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.

Ask for Better Seats: This can be especially helpful if you’re large or on a long flight. I prefer the bulkhead seats. These are seats with a wall, rather than another chair in front of them. Usually bulkheads provide more leg room. Many airlines hold their bulkhead seats to the last minute in case they need them for handicapped passengers. Consider going to the gate agent about an hour before your flight and see if one is available. Or, ask for an exit row seat. These seats usually provide more leg room, too. And, if nothing else is available, ask for an aisle seat. Seasoned fliers usually prefer aisle seats because they allow one to stand up and move around easier than with a window or center seat.

Pay Attention When Making Connections: Big airports in major cities can be confusing for the occasional flyer. When you’re making a connection it’s wise to double check. Ask the gate agent as you de-board which gate your connection flight is leaving from. Then check one of the overhead screens. Be sure you get the same info from both sources. Sometimes gates change. It’s a sickening feeling to rush through an airport only to arrive at the wrong gate as you look through the window to see your airplane pushing back from another concourse. 

Carry the Airline’s “800” Number: If your flight is cancelled, one thing is for sure: Everybody is going to rush to the gate agent to rebook. If you aren’t at the front of the line, having the airline’s toll-free ticketing phone number can be very helpful. Sometimes you can rebook on the next flight out with a simple phone call.

Pick a Favorite Airline:  Loyalty has its rewards. If you plan to fly a lot, it may be wise to select a single carrier for most of your flights. Check you long-term schedule and find an airline that goes most of the places you plan to go. Then, try to fly with them as often as possible. Frequent flyers get more than points. When a customer gains “status” with an airline they break their necks to keep that passenger happy. Re-bookings are easier. You may be allowed to pre-board. When flights are oversold, the best customers are the last to be bumped. And, if coach is sold out, some airlines give free first class upgrades to their best passengers.

Over one hundred of my flights this year are booked on American Airlines. For several reasons, American is my preferred airline. One reason is because I respect the way American Airlines has weathered the tough economic climate of the last six years. They are the only one of the six major spoke-and-hub airlines that I’m aware of who haven’t filed some form of bankruptcy. American Airlines employees and management have accepted pay cuts and longer hours just to keep the airline in business. I like that. I know many of the American employees in Nashville and they always go out of their way to help me. And, while I’m not on a first name basis with American employees elsewhere, they generally search for solutions when problems arise. Just this week, agents have slipped me into preferred seats on at least two flights. 


Steve Diggs presents the No Debt No Sweat! Christian Money Management Seminar  at churches and other venues nationwide. Visit Steve on the Web at  www.stevediggs.com or call 615-834-3063. The author of several books, today Steve serves as a minister for the Antioch Church of Christ in Nashville. For 25 years he was President of the Franklin Group, Inc. Steve and Bonnie have four children whom they have home schooled. The family lives in Brentwood, Tennessee.

A complete financial compendium, 19 chapters
• What you can do today to get out of debt and kill the Debt Monster
• A,B,C's of handling your money God's way
• How to save, invest, and retire wisely
• How mutual funds work
• How to stop fighting over money
• What to teach your kids about money
• Learn how home & car buying, college financing and insurance work.
• How to develop a budget that works -- forever!
• Features simple charts, graphs, and easy-to-use forms.

Click here to learn more or to order..