Everyone knows that just making your flight reservation is the easy part; if anything can go wrong to give you travel headaches, it probably will. Anyone who's flown more than once can probably tell you at least one tale of a delayed flight, lost luggage, missing tickets, unpleasant fellow passengers, or any number of travel woes. But as long as you prepare for them ahead of time, problems can be quick and easy to handle.
Before you even leave home to head to the airport, brush up on the rules of the sky. Every airport and every airline have different rules governing flights, from check-in procedures to baggage check, security, and everything in between. These rules are called 'Conditions of Carriage', and for most airlines, they are spelled out in fine print. Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, ticket requirements have been much tighter and rules are less flexible; be sure to read all the fine print so you have a basic understanding of the rules.
Arrive early at the airport. For domestic check-in, you should allow at least two hours before your flight is scheduled to leave. For international flights, better give yourself at least two and a half hours. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon are the busiest times of the day, and Mondays and Fridays are the busiest weekdays, so keep that in mind when you schedule your flights as well as when you plan what time to arrive at the airport.
Be nice to security personnel and airline staff. Security officers are there to protect you and make sure you arrive at your destination safe and sound. Although security measures in our post 9/11 society are stricter than ever, and some are continually changing, they are in place to protect you, not to annoy you. The more patient and friendly you are when going through security checkpoints, the easier the process will be.
Counter staff and flight attendants do the same job day in and day out, and they are used to dealing with irate and irritated travelers. But that doesn't mean they should have to. Don't yell, lose your temper, or take out your frustrations on airline staff if a problem crops up that might affect your trip. You are far more likely to get things back on track without a hitch if you are nice and understanding. The saying 'you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar' applies perfectly when dealing with airline personnel, especially when there are a lot of other travelers who are also upset.
If it has a sharp edge or sloshes, don't try to carry it on the plane. Most sharp objects―even some types of pens and pencils―are not allowed on your person or in carry-on luggage. If you want to bring along a Swiss Army knife, cork screw, cigar cutter, crochet needles, a screwdriver, razor blades, or anything with an edge or point, be sure to put it in your checked baggage if you want to keep it. Otherwise it may be confiscated by security during check-in.
Know your rights. Years ago, before airline deregulation in 1978, every airline was required by law to establish their own individual Rule 240, which details what the airline will do when a problem arises within their control that causes passengers to be late or stranded. If mechanical problems or staff conflicts prevent you from reaching your destination on time, for instance, remember to ask for Rule 240 to be applied to your trip. These policies may give you free hotel accommodations, free meals, phone calls, and other amenities to help make up for your troubles. You may be booked on a substitute flight, have your seat assignment upgraded, or even be compensated or given a refund if the airline cannot fix the problem. Rule 240 does not apply, however, when problems occur that are outside the control of the airline, such as bad weather, strikes, or acts of God.
Bring along plenty of things to keep you occupied while you wait. Because you will have to spend at least some time sitting and waiting in the airport, you should plan to have something to do. If you're on business, you can bring along work to do. If you're on vacation, bring a laptop computer to do personal business on or play games. Bring books on tape, newspapers or magazines, or an iPod to listen to music while you wait. If you are traveling with family or friends, you can get something to eat or drink and just talk for a while. Without the sterile and impersonal cocoon of e-mail to hamper you, you might actually enjoy the back-and-forth conversation.
Most of all, relax! Although this is probably the most essential thing to remember to have a successful flight, it is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Remember that there are many things that can happen that are simply out of anyone's control. Weather can be unpredictable, mechanical components fail, and people are only human and, therefore, make mistakes. When Murphy's law attacks with a vengeance, just stop, take a deep breath, and relax. The world will keep turning, whatever has gone wrong will get fixed, and you can continue on your journey with a smile on your face.