Airports & Surviving the air travel experience
Tips on having the most comfortable air travel experience possible, from getting to and from the airport to picking the right seat on the plane
At the airport
- Peruse the airport website (Atlasnavigator.com) - The most useful part of any airport website—especially that of the city into which you are flying—is to find out the fastest, cheapest, and most convenient way to get downtown. Most airport websites will describe in detail and provide phone numbers, web links, and in most cases prices for every single option and method possible—public buses, airport shuttles, high-speed rail connections, taxis, limo services, rental car offices, parking, etc. That's great, but it doesn't tell you which is actually the best to use. (I do so, though, in each major city section: Rome, Venice, Florence). In addition, the airport website will usually provide a layout of all the terminals (handy for transfers) as well as the shops and services—so you'll know there's a restaurant around the corner where you can wait out your layover rather than crowding around the tiny snack bar by the gate.
- Save on parking at off-site airport lots (AirportParkingReservations.com, ParkNFlyNetwork.com) - If you can't find someone to drop you off for your flight and/or there's no good public transport option and you're going to have to leave a car at your home airport, check out these much cheaper alternatives to the airport lots (even long-term lots).
- Keep track of your flight (FlightTracker.com) - I can't count how many times an independent tracking service (and a helpful partner at home keeping track for me and calling me on my cell) has let me know about a delay or flight cancellation long before the desk at the terminal would cop to it (giving me a high edge over the other passengers in making contingency arrangements—by which I mean I got one of the three empty seats on the next flight out while everyone else ended up getting bumped to the following day).
- Find ways to kill time at the airport (Expedia.com/daily/airports) - An online version of a the book "Stuck at the Airport" by Harriet Baskas filled with useful info and helpful diversions. For example, at Washington Dulles it tells you how to get to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum's Udzar-Hazy Center annex just 2.5 miles away (this enormous hangar is filled with amazing planes, like the Enola Gay and an SR-71 Blackbird—oh, and a space shuttle), and at Charles de Gaulle it tells you where there's an archeological exhibit of stuff dug up while building Terminal 2.
- Sleeping in airports (www.sleepinginairports.com) - Yes, there is actually an entire website devoted to the art of sleeping in airports during long layovers. Enjoy. » more
- Pick the right seat on the plane (SeatGuru.com, SeatExpert.com) - Use these websites to figure out which seat to pick—largely through avoiding ones that don't recline fully (in front of bulkheads and bathrooms), or are narrower (exit row and bulkhead seats may have more legroom, but they're also usually narrower, since the arm rests are frequently a tad wider to accommodate those retractable tray tables that would otherwise be on the seatback in front of you).
- Get comfy. Bring a good book or handful of magazines, your favorite guidebook to do some preparatory reading, some snacks, and a bottle of water (save money by carrying an empty bottle through security then filling it at the water fountain). Take of your shoes and use them to help prop up your feet. To try and get some shut-eye, carry an inflatable neck pillow (all-around-the neck style or horseshoe collar), eye mask, and noise-canceling headphones—which, gosh darn it, actually work (by removing the dull, largely subsonic roar of the plane, they help reduce your level of stress, both making it easier to sleep and reducing the jet lag effect; no joke) and, yes, even a light packer like me lugs a pair around just for the plane flights (plus, since they remove that dull plane roar, they make it far easier to hear the movie).
- Try to get some sleep. I have two dozen tips dedicated to this admittedly difficult endeavor (including those above, like picking a seat and bringing gadgets). They're listed on a separate page. » more
- Sleeping in airports
- How to find the cheapest airfare every time
- The countdown calendar - What to do and when to do it preparing for a trip
- How far in advance to book airfare to Italy
- How big a carry-on am I allowed?
- Tips for sleeping on the plane
- Dealing with jet lag
- Getting an Italian cellphone at the airport
This material was last updated January 2011. All information was accurate at the time.
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