7 Ways to Make Your Flight Less Stressful

Photo of the North Shore Mountains, Vancouver & YVR, from some Air Canada flight, by Me

Airline issues have been in the news lately, and I’m really frustrated with the media’s coverage. It all starts as “Big Bad Airline” vs “Poor Innocent Traveller”, and then it’s usually proven wrong a few hours or days after, with little fanfare.

Outside of the desire of some to stir up shit on social media (leggings on the plane), and the media’s rush to “break a story” (everything), it seems that a big part of the problem stems from people who apparently don’t understand how to book their air travel in a manner which leads to the least amount of stress inducing issues. With every story that has come out lately, it’s been easy to pick out all the obvious (to me, and any seasoned travellers, anyway) things the traveller did wrong. From their actual actions, to simply incorrect perceptions of their situation. Sadly, the media who reports this stuff either wilfully ignores that, or can’t discern it.

In just the last 5 or 6 years alone, I’ve flow hundreds of flights. I’ve had some unexpected inconveniences (a strike at my connecting airline, while mid-flight, being the biggest), but you’ve never seen me as a social media video darling. This is mostly due to planning, and understanding how the system works. Therefore, I present “7 Ways to Make Your Flight Less Stressful”:

#1: If you can at all help it, never book the cheapest ticket. You will, ultimately, end up paying the difference one way or another, and may suffer consequences you didn’t anticipate. These cheap tickets should come with a “I won’t complain when I’m treated like the person who spent the least to get on this cigar tube” waiver for people to sign.

#2: Join an airline’s rewards program, and fly with that airline mostly, if you can. This, obviously, is most relevant to those who fly a lot, but can be handy for casual travellers too. There are perks for those who are members, even those who aren’t “elite status” members. Being an elite member can definitely help when you get to #6, below.

#3: Pay to select a seat. If you absolutely refuse to pay to select your seat in advance, see #1. If you still refuse to see the downside of “the cheapest ticket”, check-in online 24 hours prior to your flight’s departure time (most, if not all, airlines offer this…even with “the cheapest ticket”), and select your seat then. I cannot stress this enough. This one thing would eliminate many of the issues that make the headlines. If your ticket was so cheap that any sort of seat selection isn’t possible, well, you get what you pay for.

#4: If you are flying on a ticket acquired through points, keep in mind that you rank below the people who bought the cheapest seat…unless you are a member of the airline’s (or their network’s) reward program and have some level of status. That will move you up the ladder. A little.

#5: If you absolutely, positively HAVE to be there in the morning, DO NOT book the last flight of the night. In fact, I’d recommend not booking the second last flight of the night, or even the third last flight of the night (just to be safe). You only set yourself up for potential disaster (see Dr. Make-A-Scene on United 3411). Airplanes aren’t magical pixie dust fairy machines, they are mechanical devices. The complexity from the aircraft, to the flight schedules, to the staff schedules, to the overall airline operation, is immense. Flights can be overbooked, or they can be cancelled, for a variety of reasons. If you’re on that last flight, and something happens, you aren’t making whatever it is you needed to make the next morning, are you? This should be common sense….but apparently that is in short supply these days.

#6: If you should find yourself on a flight where they are looking for volunteers to get off (like UA3411), SERIOUSLY ask yourself how much you are willing to accept for that inconvenience…and your answer, if you are being honest, is not “no amount”. The first offer may not be enough, but it’s likely the second (US$800 in this case) is good enough, in most cases, for you to get off the plane. I’m willing to bet, in the case of UA3411, there is at least one person sitting around today who knows they could’ve taken the $800, been that much richer, and this whole situation would never have happened…but they stubbornly chose to stay on the plane, even while the situation was going on. Besides, accepting this money isn’t the end of it, either. You can always negotiate more at the gate, when you get off the plane. Hotels, rebooking on another airline (if you have a demonstrable need to be at your destination, and other airlines are going there), transfers to/from the airport, and meals are just some of the possible things you can negotiate for. You aren’t guaranteed to get any of it, but you can certainly try. Ultimately, you really don’t want to wait for the “random selection”. It’s not all that random. This is where #2, with elite status, really helps (unless the plane is full of people with elite status, which happens). Have you ever seen someone in business or first class randomly selected to get bumped? No, you haven’t. If you booked the cheapest ticket, and don’t have any status, your odds of getting bumped are likely to go up.

#7: Finally, and another point that should be common sense, don’t be a douchebag. Seriously. Don’t. Life is all about choices. Douchebags choose to be douchebags (OK, most of them, anyway). Dr. Make-A-Scene on UA3411 CHOSE to make an issue out of his selection to be bumped. He could have, just as easily, chosen to accept it (as there was plenty of warning of the possibility) and negotiate fair compensation at the gate. Sure, we all have bad days, but when they advise you the police are coming, that definitely should be your signal that you’re being a massive douchebag. Additionally, if you feel it’s necessary to treat airline employees like dirt beneath your shoes, expect to get at least some of that right back at you. They have a job to do, just like you do. Some of them are tasked with keeping you alive. All of them are tasked with dealing with peoples shitty attitudes, unfortunately. Remember that.

That’s it. As was mentioned earlier, operating an airline is incredibly complex. Shit happens. Expect, plan, and be prepared for it, and your travels will be far less stressful.

Happy Travels.

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