Some tips for your air trips

Advice from these experts may help the summer fly by more smoothly

May 04, 2008|By Vicki Lee Parker | Vicki Lee Parker,McClatchy-Tribune

Let me just put it out there: Air travel this summer is going to be downright miserable.

If you manage to get through a trip without a major delay, flight cancellation, lost bag or overnight stay in a strange city, consider yourself an exception.

Airlines are cutting flights, raising fees and, in some cases, shutting down. Add the usual summer storms and heavy traffic to the mix, and it'll be messy.

Most travelers will benefit from packing a travel contingency plan.

Don't have one?

Here are some tips from those who travel best - frequent fliers.

Marco Fregenal, chief executive officer of Raleigh, N.C., software firm Carpio, racks up more than 150,000 air miles a year traveling to offices in Panama, Mexico and Brazil.

Over the years, he has learned flight attendants' names and schedules, which flights from Newark, N.J., are usually delayed and which seats on American Airlines' planes have the least amount of leg room.

He also has figured out some timesaving tricks. One helps him avoid standing in line for hours, waiting to clear Customs on international flights.

Fregenal finds out how many planes are scheduled to land in the country where he has to go through Customs. If there are two or more, he tries to get a seat on the first flight landing there in order to be the first in line.

If his flight is canceled, he doesn't bother to run to the counter to rebook. Fregenal keeps at least two airline numbers on his cell phone's speed dial.

"I'm immediately on the phone, getting a seat on the next flight out," he said. "There is only one person at the counter, but there may be 100 people waiting to take your call."

Before trips, he often goes to the airline's Web site to research his flight. There, he can find out what percentage of the time the flight lands on schedule. If it's less than 80 percent, he might try to find another flight.

Bill Mann, a lawyer at Ragsdale Liggett in Raleigh, said he travels with only a carry-on bag. He estimates that when he was making about 60 flights a year, carrying his luggage on board saved him about 90 minutes per trip. It also saved him from worrying about lost luggage.

Mann said that he knows of frequent fliers who FedEx their bags to the hotel they are traveling to - a common tactic among corporate salespeople who transport stacks of sales brochures and packages. But Mann has never tried it because of the cost. According to www.shippingsidekick.com, it can cost more than $100 to ship an early-arrival, 10-pound overnight package from Raleigh to Manhattan.

The expense might be easier to swallow as airlines begin charging for the second checked bag.

Mann has had so many canceled flights that at one point in his career, he had memorized the toll-free numbers for four airlines, as well as his frequent-flier numbers.

Now when he books his reservations online, he prints a list of alternative flights with dates and times so he will have backup flights handy just in case.

Sometimes he uses airline-tracking sites such as www.flightstats.com, www.flightguide.com or www.oag.com. Travelers can also use the sites to check airport delays, set up flight alerts and find out who flies where.

Most airports have wireless Internet connections, so travelers with laptops can hop on the Internet to rebook or track flights.

Tony Maupin, owner of Maupin Travel in Raleigh, suggests that if you book your flight through a travel agency, call the agency first if your flight is delayed or canceled.

An agent can book you on the next available flight. The service is usually included in the fee you pay when you purchase your ticket.

Maupin also suggests:

* Try not to book the last flight of the night. If it's canceled, you'll have to stay overnight.

* Avoid booking flights on the busiest travel days. The best days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

* Use major airlines that will rebook you on another airline. Many charter airlines do not have such arrangements with other carriers.

* Have someone drive you to the airport. During the summer, airport parking lots fill up quickly.

* Download and print boarding passes before going to the airport.

* Check luggage curbside to avoid the ticket-counter line. However, luggage for international flights must be checked inside.

* Carry an airline contract with you. Each airline has rules that cover different circumstances. Make sure the airline is providing you with all the services outlined in the contract.

* Don't yell at gate agents. If you are calm and understanding, they will serve you better, Maupin said.

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