These days, it seems that everyone has a few air travel horror stories—everyone, that is, except me. Considering the fact that I fly in and out of New York, this is a minor miracle. Of course, I don't fly regularly for business; overall, I probably get on a plane four or five times a year. Still it's remarkable that I've never been forced to stay overnight in some random city because of an overbooked plane. My sister once got stuck in Chicago for three days after Christmas. And a friend of mine once was kicked off a flight and abused by airport staff for the simple crime of being one of the last people in the boarding line. But those are other people's terrible tales, not mine.
In the hopes that I can continue this winning streak, I have a few simple strategies.
1. I try to leave New York at 7 a.m. Delays build up throughout the day, so you'll have better luck leaving early.
2. I avoid returning between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. A flight attendant once told me that this was the worst time to fly into New York—particularly into JFK—because this when most of the international flights arrive. Of course, it's sometimes unavoidable.
3. I fly Continental. In this, I might be a little like a baseball player who clings to a good luck charm. I have always had good experiences with Continental; therefore, I continue to fly with them. I find that most of the planes have individual TVs in each seat. I rarely have delays. When I do have a delay, it's never more than two hours (and that's to be expected flying into New York on a Sunday night). Plus, they feed you. By contrast, even the planes that now charge for food sometimes run out before they get to the back of the plane. Which brings me to my next strategy ...
4. I sit toward the back of the plane. These days, half the passengers have Elite Access, which means they board first. If you don't have Elite Access, and your seat is toward the middle or the front of the plane, there's a good chance that when you get on, there will be no more space for carry-on bags. Thus, you will be forced to check your perfect-for-the-overhead-compartment rolling suitcase, adding an extra hour to the end of your journey as you wait at baggage claim.
5. I fly out of Newark, avoiding LGA and JFK. I choose Newark any time I have the option; luckily, it's a Continental hub. This is especially crucial when I'm coming into the city on a Sunday night. At JFK, it can easily take an hour to get a taxi, even if you reserve one in advance. It's incredibly easy to miss a taxi driving by with your name scrawled in tiny letters in the passenger window. And if the taxi driver doesn't see you, he won't come back. Standing in line for a yellow cab isn't any quicker.