While most of the information will be old hat to some, Scott McCartney does a good job in today’s Middle Seat column from The Wall Street Journal when describing strategies by airlines and passengers alike to reduce the stress of summer travel this year.
Some things, like staffing shortages and warnings of delays are nothing new. I’m not sure that I would ever show up two hours early as some officials in Atlanta are recommending. But then again, there’s a reason I don’t fly Delta. I almost flew through Atlanta this year — almost — before I paid extra to travel direct on American instead. 😉
What’s more significant are some of the things the airlines are doing to prevent these issues from occurring in the first place. United has for weeks been using a new boarding system at some of its hub airports, though I have yet to see it rolled out at other locations like Seattle. With five separate lanes for five separate boarding groups, it does an excellent job of preventing line jumpers.
I’m not all that upset if one or two people from Group 4 try to board with Group 1, but if everyone does it then the gate turns to chaos. Last year’s flight home from Maui comes to mind. One clever trick was to put Group 1 and Group 2 facing the gate and then Groups 3, 4, and 5 to the side. Such clear separation makes it easier to keep everyone organized.
United will also be switching the way it assigns boarding groups in the economy class cabin. (Groups 1 and 2 are mostly elite flyers and credit card holders.) People with window seats will board first, then middle and aisle seats — instead of the previous back to front regardless of where you sat in the row. This is good because it means people from every row can board at once without blocking the aisles.
Something to keep in mind not just for United but for nearly any airline is that you are always invited to bring other family members and companions with you in line. I can’t count how many emails and tweets I get asking if someone who has status can still share their elite benefits with someone on a different reservation. The number of companions still matters (e.g., a Premier Silver member on United can only share their baggage benefit with one companion, while higher tiers can share with eight.) However, as long as they are traveling with you your elite benefits should carry over for those segments only.
I have often called up United’s reservations desk and asked them to move a friend or family member to EconomyPlus. If they’re continuing on to a different destination, they’re out of luck on that segment, but still good on the ones they share with me. If they’re checking a bag, all segments have to match since the bag is checked to the final destination. I routinely dragged them with me through the premium security line before I had Global Entry. And while I usually keep Megan on the same reservation to make sure we’re upgraded together, not separately, United will let you sponsor anyone for a companion upgrade at the gate.
For more on these topics, check out my posts on Complimentary Premier Upgrades for United, as well as the separate post I wrote specific to companion upgrades. Those of you on other airlines will just have to wait for me to write something up, but this idea of sharing benefits for companions on a separate itinerary will probably hold for them, too.
This is also a good opportunity to remind you of Global Entry and PreCheck. Global Entry has a high upfront cost of $100, but it’s good for five years. At $20 a year, it’s the best way to get near-100% success on PreCheck for domestic and some international flights. It reminds me of airport security when I first started flying twenty years ago. If you’re able to complete your interview at one of the specially designated border stations, a NEXUS or SENTRI card is only $50 ($10 per year) and carries all the same benefits as Global Entry. Seattle participates, so just make it your next layover. 😉
Finally, the most important thing I can say is to be aware of TSA and airline policies. So many horror stories are written about people who just didn’t bother to check before getting to the airport. I waited behind an Olympic training team at Colorado Springs as they emptied out their water bottles, threw away their yogurt, and took off their metal jewelry after setting off the metal detector. Many airlines no longer accept cash on board, so you’ll need a credit card to buy food or entertainment. Some carriers even charge for non-alcoholic beverages. Special requests like vegetarian or Kosher meals should always be confirmed with the operating carrier and not the travel agency that sold you the ticket. The list goes on…
But seriously, enjoy your trip! I always say I’ll stay at home during the beautiful Seattle summers, and yet I still manage to book a flight for every other weekend.