Here's our comprehensive look at the best ways to travel: how to find a deal, avoid lines, pack, fly, tip, and more.
PART FIVE: FLYING
Check in at home
The longest lines at airports aren't at security; they're at check-in. You can check in for a flight and print your boarding pass 24 hours beforehand, and you should do it. (This applies more if you're only carrying bags on; if you're checking bags, it may or may not help.) It's especially foolish to hesitate with airlines such as Southwest, where those who check in early can board first and get their choice of seating.
A frequent flier's best friend
Do yourself a favor and purchase noise-canceling headphones, which make flying way more pleasant. If you're buying Bose's, go for the QuietComfort 2. They're superior to the newer QuietComfort 3 (and $50 cheaper, too).
Never check bags!
Carrying your bags on will save you time on the front and back ends of your journey. If you've printed your boarding pass at home and you're not checking bags, you can arrive at the airport an hour early for domestic flights and two hours for international trips. Yes, the official recommendations are an hour more for each. Those are the rules for people who don't know what they're doing.
Airplanes are flying buses
You get little more than a little seat; now quit whining and take responsibility for your comfort. Assume that food, entertainment, blankets, and pillows cost extra, if they're offered at all. Rather than get nickel-and-dimed, carry on anything you want.
Yes, it's a race
Whenever you deplane from an international flight, walk fast. Passing 10 people during the long trek to the immigration checkpoints can spare you at least five minutes of waiting in a tedious line.
Jump to the front
If you're at the airport and your flight is canceled, call the airline's 800 number while you're walking to the airline counter (and stay on when in line); this increases your chances of getting on the next flight.
Hands off the call button
The vast majority of flight attendants have a Pavlovian reaction to the call button: When they hear it, they snarl. About the only time it's acceptable to push the button is when you or your seatmate is having a heart attack.
Ever seen how bags get handled?
If you must check a bag, take a photo of it in case the airline loses it, and put your itinerary and contact info inside in case it doesn't arrive with your flight and the airline needs to get it to you. Mark the bag with a sticker or colorful strap so it stands out: You may be able to recognize your bag, but the schmo on the other side of the carousel may not. And never, ever check anything valuable or fragile.
Someone gets stuck with the middle seat
That someone need not be you. Always reserve a specific seat when you book a flight or a package. Use SeatGuru.com to scope the plane's best and worst rows. (The closer you sit to the lavatory, the more likely you'll smell like it even after you've deplaned.) If you end up with a bum seat, try to switch to a better one at check-in. And if that still doesn't work, try again at the gate, and again when you're on board the plane.
Airport security for beginners
1. At home, place gels and liquids (in 3-oz. containers) in a quart-size Ziploc. Wear slip-on shoes, and don't forget socks (going barefoot is gross).
2. In the security line, remove everything except your ID and boarding pass from your pockets.
3. When you're three people from the front of the line, take off your shoes and jacket, and remove your laptop from your bag.
4. Try to be patient with everyone who didn't do it this way.
The kiosks let you sign up for standby, change seats, check luggage, and sometimes upgrade cheaply.
Got a big carry-on?
Then you'd better be at the front of the line for your boarding group. Once you're on the plane, if it looks busy up ahead, stash the bag in any open overhead space. Never allow the bag to end up behind your seat, or you'll have to wait for the entire plane to empty before you'll be able to retrieve it.
If we learned one thing from JetBlue's recent meltdown...
When you board a plane, you have to assume you're going to spend at least the next three hours in your seat--so have what you need at hand, and visit the bathroom before boarding.
Twenty bucks a day is $140 a week
Airports charge a fortune for parking. AirportParkingReservations.com lists off-site options, which may even let you reserve a spot. And if you spend a night at a nearby hotel, it may let you park there for free.
Call someone who cares
To reduce the number of cars circling the arrivals area, airports are creating "cell phone parking lots" where people meeting an arriving passenger can wait for that person's call. The lots are the best thing to happen at airports since Auntie Anne's pretzel-wrapped hot dogs.