Are rude fellow passengers, unyielding fees and stressful delays just part of air travel? Maybe. Here’s a rundown of how to make your travel experience more Zen-like, from booking to landing (and how to complain if it isn’t):
There are a few steps you can take before you even get off the ground to make your trip less expletive worthy. For starters, choose a flight early in the morning — they are less prone to delays. You might even find that the other passengers are too tired to get rowdy. If you make a mistake, like making a reservation on the wrong day, most airlines will give you 24 hours to change your ticket without fees. Deal with problems quickly and don’t worry.
Choosing an airline
While you may choose an airline for its frequent flier program or variety of destinations, there are a few issues of comfort to keep in mind, too. There’s a big difference between carriers in seat width and seat pitch (the space between you and the seat in front of you). If you’re flying in coach, JetBlue Airways Corp. offers the most space for your legs. And the airline’s satellite TVs at every seat can ease stress during turbulence and keep kids occupied. If you’re looking for the lowest fees, Southwest Airlines Co. is the best choice — you won’t pay for bags. A full rundown of fees is shown in black and white on sites like Kayak.com.
The location of your seat will also make a big difference. Visit SeatGuru.com to examine the plane layouts for every major airline, detailing everything from foot space to proximity to the bathrooms. Make sure you confirm your seat assignment 24 hours ahead of the flight to ensure you’ve got the one you wanted. This is also when airlines release their spacious emergency exit rows — so try to snatch one of those if a frequent flier hasn’t beat you to them.
Airport ease and avoiding fees
Although preparation is the biggest key to comfortable air travel, there are also a few simple things everyone can do to avoid hassles and fees. Most importantly, use the Web as much as possible. From booking to checking your bags, the Internet makes it possible to avoid virtually all interactions with airline staff. If you have luggage that’s small enough to fit on the plane but big enough to steal a lot of space in the overhead compartment, consider checking it at the gate. You’ll avoid hoisting a large bag over a crowded plane of passengers — a time where most plane conflicts start. Plus, you won’t pay a dime. Airlines generally don’t charge you bag fees when you relinquish your luggage planeside.
The big picture
To modernize an old expression, “Only you can prevent air travel misery.” As passengers, we have to be willing to be sympathetic to other people’s feelings. Take into account that the flight attendant who’s rolling her eyes is probably overworked and the passenger who barks at you might be dealing with some other stress at home. If it’s a passenger who’s irking you, ask to be re-seated. If it’s an airline employee who’s troubling you, it’s best to take a couple deep breaths and try to let the problem roll off your shoulders. Ultimately, if you think a formal complaint is warranted, deal with it when your emotions aren’t running high. Instead of searching for customer service numbers, send an e-mail complaint through the airline’s Web site. Airlines are required to respond to any complaints in writing. You can also gripe to the Department of Transportation on its Web site at http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/.
There’s also a 21st-century way to complain: Facebook and Twitter. Whether you tweet or post a gripe to an airline’s Facebook account, it’s considered a formal written complaint and the company is required to respond.