Feb. 25, 2009 -- Now, more than ever, we airline passengers need good, solid travel tips.
I was reminded of this after seeing a recent survey from Travel + Leisure magazine, listing the best and worst airports -- at least when it comes to flight delays. The top three in each category:
Best Airports: Salt Lake City, Portland, Ore., and San Diego/Oakland, Calif./Washington Reagan and Minneapolis-St. Paul (the latter all "tied" for third place).
Worst Airports: Chicago O'Hare, Newark, N.J., and Miami (closely followed by Dallas/Ft. Worth and New York's LaGuardia).
If you fly, you will get stuck. Unfortunately for many people, this is not an uncommon situation regardless of any airport's rating. We all get upset when our air travel plans are upended. That said, there are things you can do to make the best out of a bad airport situation.
Don't Be a Jerk
Your flight has been delayed or canceled and you have to be there. Relax, we all have to be somewhere and we're all in this together.
Don't yell: There's plenty of anecdotal information that airline and security reps might give you some "special attention" if you let your temper get the better of you -- the personal pat-down, or maybe your name gets put at the bottom of the "next plane out" list. If you're faced with Dr. Heckle or Mr. Nice, who would you rather help?
Act Quickly: True, we are all in a bad situation together. But let's be clear: some will get front row concert seats and others the nose bleed. The bottom line is that those prepared for the inevitability of airport issues who act quickly end up with a better resolution -- every time.
In our daily lives, emergencies are covered by spares, jacks and three-digit phone numbers. For the most part, we are prepared.
I can't say the same for most air travelers. What do you really know about your next flight? Are you familiar with the airport layout and airlines at your next connecting airport? What other airlines fly around your departure times that might get you back on track?
Face it: we have become our own travel agents, like it or not. We buy our tickets online, print our boarding passes at home, cram inordinate amounts of clothing into free carry-ons and pack our liquids in quart-sized bags.
A few extra minutes to pull together a simple air travel emergency kit should be an essential part of any trip. Here is what you'll need:
A small overview airport map of all connecting and destination airports (your home airport as well, if you aren't very familiar).
Airline phone numbers in your cell contacts (I like to also have a note about the touch key sequence required to get a human).
List of flights around your departure times so you can help the rebooking agent help you.
Direct to desk of nearby airport hotel phone numbers on your cell. The local number is important because many chain hotel Web sites will say "no rooms" but the hotel has inventory for walk-in's.
Night Before Checklist
Packing: There are two kinds of bags: carry-on and expensive. Too much stuff for a carry-on? Ship some of your belongings (especially gifts). And always bring a coat with a lot of pockets (a raincoat will do in summer.) Those pockets can hold socks, t-shirts and more. No room for that bulky sweater you need? Wear it and carry the coat.
Print out your boarding pass: It saves time. Just don't forget it. Check-in 24 hours before, preferably, as some airlines provide free seat assignments at that time (if you want an aisle or window.)
Time to Go
Don't be late, Part One: Have you noticed that more and more flights are doing better in those Department of Transportation on-time statistics? That's because some flights are actually leaving five or even 10 minutes ahead of time. When the airline says be in the boarding area 20 minutes ahead of time, do so.
Don't be late, Part Two: If the flight you're taking is one you've been assigned after your original flight was canceled and the airline tells you to be there 90 minutes ahead of time -- believe it. I've heard from many people who didn't believe it, got there an hour ahead of time, only to find every seat was taken.
Need Credit Card for 'Cashless Cabin'
Grab some cash: But don't forget your credit cards -- more and more airlines are switching to "cashless cabins" for food, or pillows and blankets.
I am constantly amazed how being proactive and prepared has saved me more than a few headaches at the airport, both domestic and abroad. Now, if I could only figure out how to quit leaving my headphones in the seat back pocket …
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations, including ABC News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Associated Press and Bloomberg. His Web site FareCompare.com offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deal.