It will not come as news to anyone that flying ain’t what it used to be!  The days of smiling attendants, starched linens and free meals have given way to snarls, delays, and overloaded planes. Due to the horrible days after 911, airlines found themselves barely able to stay in the air. People stopped flying, fuel costs spiked, and the carriers all had cut costs. Pillows, magazines, and snacks were eliminated. Bottom line:  Today, airplanes feel less like luxury travel and more like flying Petri dishes!

But, the good news -- more people are taking to the air. This year there will be well over 600 million passenger flights in America. This means planes are fuller, check-in lines are longer, and security screening is slower.

Every year I travel all over the country to present the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar. Most of those trips are on planes. As a matter-of-fact, I’m scheduled for well over 125 flight legs this year. So, if you plan to fly, let me share a few tips that have helped me make flying easier.

Save Money on Your Ticket Purchase:  I remain impressed at how cost efficient flying can be if you do a few things right. Try to buy early and shop for the best rate. I’ve found that I can generally get the lowest rate by buying online and going directly to the individual airline’s website. Frequently the online ticket sales services are actually more costly than the airline’s prices. Plus, in some cases, when you use the online ticket services, you may lose out on side benefits like frequent flyer miles.

Prepare in Advance:  It is wise to go online to print your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport. Many airlines permit you to do this up to twenty-four hours before your flight. This allows you to select better seats. But more importantly, it speeds up the process at the airport. If you’re not checking luggage, by pre-printing your boarding pass you can often avoid the ticket counter and go straight through. If you do have luggage to check, your pre-printed boarding pass will frequently allow you to use the commuter terminal at the counter to self-check your bag. Or, for a couple of extra dollars you can opt to check your bag curbside with the skycap. (Remember, these guys work for tips. Treat them as you would want to be treated.)

Better Yet: Don’t Check Any Luggage:  If you can possibly leave something at home—do it! The less you carry, the less you have to worry about. Try to pack lightly so you can carry your case on board.  Every year, thousands of flyers arrive at their destinations only to find that their luggage has gone on to separate vacation spots. Another benefit from not checking baggage is a speedier getaway from your destination airport. Sadly, I usually have to check bags. And every year I spend untold wasted hours waiting for overworked guys to unload my luggage and truck it over to airport baggage carousels. Different airlines have differing regulations, but most allow passengers to carry on two items: A small bag that can fit in the overhead bin, and a small personal item like a purse, brief case or computer case. But beware! New security regulations limit how much liquid and cream-based hygiene products you can carry on board. Go to the airline’s website for specific details.

Make a Last Minute Check:  It’s always wise to go online a few hours before your flight and check for equipment problems and weather conditions that may delay or cancel your flight.

Arrive Early:  Remember Murphy’s Law: If something can go wrong, it will. Anything can happen. My best advice is to arrive at least one-and-a-half to two hours early. Presently, I’m writing this article during a layover at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. This morning I flew out of Indianapolis where we concluded a seminar last night.  I intentionally left early. Boy, am I glad I did! This morning there was an accident on I-70 in Indianapolis that had two miles of traffic backed up. I was at the end of the line. Thankfully I’d left with enough time to make my flight. In these days with flights being cancelled with short notice, rental car companies with off-site locations, and long lines, it pays to arrive early. You can still make you time count. I do a lot of work and reading in airports.