I don't get to fly anywhere near as much as I would like to, however later this week I will be taking my first transatlantic flight. This got me thinking about the different resources that I use when I fly somewhere. A few simple tools can help make you a more informed traveler and make your whole trip smoother.
Things I Do in Advance
When I book a flight, I typically have one web browser tab opened to the booking page and another to seatguru.com. Simply enter your airline, flight number, and the date you are travelling and up pops a seat map of the airplane that is color coded with plenty of notes to help you find a great seat. Another thing that I do immediately after booking is to forward my itinerary from the airline to TripIt. In its free version, TripIt provides a host of planning and tracking tools and can also include your hotel and car rental reservations. While there are several other services out there that do similar things (such as WorldMate and TripCase), TripIt seems to be the one that is most widely integrated with other services. While I am at it, I make sure that all my information is entered into the other apps that I use, which I will describe below.
Things I Do As I Pack
I have a few necessary steps here. First, I make sure that I have the airline(s) rebooking number stored in my phone contacts in case I have a problem. In the case of a cancelled flight, getting on the phone quickly can get you rebooked long before you get to speak to an agent. I also bookmark any useful or relevant webpages in my smartphone. This includes both the airline's main and cargo websites. After checking in online as far in advance as possible, I print my boarding passes and put them and any other documentation necessary for the trip (ie: Passport) in an easily accessible pocket in my carry-on luggage. Finally, if I haven't already done so I register for flight updates with the airline so that they will call or text me with gate numbers, delay notifications, etc.
Before I Head to the Airport
Here's where the fun really starts! There are a few great tools here to make the process run much more smoothly. The key to monitoring your flight status is to have the ability to track your plane on the flights before yours. While this seems like a simple thing, in practice it can be very difficult to figure out even the flight immediately preceding yours at a major airport, and monitoring the ones before that are nearly impossible. The best tool that I have found so far is FlightView. Available as both a website and an app (actually 3 apps, I use the free one), in addition to showing the information about your flight, it shows you as many as several prior days worth of flights for that particular airplane. Concerned about bumps along the way? The website Turbulence Forecast has all sorts of maps to let you know what to expect.
At the Airport
As an avgeek, time that is spent at the airport is golden. There are so many things to watch and experience that it is nice to be able to relax knowing that I have done all of my planning in advance. When I first arrive, I tend to devote most of my energies to getting checked in and through security.One tool that is sometimes useful at this point is the MyTSA app which provides crowd-sourced checkpoint wait times. I say this is useful sometimes because it relies on other travelers to report in via the app. Once passing through security, my mission moves to monitoring of delays and gate changes, along with enjoying the airport experience.I find that TripIt alerts are great at this point. They generally arrive faster than alerts that come directly from the airline, and in the case of trouble this can give you a leg up on the rest of the passengers. So as I'm watching the planes, I have some comfort in knowing that if something goes wrong I'll know about it quickly. If something does go wrong, In addition to getting in line to speak to an agent, I get on the phone with the rebooking department. Chances are that I will have my problems resolved quicker by doing that then I will working my way to the front of the line. This is where having the airline's cargo website already bookmarked can help, since it is the best place I have found for accurate causes for the flight delay or cancellation. If its caused by things like weather that are 'outside the airline's control' then the delay is on me the traveler However if its caused by something that is 'under the airline's control' such as maintenance, then the airline has certain responsibilities including food and lodging if it should come down to it. I'm not saying that I have ever had an airline agent lie to me, but it is good to know that I have a reliable inside source.
Now for a programming note: Join me later this week as I embark on my first ever trip to Europe. Through the end of the month I will be sharing my photos, thoughts and experiences of my travels in Italy. It will be a bit outside of the normal content of the blog and I hope you all enjoy it.