By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 5/27/2008 2:28:21 PM ET 2008-05-27T18:28:21

How do you have a great summer flight from start to finish?

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In my columns, I often focus on one part of air travel, like boarding, luggage or what to do in flight. Today, as the busy summer travel season begins, I’m connecting the dots for you.

Here are 15 of my favorite tips:

1. Booking
By far the best thing you can do when buying a ticket is to schedule a flight for as early in the day as possible. The later you get the greater possibility of problematic weather and the resulting snowball effect. If possible, avoid connections and book a non-stop, and if you must connect, make the time in between flights two hours or more.

2. Going to the airport
No good comes from rushing at airports, the lines and inefficiencies alone can drive your blood pressure through the roof. Go early and avoid the rush.

3. Memory lot
When parking your car at the airport lot, make a point to write the location down and stick it in your passport. Or better yet, call yourself on the cell phone and leave a brief message. If your cell has a camera you could always take a picture and save it. It may seem unnecessary at the time, but your memory will fade after you return.

4. Checking in
Ask for a seat as far forward in your cabin as possible to get more legroom. Be considerate and offer up your seat for a separated family. The gate agents will usually not need it but they are more likely to remember you when forced to make upgrades.

5. Security
Have a plan of attack. For me, the most annoying thing about the long lines are the people who have been in line for an hour who suddenly become confused or lost when it is their time to go through. Watch the people in front of you, read the posted instruction signs, and be ready for your turn. Pull your laptop out of the bag, take your shoes off, and don’t forget to put that cell phone elsewhere. It will set off the magnetometer.

6. Boarding
If your flight is not full, try to be one of the last to board. That way, if you don’t like your seat or the looks of your seat neighbors, you can always pass it by and plop yourself down on a more promising seat or perhaps a row. If by chance someone comes for that seat, look at your boarding card in surprise and take your originally assigned seat.

7. Inflight comfort
Dress in layers and take a jacket or sweater regardless of the season. I know this may sound bizarre if it is the middle of summer, but after sweating in the airport, in the jetway, and then on the plane before takeoff, you will freeze once you get airborne. That’s when we blast the air conditioning. Moments later, your perspiration will turn to icicles. Trust me on this.

8. Long-haul flying
Delay the z’s. Watch the movie, have a drink, eat a meal, read a book, do something to keep you awake as long as possible. When you finally do get some sleep, it will be heavier and longer, and when you awake, you should have the better part of the flight behind you.

9. Inflight dining
Never count on the airlines to fill the grumbling void in your stomach. Bring or buy a favorite snack to take onboard and try to make it as least smelly as possible. Not only will your seat neighbors appreciate it but those garlic fries will grow old quickly, but the smell will linger the entire flight.

10. Red-eye
Wait until you are about to board and then use the restroom in the airport. Even if you think you don’t have to go, go anyway. The restroom is roomier and cleaner than the lavatory on the airplane, and there’s nothing worse than falling asleep on the red-eye only to wake up 15 minutes later with the urge. Odds are that when you return to your seat, sleep won’t. And practice hydration in moderation. It is always good to drink water before, during and after a flight, but don’t overdo it on a red-eye or you’ll be running to the lavatory every five seconds. Nothing says you can’t drink water toward the end or after your flight.

11. Deplaning
You may have been on the aircraft for hours on end, but if you don’t have a tight connection, what are a few more minutes? Remain seated and watch the masses battle for their bags, jockey for position and then wait impatiently standing for the airplane doors to open and for the other people to filter out. The minutes you lose are well worth the frustration you avoid.

12. Cancellations
When you first hear your flight is canceled, instead of whining about how horrible the airline is, pick up the nearest phone and call the airline’s customer service and reservation center. They can assist you with your itinerary and rebook you on the next available flight. If it requires a new ticket, tell them you will pick it up at the electronic check-in kiosk. The phone may be busy at first, but keep trying. Those first few minutes are crucial, and anything is better than waiting behind the people camping out in the other line. Ask if your airline has an electronic customer service kiosk. If they do, then you can revamp your itinerary and get a ticket there also.

13. Baggage claim
Fasten a unique marker around your suitcase handle. It could be anything from a child’s toy to a favorite sock (preferably clean). This way you can quickly grab your bag instead of sifting through a sea of look-alikes.

14. Customs and immigration
If you know you have a tight connection when you land in the States, leave the flowers and produce behind. Agriculture inspection sometimes adds up to one hour or more. Always carry a photocopy of your passport separately from your passport. Although the official may not accept it if you misplace the original, it will help get you processed and you out of there that much quicker.

15. Overall trip
You just knew that I couldn’t leave out my favorite amenity. Earplugs are a wonderful invention, but seldom used. They can be bought for less than $1, and I can’t stress their importance enough. Just think — no more crying babies, annoying seat chatter, or unnecessary announcements. The whole world seems a lot more tolerable when you use them. They work great in hotel rooms and in the airport as well. I never leave home without them.

Got anymore or disagree? Speak up and send me an e-mail. Earplugs or not, I will listen.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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