5 Reasons You Hate Flying and What to Do About It
Feel like you are paying more but getting less from air travel these days? Here's how to fight back.
Americans have a love-hate relationship with air travel. OK, perhaps “love” is too strong of a word to use, but we certainly like the fact that flying can be the fastest and safest way to get from one place to another. That's assuming, of course, that the flights depart and arrive on schedule.
However, using “hate” to describe our feelings toward air travel probably is not an overstatement. A recent survey by travel site TripAdvisor found that, despite the fact that more people expect to fly this year, travelers remain frustrated by many aspects of flying -- especially issues that affect their wallets. “They feel like they’re getting less for more money,” says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com.
Travelers are getting less. It's true airfares have increased at only a slightly higher rate than inflation, Hobica says, but that’s only because airlines know they lose passengers when they hike fares. So rather than charge a lot more for base fares, he says, airlines have instead cut services and levied more fees.
But rest assured. While you can't avoid all of the hassles of flying, there are some steps you can take to improve the situation. Here are the five things that seem to irritate flyers most -- and what can be done about them.
1. Less legroom
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents to the TripAdvisor annual air travel survey said uncomfortable seats/limited legroom was their top frustration. Airline passengers are feeling the pinch of more seats being crammed into planes. Some are so angry about limited space that they’re getting in fights with fellow passengers and crew members, and forcing pilots to divert flights.
Solution: Travelers do have the option on many airlines to pay a premium for better seats. More and more airlines have been expanding the number of seats that fall into their preferred-seating category, which is good news for those willing to pay for extra room. It's especially tempting on long flights. But this also means it’s getting tougher to find a seat at no additional charge. So if you don’t want to pay more for a premium seat, book your flight several months in advance before all the “free” seats are gone, or fly on an airline without assigned seats, such as Southwest. It’s also worth noting that seat size and legroom space vary by airline and plane type. The comparison charts at SeatGuru.com can help you pinpoint which airlines offer the most room for passengers.
2. Baggage fees
Of the many things airlines once offered for free but now charge for, baggage fees seem to irk air travelers the most. In a recent Airfarewatchdog.com survey about worst airline fees, baggage fees topped the list. It’s not surprising because these fees can range from $25 for one checked bag to $200 for overweight and oversized bags.
Solution: One way to avoid this fee is to fly on JetBlue or Southwest. JetBlue lets passengers check one bag for free; Southwest allows two checked bags at no charge. Another option is to get an airline-branded credit card if you fly frequently with a particular carrier. Airline-branded cards typically offer perks such as a free checked bag for each flight. See How to Choose the Best Travel Rewards Card for You for more information.
3. Change/cancellation fees
These fees came in a close second to baggage fees in the Airfarewatchdog.com survey on the worst airline fees. Most airlines hit passengers hard -- to the tune of $200 -- if they cancel or change the dates of a flight, even due to a death in the family.
Solution. Your credit card might offer a travel insurance perk that will help you cover this cost. The Chase Sapphire card’s travel insurance is especially generous, covering ticket cancellations or changes due to injury, illness or death of the cardholder or immediate family members (including in-laws, grandchildren, nieces and nephews). Also, flying Southwest will help you avoid change or cancellation fees. But you’ll still have to pay the difference in ticket price if you change the date of your flight and the new fare is more expensive. Some "full fare" classes of tickets do not have change or cancellation restrictions, but you usually pay significantly higher fares in exchange for the flexibility.
4. TSA screening and fees
Complaints about long security lines and pat-downs are common among air travelers. Not only are passengers having to give up more time (and privacy) for screening measures implemented as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, they’re having to pay higher security fees too. The Transportation Security Administration recently more than doubled its September 11 security fee that travelers pay.
Solution: Air travelers can spend less time getting through security if they meet the application requirements and pay an $85 fee to participate in the TSA PreCheck program. As for the September 11 security fee, there’s no way to avoid it entirely but you can soften the blow by booking nonstop flights or flights with layovers shorter than four hours. That’s because the $5.60 fee is charged for each leg of a domestic flight with a layover of more than four hours.
5. Fewer free flights
Travelers who participate in frequent-flyer programs are finding it tougher to take advantage of free flights, says Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy, a Web site that helps consumers maximize travel points. Airlines are setting aside fewer frequent-flyer seats because most flights fill up quickly with paying customers, Kelly says. Plus, airlines typically have blackout dates when frequent-flyer miles can’t be used for free flights. To top it off, frequent-flyer tickets aren’t really free because of added fees.
Solution. Rather than use an airline-branded credit card to rack up miles for free flights on that airline, use a general travel rewards card to earn points toward free flights on multiple airlines. This can help get around blackout dates and limited availability of rewards seats. Top picks from both Kiplinger and Kelly for travel rewards cards include the Capital One Venture Rewards Card and Chase Sapphire Preferred. Kelly also recommends the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite, which lets you book travel you want then redeem miles for a statement credit.