Remember when flying was fun? Neither do we. Between delayed and canceled flights, understaffed ticket counters, long lines, intrusive security procedures, lost luggage, no meals, surly passengers, stressed-out flight attendants and the specter of terrorism, chances are your next trip won't be a lot of laughs -- but there are some things you can do to make it a little more bearable. As the busy winter travel season unfolds, here are 25 common flight snags and how you can avoid them.
Getting to the Airport/Parking
SNAG: You're not sure how early to leave for the airport.
SOLUTION: Check out wait times at security checkpoints before you leave at waittime.tsa.dhs.gov. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration site reports average and maximum wait times at concourses across the country -- historical data only, but it can be helpful in planning.
Carry your cell phone, pager or PDA on the way to the airport so you can receive updated flight and travel info from your airline or travel provider. Most major airlines, including American, United, Northwest, Delta, Continental and Southwest, will send you updated flight information, including gate changes and flight status, via phone or e-mail. Online ticket brokers, such as Travelocity.com and Orbitz.com, will also keep you abreast of changes on flights booked through them. You must sign up for these notification services before you go.
SNAG: You get to the airport and there's no parking.
SOLUTION: Yeah, you should have left earlier. But now that you're in this jam, consider parking at an off-site lot, which can be cheaper than the airport's lots. Before you leave, find out where they are (www.longtermparking.comlets you compare discount options at airports across the United States and in the United Kingdom). You can sometimes print out a discount coupon. Consider joining a parking affinity club, which can guarantee you a space during busy travel times.
Another option: Pay to park at a nearby airport hotel (see next snag).
SNAG: Your flight leaves at the crack of dawn and you don't relish the 4 a.m. wakeup call to get to the airport in time.
SOLUTION: Stay at an airport hotel the night before. Bonus: Many offer sleep-park-and-fly packages that can be considerably cheaper than airport parking lots. And they often include a ride to the airport. For a list of hotels offering parking packages in the United States and abroad, go to www.parksleepfly.com.
It may not be an option for early or late flights, but if scheduling permits, consider using mass transit: Metro to Reagan National; Metro/bus combos to Dulles; or Metro/bus, Amtrak or the MARC train to BWI. Details: www.metwashairports.com, www.bwiairport.com.
Another option: Trade a ride to the airport from a friend for a dinner out. It may cost more, but the bottom line is a much easier commute.