Over the winter, I wrote a blog about how to travel like a pro. Unfortunately, sometimes airlines get in your way, no matter how big of a pro you are. So here are my tips on how to get yourself from Point A to Point B when, as a student, you just need to get out of town, forget about your coursework, and go have some fun.
A little background first: On a trip back from DC on USAirways, I ran into the most difficulties in a single trip I ever have. Ever. I was bumped (read forcibly removed) from a flight because I was one of the two last people to check in and the flight was overweight. I was shifted over to Delta, which proceeded to cancel its flight. I then got shifted back to USAirways, which then postponed its flight until 1AM. I was at Dulles Airport for a grand total of 12 hours before I decided to just go home. I received a flight voucher, which I then used to book a flight to NYC for this weekend. The flight was delayed five times for Air Traffic Control reasons, which were not elaborated upon, and I decided again to just hop on a flight the next morning. As a friend told me, “Fool me once…”
So here are my tips to make traveling a little easier:
1. Sign up for alerts from your airline. I received a phone call and e-mail from USAirways every time they delayed my flight. All four of them. Even though your flight has been delayed, at least you can delay yourself from sitting in the airport ad infinitum.
2. If you do have trouble, find a rep. This is a crap shoot. I lucked out and received a wonderful USAirways rep who got me rebooked for a flight the next day, had my bag pulled out and onto a carousel within five minutes, and she did it all with panache and a sense of humor. She looked mean, so don’t judge a book by its cover, but restored my faith in humanity and in USAirways. For now. Look for Laura G at CMH. She’ll do right by you.
3. Book your flights for as early in the morning as possible. Airlines who have delay problems (I’m looking at you, USAirways, Delta, United, American, etc…) tend to keep getting backed up until what happened to me, happens to you. Getting a flight as early as possible will circumvent this for the most part.
4. Complain, complain, complain. The greasy wheel gets the grease, aka a flight voucher and probably a meal voucher. Use at your own risk though. Flying on an airline you get a voucher from is like getting waterboarded and then saying, “Please sir, could I have some more?”
5. Here’s my real solution to everything: FLY SOUTHWEST. I flew Southwest to Chicago, where I was going to be for a few days. I decided to extend my stay by a day. I changed my flight online, there were no change fees, I checked in two bags for free (after a shopping bender on Michigan Avenue doubled my luggage) and for $15 more, I was able to upgrade to business class.
6. Southwest business class gets you this: You are one of the first ten people to board, which means you can get one of the four seats in the front with the extra, super-deluxe legroom. If you check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, you’ll likely be the very first. It also gets you a free glass of wine, cocktail or Monster energy drink. And next comes the most important part.
7. It gets you their Fly By Lane, available at most airports (not CMH). I underestimated how much time I needed to get through security at Midway in Chicago. The Fly By Lane let me almost literally fly by the 50 minute+ line at security, and go through the priority security line. It took me five minutes to get through.
8. Even if you don’t do business class, you still get two bags checked for free (in addition to a carry on and personal item), a free drink, a snack and the peace of mind that your flight will leave on time. The 24 hour check-in trick works for non-business class too. Set an alarm for 24 hours before your flight, check in and you will almost certainly be in the A11-A30 group.
9. Southwest flies into outlying airports, and so you get to fly cheap. I flew into Midway instead of O’Hare for Chicago, and fly into BWI instead of Dulles or National for DC. The travel time between Midway and Lincoln Park is the same as O’Hare. And I saved $150 on a comparable flight. Very student budget-friendly!
10. The airport you choose when not on Southwest is also important. Dulles, O’Hare and La Guardia tend to have the most problems with delays.
11. And no, I am not a spokesperson for Southwest, though I should be. You can bet this blog will be posted on Southwest’s Facebook Wall in hopes that my kind and deserved words land me a free flight somewhere. Business class preferably.
12. Update: My flight back to Columbus from La Guardia got off without a hitch, and even arrived half an hour early. Well done, USAirways. You’re 2 for 15 in my book now. Southwest still rocks the most though.