How to survive airports, problems, and have a good flight

by mihai

May 10th, 2006

Murphy’s Law Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong probably governs no other industry the way it does the airlines. And we’ve all been there, have dealt with delayed flights, missing information, lost tickets, bad weather, you name it. No matter how often you fly, eventually you will run into problems. But Murphy’s Law can be countered, by the Boy Scouts’ motto: “Be prepared.” Understanding rights and rules, and having the right mindset will get you through most air travel and airport snags and snarls. So read on, get in the know, and you’ll be able to keep your trip on-track, no matter what goes wrong.

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Know the rules.
Different airlines have different rules for different aspects of your flight, from security to check-in to baggage check, called “Conditions of Carriage.” (With tighter ticket requirements since Sept. 11, also be sure to read the fine print for paper and e-ticket requirements.) Having a basic understanding of the rules will help you have a smoother trip, and will also have you better prepared should problems arise at the airport or with your carrier. Click the link for our Air Travel Advice: “Airline Info” will tell you fast facts about major U.S. carriers; “Rules of the Air” allows you to select your airline plus what you are inquiring about, and will tell you that airline’s policies and conditions.

Know your rights.
Your rights as an air traveler don’t end with individual airline policy, however. Sites such as will inform you of your legal rights. Feel your rights have been violated? also includes a complaint section that you can use to report complaints and possible violations of the law.

Arrive early.
Allow at least two hours for domestic check-in, and two and a half hours for international flights. Two- and three-hour waits have been common too, especially in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.

Bring photo ID.
This includes a valid state-issued license, ID card, or passport. Keep it within reach at all times, both for your personal security, and because you should expect to show it a lot.

Security is there to protect you.
The aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks has resulted in heightened security measures and often lengthier procedures (and longer lines), some of which are still changing. But it is for protection, not to annoy you. If you have questions about procedures, contact your carrier and the airport.

If it has an edge, don’t try to carry it on the plane.
Swiss Army knife, penknife, even manicure scissors and sharp tweezers; if you want to bring something with an edge or point on your trip, put it in checked baggage. Don’t have it on your person, don’t put it in your carry-on. If you want to keep it, check it. Items you should either have in checked baggage or leave at home include: pocket knives, tweezers, cork screws, scissors, nail files and clippers, cigar cutters, crochet needles, Swiss Army knives, envelope openers, screwdrivers and razor blades.

Should delays happen, remember the magic words: “Please Rule 240 me.”
Rule 240 goes back to the long-gone days of airline regulation. While technically not a “rule” that airlines must abide by, most carriers still do because it’s good customer service. Should mechanical problems or other problems within the airline’s control occur (this doesn’t apply to the weather, for example), and it prevents you from reaching your destination within a certain number of hours of the originally scheduled flight time, Rule 240 may help you. For more information on Rule 240, including where it does and does not apply, “click here.

Be nice to your airline staff.
No matter what. Remember that counter staff, flight attendants and security people are doing their jobs but remember especially that they’re people, just like you. Don’t yell, lose your temper, or be demanding; you don’t like it when people do that to you on your job, and airline and airport staff are no different. Yes, problems are stressful, and yes it’s easy to blow up but you are far more likely to get things resolved and back on-track just by being nice and understanding. The person you’re working with will usually see that, too, and be far more willing to help you and go that extra mile to make sure things get worked out. So be nice. And…

This can be the hardest thing to do, but it is also the most essential. The above information helps prepare you and inform you of options but remember that sometimes things happen that are simply out of anyone’s control. Air traffic control cannot stop blizzards, and yes mechanical problems on a flight cause annoying delays, but what would you prefer: to wait an hour while everything was fixed and checked over, or fly out on-time but never make it? Exactly. now, to help you relax…

Bring plenty to do and keep you occupied.
If you do have to spend hours sitting around an airport, you might as well have something to do. If you’re on business, naturally you should have things you can work on. For the vacation or leisure traveler, bring books or books on tape, a laptop to work on other things (family budget, letters, etc.), music, or just go with your family or travel companions and get something to eat and talk (to save money, you can also bring your own food from home nothing wrong with having a little “airport picnic”).

Okay, you’re set. If you haven’t started booking your flight already, check out the different fare searchers and arrange your trip. Good luck, and have a great trip!

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