Never Turn Off the Air Vents, and 10 Other Things I Learned While Flying More Than 2 Million Miles
This story originally published August 8, 2017 and has been updated.
My business puts me on a plane 30 to 60 times a year (and no, I'm not a flight attendant). I've learned a few things along the way about airplane etiquette (i.e. how not to be a jerk at 30,000 feet) and a lot about how airlines can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to last-minute travel needs.
Whether you are a cloud-based business person like me or you travel just a few times a year, here are my top 11 tips for making that next flight a little more pleasant.
Don't turn off the air vents.
Make friends with the gate agent.
This is the person at the end of the jetway that scans your ticket as you board and makes the announcements in the gatehouse. They are the boss and can make all the difference.
Always arrive early to the gate and take a minute to check in with this person. Ask simple questions like, “How are you today?" "Is the flight on time?" "How long until we board?" Be super nice.
This is the person who can put you in a better seat, make exceptions for you, and when the shit hits the fan, is the most important person in the airport. They’ll get you on another flight with a few clicks, while the other travelers who screamed at them will sleep on the floor of the airport that night. Fact.
Pick an airline and stick with it.
Take the status challenge.
Do you know what a status challenge is? You should. It gets you high status for a year if you fly just a fraction of the normal qualifying miles.
For example, on American Airlines to receive Platinum status, you normally have to fly 50,000 qualifying miles and spend at least $6,000 with the airline. If you have some intense travel coming up, you can speak to customer service and ask to take the Platinum Challenge. You have 90 days to fly 12,500 qualifying miles and spend $2,000 with the airline. If you do, you get Platinum status for the balance of the year and the entire following year.
Be warned: the airlines want to make it as complicated and challenging as possible, so watch out for fees.
Know your airline's rules about hidden fees -- and perks.
Serious travelers know their airline, the ins and outs and all the hookups. There are tons of websites such as The Points Guy and FlyerTalk dedicated to understanding the rules, and believe me, people who know the rules travel in better style for less money than you do.
For example, check-in time serves as the tie breaker between two passengers of equal status looking for upgrades. So to get ahead of everyone else check in early! Remember, if you’re just making it up as you go, you're paying too much, getting too little and the airlines love you for it, sucker.
Related Video: 10 Financially Wise Travel Hacks
Pay for as much as possible with your airline's credit card.
Every airline credit card has perks, and many are impressive: free checked luggage, referral bonuses, earned miles, status, upgrades and even lounge access. Make sure you're maximizing the value of your everyday spending and taking them all to the cleaners.
Don't forget to pay for your air travel with that airline’s credit card. You typically earn extra miles for that. Remember, you're part of a game -- you’re either playing or being played.
Download the airline's app.
Still using paper tickets and waiting on check-in lines at the airport? You are a dinosaur. You can do everything on an app, including check in, getting your boarding pass, changing flights and automatically receiving gate updates, so you’re not wandering around the airport like Moses in the desert.
Sign up for text notifications for your flight.
If you can set it as a default for every flight you book, do that. You’ll be the first to know about delays, gate changes, boarding times -- it’s automatic and is way ahead of the announcements in the terminal. That extra time is priceless if your flight is canceled and you need to jump on another one.
Watch the weather.
Be aware of the weather at both your departure city as well as your destination city. Both have an equal chance of ruining your day. If you're watching the weather you have a shot of getting ahead of cascading delays due to larger weather patterns.
You can change flights to fly around the bad weather patterns, usually without cost. Plus you might actually pack for an unusually cold day at your destination, instead of freezing your ass off.
Don't check luggage.
You can do it, I promise. I can go seven days with a carry-on and I’m fat and my clothes are huge. Every airline will eventually misplace or delay your checked bag. That’s fine if you're heading back home, but a disaster if you’re on the way to a meeting, or hitting a few cities in a row.
Worse in my eyes, checking luggage ties you to a specific flight, making changing flights a major hassle. And the chance of your luggage making it onto your new flight is not wonderful, especially if it’s last minute. Learn to fold and pack only what you need.
For critical trips, book earlier flights.
As weather and system issues occur, it’s typical that delays and cancellations pile up as the day goes on. Best shot for a “need to be there” meeting is to book a flight that leaves as early as you can stand it. Better to wake up at 5 a.m. than to kill time in an airport for 15 hours.