Duane Hoffmann / msnbc.com
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By Travel writer
msnbc.com contributor
updated 6/26/2008 12:15:51 PM ET 2008-06-26T16:15:51

Sure, I could quote the latest news reports and throw around some passenger survey statistics, but we all know what's happening: airfares, baggage fees and flight delays are going up. In-flight service and civility are going down. Onboard amenities are shrinking. The lines at ticket counters and security checkpoints are getting longer. And patience to deal with it all? That, my potential seatmate, is pretty much gone.

So let's face it — it's going to be a troubled and turbulent summer for air travelers.

But not necessarily for you if you take a moment for this well-mannered traveler refresher course before you head to the airport.

Problem: Rising fares
Try this: Invest time to save money.

Start your research early. Sign up for fare alerts from airlines and travel Web sites, but don't forget some cut-rate airlines don't show up on the major sites. Be flexible with travel times and dates and consider alternate airports: an hour's drive on one end or the other may save you time, money and hassles.

Problem: Long lines at the ticket counter
Try this: Avoid the ticket counter entirely.

Don't hesitate to call the airline with last-minute questions and always re-confirm your flights and itinerary before walking out the door. At the airport, use self-serve kiosks or curbside check-in. Or go online to print out a paper boarding pass at home or at your hotel. Some airlines now offer downloadable, paperless e-boarding passes for on-the-go folks with Internet-enabled mobile phones. Got bags? Baggage check-in can also be streamlined online.

Problem: Long security lines
Try this: Plan your approach.

Study airport maps to locate all security checkpoint locations or see the TSA's checkpoint wait-time calculator. Depending on the time of day, a shorter, hassle-free line may be down the hall. Pack and dress for success. Wear easy-off, easy-on shoes. Make sure your laptop and your zippered, see-through bag of three-ounce toiletries are easily accessible. Before you get in line, put your flashy watch or jewelry, big-buckled belts, loose change, wallet and other small and/or valuable possessions in a bag that can be slipped into your carry-on.

Also, if your airport is one of the several that has self-select “Diamond Lanes,” use them. Even if you're an “Expert Traveler,” don't be shy about using the “Casual Traveler” or even “Families and Special Assistance” lane if it's shorter, or if you just want to take your time.

Problem:  New baggage fees
Try this:  Check the calendar. Pack light. Check nothing.

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Those new baggage fees go into effect on a staggered timetable, so you may be exempt (for now) if you bought your ticket a while ago or if you are — or are traveling with — someone with elite status on that airline. So check around.

Lighten up. do you really need to spend $30 or $50 to check a bag just so you can take along a few extra outfits and that third pair of shoes? And if you lighten up enough, you can get by with just a carry-on bag. But don't overdo it. (See below).

Problem: No room for your carry-on
Try this: Pull out the tape measure and that soft-sided duffel bag. 

Measure your roll-around. On most airlines, a “legal” bag is no larger than 45 linear inches. What's that? The total of the height, the width, and the depth of a bag. Metal sizing bins and “bag monitors” have (re)appeared at checkpoints, so don't push the limits and risk getting kicked out of line and sent back to the check-in counter.

Increase your odds. Instead of one large carry-on, divvy up your stuff between an allowable “personal item” (purse, briefcase, or laptop-case) that can fit underneath the seat in front of you and a smaller, soft-sided bag that will be easy to store in the overhead bin alongside bulky hard-sided roll-around bags that are much more likely to get gate-checked.

Problem: No meal service on airplanes
Try this:  Explore your options and plan ahead.

Most airport Web sites list the locations of all food outlets, so go online and plot out where you'll eat (if you have time) or where you'll stop for a grab-n-go meal (if you don't). Buy-on-board sandwiches are an increasingly acceptable, but not always available, option, so consider taking along a sandwich or some leftovers from home. And always pack snacks (nuts, energy bars, dried fruit, chocolate, packets of instant soup or oatmeal) just in case.

Problem: Chatty seatmates, rude recliners, kids kicking the back of your seat
Try this:  Look 'em in the eye and state your case.

Some travelers enter a defensive travel bubble and forget that an airplane is still a public space. A polite “I'm sorry, but I've been looking forward to reading this book, would you be please raise your seat back up just a bit?” or “Young man, you probably don't realize it, but when you kick that part of the seat you're really kicking me!” is sometimes all it takes to re-establish your personal space. Other times, you may need to seek assistance from a flight attendant.

Problem: Long, stressful travel days
Try this: Get plenty of rest, pack a survival kit and write me in the morning.

Much of what happens at airports and on airplanes is out of your control, so build up your defenses and your ability to respond to who-knows-what by showing up well-rested and way ahead of flight time.

Your survival kit should include a fully charged cell phone, phone numbers for your airline, hotel and rental car agency, activities to keep you entertained (a book, portable movie or music player, a checkbook that needs balancing or some work that needs doing), a stash of snacks and some “mad money” to buy yourself a treat.

Congratulations! You've completed the Well-Mannered Traveler's refresher course for air travel. For extra credit, read these past columns about Seatmates of Size , the recent crackdown on carry-ons , ideas for keeping a delay from turning into a disaster , and strategies for changing a baby's diaper on an airplane. Or send along a note about a travel etiquette issue you'd like to see covered in a future refresher course.

Class dismissed!

Harriet Baskas writes msnbc.com's popular weekly column, The Well-Mannered Traveler. She is the author of the “Stuck at the Airport” blog, a contributor to National Public Radio and a columnist for USATODAY.com.

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