Recently, I flew across the country on American Airlines. I have flown domestically many times but have not flown cross-country for a while. Color me surprised! First, even though American’s website clearly states that two carry-on bags (up to 14 x 21 inches) may be carried on board, most of the passengers in economy class were required to surrender our bags as we got on the plane. When I argued this with the flight attendant, she said that was airline policy. I replied that I was not trying to be difficult but it was NOT airline policy, at least not according to www.aa.com. She not so kindly informed me that I was on a codeshare flight, meaning that it was advertised by American but not actually operated by American. By this time the line behind me was growing and I could see this was a losing argument, I gave up my bag after retrieving my irreplaceable items and boarded the American Eagle (can you tell me how this is NOT considered an American flight?) plane and took my seat. FYI: I saw several bags in the overhead bins as I searched for my row. They were as big or bigger as mine. When I asked another flight attendant about this at a later time, she told me that they must belong to the crew. The flight had three attendants who had more 10-20 large carry-ons? Come on! When I later phoned the airline, I was told that if your bag has wheels it will be valeted while a duffle bag or such will be permitted. What??? I didn’t see that on their clearly stated baggage allowance page.
Tip #1: Be prepared to surrender your carry-on bag(s).
Tip #2: Bring food with you. On this cross-country flight, there was no meal service. We had one beverage service and the option to buy an airline meal. However, we were told that the selection was very limited and folks in the back of the plane would most likely not get a meal or at least not their first or second choice. Since I refuse to overpay for an awful airline meal, I bought food at the airport and brought it onto the plane. Be sure to check what will be offered on your flight and plan accordingly.
Tip #3: Pack light. Checked bags on most airlines now cost $50 per bag. The best plan is to ship your luggage or get by with one or two carry-on bags. I recommend packing cubes to maximize space. Go to your local travel store or search on www.amazon.com for packing cubes, such as TravelWise Packing Cube System. FYI: There are exceptions to this policy. If you are in first class, checked bags are included. If you are a member of an airline loyalty program and have achieved a certain status, at least one checked bag is permitted. If you have an airline credit card, checked bag fees are waived. Be sure to check to find out if you qualify for any exemptions.
Tip #4: Don’t expect any creature comforts from the airlines. Fliers (at least in economy class on domestic flights) must pay for a pillow, blanket, and other amenities. I recommend you bring an inflatable neck pillow and a comfy jacket to use as a blanket if you plan to sleep.
Tip #5: Come prepared with your own entertainment. There was no in-flight entertainment, but that was no surprise to me since I had researched the flight. I came prepared with my Kindle loaded with tv shows, movies, books, and music. However, there was a problem accessing the free Wi-Fi. According to the instructions, you had to initiate airplane mode with your device. When I did this, it turned off the Wi-Fi. When I turned the Wi-Fi back on, it changed the airplane mode setting on my device. None of the flight attendants could figure out how to fix this issue. So much for my movies and tv shows, but at least I was able to read and listen to music in my kindle library. FYI: American has some movies and tv shows available, but you have to set up an account and download their app. Urrghh!
Tip #6: You may want to take a natural sleeping aid, such as Melatonin, so that you will sleep for most or all of the flight. They turned our cabin lights out at 6:21pm! You have overhead reading lights but with no food service or entertainment, you may as well do what they want you to do and just go to sleep.
Tip #7: If you plan to sleep you should wear comfortable clothing and avoid caffeine and alcoholic beverages. Also, a window seat is best for sleeping. FYI: If you prefer an aisle seat, you will pay more with most airlines.
Tip #8: It may be worth the extra money to upgrade to premium economy class. The seats are bigger, legroom is better, and there are other perks, depending on the airline.
Tip #9: Pick your airport carefully. With all the air travelers and winter weather, there will be lots of delays and canceled flights this holiday season. However, some airports are notorious for their high percentages of delays and canceled flights. The worst airports are New York (LaGuardia), Miami (Florida), Dallas/Fort Worth (Texas), Los Angeles (California), and Orlando (Florida). Try to fly out of an alternate airport if the closest airport is a trouble spot. Or at the very least, fly early. Flights tend to get delayed and canceled as the day goes on, so the earlier the better. Also, it is a good idea to have a backup plan.
Tip #10: Arrive early. If you have a TSA pre-check passenger number, then you can check TSA in advance for average wait times. Typically, it is only a few minutes. If you are not a pre-screened traveler, you should be prepared for 1-2 hours wait time. Be sure to allow plenty of time to clear all obstacles (check-in, security lines, parking, etc.) to ensure that you don’t miss your flight. FYI: Children and seniors are allowed to forego shoe and jacket removal.
Tip #11: Ship gifts or pack them in your checked bag. Hopefully, you have thought ahead and not bought any fragile items (or you are planning to ship them). Be advised that any gifts you pack must not be wrapped. If wrapped, security will most likely remove the wrapping to verify contents.
Tip #12: Find out the latest restrictions. For example, most airlines require that liquids carried on board your flight by 3.0 ounces or less and placed in a clear. quart-size, plastic, zip top bag. Liquids include liquid mascara, lip gel, liquid foundation, etc. The only way you can get any drink onto the plane is to buy it AFTER you have cleared security. Lithium batteries are not permitted in checked bags, so be sure to remove from your camera or other devices if you check those items. Disposable razors and tweezers are permitted in carry-on bags, but straight razors are only permitted in checked baggage. Small (<4″ blade) scissors are permitted. Bottle openers are allowed, but not wine openers. Prescriptions should remain in their prescription bottles.
My best advice is to be prepared and be patient. If you pack and plan accordingly, you will be in good shape. Be patient while waiting in lines or on a delayed flight. Remember to smile and think positive thoughts!