Before You Leave For the Airport, Read This!


On tarmacs across the country, airplanes are increasingly being grounded. Meanwhile, in check-in lines overlooking those tarmacs, travelers are grinding their teeth, complaining loudly about delays, and even worse, not getting to their destinations on time.

You probably know what we mean, especially if you fly American (AMR), which canceled more than 3,000 flights the week of April 7, Southwest (LUV), which halted a few of their own, or Frontier (FRNT), which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Factor in rising fuel prices and stricter airline safety guidelines, and such unexpected delays will likely continue this summer. What can you do about it? Start by reading MainStreet's guide to help you go from stand still to take off.


Before you leave your home, check to make sure your flight is on schedule. If you’re a frequently flyer, then you already know nothing is certain when it comes to arrival and departure times. So far in 2008, 22% of flights experienced late departures and 3% of flights were cancelled, according to the Bureau of Transportation statistics. (And don’t expect airline prices to remain stagnant simply because you are stuck: Air travel rates increased 7.6% in February!)


Keep yourself from being a long suffering customer by becoming informed. American Airlines, JetBlue, Continental are just a few major airlines that provide status notification to their costumers. Using your flight number, arrival or departure time, you can frequently save yourself from an unnecessary headache by checking the Web site of your airline before you leave for the airport.


Some fliers, usually those in first or business class, have access to V.I.P. lounges where airlines often offer assistance with booking new flights. What happens if you’re not considered a very important person by your air service provider? Some airlines might alert you on their flight status but how do you benefit if all the passengers in line are reading the same alerts at the departure gate? This is where mobile alerts come in handy. Aggregate Web sites like Flightstats and Flightaware compile data from numerous resources to alert customers of travel conditions.

For instance, Flightstats tracks 150,000 global flights a day, and supplies flight status and airport information that is accessible from the Web or using mobile alerts. The site has around 3 million visits a month, and saw traffic rise around 15% percent more than normal on the weekdays following the American Airlines cancelations the week of April 7. How does this help if there are delays and cancellations? It’s common for the Web site to provide updates to its users before “the official delays are announced,” giving its users first crack at other flights, says David White, VP of Business Development for Flightstats. You just have to get to the desk first.


That's where sneakers are a plus. You may have to get from gate A4 to gate C34 in a short amount of time to be considered first for a back-up flight. Jimmy Choo wearing travelers are not as likely to make it as those in Nikes (NKE) . Plan accordingly. And good luck flying!


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