The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks


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The airport today looks like a refugee crisis, with roiling crowds, congested waiting areas, interminable lines and rampant discontent. Regardless, here 3 vital but very simple air travel hacks that can ease your airport experience and set yourself far ahead of the madding crowd.

First, know your flight number(s). Simple enough: write them down, flight number and date.

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Now, any time you need flight information, type your flight number into Google:

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No more searching for a monitor or a customer service rep, and the information Google provides is even more current than the list any agent printed earlier in their shift. Things change — and Google grabs the latest, instantaneous info when you ask: gates, time.

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It’s always a good idea to install the smart phone app for the airline you’re flying, because all of them will push notifications to your phone with any changes to gates and times, and some will even help you rebook in case of delays or cancellation.

But when all else fails, just Google your flight any time on departure day for the most current info — if you know your flight number.

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Next, put all of your valuables in a locked, hand-carried bag before security screening. This includes your wallet, watch, and any jewelry. I cannot understand why anyone leaves such valuables in an open container that may be out of sight as you go through security. The free-for-all after screening as passengers frantically gather their belongings is the perfect set up for someone to grab yours — unless they’re in a locked bag.

There are disclaimers at the security checkpoint stating that screeners are not responsible for your personal belongings, even though they may pull you aside for further screening out of sight of your watch, wallet and other valuables laying un-monitored in an open bin.

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If the security people need to inspect the contents of the bag, fine: after you unlock it, and watch any inspection. The TSA has fired a multitude of their own screeners for stealing from passenger bags — that won’t happen if you’re present when they inspect your valuables.

Finally, do not put anything you own into the seat back pocket in front of you in flight. I’ll never understand why we find wallets, passports, personal electronics and more in seat back pockets, typically well down-line and several flights after a passenger has stowed these items there.

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In fact, we were preparing for landing at DFW after leaving Mexico City once when a flight attendant called to say a passenger had found a passport in the seat back pocket. Can you imagine the “oh shiitake” moment someone must be having in Mexican Customs, never mind returning through US Customs? Ditto your credit cards and identification. Can you do without any of these items at your destination?

If you take anything out of your hand carried bag — put it back in when you’re finished with it. This goes for personal electronic devices too: a notebook on the floor under the seat in front of you will slide three or more rows forward on descent and even further on landing with heavy reverse thrust. The “finder” in the forward cabin may or may not return your property. So, if you’re not using an item, keep it stowed in your hand-carried bag, not in the seat back pocket or on the floor.

That’s the big three: know your flight number, use Google or your airline app for current info, and keep your personal belongings stowed and secure through screening and in flight.

Really, that’s just common sense, which seems to be in short supply in all airports and aboard most airliners. Now that you know the big three, pass this along to friends who may not — they, and we all, will have a better trip if you do.

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15 Responses to “The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks”

  1. […] via The Big 3 Air Travel Hacks — The JetHead Blog […]

  2. Randy Sohn Says:

    Hey Chris, it’s “good to be retired” so I don’t have to go through all that everyday anymore -but CONCUR!

  3. +1 on using the airline app if possible – in almost all cases you can get your boarding pass electronically as well – less paper to lose.

  4. […] crew, passenger, travel, travel hacks. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own […]

  5. Definitely great advice. Flying AA 1393 from DFW to SFO in a couple of weeks. A change for me b/c I usually fly United but going to see how AA does with this flight. I don’t even touch the seat back pocket (usually filthy) and try to get some nap time in anyway. You writing is spot on and great to read.

  6. Very much appreciated. I agree w/strong braking esp. w/MDWs short runways, all kinds of items can be heard ricocheting on the seat mounts and ankles sometimes.

  7. Cedarglen Says:

    Spot on and I agree with your top three. Like Randy, I’m now retired, so have added an important fourth item: If there is any way to avoid airports and airplanes, do it by Not Flying. – Cg.

    • I avoid flying myself–enough hassles as a career, on days off I’m all for a good road trip: just did a drive through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama this month; driving out to Arkansas, Tennessee and Kentucky in July. On days off I’m NOT going to the airport–just set the cruise control on 65 and follow the highway …

  8. I think your post takes a few things for granted, related to issues of modern air travel.

    Google claims that the average height for males in the US is 5’10”. If you are average or less, or accustomed to sitting in first class or forward, the geometry of accessing in-flight-storage might make your perspective on what is correct completely different.

    I use the seat back pocket for important items all the time. I’m 6’3″ tall and my knees are almost touching the back of the seat in front of me at the best of times. Trying to retrieve anything from the anywhere else during the flight requires asking my seatmates to get up. This would be especially annoying to retrieve a credit card to pay for a meal or drink while the flight attendants are standing nearby with the cart.

    I have a small bag that’s slightly larger than my kindle. I usually put my wallet, phone, and kindle in it, and it fits into the seat pocket, so everything is kept together. If I’m flying international, I’ll also keep my passport in it, but normally that’s securely in my computer bag as backup identification.

    • Good for you! And when we find the items you’re missing down the line we’ll know that you were much smarter than the silly flight crew urging you not to put your stuff there.

      • Unrelated: 38yrs ago, I boarded a Braniff 727 frm ORD-IAH-SAT to start my USAF enlistment. Flying has chgd-a-bunch since along w/my life. Safe travels today, Capt!

  9. Some great tips and cute drawings! I’m sure that most people haven’t really thought about the possibility of having their valuables stolen during security check but I would agree that it’s smart to keep them locked up and secure in case anything happens.

    I would also suggest using FlightRadar24 or FlightAware to track flight status. The information they provide is relatively comprehensive and reliable.

  10. I wonder how many don’t realize they (in the US at least) could replace shorter flights with a trip on Amtrak for a fraction of the price, no TSA, no baggage fees, no waiting, no crammed together seats, and scenery to look out of the window at vs the inside of an airport.

    Recently my wife had made a few trips to Portland from Seattle, we live about a 40 minute drive from Seatac airport. These flights were usually around $300 a pop, the process of driving to the airport, checking in, TSA, plane taking off, landing, and getting out of the airport at the other end and you’ve kissed goodbye to at least 4 hours for a flight that lasts under an hour in the air.

    Couple weeks ago I suggested to her to look at what taking the train costs as in the end the total travel time will be about the same with a lot less stress. Much to my surprise the Seattle to Portland trip was about $40, Tacoma Amtrak (closest) about a 15 min drive. And I like an excuse to go look at trains.

    This time she took our 3 1/2 year old daughter, who has been on several plane trips now, and she totally enjoyed the train trip because .. she could see stuff out the windows.

    Wife was quite amazed with the trip her self, and asked me why had no one suggested this before. My only conclusion is Americans think flying when they have to go somewhere, even 200 miles down the road, they’ll punish them selves with airports, TSA, a ton of wasted time and stress just to fly.

    • I like Amtrak, the roominess, low-hassle, but it’s usually kind of expensive. Still, for any distance 300 miles or less, I’ll drive rather than fly. Because really, a 300 mile flight will take an hour in the air, two hours prior at the airport, leave home an hour before that–there’s 4 hours travel time *if all goes as planned.* I’d sooner drive 5 hours, no schedule, no hassles.

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