Surviving the airport
Tips on having the most comfortable air travel experience possible, from getting to and from the airport to picking the right seat on the plane
At the airport
- Peruse the airport website (Atlasnavigator.com) - The most useful part of any airport website—especially that of the city into which you are flying—is to find out the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get downtown. Most airport websites will describe in detail and provide phone numbers, web links, and in most cases prices for every single option and method possible—public buses, airport shuttles, high-speed rail connections, taxis, limo services, rental car offices, parking, etc. That's great, but it doesn't tell you which is actually the best to use. (I do so, though, in each major city section). In addition, the airport website will usually provide a layout of all the terminals (handy for transfers) as well as the shops and services—so you'll know there's a restaurant around the corner where you can wait out your layover rather than crowding around the tiny snack bar by the gate.
- Save on parking at off-site airport lots (AirportParkingReservations.com, Airportparking.com, Pnf.com, Bestparking.com) - If you can't find someone to drop you off for your flight and/or there's no good public transport option and you're going to have to leave a car at your home airport, check out these much cheaper alternatives to the airport lots (even long-term lots).
- Keep track of your flight (Just plug your flight number into the Google search box) - I can't count how many times an independent tracking service (and a helpful partner at home keeping track for me and calling me on my cell) has let me know about a delay or flight cancellation long before the desk at the terminal would cop to it—giving me a high edge over the other passengers in making contingency arrangements (by which I mean I got one of the three empty seats on the next flight out while everyone else ended up getting bumped to the following day).
- Find ways to kill time at the airport (Stuckattheairport.com) - An online version of a the book "Stuck at the Airport" by Harriet Baskas filled with useful info and helpful diversions. For example, at Washington Dulles it tells you how to get to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's Udzar-Hazy Center annex just 2.5 miles away (this enormous hangar is filled with amazing planes, like the Enola Gay and an SR-71 Blackbird—oh, and a space shuttle), and at Charles de Gaulle it tells you where there's an archeological exhibit of stuff dug up while building Terminal 2.
- Sleeping in airports (Sleepinginairports.net) - Yes, there is actually an entire website devoted to the art of sleeping in airports during long layovers. Enjoy.
On the plane
- Pick the right seat on the plane (SeatGuru.com, SeatExpert.com) - Use these websites to figure out which seat to pick—largely through avoiding ones that don't recline fully (in front of bulkheads and bathrooms), or are narrower (exit row and bulkhead seats may have more legroom, but they're also usually narrower, since the arm rests are frequently a tad wider to accommodate those retractable tray tables that would otherwise be on the seatback in front of you).
- Get comfy. Bring a good book or handful of magazines, your favorite guidebook to do some preparatory reading, some snacks, and a bottle of water (save money by carrying an empty bottle through security then filling it at the water fountain). Take of your shoes and use them to help prop up your feet. To try and get some shut-eye, carry a neck pillow, eye mask, and noise-canceling headphones—which, gosh darn it, actually work (by removing the dull, largely subsonic roar of the plane, they help reduce your level of stress, both making it easier to sleep and reducing the jet lag effect; no joke) and, yes, even a light packer like me lugs a pair around just for the plane flights (plus, since they remove that dull plane roar, they make it far easier to hear the movie).
- Try to get some sleep. I have two dozen tips dedicated to this admittedly difficult endeavor (including those above, like picking a seat and bringing gadgets). They're listed on a separate page. » more
Handy air travel tips links
- Momondo.com - (Aggregator) Before I get into details, just know this: 95% of the time, I find the lowest fares on Momondo. Momondo quietly blows most of the other aggregators out of the water. It searches more than 600 airline sites, plus booking engines, search engines, travel agencies, online discounters, etc. This is two to three times as many sources as the competition—including the low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines most of the other search engines ignore—and it pays off. You can also quickly see which flight is cheapest and which quickest (and which best overall), as well as use all the usual filters on the results (length of flight, departure/arrival times, number of stops, airlines, etc.). I ran Momondo through many tests, and it almost always found the lowest available fares on domestic, Transatlantic, and inter-European flights. It found fares from carriers none of the others did, and when it did find the same flights as some of the competition, it almost invariably managed to find a lower price for it. For now, at least, I'm calling it: Momondo is the single best resource out there, bar none.Partner
- Flyinternational.com - (Consolidator) The airfares branch of AutoEurope.com consistently offers among the cheapest (and most reliable) European airfare consolidators out there. Barring some sale fare elsewhere, this is where I almost always end up buying my transatlantic tickets for the simple reason that they are almost always the cheapest. This is also why I chose to partner with them for this site.Partner
- Skyscanner.com - (Aggregator) Another excellent aggregator that, like Momondo, also includes the little low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines ignored by most other search engines. I like that you can be as vague on your departure/arrivial points as simply an entire country, rather than a specific city of airport—you never know when, say, a flght into Manchester will actually be cheaper than one to London.Partner
- Hotwire.com - (OTA) Offers regaular fare searches and Hot Rates opaque fares (cost less, but with slightly less control over departure times and other details)Partner
- VirginAtlantic.com - Given all options, I will actually pay a bit more for Virgin Atlantic flight than one on any other airline. They just treat you so much better.Partner
- Google.com/flights - (Aggregator) Google has acquired ITA, the original airfare booking engine long used by travel agents. It's now available to the general public, and niftily shows you the rough current lowest cost for flights to pretty much anywhere from your hometown via a Google map measled with red dots marking major cities around the world. It doesn't allow you to book, but will tell you where/how to book the results it finds. Not really a strong performer on internaitonal flights yet—though, oddly, does a good job with last-minute international fares, so worth checking.
- Expedia.com - (OTA) Expedia—which does a fine job on middle-of-the-road fares—is the last remaining of the Big Three online travel agencies. (Expedia bought both Travelocity and Orbitz in 2015; Travelocity's search results are now identical to those at Expsia, and we can only hope Orbitz's lackluster results follow suit.)Partner
- Hipmunk.com - (Aggregator) The aggregator that rethought how searches should be delivered—and I always like those who think outside the search box. All results are shown on a timeline, and the default sort-order for flights that match your search is "Agony"—a combination factoring in price, flight duration, and stopovers—so that the least annoying options pop up first. You can also sort more traditionally by price, duration, departure time, arrival time, non-stop only, and ask it to favor your preferred airlines (or airline alliance). One drawback: It really only serarches the airlines directly plus a few booking engines like Expedia, so you're not getting the full story (no discounters are in the mix). Still: handy.
- CheapOair.com - (OTA) Upstart consolidator and discounter using the power of the Web to weave together the best bargains and negotiated discounts with three reservations systems and fifteen travel service providers—something of a mash-up of a traditional booking service and a wholesaler. It claims 18 million exclusive flight deals, a low airfare guarantee, and 84,000 negotiated hotel rates.Partner
- Vayama.com - (Aggregator) One of the original international airfare aggregators, and still one of the better ones.Partner