6 preflight rules to prevent air travel problems

Pilots preflight their plane just prior to each flight. They go through a detailed checklist to make sure everything is ready and the plane is safe for the flight. They attempt to leave nothing to chance.

Passengers should do their own preflight rules before they travel. Sometimes it’s necessary to start a traveler’s preflight months in advance.

I have a half-dozen preflight rules which should be on every traveler’s list to make their journey by air as painless as possible in these days of increased requirements and long security lines at airports.

U.S. citizens traveling domestically — sign up for TSA PreCheck:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) PreCheck program can be a major time saver at airport security checkpoints in the U.S. PreCheck lines are much easier to negotiate than standard security lines. PreCheck lines are generally much shorter than standard lines, and in them you can keep your belt and shoes on and avoid the full body scanner. Instead, you’ll pass through a metal detector. TSA PreCheck costs $85 for a five-year membership.

U.S. citizens traveling internationally — sign up for Global Entry:
Have you ever returned home to the U.S. to find that several international flights landed at the same time as yours? The line at passport control can be interminably long. It once took me more than an hour to get my passport checked at Newark Liberty International Airport. Since then, one of my preflight rules is to be a member of Global Entry. Computerized kiosks check in members in just a few minutes, bypassing the regular line completely. The kiosk identifies each member’s identity by scanning their passport and fingerprints. Members answer a few questions, then get a receipt from the kiosk which is presented to a Customs and Border Protection officer after your luggage retrieval when you exit Customs. Global Entry costs $100 for a five-year membership, which also qualifies you automatically for TSA PreCheck.

Buy travel insurance for expensive or tight timetable journeys:
I might not purchase full travel insurance for an inexpensive short trip to a single destination. However, one of my preflight rules is that if the trip is expensive, has an intricate schedule or tight connections, I always purchase travel insurance. On occasion, I’ve had to use it. On a Mediterranean cruise, due to a series of flight delays, I had considerable out-of-pocket, unplanned expenses, for which I was fully reimbursed by my insurance.

Get an app to receive up-to-the-minute flight data:
Smartphones are invaluable travel tools. Consider purchasing an app like TripIt Pro ($49 per year; iOS, Android) for yours. With TripIt Pro you can receive alerts by email and text messaging about your departures, gate changes, cancellations, delays, schedule changes, etc., often before you receive any notice from your airline. Getting timely information is important. Several times I’ve received notice from TripIt Pro that my flight was either canceled or considerably delayed before my airline informed me. TripIt Pro gave me a jump on other passengers to alter my plans and get a seat on the next available flight.

Traveling internationally — ensure your passport is up-to-date and fulfill all entry requirements for your destination countries:
Many people believe that if their passport hasn’t expired it’s valid for travel everywhere in the world. It’s not true. This is another of the important preflight rules.

France, for example, requires U.S. passports to be valid for a minimum of six months when you enter France, and be valid for at least three months at the time of your planned departure from France or any Schengen area country. Some countries have tougher requirements, and many require visas to enter. Some require blank passport pages. There may be health requirements, such as specific vaccinations, for travel to some destinations.

U.S. citizens can learn about entry requirements for specific countries at the U.S. Department of State’s website, country information section. Health information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) website, destination section.

If your travel documents, including your passport, don’t meet your destination’s requirements, it’s unlikely you’ll be permitted to board your flight. Your trip could be over before it started. That could be very costly.

Ensure your luggage meets airline requirements:
Overweight or oversize checked luggage results in high airline fees. On American Airlines, for example, on U.S. domestic flights, an oversize bag will cost $200 in fees to check it, if accepted. If the bag is overweight, it will cost from $100 to $200 in fees, if the bag is accepted.

Recently, many U.S. domestic airlines began getting tough on oversized carry-ons. If your carry-on bag is over the airline’s limit, you may be forced to take it back to the check-in counter, where it may incur luggage fees. If it contains valuables and breakables which go missing or arrive damaged at your destination, be aware that your airline may not accept liability for your loss on domestic trips. Outside the U.S., many airlines enforce severe carry-on weight limits and baggage compensation that is less than in the US. On a South America trip, not long ago, my carry-on was weighed by the airline before each flight.

Preflight rules for your trip are essential to ensure your journey goes smoothly and isn’t canceled before it starts.

(Image: United Airlines flight landing at Philadelphia International Airport – Copyright © 2015 NSL Photography. All Rights Reserved.)