Avoiding in-flight “are we there yet?”
By Richard Davis
It’s often said that flying is one of the safest forms of travel. That may be true but it certainly isn’t the most pleasant, especially in this post-9/11 era of poverty-stricken airlines. Add kids and summer crowds to the picture, and you may be tempted to stay home and hunker down in front of the TV. But a little preparation can go a long way.
Choosing your airline
A pleasant trip begins with choosing the right airline. Before buying your tickets, visit airline Web sites and check out their in-flight entertainment. Look for things like individual seatback video screens with movies “on demand” and video games. My personal favorite is JetBlue, an airline that operates a young fleet of aircraft. Their video-entertainment systems are new, well maintained and include seatback video screens with DirecTV, giving kids access to 36 channels, including kids’ programming like TV Land, Boomerang, and Nickelodeon. And if music is their thing, JetBlue offers more than 100 channels of XM Satellite Radio
Ticketing and reservations
Ticket prices vary, so shop around for the best price. A good place to start is the Sunday travel section of your newspaper. But don’t expect too much. Airlines take full advantage of “supply and demand” during the summer season. Buy as far in advance as possible to get the best deal. But be careful, the cheaper the ticket, the less flexibility you’ll have if you need to make changes. Make sure your travel dates are firm before you buy.
The good new is that buying tickets has become easier. Besides a traditional travel agency, you can buy your tickets online from an airline Web site or a travel site like Orbitz or Expedia. And since most airlines now issue “electronic tickets,” your tickets are stored electronically so there’s nothing that can be lost or stolen.
It’s also a good idea to choose your seats when you make your reservations. If you wait until you get to the airport, and your flight is fully booked, you’ll risk having family members seated separately during the flight. You might also get stuck with the “less-popular” seats. These include seats that can’t recline, are between two other seats or are a little too close to the lavatory.
Be sure to ask which terminal in the airport you need to go to. International travel within the Americas can be especially confusing. Some flights depart from the international terminal while others don’t. Know before you go.
Remember: everyone gets a luggage allowance, even your little ones. Take advantage of it. But don’t go over the limit. Airlines have discovered a goldmine by charging excess baggage fees. Even a pound or two over the limit will cost you big bucks.
Fill your carry-on bags with MP3s, hand-held games, snacks, books, or whatever else you’ll need to keep the little ones busy once they tire of looking out the window (usually about five minutes after take-off.) And don’t forget the batteries.
Check-in bags should have your name, address and telephone number on both the outside and inside. Check out The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Web site for the latest important information on what you can and can’t bring with you on the airplane.
If you’re traveling internationally, be sure you have all required documents. Without them, you won’t be allowed to board the aircraft. If one parent is traveling with the children, he or she may need a notarized affidavit from the other parent giving permission to take them out of the country. This requirement varies by destination, so contact your airline for additional information.
Day of departure
Plan to arrive at the airport at least three hours before your flight. It sounds like a long time, but you’ll be surprised how slow airline check-in and security lines can move. Go to your gate, take a seat that’s close enough to hear any announcements and enjoy your flight.
Richard Davis is a freelance writer who has logged nearly 100,000 airline miles with his wife and 10-year-old son.