The 5 Best Ways to Mess Up a Vacation Flight

PHOTO: Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 planes prepare for takeoff at William P. Hobby international airport in Houston, Texas, at sunset, November 23, 2015. John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 planes prepare for takeoff at William P. Hobby international airport in Houston, Texas, at sunset, November 23, 2015.

Off the top of my head, one of the best ways to screw up a vacation flight is to be a little too tired.

Such was the case with an exhausted family group dozing in the airport a couple of years back; they completely missed the PA announcement that their flight was boarding and had to wait for another flight the next day.

Don’t let that happen to you, and don’t screw up a flight in any of these other ways, either.

1. Ignore the magic date to fly
If you don’t have plans yet, good news: The fall season is coming up fast and that means cheaper fares for departures beginning Aug. 23. You can shop now but don’t begin your trip until Aug. 23 or beyond; that’s when prices drop as much as 20 percent over peak summer prices.

2. Avoid your dream destination
If you think Europe is only for the rich, think again. Here are some recent round-trip fares found just a couple of days ago (and the airlines are all names you know) for week-long trips in September.

- New York to Rome, $515
- Boston to Paris, $520
- Los Angeles to Oslo, $582

Note: prices change all the time and so could these; your best bet is to use an airfare comparison search (like mine but there are plenty of others out there).

3. Pack like an amateur
Amateurs pack more than they need; they pack valuables and they pack heavy stuff. Overweight charges even on domestic flights can run up to $200 a bag (and that’s on top of the checked bag fee). Use a carry-on. On many airlines they’re free but more importantly, carry-ons don’t end up in Albuquerque when you’re going to Atlanta.

4. Act like you’ve never flown before
We see this most often at the security line; travelers who seem to have never heard of the "shoes off" directive or that you cannot bring a filled water bottle through the checkpoint. These folks slow themselves down and everyone behind them.

5. Have no Plan B
Travelers need back-up plans because stuff happens; as Southwest learned last week, computer systems sometimes go down, flights get cancelled but weather is also a culprit. In fact, bad storms can be a much bigger factor in summer delays than in winter (think thunder and lightning) but there are a couple of things you can do to prepare for whatever:

- Keep charger cords for all electronics on you and not in the checked bag.
- Follow the airline on social media; have the carrier’s contact info in your mobile.
- Prep for delays with food and entertainment (particularly if traveling with kids).

Word of caution: Even if your airline announces a lengthy delay, don’t go far. If the problem is a mechanical issue which gets sorted out quickly, the aircraft will take off then and there despite what you were just told. If you’ve gone off to sightsee or are in the midst of a nice long nap and miss the boarding announcement, you may be out of luck.

Rick Seaney is the CEO of FareCompare, a website that curates the best deals on flights from around the world

Any opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author.