Seven Basic Lessons for Surviving The Travel “Experience”

As anyone reading this blog knows, air travel isn’t perfect. The problem is that there are several steps in the process of getting from here to there that can go wrong and, if any single link in the chain breaks, the whole thing could fall apart. Getting to the airport. Checking in. Getting through security. And that’s only the airport portion. You could have weather delays, mechanical delays, a sick crew member, a late inbound aircraft, etc. If you miss a connection, you’re generally subject to the whims of the carrier. Having fun yet?

Since you will never eliminate all risks, your best bet is to try to minimize them, a fact that I was reminded of the other day when a family member (AFM) was trying to get from Boston (BOS) to Baltimore (BWI) with his six-month old son (SMOS). On a good day, that’s still a challenge. On Sunday, it was a small nightmare. I want to trace his journey as a learning exercise.

Weather in Boston was poor, which automatically means delays. Indeed, Southwest’s app was indicating that the 1:50 pm flight would be delayed until 2:30 pm, giving him a little extra time with the family. Alternative transportation was out: Amtrak had been shut down due to a derailment.

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Lesson #1: Trust, but verify, especially when it comes to Southwest. Their mobile technology trails their competitors’, sometimes badly, and the app has a bad habit of not providing the most up-to-date information.

Lesson #2: Even if your flight is showing a delay, you must show up at the airport for the original time. The airline has every right to determine that the delay is unnecessary and move the flight back to the original time. It’s rare, but it happens. If you aren’t there, they will leave without you.

AFM arrived at the airport around 12:45, which should have been plenty of time to make either of those flights. And then he had to go through security. As I have mentioned in a previous thread, airports around the country have been seeing increasingly long lines, possibly related to Americans’ rising desire to wash their hair and brush their teeth. Most airlines have warnings on their websites to arrive two hours before your flight, a notice that travelers generally ignore. You may not be able to ignore it much longer, though, as summer travel approaches. There is no excuse for these types of security lines,* but my anger and $4 will get you a cup of coffee and not much more.

Lesson #3: If you never, ever learn anything else from me, learn this: Please, I’m begging you, sign up for PreCheck or Global Entry. It’s a pain, but it’s a one-time pain. Please. It’s like a shot: It hurts now, but it will save you so much misery down the line. Please sign up. Please.

Not a TSO

Not a TSO

By the time AFM showed up at his gate, it was 2:20. The flight had not left yet, but it was oversold. Because he showed up late, he was not entitled to any compensation, including being put on another carrier. He was also flying Southwest, which leaves from Terminal A in Boston, where there are no other carriers that fly non-stop to Baltimore.

Lesson #4: Know your rights. Know what you are and aren’t entitled to. Don’t accept anything less than you are owed, but be aware of when you might not be owed anything.

Lesson #5: Know your back-ups. Things go wrong. There wasn’t a lot AFM could have done in this situation without having to clear another ridiculous security line, but know what you’re up against.

Lesson #6: If you’re traveling with a kid, estimate how much food you’ll need ahead of time. Then double it. Then triple that number. Then double it again. That should last an hour. And if you have special needs, including breast milk, print out the rules ahead of time, just in case. Short version: It’s allowed, as is pumping and cooling equipment.

He ultimately made it out on the 6:00 pm flight, about four hours late. Southwest was nice enough to book him on the next available flight without an issue.

And when he got to Baltimore, he discovered that the airline had left the car seat and stroller back in Boston.

Lesson #7: Try as hard as possible to maintain a sense of humor.

 

*There actually is an excuse: TSA badly overestimated the number of people that would sign up for the Global Entry/Pre-Check program and based staffing on those estimates. The problem is that the government made it as difficult as possible to sign up: You have to schedule an appointment, go to the airport and pay $85-100 based on the program you join. And they wonder why they’re having trouble getting people to sign up?

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