I do happen to believe that air travel can still be a fun and exciting way to get from Point A to Point B.
In fact, my vacation officially starts when I take that first step down the jetbridge to my aircraft..You can smell a little jet fuel, hear the sounds of the luggage carts loading bags and my excitement builds and builds! Granted, in recent years not all my flight experiences have been fabulous. With TSA patdowns, awful airport food, delays, cancellations and taking off my shoes (!!) getting ready to to go on vacation seems like more of a punishment rather than part of the journey.
This is why I consciously try to choose my flight not based on the price of the ticket, but by the perceived value of the experience. Many people are intimidated by purchasing air travel – and therefore don’t know any other way to shop other than price alone. However, with ancillary costs often hidden from the average traveler, it can be difficult to know what you’ll be paying exactly. So, what else should you look for when shopping for a flight?
1) Can I get a nonstop flight for the same price or within 120% of a flight with a layover? Flying nonstop often is the best way to ensure a good flight experience. No missed connections, no long layovers with only Cinnabon for company, no wasted time in transit. Granted, many people don’t have this option all the time, which leads to my point #2…
2) If you have to make a connection, make sure the connection time is appropriate for the airport and for your sanity. If you’re connecting in Atlanta, a 30 minute connection will be impossible without Superman’s cape. However, if you’re connecting in a smaller, more compact airport such as Monterey, California, this would not be a problem at all. Conversely, if you have a layover of 5 hours in Minneapolis/St. Paul, you’ll likely be exhausted from staring at the snow for that long. My rule of thumb is that I like a layover of roughly 1.5 hours for a domestic connection and 2.5 for an international connection. More or less than this will cause unnecessary stress and/or endless boredom.
3) Size matters! If a few flights are similarly priced and you can’t decide which one to book – look at the aircraft type. Some planes have 2×2 seating, others have 2×3, 3×3, 3x4x3, etc..If you want to sit with your 3 traveling companions on your flight to London, make sure to book yourselves on a 777 with 4 seats across, or a A380 with a 2×2 so you all have a window or an aisle. If you can book a widebody aircraft such as a 767 over the long, narrow 757, that will make for a much more enjoyable flight. 2 aisles are always better than one.
4) Finally, not all airlines are created equal! You can have 2 flights that have the same price, the same itinerary, the same aircraft, but operated under different airline companies. I guarantee you will have 2 very different experiences based on the airline you choose. Make sure the airline corresponds to your needs. This may mean they assign seats in advance at no extra charge. This may mean they don’t charge for checked bags. This may mean that they have a mobile app that allows you to board the plane without a paper boarding pass. This may mean that they have an on-demand entertainment system allowing you to choose to watch what you want, when you want. It could be a combination of all of these items and more. Ask friends and family for their experiences, ask your travel professional for recommendations. Don’t assume that a flight is a flight is a flight. Your flight is the beginning and end to your vacation – don’t leave it to chance, and don’t buy your ticket by price alone!
When it came time to choose my flight to Paris, I used all the above criteria to choose my Air France flight. My traveling companion and I have great seats (that we didn’t have to pay extra for) on a large, new aircraft, we get free checked bags, we are flying nonstop, we get free champagne and we paid a lot less than I expected! Will it be perfect? I hope so. I’ve done what I can to make it so. However, I know that I only have so much control over the situation, and will make sure to go with the flow to ensure I arrive in Paris well-rested and ready for adventure!
Have a great airfare tip to share? Leave your fabulous ideas below!