Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Notes on the art of USA air travel


In my journey I became very adept at the US air travel security procedure. These are my tips
  • Always take your shoes and jacket/jumper off and place them in one of the tubs provided.
  • Do not leave heavy metal objects in bags (such as padlocks), but make sure you stuff everything you can in as it makes it easier when getting dressed again on the other side.
  • Don't wear a belt unless you really need to. (Actually the belt thing is a conclusion I came to in Australia a few years ago)
  • Most of all allow plenty of time for the formalities at security.


Most airlines in the US charge for any luggage when you check in.

Some airlines have reduced bag fees if you check in and pay your baggage fee on line. For example United gave me a $5 discount for doing this.

In Flight Service

In a short it does not exist. For example, in Australia I am used to showing my boarding pass to the flight attendants at the door of the aircraft and they will usually tell you which way to go (even when there is only one option, "down the aisle to the right"). In the US they just wave you on. While it's not rocket science for most people to find the right seat, it is just a difference I noticed.

There are no meals provided, even on full service carriers. However you always get a free drink, even on low cost airlines such as Southwest. You also usually get a small packet of peanuts or pretzels.

Flying with Southwest

This airline really deserves it's own category as it is the weirdest flight I have ever been on.

When you check in it is advisable to check in online the night before or arrive at the airport very early. The reason for this is, Southwest has free seating and instead allocates each passenger a number. This number is their order for boarding, therefore early check in means a lower number and a better choice of seat. There are three categories A B and C. There are only a small number of A, a large number of B and a smaller number of C.

At the gate they call boarding by letter group and passengers are expected to line up in order. So when they call A all the As line up in order from 1 to 20 or whatever. Then when they have boarded the call all the Bs up and get them to line up in order. And so it goes with C.

On our flight we were B twenty something, but it was quite empty and so got a row between the 2 of us.

As we checked in late, we got special "late" tags on our bags, which must in some cases give the baggage handlers the ok to "forget" loading certain bags on the plane, we were lucky however. The woman who checked up is also did her best to put our bags on the conveyor upside down. Nice one.

The rest of the flight on Southwest is relatively normal. It's just the boarding process that is really strange. Unlike Jetstar, Southwest seem to have got the unallocated seating thing to work. Although it's probably a cultural thing with Australians...

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