April 20, 2014 -- You know what you can count on when you fly today? Reliable transportation that is usually the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B.
That's the good news. There are several things one should not count on.
5 Things You Should Never, Ever Count on While Flying
Feel free to tell me what I've missed.
1. On-time flights
In general, airlines are getting better at landing when they say they will. But do not count on it! Weather is always a factor. Take the statistics from February of last year showing only about 80 percent of all U.S. flights were on time. Unfortunately, in February of this year, only 70 percent were. And in January, only 67 percent of flights were on time.
And don't get smug now that spring has sprung; thunder and lightning can delay more planes than snow and ice.
Tip No. 1: Avoid tight connections. If your plane is supposed to arrive in New York at noon so you can board a 1 p.m. flight to London, that's way too tight. Give yourself several hours or fly in the night before.
Tip No. 2: Always confirm flight times, but be careful. Just because a flight is supposed to be delayed a few hours doesn't mean it will be. If the weather clears or a mechanical problem is fixed quickly, the plane will take off whether you're on it or not.
2. Faster security
Maybe it usually only takes you 10 minutes to clear security but that may not be the case this summer. Airports will be crowded with once-a-year leisure travelers who don't know all the rules and may slow everyone down.
Tip: If you're a member of PreCheck, with its aster security experience, good for you, but this program comes with no guarantees. From time to time, you could be demoted to the slow line in the interest of “random” security measures.
3. Special assistance
If you have a young child traveling solo or maybe a wheelchair-bound grandparent, make sure to do your homework when it comes to providing them with all the assistance they might need. Learn your airline's rules for unaccompanied minors, have the child's necessary paperwork in order and confirm all details. If elderly folks have any medical issues, call the TSA Cares helpline at 1-855-787-2227 to avoid the possibility of unpleasant surprises at security.
Luckily, problems are extremely rare, but not unknown: Children have been sent to the wrong cities and a grandmother was left on a plane alone when her wheelchair attendant failed to show.
Tip: Make sure everyone has a cellphone (and knows how to use it), complete with pre-programmed numbers. Then confirm all details of the trip. Then confirm again.
On today's flights, you get what you pay for (as Spirit passengers know better than anyone). If you want a bigger seat, you'll pay for it, or try for an upgrade with miles. If you want food, be prepared to spend some money (credit cards only). If you want more attention from the flight attendant, get an upgrade to business class.
Tip: Bring all the comforts of home such as a lunch, a small pillow and blanket. Electronic devices are nice, too.
5. Sense of humor
I hope you saw the video of that Southwest flight attendant providing laugh-out-loud commentary during the usually dull safety-briefing, but don't be fooled: Humor is in short supply. Most airline and airport passengers are just too busy with service and safety tasks. Your flight attendant will not be amused by efforts to flirt with her or the constant ding of the call button.
Tip: Do not make jokes about bombs on a plane, at security or on Twitter. The airlines have zero sense of humor on this topic and zero tolerance. Just ask the teen who allegedly tweeted a bomb threat to American Airlines recently. She can tell you all about her arrest.