Air travel really shouldn't be hell because there are now ways to make it seamless and comfortable without paying an arm and a leg.
Today's air travel is less egalitarian than 1990s air travel, where meals and movies were complimentary, and the early 2000s, when pretty much every non-billionaire suffered in silence. It is defined by customization, and knowing the tips and tricks can make all the difference.
Here are five of my personal favorite tips for creating the best repeat travel experience.
1) TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry
These are a must for frequent travelers. TSA Pre-Check is nice for two reasons: not only does it save major time and hassle in the line, including being a real life saver during LaGuardia's worst moments, it also just makes things so much more comfortable. You can keep your laptop in the bag and shoes on, which makes you feel more human and less cattle.
2) Carry on whenever possible and check in early to receive an early boarding group
I pretty much never check a bag anymore. You can fit what you need into a well-designed, lightweight carry-on suitcase and apply the money you would pay to check the bags each way toward hotel laundry and dry cleaning at your destination (interestingly, it adds up closer than you would think, with little difference).
When you simply combine not bag checking with TSA-Pre, it can reduce your time to the inner terminal by over an hour much of the time.
3) Know your airline hubs and terminals when booking
Terminals are NOT created equal. Every New Yorker who has ever flown out of LaGuardia knows that this salient fact is gospel for regular travel.
When flying out of LaGuardia, for example, I will only fly out of the Marine terminal (Chicago, DC, Boston) or Delta's lovely new terminal. Delta is New York's #1 airline, so that is convenient by design, and I can usually get a well-priced flight without any give on airline and terminal quality.
It's also useful for me to know, for example, that Virgin Atlantic and America, excellent airlines associated with Delta, have great planes and pretty terminal hubs within JFK. Depending on your home and airline of choice, this information is tremendously helpful to keep front of mind when booking.
4) Get a Delta American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
Don't be scared by the annual fees. While $450 sounds high, for a card that you should use all the time, the benefits are so worth it. For travel, the 3X points are well known (Chase) and Amex of course is the travel king, but is less well-known is that these cards get you into hundreds of airport luxury lounges worldwide. Gone are the 1990s days when to get in an Admirals Club or equivalent, you had to only fly one airline and pay through the nose every time for the privilege.
The key with these cards is two-fold: use them frequently and pay them down frequently. The fees can astronomical if you leave a balance, so make sure you are disciplined and pay down the balance monthly or as often as possible, while using the card always for dining and travel bookings. That way, you tap the enormous rewards and skip the crazy fees.
5) Know your plane preferences
While no airline is perfect and you will always get bad planes from time to time, some have a much better track record than others. Personally, I find that Virgin almost always has new, comfortable planes, even in coach, while American and United often feel like you are paying Jet prices for a Cessna. If you're like me and skipping the first class option, keep a mental catalogue of what coach actually looks like on each airline. It matters.