• Valkor's tips on handling Air Travel

Greetings once again my friends, Valkor here, once again giving you the scoop on air travel. It's predicted that we're gonna see a spike in the number of air travelers taking to the skies for work, for play, for whatever. And with an increased number there will always be increased frustrations such as crowded check-in/TSA lines, overselling, delays, or cancellations. And the thing is it doesn't have to be a confusing mess. With a few tips from your pal Val, you'll be able to handle any and all situations that arise… well most any way.

Now I've already done an Airport Security list and an Air Traveler's list. So what we have here is more of an update of the two, combining them into one amazing list, adding some new details I may have missed the last time around. Here is "Valkor's tips on handling Air Travel". And there's quite a lot of info here, but I assure you, it's a quick read, not bogging you down with confusing terminology. I keeps it simple!

Buying a ticket – This is a simple one. Most everyone uses a different method in buying an air ticket – either we buy it direct from the airline or through a third party such as Orbitz or Expedia. When purchasing a ticket, make sure you read your itinerary very carefully. Since airlines use codeshare, it may be confusing to see United 101 operated by Continental. The key word is "Operated by", because that will be the airline that will take you to your destination. Also know the rules of the tickets before you go such as what are the penalties if you cancel/change your ticket, what happens with flight reschedules, etc. Next keep a copy of your travel details handy, especially if your travelling overseas, in case they need to be seen by a custom's agent. Some countries, especially if you are in transit, may ask to see documents that your going onward or if it's your final destination, they'll wanna see when you're leaving and if your stay meets their "stay requirements". (there are some countries that will only allow you to stay so long without a visa). Finally, if you have a cruise connection or an important event, give yourself a day in advance, especially if you have to connect because anything and everything can happen. Even if it means you have to pay an extra night at a hotel, it's better to be safe than left behind.

Travelling International pt. 1 – So you get to the airport to take a trip to Brazil, but suddenly you're denied boarding because you don't have a visa. "What's a visa? I don't need a visa!" But there's where you're wrong Jimbob. If you book a flight towards an international destination, it's best to know the rules of entry. And there's plenty of info out there to assist in your research, so get to searching.

Travelling International Pt. 2 – Make sure your passport isn't expired or close to it. Did you know that there are some countries where your passport has to be valid so many months before they let you in? If you know you're about to embark on a once in a lifetime world tour, please make sure your passport is valid. Also for children, they're usually given 5 year passports; make sure they're good in that respect, so that you don't find out too late, such as when you're about to check in and oops! Little Billy's passport is no good! Damnit Billy!!! Finally, make sure your passport is in pristine condition. Did you know you can be denied boarding, and not the good, get 800 bucks back denied, I'm talkin "no you can't go because you left your passport in your pants pocket, on laundry day and now it's ruined" denied. Please keep important documents in a safe, dry area so if you need them you'll have them at the ready. And when you're done with it, put the passport away.

Confirming your flight – I touched on this in my airline tips and I can't stress it enough "CONFIRM YOUR FLIGHT!" It doesn't matter if the airlines say not to, or you don't have to - DO IT! It's not that difficult and only takes a few minutes. This is especially important for folks who book months in advance and it's possible that the airline's schedules can change. Again you don't want surprises when you arrive at the airport. Finally, keep important numbers handy such as the number to your hotel, airline, car service, etc in case of emergency and there is a change in plans.

Packing your bags – Baggage fees are at an all time high, Spirit Airline is even charging for carry-on luggage, what's a traveler to do? First off avoid Spirit, carry-on bag fee? Yea right! Second, pack the essentials. If you're going away for a few days, don't overdo it on the packing. You'd be surprised with what you can fit in a carry-on pullman or carry-on duffel. If you're travelling with children, then yea you have to pack a bit heavier, depending on where you're going, the kids might have "too much fun" and things could get messy. If you're checking luggage, bring an extra, empty bag in case you might have packed too much and now you have to pay a hefty overweight bag fee. Speaking of check bag fees, check with the airline you're travelling with for what you have to pay for a 1st and/or 2nd check bag. You can call and ask or you can check the websites, which will have the info readily available.

If you're carrying on a bag – First be mindful of the carry-on rule. Usually it's 1 carry-on bag and one personal item such as a laptop bag, purse, etc. Second be careful with the liquid you pack in your carry-on. You don't want TSA tossing out that important bottle of perfume/cologne. If you're checking a bag, just toss all the liquids, no matter how small, into it, especially if it's a small flight. Finally for folks who are travelling with laptops – invest in a TSA friendly laptop bag. Companies such as CaseLogic, Targus, and Speck have excellent security-friendly bags and it makes getting through checkpoints so easy!

Checking in pt. 1 – Easier said than done… or so you might think! First up arrive early enough for check-in and getting through security; Domestic travel is one hour and International at least two or three hours prior to boarding. Next be ready for when it's your turn to step up to the counter. And by that I mean have your documents and ID in hand and ready for check-in so you're not digging around looking for it. And for all you iPhone/Blackberry/smartphone users who think you're cool when you whip out your phone to look for your info, here's a Val-tip just for you. USE FUCKING PEN AND PAPER! Seriously, it sucks to sit there watching and waiting for you to look through your entire phone for info when if you'd have just written it down, you'd be done already.

Checking in pt. 2 – Most airlines will allow you to check-in from home, and one should definitely take advantage of this, especially if you're not checking a bag. But did you also know that if you're travelling international, you won't be able to fully check-in? That's because you'll need to have your documents checked (passport/visa etc) or your name could be on the TSA No Fly list. That doesn't mean you can't fly, it just means a few extra steps need to be taken before you're allowed to pass security. Don't take it personal, just arrive extra early, provide the info needed and move on.

Checking in pt. 3 – make sure to verify your bag tags by double checking the baggage label. Ensure that the tags are on YOUR bag, with your name on it and it's going to your final destination. If you have a connecting flight, make sure the bags are checked through to your final. If the connecting flight is on a separate itinerary, bring the info with you and give it to the agent so that they can manually input the info. Finally, and this is most important, make sure your bags have written info on the inside and outside of your bag. This info should be your name, address (to where you're going) and phone number and/or email address, in case your bag gets lost, it can easily be reunited with its owner.

It's fun to stand in the TSA Line!! (sung to the YMCA song) – Before you enter a TSA line, make sure that you're fully prepared. That means ID and boarding ticket out and ready for checking, all metal, coins, phone, etc placed inside your carry-on. Belts and wallets can also be placed in your carry-on too, anything that will "beep" the machine, place it in a bag or have it ready to place in a bin. If you're travelling with children, try to get them ready before entering the line. And if you have metal joints, metal plate in the skull, or have special equipment, please inform the TSA agent so that they can assist you. Lastly if you don't have a TSA friendly bag, do not forget to take your laptop out of your bag and place it in a bin ALL BY ITSELF! No belts, no wallets, no gum or candy, just put it in a bin all by its lonesome. More often than not, I get stuck behind some moron who takes his laptop out of his bag, places junk on top of it, while myself and others have to wait while the TSA agent reverses the belt so this mook can start all over.

My gate changed!!? – If it hasn't happened to you yet, don't be surprised because it can and will happen. Believe me I know from experience. Depending on how early you've checked in, it is possible for the boarding gate to change, especially in a busy airport. And in a busy airport, it may be difficult to catch announcements. If you see that it's boarding time and you don't see any activity at your gate, check the departure boards or ask an airline agent for an update; better safe than left behind.

OMG, my flight has been cancelled! Pt. 1 – So you get in early, get to your gate on time, and it looks like everything is going smoothly, when all of a sudden the gate agent gets on the PA and announces your flight has been cancelled due to weather/air traffic/mechanical/whatever. DOH! Rule number 1: Don't panic, don't freak out, and don't go into attack mode at the agent. Why you ask? Because time is of the essence and while everyone else is rushing for the nearest service desk to get rebooked, your off on a rant of "never flying this airline again" missing out on choice flights, especially the early morning flight because your current flight was the last of the day. Here's what you can do; you simply need to pick up the phone and dial either the airline's reservation's number or your travel agent. If you booked through Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity, etc.., give them a ring and see if they'll change your flight for you. I recall once my United Airlines flight to Chicago was cancelled (and I was connecting to a Las Vegas flight). Orbitz was my booking agent, so I proceeded to call them instead of dealing with the long line at the gate/service desk. They saw that the flight was cancelled and had me on a direct Vegas flight in no time flat, with no additional fees. Good luck if you booked through a Brick and Mortar because depending on the time of day they may be closed. Some do have an emergency number, so keep that handy. And there are some that won't assist in rebooking; usually they'll say you need to call/speak with the airline.

Cancellations pt. 2: I have rights?? – Yes, yes you do, but not always. If your flight was cancelled or you misconnected due to weather or air traffic, you won't get much of anything but a new flight. But a mechanical delay or crew issue may get you a hotel stay and food vouchers. Honestly, I say it's best to avoid that mess altogether. Why? Because it will only increase frustrations especially when you're told you won't be getting anything. So here's a tip: Come to the airport expecting the worse and bring some extra side loot for just such an occasion. No one wants to spend the night in an airport, and you gotta eat, so better to have some cash for just such an emergency than worrying/arguing over something that you may not get. If it's a mechanical cancellation, the airlines will provide you with a night's stay, but before you worry about where you'll sleep, insure your flight has been rebooked to the best of the airlines abilities. If it means you have to take an indirect rather than a direct flight, then take it so long as it gets you home. Finally have an alternative final destination. The airport closest to my home is EWR (Newark Liberty International), but LGA (LaGuardia) and JFK (John F Kennedy) airports are just as good alternatives to getting home, even though they're about two hours away, however I know my way around from there and I know I can get home with ease. Also depending on where you live, you may only have limited options or just the one airport to work with, but if you know you have alternatives then you will never be stuck at an airport. Also consider bus/train/rental cars as alternatives as well and again, depending on the delay, some airlines might even cover the cost, but this is where keeping that extra stash of cash will come in handy.

How to deal with a delay – Delays suck! There's no getting around it, they simply suck. You get to the airport with more than enough time to spare, only to find out that you're gonna have to sit around a few more hours until a) the weather clears, b) your flight arrives from somewhere, or c) something is repaired on the plane. But don't despair, have some entertainment handy – a book, video game, laptop, or if you can get some work done do so, or grab a bite to eat. But this next tip is most important – Stay near the gate! "But Val, the agent says the flight is delayed for three hours, can't I just hang out in the food court/president's lounge/etc.., and then come back?" NO! Why? Because your plane may have taken off and you're left behind wondering "why?" But you wanna be near the gate for any updates in case your plane leaves earlier rather than later. Finally, I always live by a three hour rule, especially when I am in my home state - if the delay goes longer than three hours, I'm out! I'm not gonna spend my day/evening in an airport when I can just go home and do it again the next day. If the airport your stuck in is not your home, then consider getting a hotel, if and only if you don't need to get home (work, kids, school, military). And hey, some airlines may offer up a hotel, again this is dependent of the situation or they simply want to do it as a courtesy.

Dealing with an oversold flight – Most airlines can and will oversell their flights, based on a cancellation and no-show factor. I don't know the formula and honestly, I'm not gonna hurt my head thinking about. Just know that being on an oversold list isn't so bad, unless of course you have somewhere important to be. If you are on an oversold list (meaning you've checked in but not allotted a seat and I don't mean stand-by… that's a whole other situation), then don't despair because the gate agent will solicit volunteers. This means they will offer up travel vouchers, upgrades, another flight, food and hotel vouchers, and more. And what's cool about that is you, who have been listed, can also volunteer. If no one volunteers and that plane takes off without you, then you have been officially "bumped". Again don't despair because now the airlines will have to get you going as soon as possible, by any means necessary. PLUS they have to compensate you monetarily depending on how long it will take, you could be given up to $800 bucks. I've never been so lucky.

My bag or where is my bag? - So you get to your final destination, wait at the baggage carousel and you suddenly realize that your still there and everyone else is gone! What happened to my bag? First go see a baggage agent, sometimes your bag may have gotten on an earlier flight and it's just sittin there waiting for you to pick it up. Other times it was left behind, or dare I say... sent to another destination (your bag is in sunny Bermuda while you're freezing in Alaska). If your bag is not at the airport, fill out a claim; almost always, the airline will have your bag delivered to where you'll be staying. And to insure that it's not picked up by another passenger, travel with the gaudiest, loudest bag you can find, or if your bag looks like everyone elses, tie a ribbon, slap some stickers on it, do anything to differentiate your bag from others.