this, treat yourself to a good book... hardcopy or electronic.
- A light jacket, vest, wrap or small blanket.
- On longer flights, a neck pillow or other kind of pillow, something to pad the small of the back
- Nicotine gum for smokers
- Earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
- Sanitizing wipes
- Newspaper. Can be used to insulate against the cabin wall.
- Health kit for minor "incidents", e.g., cuts/scratches, stomach upset, slight infections.
Baggage with electronic devices is more likely to be inspected; so pack them to be easily seen. In most countries, laptops and tablet computers are scanned separately; you have to remove it from any cabin baggage holding other items. Make sure its batteries are charged at least enough to "boot" it up for a simple demonstration.
Airport security may confiscate carry-on items they feel are "suspicious", often without recourse. At that point, you would not be able to put those items in your checked baggage, because by then it would already be waiting to be loaded aboard your aircraft.
Carry-on- or hand luggage-only travel
If you need less baggage, consider taking carry-on bags or hand luggage only. You don't have to wait to claim baggage, and you might save a baggage fee. Check your ticket for baggage restrictions. However, you can only bring items that pass through airport security. Consider to buy clothes, toiletries and other equipment at the destination. Due to the proliferation of low-cost airlines where the baggage fee sometimes exceeds the ticket price, there are various videos or guides online showing how to fit a week's vacation into a "jacket" and cabin sized backpack. Keep in mind that you may attract more scrutiny trying to pull something like that and checking non pre-booked luggage in at the airport usually costs more than booking it with your flight.
A few airlines actually charge for anything beyond the "personal item" of your hand luggage. If you fly with such an airline paying for checked bags is usually better value anyway.
Alternative baggage delivery
If you want to travel with carry-on only but also have check-in baggage, you can use luggage delivery service. Alternatively, you can use a wardrobe management company like The Traveler's Closet [formerly dead link].
Consider shipping baggage as cargo, also known as unaccompanied baggage. Many airports have companies that will arrange this for you, and aggregators like xsbaggage can find one for you. Fees can be quite high, and your bags will be shipped separately ...necessarily a few and perhaps several days earlier. Instead of claiming them at your destination airport, you'll have to arrange collection or delivery somewhere else. For international locations, you may need to do customs declarations/claims for them.
Baggage to be checked
- See also: Packing list
Checked baggage allows more weight and volume than your hand baggage, and allows restricted items such as knives and liquids. It is however more exposed to theft, weather, and forceful baggage handling.
Pressurized containers, explosives, hazardous materials and weapons (or items that look like weapons) are prohibited, both in cabin and check-in baggage. For the USA, see the TSA's guide to Transporting Special Items[dead link]. Note also "Carry-on Contents" below.
Consider customizing the outside of your checked baggage with tape, colored belts, etc., so you can find it easily at baggage claim...and no one else can claim it "erroneously".
If you take as much as you are allowed, purchases on your trip may make your bag(s) overweight on your return trip, requiring extra fees. One alternative might be to donate or discard enough used clothing before returning home to offset your purchases. If you plan a lot of shopping, consider packing a collapsible bag for your return trip. Outbound it should induce little weight and so no fee in you check bag(s); homeward bound it can prevent a piece from becoming overweight. To ensure no weight overage, you might use a bathroom weight scale at home. Later, an accurate handheld scale can be useful; lacking that, ask about a scale at the hotel having just packed for your return.
Most airports have baggage carts for rent, but you often need local currency, usually coins. In some countries, you cannot take these carts through security checkpoints. Some airports offer free carts, more often in areas for arriving flights. Most airports and hotels have porters, usually working for tips. Elsewhere, you'll likely be entirely on your own.
On small aircraft, you might need to check in standard-dimension hand baggage. Most airlines don't charge for such checking, but it increases risk of theft. With airlines that charge extra fees for all checked bags, baggage costs can become punitive. If in doubt, check in advance with your agent or airline for each leg on your itinerary.
Some low cost carriers (e.g. Ryanair) have no free checked baggage allowance and charge per kilo. Large items such as sport equipment might induce more fees, special baggage check-in, and extra time to be claimed on arrival.
For checked baggage, every kilo (or centimeter) over the limit may be charged some fixed fee or a percentage of the airfare. This can get expensive, especially on budget airlines.
- Once you place your bag on the scales at check-in, some airlines will not allow you to take out contents; even if they do, it is an embarrassing hassle.
- If you were close to the allowed weights outbound, make sure you wear the same (weights of) clothes back home.
If you know your bags will be definitely overweight, consult your airline. They may offer baggage upgrades before arrival at the airport for less than excess-baggage fees at the airline counter. Pre-booking excess baggage online can come with discounts.
Most airlines have an absolute maximum weight limit for a single checked item, often 32 kg (70 lb); this is for the health and safety of the baggage handlers loading the aircraft.
As an alternative to excess baggage, consider sending your excess items by post or courier but be mindful of the estimated delivery times/dates and required customs paperwork. For larger items or groups of items that you purchased abroad and want to send home, check if the store can arrange to deliver them overseas or refer you to a service that does so. It may cost you extra but you it's one less hassle you have to worry about.
Have documentation that all medications belong to you. Take no more meds than you need on your trip. Keep all in their original containers (over-the-counter and Rx) so that baggage inspectors (especially customs) will have an indicator of what's inside. Make sure that no substance is illegal in any country you will visit or transit. For some countries, you need government permission to carry the meds within its borders.
- Some countries (e.g., Japan) may have unexpected restrictions on basic medications, even at-home over-the-counter items, e.g., anti-histamines. They will be confiscated if discovered.
- The consequences for unauthorized medications can be severe, e.g., immediate confiscation, fine, arrest, possible prison.
How to pack
Pack as much as possible of check-in baggage contents in resealable plastic bags. They help security inspections and repacking, and protect against rain or being soiled. If you choose to seal them (e.g., if zip-lock bags), "burp" them of excess air; otherwise, at altitude the bags may burst. They are equally useful returning, e.g., to keep soiled items separate from other content.
Checked baggage is often tossed about in transit. Fragile items should be carefully packed, or preferably carried in hand baggage. Applying a FRAGILE sticker to checked baggage is rarely sufficient to change the way baggage handlers care for bags. Place heavy items toward the bottom of bags. Do not mix heavy and fragile items in the same bag. Any content likely to trigger a manual inspection should be placed where it will be quickly seen as the bag is opened.
For containers of substantial liquids, choose rugged screw-capped bottles with tops not designed to pop open, even if you must buy them separately and manually fill them at home. Otherwise, use new/unopened bottles of product still sealed. Consider taping any pop-open cap tightly to the rest of the container as well as the opening. Put each bottle in a separate, burped and sealed plastic bag to protect other baggage contents. Even better, if your destination(s) have such products for sale, you can save weight, space and bother by buying them there.
Glass containers and other fragile items must be packed well. Put them individually in plastic bags and seal with a knot or their zip-lock. Wrap them in clothes or towels and place them in the middle of your bag between other soft items. The overall bag needs to be tightly packed.
Never put unprocessed film in checked baggage. X-rays destroy unprocessed film. Magnetic tape may be affected by repeated exposure to strong x-rays.
Preventing and recovering lost baggage
Place identification on both the outside and inside of your bag. Rugged, well-attached baggage tags are crucial...with at least name, address, phone. Prefer those that have a flap to cover your identity.
- Copies of your trip itinerary inside and in an outside pocket can be equally useful, including name, address, telephone number, e-mail address, flight number(s) and your itinerary. Airlines or others must have this to locate you or forward your baggage if your tag or the airline tag comes off or baggage gets mis-routed.
- If packing a box, put your name, address and phone numbers in big block letters and numbers on at least 2 opposite sides, plus an itinerary sheet inside. Do not use a return address unless you are shipping something as air freight. Checked baggage should have only ONE address.
If an airline "loses" bags, it often loses one rather than all, except for major delays and flight cancellations. Distribute clothes and other equipment for everyone in the group between bags, so everyone has something to use until the "lost" bag is found. Delayed baggage coming in on a later flight is far more common than truly "lost" baggage (over 24 hrs.) Take a photo of all your checked baggage for identification; this is useful to cross language barriers. Lost or delayed baggage is more common if you depart from a larger airport than a smaller one. This includes transfers en route; the size of your arrival airport is less important. Non-stop flights decrease the risk of baggage hassles.
- As a last resort, airlines can search a worldwide database of the contents of bags that have been misdirected... based on passenger declarations of contents at lost-baggage offices. They do not catalog each item inside a bag, so declare one unique, easily-seen item in your bag to help the airline find it. All the more reason to place copies of your itinerary inside and outside your checked bags.
Two ways to reinforce baggage, are:
- Tightly applying brightly-colored baggage straps. Ensure any strap-ends are well-secured/tucked-in so they won't be snagged in handling. The colors will help you find your checked bags.
- In major departure airports, you may find a baggage-wrapping service. For a fee, they will wrap a piece of baggage in multiple layers of plastic sheeting. (Such wrap is not permitted if your baggage will go through U.S. and some other countries' security screening; they must be able to quickly inspect contents manually.) Wrapping occurs before you present the baggage at the airline counter to be checked. Make sure the weight of the wrap doesn't make the item overweight. Also make sure your name tag is clearly visible...preferably outside the wrap.
Securing your bags
A few steps can help deter damage and theft, but can be compromised because items must be ready for security inspections.
Airports do electronic and/or manual inspection of bags. At a manual inspection, the bag is opened. If locked by other than approved locks for that country (e.g., by TSA for the U.S.), inspectors must cut or break them (and perhaps the zipper-pulls they're applied to) to get inside. If you check hard-shelled suitcases with "built-in" locks, consult the airline or your travel agen for usability.
After manual inspection, bags are re-packed and re-secured by inspectors, with your lock, your baggage strap and/or a plastic tie joining the zipper-pulls. If plastic ties have been applied, you might need a cutting tool. Put it in an outside pocket of the suitcase. Inspectors usually leave a note inside an inspected bag.
You may be directed to check one or more bags (that you expect to carry-on) at the ticket counter, aircraft gate or as you step board. Reasons can include:
- You have over-packed one or more of them, or have too many. This can involve a major fee.
- Part of your journey is on a small plane with limited cabin space.
- If one of the last to board, the cabin might run out of space. They announce that those not yet seated must allow large carry-on baggage to be taken to the hold; items will receive special tags. Carry-ons are much more likely to contain valuables, and so are often targeted by thieves. You should lock them after passing the personal security check. If practicable, snugly apply a baggage strap. You'll usually claim "checked carry-ons" at the baggage claim. For smaller aircraft, you may have gate- or ramp-checked your carry-on, and it may well be returned to you as you depart the aircraft.
Some travelers take extra precautions with checked bags...some expensive:
- To locate their bags at baggage claim, they fasten flashers/beepers to the outside that they can trigger by a device they carry.
- Others may place GPS tracking devices inside their baggage that indicate its location...helpful if lost or misrouted.
It is usually possible to bring special oversize luggage on top of your main check-in bag. This can be sports equipment (golf, skis, a bicycle etc), musical instrument etc. They should be prebooked, and you should ask before booking your main ticket if they are allowed. Some flights don't allow such luggage. If you travel with expensive sports equipment (SCUBA gear, parachutes, etc.), chances are you might be allowed to take them into the aircraft cabin. Chances are higher if your destination is used to that kind of equipment. Taking SCUBA gear to Egypt and a parachute to Dubai should be hassle free, but the other way around, taking it on board might be declined.
There is an extra fee, which can be $400 for a long-distance return ticket. Wheel-chairs and baby-strollers are normally allowed without extra cost, but should also be prebooked.
- See also: Clothing
The days of wearing one's "Sunday Best" on a plane are now mostly gone and even business travelers or celebrities will nowadays dress for comforts more than looks. That said, there's no need to be disheveled or forego a shower. Even if you sleep at the airport, there's usually an option to clean yourself. Outside baggage allowance, passengers can wear as much clothing as they prefer, including heavy outdoor clothes... within reasonable limits. Cabin temperature may vary in-flight, especially when flying overnight. Dress in adjustable layers.
- Use a soft jacket for warmth.
- Blankets and pillows are usually offered on long flights, and/or in business class. Other passengers can consider bringing them.
- Warm socks/slipper-socks can be useful. Wear your shoes when walking to the toilet, as their floors may be wet, even filthy. Cabin walls and cabin air near exit doors can get cold. If you have a window seat, you'll likely need something to insulate against the wall...even a few sheets of newspaper can help remarkably. If near an exit door, you may need all the clothing layers you can access, especially if you can't get a blanket.
It has been said that passengers who fly in a business suit receive better service. While wearing a suit instead of packing it can save baggage space, you risk soiling it.
Airplane interiors can be filthy, especially on budget airlines. Consider wearing something in-flight that you can doff soon after disembarking to wash/clean it later. If traveling for business, put at least one business outfit in your hand baggage.
When leaving a cold region for a warm one, you can leave winter wear at home if air transit is short. Consider leaving winter garments with friends if they take you to the airport and pick you up on return.
For travel to a cold region from a warm one, use layers and carry at least a lined jacket; it may be some time before you get the clothes from your checked baggage.
While the risk of lethal accidents is very low on commercial airlines, delays and cancellations are frequent.
- Check government sources and reliable news sources for travel warnings. If they show potential for trouble (strikes, political unrest, natural disasters, etc), check with your agent, airline or airport (e.g., website) about your travel. Whether or not you are a U.S. citizen, you may be interested in the U.S. State Department's travel warnings[dead link] and those by other relevant governments. Those warnings can affect departures from U.S. or other airports to areas having a warning, and departures from such locales to your country.
- Consider the safety record of the airline, the aircraft it uses, and airport reputations if flying into smaller airfields or developing countries. Also look for flight segments you've been offered under a code-sharing arrangement, where you book on a reputable airline but actually fly on a different one for any part of your trip. You may then be flying an airline or aircraft with a poorer or unknown safety record, or that has baggage capacity less than you may need for your trip. Note that airlines from developing countries (such as Air Zimbabwe) can have outstanding safety records, so don't make assumptions. The European Union bans a bunch of airlines from its airspace. The list is a matter of public record, but the reasons are sometimes arguably political. That said, you may want to follow the EU's lead in not using an airline even if the reason is "political".
If you have health issues, consult your doctor and ensure the airline knows about any condition that might be problematic for flying well before the start of the trip – even before you pay for tickets. Airlines can often help you if you have physical limitations or some medical condition.
Fifty countries worldwide, including China, South Africa, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand require that insecticides (usually residual types) be used on planes. If the airline (e.g., Hawaiian Airlines) does not use residual insecticide, the plane may be sprayed in-flight. If you are sensitive to such chemicals, ask in-advance what is used.
- Main article: Travel insurance
Travel insurance cost depends on trip cost and duration, age of travelers, level of coverage requested for certain problems, and destination country.
Airline insurance purchased with the ticket will often focus only on the airline's responsibilities, while a quality, overall travel policy will cover most/all risks of your end-to-end trip. You may obtain better rates for a general policy by buying a it through or from an association you belong to, e.g., AAA, AA, AARP. Very-frequent travelers should consider long-term (annual) policies; coverage can be equivalent while costing much less per trip.
Flight insurance (for death or major dismemberment while flying to a single destination) has also become a very poor investment. The probability is extremely low that you or your relatives will receive any benefit...because flying has become so safe.
Reconfirming your flight
In general, it is no longer necessary to call the airline to reconfirm flights, as reservation systems are fairly reliable. Check the reservation online, and call the airline only if there are problems.
The main exceptions are when you are flying way off the beaten track on an airline that doesn't (or looks like it doesn't!) do computerized reservations, especially when there won't be another flight for a week. Off the beaten track in Indonesia, for example, it's wise to reconfirm not just once but twice — although you may still get bumped off if a VIP and his harem show up at the last minute.
Checking your reservation
Double-check that your itinerary is still correct. Not only can you check that everything is order, but also you can see whether any waitlists have cleared, flight times have changed, your special requests are recorded, etc. Most legacy carriers offer checking through a website, smartphone app, and telephone. Check in good time, as in case of flight cancellation or overbooking, you might be able to catch an earlier flight. If your carrier changes the itinerary. they or your agent will try to contact you, but they may not reach you in time. There are a number of online services for reservation checking; however, you'll have to figure out which reservation system was used to do the booking. This is usually printed at the top of your itinerary, but if all else fails you can always ask the agent.
- Though Worldspan also offers such information, it is now accessible only to those with a valid Worldspan server installation, and ready to use ID and GDS for sign-on.
Budget airline flights often will not show up in these systems.
In cases of severe weather (e.g. blizzard, fog) or recent airport closures, get in touch with your airline before you leave home to see whether your flight is delayed or cancelled. If your flight is cancelled, and you have been put on the waitlist for a future flight, don't come to the airport, until the airline informed you that you can fly on the flight for which you are waitlisted. Check occasionally to learn of any progress.
- See also: At_the_airport#Check-in
Most carriers now offer online check-in of some form where passengers can at least initiate the check-in process on an internet-enabled device (e.g. personal computer, smartphone, tablet) before arriving at the airport. The online check-in window opens anytime from 24 hours (especially for flights involving the US) to 30 days (for low cost carriers based in Europe) before departure. Nowadays, online check-in may be the only way to initiate the check-in process for some low-cost carriers (e.g. Ryanair). To begin online check-in, passengers have to log on to their carrier's website or open their carrier's mobile app (which can be downloaded from their device's app store). They will need the booking reference or their username and password for the airline's website (if they booked the flight while logged on using their account) and follow instructions from there. For international flights, passengers may also need to supply details found in their passports. They can select their preferred seats, add extra bags, provide their frequent flyer number for mileage accrual, and purchase other extras (depending on the carrier). At the end of the process, passengers may be given the option to print their boarding card or download it to their phones.
For some flights, online check-in may not be possible or come with restrictions even if the airline routinely offers online check-in. This is especially the case if the passenger is flying on a route where staff need to see additional documents (e.g. visa, credit card validation) and perform additional security checks. Even if online check-in is possible and passengers have no bags to drop, the carrier may still require them to proceed to a designated desk at the airport for more checks.
If a passenger can't check-in on-line or print/download his/her boarding card for whatever reason, the check-in kiosks at the airport operate in the same way, and issue a boarding card. Once the online check-in portion is complete, passengers with bags can drop them off at a designated airline desk at the airport to continue the process.
The specific mechanics of check-in vary per carrier; check your carrier's website before leaving home.
Be careful when you check in online. After you do so, the options available to you to change your flight, seat, or get add-ons could become more restricted.
Other remote check-in methods
Some carriers also offer check-in at stations outside the airport's premises. The facilities offered are similar to what are found in a traditional check-in station at the airport but may often come with an additional charge or may only be availed of by passengers travelling via certain means to the airport (e.g. airport train). In increasingly rare cases, some carriers may also offer SMS or telephone check-in whereby a passenger proceeds to a designated desk upon arrival at the airport.
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