I am so excited to be back in the air and returning to sea, but getting there is now a little more complicated than before, and there are a few more potential obstacles that may upset your smooth sailing with a rocky start. Here are my tips to help you get to your destination on time.
The new normal
It used to be that flights were only delayed or cancelled due to weather or mechanical issues, but thanks to the pandemic, we now have a whole bunch of new reasons. Airlines have cut back on their flights, there is a crew shortage in every airport department: check-in, baggage handling, security, customs, down to the department that grooms the planes and those who operate the gate ramps.
For cruisers, I am now advising you to arrive at your embarkation city at least one day - preferably two - in advance. Missing the ship is now a very high possibility if you are flying in on the day of departure and your flight is delayed or canceled due to any of the above-mentioned reasons.
How to fly smart
Always book the first flight out. The planes that leave first thing in the morning will have arrived the night before and will already be sitting at the gate, so the flight has the lowest chance of being delayed or canceled.
Always book a nonstop flight. The fewer changes of planes, the lesser chance of flights being canceled/delayed or your bag misconnecting. Now is not the time to save $50 or even $100 by taking a double connection.
If a connection is a must, allow at least 2 hours, and more if you need to clear customs in between flights. I used to think 4 hours was too long, but now I shoot for that - especially when flying internationally. Eg. if you are flying to Barcelona via Frankfurt, you must go through passport control at Frankfurt before you are allowed to continue to your connecting gate. Those lines are often very long, and you may also have to pass through security again.
Be prepared for your flight
Check in online 24 hours before your flight and get your boarding passes. If you can make do with a carry-on, go for it, as you will save on bag fees. Plus if your flight lands late, you can dash off with your luggage. However, overhead bin space is SO tight nowadays, if you are in the last group to board, you may run a risk of the bins being full.
My Tip: Book exit row or preferred seats as they usually get early boarding. Also, I noticed Air Canada boards window seats before aisles. On my last few flights, a window seat was in Zone 3 and the aisle in the same row was in Zone 5. So, book the window to board earlier. Lastly, when you check in 24 hours before your flight, look to see if there is an upgrade offer to the premium cabin. Sometimes it is reasonable and you’ll get priority boarding, offloading, and inflight perks. Or if your budget allows, book the premium cabin to start with! It is a much more comfortable experience and you'll arrive a little more refreshed.
At the airport
Arrive at least 2-3 hours before your flight. I’d much rather have extra time at my gate for a coffee or snack instead of sweating about whether I’ll make my flight.
If you're checking bags, pay attention to the drop-off deadline and arrive early. You'll still need to print your luggage tag(s) and proceed to the drop-off area - and there could be lines at both places.
Even if you received a gate-assignment when you check in, recheck the board at the airport, as the gate may have changed. Large airports may have multiple gate entries, make sure you enter the correct one, otherwise you may have a long walk to reach your area.
Customs and security lines are never fun, your patience will most likely be tested here as there is always a person who didn’t empty their pockets before going through the x-ray machine or can’t find their boarding pass to show the agent. A Nexus card will expedite you through these lines in Canadian and American airports (although you may still run into the above inexperienced travellers).
Have you government-issued ID and boarding pass in your hand or easily accessible at all times for presentation. Between entering the airport and arriving at your gate, you may be asked to present them multiple times by various departments.
Depending on the airport, some may require you to remove your liquids bag and electronics from your bag while going through security. Make sure your mobile devices are fully charged, as security may ask you to turn them on for inspection. Wear slip-on shoes in case you need to remove them. Remove all objects from your pockets and place them in the bins.
Make sure your have travel insurance
With delays and cancellations now being the "new normal", having travel insurance is a must. Whether you are purchasing it through an insurance provider or using coverage through your employer or credit card, be sure to read the fine print of the policy and understand what is covered (and not).
Weather delay, lost bags, twisted ankles, food poisoning, and more can wreak havoc on your vacation. Don't be caught by out-of-pocket expenses, which could be in the thousands of dollars. Having travel insurance offers peace of mind, and you should never leave home without it!
Bon voyage and happy cruising!