Let’s face it: all the airlines suck now. When my grandfather was with the airlines things were different (I think). But, the worst thing that an airline can do isn’t to carve out an inch of your space every year (some day we’ll be rack mounted in the plane – are you a 1U, 2U or 4U box?). The worst thing they do is being late. Which in turn makes us late for jobs, or more painful to the ‘ole heartstrings late to get home to the family. Not that airline execs have heartstrings – look at how they treat their own unionized employees… Anyway, some of my own tips (whether I choose to follow them or not) at keeping out of the delayed column on flights…
Fly early. I know, I know, it turns out you would probably rather fly later in the day, but when have you had delayed flights in the morning that weren’t mechanical? This is the single biggest thing you can do though to keep with on-time flights
Connections. Well, just don’t it when you can avoid it (non-stop when possible), and when you can’t avoid it, one hour is the rule between. A wasted hour indeed though, if you could have gotten the non-stop flight for $20 more… But if you try and squeeze out an extra 20 minutes and only give yourself 40 minutes it’s just a matter of time before you find yourself on standby for a later flight ’cause you missed your lay-over.
Go online. Check the flight status on the airline’s website or using the Flight Status Dashboard widget. I kinda’ like this one: http://www.apple.com/downloads/dashboard/travel/flightontime.html
Avoid Bad airports. When possible, I’d rather fly into Burbank than LAX. Or Oakland over SFO. Bad airports mean delays. But in a lot of cities, you might have a choice. Pick one in DC and you’re likely to get delayed (in the top 10 for delays), pick the other and you’re in the top ten for on-time. Go figure. Of course, in New York you’re just screwed, sorry…
Carry on when possible. This helps save a little money too, but even though I know I should – I never do. I just want to check my bag and not deal with it until I get to my destination. Having said that I find myself kicking myself in the butt a little for checking my bag when I’m waiting for a half an hour at the carousel for it to spit out my poor, further tattered Victorinix (or I think it was at some point) bag with the little UGA football helmet on it to make it easily identifiable.
Know the airline. Some will just always be late. But it’s different per airport. NorthWest is almost always on time in Minneapolis, but almost always late in Los Angeles. Delta is typically on time in Atlanta but always late in Minneapolis. Not sure what else to say here. I haven’t flown much on Jet Blue but I hear that while they’re pretty bad these days, they give you free vouchers to say sorry.
Know the weather. Aw shucks, it probably doesn’t matter much. But if you’ve got 1 inch of snow in Atlanta I can bet that flight is gonna’ get delayed whereas 10 inches of snow in Minneapolis and not only is school still gonna’ happen, but that flight is still taking off. Not that it’s just about snow. If it’s a little bit foggy at LAX you might get delayed whereas if the fog’s thicker than Pea Soup Anderson’s pea soup the pilots at SFO are still getting out out of there (albeit maybe not on time, but you’re still in the air at some point).
So, you’ve done everything you can do but now you find yourself waiting for an hour for a flight, just to sit on the tarmac for another hour and then get back off the plane, switch to another plane (where you have to sit between someone with serious BO and someone with wayyyy too much body hair) then get home about 8 hours late. Well, at this point you absolutely have to either call or write. If you’re in the mileage program for the airline then your worst case is a bucket of miles – but you might get a free ticket out of it or at least a voucher you can use towards a future ticket. But very few (er, Sun Country) will basically tell you to give it up and leave you with nothin’ for your troubles (did I mention Sun Country).