We all do dumb things when traveling from time to time, but if we learn from our mistakes we can save time and money. Here are some of the most common failures – ones I’ve been guilty of, too –plus what they can cost and how to avoid them.
1. Failure to take into account airport delays
In case you’ve been in a sensory deprivation tank for the past few weeks, the U.S. government is experiencing a shutdown. While the TSA and air traffic controllers remain on the job, there are reports of longer security lines and even some temporary checkpoint closures at a handful of U.S. airports like Houston’s Bush Intercontinental. Add in the recent brutal winter weather across much of the U.S. and you have the perfect recipe for a travel nightmare. Bottom line: Leave for the airport earlier than usual. I would leave home at least 30 minutes to an hour earlier (or even more). The alternative is all the cost and inconvenience that comes from missing a flight.
More: Travel nightmares: What to do if you miss your flight
2. Failure to weigh
Most of us aren’t going to shove more than 40 or 50 pounds of stuff into a big suitcase, but some long-distance travelers give it a shot, and pay the penalty. Don’t do it, because overweight bag fees can cost up to $200 for domestic and $400 on international trips. Lighten the load and only use a carry-on, or at least bring a carry-on to augment some of the weight in your checked bag. On many airlines, carry-ons mean avoiding bag fees altogether, but check the airline for size and weight limits even on these smaller bags. Bottom line: You won’t have to pay $400 for an over-packed bag, but you might have to surrender your carry-on to the cargo hold.
3. Failure to screen your own luggage
Last year was a record-breaker for the TSA in terms of guns confiscated at checkpoints; more than 4,000 were relieved from passengers, which delayed those travelers and delayed all the others in line behind them. It’s not just real weapons, either; fake hand grenades that are supposed to be gag gifts are no laughing matter at the TSA. Bottom line: If you bring a prohibited weapon in a carry-on, you could be subject to a civil fine of $13,333 (and there are fines for realistic fakes, as well). Or nothing might happen except loss of the prohibited item, but there’s still the matter of trying to catch your flight after a long delay at security. Bottom line: Before you fly, check with the TSA on what’s allowed and what’s not.
4. Failure to monitor gates and terminals
Airlines aren’t trying to confuse us, but sometimes they have to change gates and even terminals due to changing aircraft, bad weather and a host of other reasons. Be sure the airline has your mobile number or email or both; they try to alert passengers to changes but sometimes when things happen quickly they run out of time, so check those airport information boards often. Bottom line: The PA systems in many airports are woefully inadequate. I have friends who sat by their gate, oblivious to the blaring announcements telling them to report to a different gate. Fortunately, they noticed their fellow passengers stampeding past them, figured out what was happening and made their flight.
5. Failure to stay within your own personal space
This is probably not going to cost you anything except aggravation, though if you make a big enough stink about it, you could get kicked off the plane. I refer to personal space, and violators include folks who let their long hair hang over their seat back, covering your video screen and dangling on your tray table. Or the passenger who wants to get super-comfy, which means removing shoes and poking bare feet through available spaces such as the area above your armrest! Bottom line: If you see a bare foot where it shouldn’t be, either calmly ask it be removed or let the flight attendant handle it.
One final note: Failure to compare airfares will always cost you money. If you only go to one or two airline sites, you could easily fail to get the very best deal.
FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney is an airline industry insider and top media air travel resource. Follow Rick (@rickseaney) and never overpay for airfare again.