The 10 easiest ways to improve air travel this holiday season

holiday season air travelIt’s time for you to drag your screaming kids, annoying spouse and endless amounts of overstuffed bags through the airport, as you find your way over the river and through the woods. Thanksgiving is behind us, and that’s the really ugly time to travel, but Christmas is no picnic either. The gate areas and bars will be crowded, and it’s going to be awfully hard for you to be happy while darting from Point A to Point B.

How nice it would be if we could all follow some fairly specific rules designed to keep each other from blowing up – and make all our travel experiences far more efficient. Just under a week after I started at Gadling, two years ago, I wrote six ways to “[m]ake your flight (and mine) easier this holiday season.” As we approach Christmas, this list is definitely worth another look.

In the 700+ days since writing that post, I’ve done more flying and more travel writing. Consequently, I’ve accumulated a bit more knowledge … and a handful of additional pet peeves. A lot has changed since late 2008. The global financial crisis, originally putting severe pressure on the travel market, has given way to something of a recovery, forcing airlines and online travel agents to compete head to head for your business. And, even though ticket prices are up 13 percent year over year, they are still far below peak levels — and may be at their lowest in 15 years. In some environments, pricing is even flat year over year.

So, it makes sense to revisit this issue. Below, you’ll find 10 ways to make holiday travel a lot better for everyone:

%Gallery-7858%

1. Know what you’re getting into: be ready for poor service, big crowds and unreasonable people (from passengers to crew members). It is what it is. Lamenting the social injustices committed will get you nowhere, and you’ll become the barrier to progress that you so despise already.

2. Pay the damned extra baggage fee: the overhead bins will be full. Even though airlines are adding capacity as the travel market recovers, they’re not being generous. So, be realistic about the size of the bags you try to cram overhead or under seat – and expect the rest of the people on the plane to have the same overhead plan. If everyone were more realistic from the start, flying would be much, much easier.

3. Bring stuff to keep the kids busy: don’t expect young children to be reasonable – they’re young children. I have enough trouble staying reasonable, and by all chronological measures, I’ve been an adult for a while. If you have kids, it is your job to entertain them (or help them entertain themselves). It may take a village, but you left that at home.

The problem with people today is they have to be entertained 24/7. That’s why they’re at their worst on the airplane.less than a minute ago via web

Also, check this out from a couple of years ago:

Forget every rule of good parenting. Sometimes, you need to let your kid cry to learn a lesson. Here’s the problem: we don’t need to learn that lesson, too. Do what it takes to keep your kid under control. If that means coloring books, candy or … dare I say it … active parenting, do it. Do what it takes. Your round trip involves two days of your kid’s childhood. Whatever you do for the sake of expediency will not make a lasting impression.

4. Pay attention to the flight attendants (for a change): look, do you want to be responsible for creating the next Steven Slater? Of course not. Even if you are forced to deal with unreasonable requests demands from them – not to mention horrid customer service – it’s a lot easier just to play ball. Save your fights for truth, justice and the American way for a flying season that isn’t insanely busy. In the end, doing battle with a nutty flight attendant is only going to keep you from getting to your destination and away from the plane as soon as possible, so it makes sense to sacrifice your principles.

Add to this my advice from a while back:

Know when to quit. We all love to scream at airline employees, and we know they are lying to us. When they say that weather caused the problem on a sunny day, when they say that there are no more exit row seats, when they say the flight is overbooked … we just know it’s bullshit. So, we fight. Sometimes, it works. Appeasement in the form of flight vouchers, hotel stays and free meals sometimes flow. But, at a certain point, you need to know when to stop. If you’re on a full flight of people with super-triple-platinum status (and you’re not), don’t expect to get a damned thing. Accept that you will lose.

Fighting the good fight is okay, but at a certain point, you lose the crowd’s sympathy. Be aware that people who look like serial killers don’t often get what they want (or need).

5. Keep your mouth shut: don’t share your life story with gate agents, TSA employees or anyone else. Nobody cares. Even if you do forge a momentary connection, it will have evaporated by the time you’re stuffing a stale Nathan’s hotdog into your once-talking mouth.

6. Step into the damned body scanner: the whole “opt-out” thing didn’t work right before Thanksgiving. So, it’s time to give up on this. You’ll live. There were no reports of people growing extra heads because they went through the body scanners a month ago. And, the odds do seem awfully low that your pictures will wind up on some strange airline-fetish porn site.

Seriously, just deal. Okay?

7. Be smart at the security checkpoint: this is an important one, because it’s so easy to cause the line to back up. I’m just going to plug in my suggestions from Christmas 2008:

Don’t prepare for the security stop when you’ve already bellied up to the X-ray machine. While you’re in line, do the following:

1. Pull your laptop out of your bag (if you have one)
2. Take your ID (license or passport) out of your pocket, bag, etc.; hold it with your boarding pass
3. Empty your pockets into your carry-on; do the same with your watch, cell phone and any heavy jewelry
4. Remove your shoes, and carry them on top of your laptop
5. Repeat #4 with your coat and hat

Now, you have a stack of personal belongings on top of your laptop. Carry them like you did your books back in grade school. You can drop the laptop into one bin for the X-ray machine, pick up the clothing and drop them in the next bin. It’s fast. It’s easy. It doesn’t leave you screwing around while people are waiting.

8. Look at the rules in advance: know what you can get through airport security and what you’ll have to check or leave behind. We’re in the internet age, so it’s not like you need to fax a request to the TSA or drive to the airport to scope out the signs. And, I’ll even make it easy for you: here’s the TSA list of prohibited items.

9. BYOB on the plane: whether it’s burgers or booze, take care of it ahead of time. Make your purchases at the food court or pack them at home. If you don’t be ready for whatever is being served on the plane. Have the appropriate form of payment ready. Keep in mind that airline food tends not to be terribly healthy, so if you want to keep your arteries clear (or clog them even more aggressively), take control of your culinary future.

10. Stay flexible: some situations will be within your control, but many will not. Understand what you can change and what you’ll have to live with, and the process will get a lot easier for you.

[photo by The Consumerist via Flickr]

Airlines, airports and passengers: nothing but gains this year [INFOGRAPHICS]

airlines, airports, passengersThere are a whole lot more of us flying this year: 4.3 percent more, to be exact. That’s the increase in domestic air traffic from September 2009 to September 2010, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In that month, U.S. airlines had 57.3 million passengers, leading to the largest year-over-year gain since September 2007. Meanwhile, international passenger traffic on U.S. flights surged 9.4 percent year over year.

For the first three quarters of 2010, scheduled domestic and international passengers were up 1.5 percent, suggesting that the recovery has gained momentum throughout the year. Domestic passengers gained 1 percent, with international passengers up 5.3 percent. Relative to 2008, though, passenger traffic is off 6.8 percent.

So, who wins? Of course, the airlines have had a relatively fantastic year, especially the worst of them. Delta, considered bottom of the barrel, surged from #3 in September 2009 to #1 in September 2010, with more than 9 million enplaned passengers, up 68.6 percent year over year (but don’t forget that the Northwest merger plays a role in this. Delta‘s also the top dog for the first nine months of the year for the same reason, followed by Southwest, American Airlines and United Airlines.


Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport remains the busiest in the United States by a considerable margin. Close to 32 million passengers passed through in the first nine months of 2010, an increase of 1.1 percent year over year. Atlanta led Chicago O’Hare, which came in second, by more than 9 million passengers so far this year. For the greatest gains, look to Charlotte: it was eighth on the list but posted a growth rate of 6.5 percent YTD.

Las Vegas was the only airport in the top 10 for the first nine months of 2010 to post a year-over-year decline. The number of enplaned passengers dropped by a rather substantial 3.6 percent year over year, hardly surprising given the fact that the Las Vegas tourism business has been slammed by the recession. Also, outbound traffic from Las Vegas is likely constrained by the local economy, which has been battered pretty badly (as real estate prices indicate).


Even though the number of passengers increased for airlines and airports, the number of flights operated slipped 1.2 percent from the first nine months of 2009 to the first nine months of 2010. Likely, the airlines were tightening up their flights, making better use of available seats and cutting expenses.

[photo by Yaisog Bonegnasher via Flickr]

Federal judge will decide on your right to relax, not airlines

airlinesNobody likes it when the passenger in front of him reclines. I can’t fathom any circumstance in which having the person’s seatback on your lap is enjoyable. I have numerous tactics I use to prevent the person in front of me from reclining, and I suspect I’m not alone (in fairness to the person behind me, I rarely recline, and if I do, it’s never more than half way).

So, when you drive your knees into the seatback in front of you, are you being an unreasonable and impolite … or are you depriving the passenger in front of you of his right to recline?

It looks like the answer will come from the U.S. District Court of Colorado.

On an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Denver, two passengers got into a rather heated argument over this right (or privilege) to recline. CNN reports:

As Brian Dougal leaned back on the Denver-bound flight late last month, he felt someone bump his seat, according to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado.

“Are you serious? My knees are up against the seat,” said the man behind him, identified as Tomislav Zelenovic, according to the complaint.

Dougal suggested that Zelenovic also recline, slide into an empty seat next to him or move his legs to the side. Dougal told the man in 10C that he paid for his seat and was going to recline it.

Zelenovic then shook the back of Dougal’s seat and grabbed his right ear, pulling it back and down with enough force to knock Dougal’s glasses off his face, according to the complaint.

Okay, that is hard core. The cops were waiting for Zelenovic on the ground, and he was charged with assault (he’s pleading not guilty).

Yeah, this behavior is nothing short of absurd, but it does speak to the fundamental issue of whether we should (or should) be able to recline. Frankly, this debacle makes Michael O’Leary look like a genius. After all, you can’t recline if you can’t even sit down, right?

Hey, how do you feel about reclining? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts.

[photo by Andrew Mason via Flickr]

Zagat survey: five ways customers say they hate airlines … in their own words

airport and airline customer service takes a beating in Zagat surveyIt’s almost sport for customers to describe how much they hate airlines. Sure, there are a few that do well from time to time, occasionally delivering high levels of service or eschewing ancillary fees. But, the overwhelming trend tends to be one of customer dissatisfaction.

Zagat, which is in the business of measuring and publishing value and taste, has taken a shot defining the highs and lows of the airline business, and the results aren’t all that positive. Well, let’s be frank: there’s nothing pleasant about flying.

The survey results aren’t all that shocking, and you can get them here from Zagat. What’s more fun is the stuff Zagat wouldn’t print … on the advice of its lawyers, the company announcement claims with an implied smirk.

How bad can it be? Let’s look at five insights from the Zagat airline survey … with customer claws bared in all their gory glory:1. Akin to an execution: Zagat’s surveyors seemed to spend a lot of time talking about death. One noted, “The only thing missing is a blindfold and a cigarette.” Another said, “At least they haven’t killed me yet.” Get the message? In case you don’t, one called air travel, “A violation of the Geneva Convention.”

2. Service with a scowl: again, it’s not much of a shock that customer service didn’t score all that high. One surveyor summed it up: “Unwelcome aboard!” But, if you think that’s the most creative, you’re out of your mind. I did enjoy the comment, “My bags get better service, but they pay extra.” Nothing, however, beats one disgruntled contributor who asked, “Who made them mad at their customers?”

3. Not even money can buy you happiness: do you think the rich have it better? Well, not in the skies they don’t! According to one Zagat surveyor, “The only difference between economy and business classes is a shrimp on your salad.”

4. Training is key: and this is what led one to muse, “Flight attendants seem to have trained with Frau Blucher.” Yes, but what instruction guide was used? That’s where another chimed in: “Staff must use Orwell’s 1984 as a training manual.” Ouch.

5. Get comfortable? Get real: the fact that passengers don’t get a lot of space didn’t escape notice. One surveyor says, “I don’t love getting up-close-and-personal with the head of the person in front of me.” Notes another, “Seats make an iron maiden seem comfortable.” It gets worse: “Like a cattle car, except the cows are mercifully slaughtered at trip’s end.”

[photo by joiseyshowaa via Flickr]

Qantas luggage “all tied up” in Melbourne

Qantas airlinesIt must be those adventure travelers … they’re always so high maintenance.

A rock-climbing rope jammed up some of the Qantas baggage equipment at the Melbourne, Australia airport last night, and as many as 400 pieces of luggage are lying around, waiting to be reunited with their passengers. Of course, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, passengers are welcome to “search through the piles” if they are eager to get their bags sooner.

Meanwhile, Qantas has copped to “bag issues” but nothing more so far. The Sydney Morning herald writes that the airline “could not confirm the number of bags that still needed to be returned to passengers.”

Unsurprisingly, Qantas has offered an apology, something to which the airline has become accustomed recently. The article continues:

“Due to an item from a customer bag jamming the baggage system in Melbourne yesterday, the system was down for a period of time,” he said.

“As we did everything to move backlog bags, the system experienced another problem and we are in the process of clearing the backlog as soon as possible.”

[photo by Skazama via Flickr]