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8 Ways to Fly Smarter
By Lynne Christen

Once upon a time airline travel was special. Flying was fun. That was before over-crowded flights, over-crowded skies and daunting delays. Use these tips from a veteran flight attendant to reduce stress and put some pleasure back into air travel.

1. Spontaneity is wonderful — except when it comes to air travel. Typically, the best routing, fares and seat choices must be purchased at least 14-21 days in advance. Prices are volatile and flight schedules frequently change. After purchasing a ticket, keep checking your flight. Although flight changes incur hefty fees, if the price of the ticket drops more than the change fee, you save money by re-booking.

2. Leave a day early for a crucial business meeting, cruise, tour or special celebration. Last-minute travelers frequently miss important events due to flight delays or cancellations. Enjoy an extra day at your destination with the peace of mind that you won’t miss a moment of the fun.  Arrive at the airport with time to spare for security delays.  After security, go directly to the gate and board the plane as soon as your zone is called to prevent becoming a victim of oversold seats. The airline can and will re-assign your seat if you are not on board by the required time.

3. Book early flight departures. According to Consumer Reports, flights leaving between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. incur the least delays. If a flight cancels or is delayed, you have a full day to get back on track. Avoid the last flight of the day. If you misconnect or the flight cancels, you are stuck...often at your own expense.

4. Avoid close connections.  Although a 40-minute connection at busy airports, like Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson International and Dallas-Fort Worth International, is “legal” in airline lingo, it is guaranteed to add stress to your day. Choose flights with a minimum of 90-minute connecting time. Relax or dine while you wait for a connecting flight rather than dashing in distress.

5. Request the best possible airplane seats.  Being cramped in a middle seat for five hours is misery. Request two-abreast seating or an aisle seat. Pay a few dollars more for emergency row or “premium” seats on long flights. Re-check seat assignment at least weekly and the day before departure. Airlines sometimes switch the aircraft type and seats are re-assigned. Additional seat choices may also become available and you can snag a better seat.

6. Travel light. Fees for checked and over-weight bags add up quickly. Research packing pointers from expert travelers and become a carry-on traveler.

7. Create an in-flight comfort kit. Airline pillows and blankets and meals are scarce. Bring your own inflatable pillow and light-weight blanket or wrap. Pack a picnic and purchase bottled water after clearing security. Noise-reducing headsets improve audio quality of onboard movies/music and tune out crying babies, engine noise and chatty seatmates. Freshen up during a long fight with travel-sized toiletries in a TSA approved 3-1-1 zippered bag. And, don’t forget to pack all medication, important documents, a good book and a change of clothes in a carry-on bag.

8. Have “Plan B” ready when travel goes awry. Print alternative light schedules or download them to your laptop or cell phone. Have airline toll-free reservations numbers on cell phone and get a jump on re-booking rather than joining an endless line at customer service. Visit airport websites for detailed information about facilities, shopping, entertainment and dining options.

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