Tara Hunt has some good (and bad) travel advice. I TOTALLY disagree with her about timing, though (her times are too short to be safe). Here’s why:
1) Many airlines won’t let your bags on if you don’t get to the counter 45 minutes before your flight takes off. I learned that one the hard way when we got to the counter with 42 minutes left and were delayed, which ended up costing us $300 due to a layover in Chicago that we hadn’t planned on before.
2) Most airlines won’t let you on the plane if you don’t get to the gate 10 minutes before your flight takes off. I learned that once at Alaska Airlines when I got to the gate with eight minutes to go. There’s nothing worse than looking at the plane you’re supposed to be on sitting right in front of your face and having the gate agent tell you she can’t let you on, even though you got there eight minutes before it was supposed to take off.
3) Security lines can often be more than 30 minutes — in Atlanta this week I waited 45 minutes in the line. At Oakland I’ve waited an hour in that line.
4) Getting to the ticket counter can occasionally take 45 minutes or longer, especially in heavy travel conditions. Due to lines, understaffed counters, or computer troubles. Remember when I was flying to see John Edwards? I waited in line more than two hours and still hadn’t got to the ticket counter (extreme condition because Southwest in Oakland was all screwed up that morning).
The thing is this all varies by airport. San Francisco and Seattle are usually pretty good (although SF can see lots of delays if there’s fog and/or weather). Oakland, really bad (only if you’re on Southwest, otherwise it’s actually pretty good). Atlanta? Horrid.
Anyway, the new rule we recommend? 1:30 for any domestic flight and three hours for any international flight. If you can add more, do. There’s nothing more stressful than seeing a super long security line or, worse, being caught in traffic on the way to the airport knowing you are about to miss the only flight of the day.
Keep in mind that we often break these rules which is exactly why I have this advice (we’ve gotten caught too short a few too many times). In Atlanta last week I was at the airport four hours before my flight took off so I had absolutely no stress (since getting EVDO I don’t care about sitting in airports anymore cause I can get a lot of work done). The thing is you can often get to the counter 50 minutes before your flight and be just fine (but even if this works nine out of 10 times, the 10th time might really cost you).
If you’re carrying your bags on you can even often push it and get there just 33 minutes ahead of time (29, though, and the ticket machines won’t let you print out a ticket and you’ll have to wait in line, which will probably make you late). In many airports that’ll work eight out of 10 times. Not odds I’d want you to bet on and is ALWAYS stressful, even if you make the flight. That brings me to something else, print out your boarding passes at home, especially if you only have carryon bags. That will let you skip the counter altogether and then you’ll only have to worry about the security line.
Some other things I’d add to Tara’s list? Have your airlines phone numbers saved on your phone, or written down somewhere. If you get caught on the freeway on the way to the airport (it happens, sometimes there’s an accident that’ll close all lanes) it’ll reduce your stress to know your options. Once we were caught in such a traffic jam and learned our plane was running two hours late by calling.
I wouldn’t travel anymore without EVDO either. It’s so nice to be able to get onto the Internet without worrying about finding a Wifi hot spot (airports often don’t have complete coverage and if they do many charge you $7 to $12 to get on, at least in the United States). Check Wikipedia about the airports you’re visiting, though. Often you’ll learn something about the airport and the airports with free Wifi will often be mentioned on Wikipedia.
If you’re flying to places you’re unfamiliar with, triple check your tickets and make sure you KNOW where you’re going. We almost went to Genova instead of Geneva and are just lucky my aunt checked our tickets before we got on the train.
I learned something else this week. If someone else is booking your flights (which often happens if you work in a company and other people are making your travel plans) make sure you look at the tickets before you approve them. I didn’t realize there was a stop in Phoenix and if I had known that I would have gotten a non-stop (they were available, but would have required a small change to my schedule).
Anything else I can think of to help you travel? If you’re a woman traveling alone you should check out Tango Diva (they have a man issue on the home page right now). Heck, I can’t help plugging Tango Diva. The founder lives a few houses away from me and she’s going out to breakfast with us in the morning.