Everyone looks at boarding a flight differently. Some find it exciting as they move on to the next adventure. Others are bored because they fly regularly for business. More still dread flying, whether because they’re scared or they get airsick.
Statistics show that flying is the safest and fastest way to travel, so most find that it’s worth climbing through the jet bridge to the door. But the process from booking to boarding your flight is often not the most pleasant.
You’ll spend hours searching online or calling airlines to find the lowest rates and best value. Sometimes, you find the perfect ticket price. But then you leave your desk to get your wallet, only to return and realize that the price has jumped $50 in the blink of an eye.
The hassles of airline travel don’t end there. Flight staff has dozens of rules that you have to follow to get on the plane, and it’s stressful to remember everything you have to do to successfully navigate airline travel.
Some of these features might be a little less stressful if you knew what airlines don’t tell their passengers. In fact, there are many secrets they don’t want you to know
20 It’s Cheaper to Purchase Tickets One at a Time
When traveling in groups of two or more people, it’s certainly much easier to purchase tickets all at the same time. You’re guaranteed seats next to each other, and it only takes a few minutes to make a single transaction.
But if you’re on the hunt for a budget ticket, buy them one at a time. Say you’re looking for three tickets, but they only have two that are available at the lowest price bracket.
Instead of adjusting the price to reflect a lower amount for one ticket, all three will be put at a higher price bracket, and you’ll be paying out your nose at checkout.
19 Airplanes Get Struck By Lightning All the Time
Everyone has probably imagined the scenario in which their airplane was struck by lightning. You probably imagine fire and panic everywhere, but that’s definitely not the case. Airplanes are actually struck by lightning quite frequently. In fact, it’s estimated that each operating jet or airplane is struck by lightning at least once per year.
Don’t worry, though. Airplanes are constructed to withstand a strike. They have a special copper outer layer that shifts the energy from the lightning strike through the layer and out of it without affecting any other layers. So if your plane is struck by lightning, you’ll probably never know.
18 Some Airplane Seats Provide More Protection Than Others
If you’re a sucker for first-class seats, this information might change your mind. In the unlikely event of an emergency, seats in the front of the plane (first class) are at more risk because the front of the plane is most likely to get the first impact. If the cockpit is dislodged, the first-classers would be fully exposed.
While economy seats are safer than first class, they aren’t the safest. Flight attendants have the safest seats with heavier seatbelts and rear-facing chairs. This is proven to be the safest way to fly, but it would be too expensive to re-design an entire airplane.
Plus, most customers prefer facing forward. It’s not very comfortable to fly facing the opposite direction in which you’re going. You’re more likely to get airsick.
17 Your Credit Card Might Cover Travel Insurance and Bag Fees
Airlines and third-party booking sites will try to get you to add on extra fees for trip insurance and baggage. In some cases, these fees are unavoidable but hold on a moment before handing over your credit card information.
Some credit cards have special services that offer both free bags and trip insurance. (Remember that trip insurance only applies in the case of an emergency or otherwise stated in the policy. It’s rarely applicable if you simply decide not to go.)
Take just a few minutes to call your credit card company and see if they offer these services.
16 You’re Entitled to Cash if Your Flight is Overbooked
Flights overbook passengers all the time. There’s nothing more frustrating than being bumped when you really need to reach your destination. Airlines often offer small vouchers in exchange for changing your flight, but that’s certainly not the best they can do.
In fact, if the airline doesn’t arrange new, paid travel for you within the space of two hours, they are required by law to compensate you in cash.
You can request a check on the spot, so don’t walk away until you have money in hand. This is mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and if they don’t compensate you, you can take it up with them, which no airline wants.
15 You Can Negotiate Greater Compensation for Being Bumped
In addition to requesting cash, you can usually get more than they’re willing to offer you up front. It’s standard policy for the airline to offer you the lowest amount possible first. Don’t take the first amount they give you.
The same DOT law that requires airlines to give you cash also stipulates that you’re entitled to as much as $1,300 in cash depending on your ticket price and the delay.
Just watch who has the negotiating power. If there’s no shortage of volunteers, you likely won’t get anything if you try to push for too much money. If the airline is struggling to get any volunteers, however, you have all the negotiating power in the world.
14 Leaving Your Cell Phone On Is No Big Deal
You’ve probably heard a rumor that leaving your cell phone on during a flight, particularly during takeoff and landing, can cause some serious trouble for the plane. Lucky for you, this is absolutely false, but airlines don’t want to tell you that.
It’s not that they want you to believe that a single cell phone signal can bring down an entire aircraft, but they would like you to keep your phone off. It does interfere with the pilot’s communication signals, and they’d prefer that you keep your device in airplane mode for the majority of the flight.
13 Seats and Spacing are Decreasing
You’ve probably noticed this one: Your legroom is getting a lot smaller. Airlines want the most money they can get from every single flight, so they’re decreasing legroom to get more seats on a plane.
About 40 years ago, the average legroom for an airplane was 35 inches, but now it’s just 31 inches.
Over the same time period, the width of the average seat has decreased from 18 inches to 16.5 inches.
You can pay for a couple more inches in first-class, but legroom will still be tight on most flights. At least our flights are slightly cheaper this way!
12 You Can Gate Check Small Bags for Free
Lugging around large duffle bags or backpacks is one of the worst things about airline travel. Even if your bag has wheels, you have to take it everywhere with you through shops, to the bathroom, and at restaurants to avoid it being stolen.
The good news is, you can gate check your small bag at many airlines for absolutely free. Many airlines prefer this because it speeds up boarding time and frees up space in the overhead bins for other bags.
Keep in mind that this probably won’t apply to economy flyers or those who paid an additional fee for carry-on bags.
11 You Can Be Booked on a Competitor’s Flight if Your Flight is Delayed or Canceled
In the 1970’s when flying was more comfortable and popular, there was a regulation called Rule 240 that mandated that airlines were required to book you another flight if yours was significantly delayed or canceled, even if it meant booking on a competing airline. In 1978, that regulation ended, but most airlines will still book a competing flight for you if you’re super nice.
Gate agents probably won’t jump through a dozen hoops for you, though, no matter how nice you are. So make it easy on them. Look up the flight you’d like ahead of time so they can rebook you fast and easy.
10 Flight Crew Speak in Codes to Each Other
There’s a set of codes that the flight crew uses to signal a situation to each other. These codes are designed to address both small and large problems, and they use codes because they don’t want you to panic.
If you’re sitting in the back row and overhear a flight attendant say that the toilet overflowed, you'd want to get out of your seat immediately, even if you’re landing. Instead, they use the code phrase “Blue Juice” to refer to such problems.
They have a variety of other codes designed to alert crew of potential dangers or general workings on the plane, and they’d rather you didn’t know what they mean until necessary to avoid panic.
9 Your Life Jacket Might Be Missing
The flight attendants always go over the pre-flight safety address before taking off. It’s become a standard that we often ignore because we’ve heard it so many times. But you might want to listen to find out the location of your life jacket; you’ll want to double check that it’s really there.
Apparently, there’s a problem all over airlines with passengers stealing their seat’s life jackets.
They take it home as a memento of their flight, and flight attendants don’t always ensure that there are enough life jackets for each passenger on the plane. Know the location of your life jacket so you can rest easy!
8 Some Airlines are Superstitious
Airline companies are made up of hundreds of employees, including scientific geniuses, top-notch engineers, and high-flying business people. The cream of the crop are designing and operating your aircraft, but that doesn’t keep them from being superstitious.
Some airlines, including Air France, Ryanair, Lufthansa, and Iberia, don’t put a row 13 in their planes.
Some countries also believe that the number 17 is unlucky, so they leave that row out as well.
When you’re trusting the flight crew to get you safely to your destination in a giant hunk of metal holding a hundred people, you don’t want to think about the superstitions of the airline.
7 If Your Baggage Is Lost or Delayed, Your Airline Should Pay
Airlines don't want to pay more than they have to, but they might if you've lost your luggage. The Department of Transportation has made lots of rules to protect travelers from being taken advantage of by airlines. They say that airlines may be required to pay up to $3,300 for your lost luggage.
However, they'll only make that payout if you can prove the value or the necessity of the items in your lost baggage. When traveling with high-value goods, have documentation on hand in case you need to prove the value of your goods.
The airline might also pay for delayed luggage. They should pay enough so that you can survive without your luggage until it arrives, whether you have to rent a tux or buy a new pair of running shoes.
6 Planes Aren’t Always Being Tracked
While it's pretty rare, there have been a few airplanes over the last century that have gone missing. They never landed, and if the plane and any survivors were found, it wasn't until later.
That's because planes flying over the ocean are not being tracked by radar. There's no way for them to keep the connection because there are no towers in the middle of the ocean.
Before you get too scared to fly transcontinental ever again, rest assured that communication systems work no matter where you are. If there is an emergency and the communication systems are still functioning, the pilot can send distress signals.
5 The Food Is Not Worth the Money
There's nothing worse than being hungry on an airplane where your options are limited. Maybe you got to the airport late and didn't have time to peruse the restaurants and gift shops before hopping on. Or maybe you're on a long flight and it's been awhile since your last meal.
The menu for the onboard meal service looks pretty good when you're hungry. Some of the pictures of meals even look delicious and well worth the $20 you're about to pay for it. But when the food actually appears, you realize that it's just glorified TV dinners.
Even the first class food on most flights leaves something to be desired.
4 Sometimes That Non-Refundable Fare Is Refundable
Most of the time, a non-refundable flight is exactly what it sounds like. Airlines are pretty strict about not giving you money when you choose to cancel the flight. But that's not always true.
Let's say you purchase a ticket a month before your departure. Two weeks later, you get a notification that the departure time has been changed significantly. Or maybe they threw a layover into the mix that wasn't there originally. Call the airline, and they'll issue a refund.
3 Seat Trays Are Often Not Sanitized
The flight crew coming around with a complimentary beverage and pretzels is often the highlight of a flight. You put your tray table down and smack your lips in anticipation.
You might want to think twice before putting that tray down, however. Most airlines clean their tray tables irregularly.
With minutes between the previous disembarking flight and your boarding time, the flight crew hardly has time to clean every single tray.
You might want to bring sanitizing wipes with you and clean everything from the seat belt buckle to the tray table. It'll help you avoid thinking about the thousands of communicable germs that have entered the airplane at any given time.
2 Premium Seating Is Sometimes Available Without Paying for It
If your flight isn't full, you might not be stuck with your no-charge economy seating. Because premium seating like exit rows and first class cost extra (sometimes upwards of $50 extra), they're often left empty.
This is where your big smile and polite charm come in handy. Gate agents have the power to make your flight absolutely wonderful or ridiculous.
If you ask nicely, they might upgrade you to a premium seat for free on flights that aren't full.
If you're impolite, you might find yourself in the center seat between two parents with screaming babies.
1 It Doesn’t Cost Anything to Cancel Within 24 Hours of Booking
Most airlines have an awesome cancellation plan they don't advertise much: They'll let you cancel or change your flight for absolutely free within 24 hours of booking. Some airlines like Southwest even have a generous refund or cancellation policy right up until boarding time.
This rule applies to many airlines as well as third-party sites like Expedia, Kayak, or Travelocity. Many of these third-party sites offer this service even if the airline doesn't. They'll front the cost of cancellation within 24 hours so you don't have to.