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10 tips to overcome air travel stress

Man at Airport Using Cell Phone
What do you do if you're in the airport and your flight is canceled or severely delayed? Rather than stand in a long line, use your cell phone to reschedule a flight or get wait listed. You're more likely to get accurate information about departure times and other flights. Corbis
/ Source: Forbes

The journey, not the arrival, is what seems to matter more than ever these days. That's because flying from A to B is the toughest part of any trip. But if you're proactive, you can make your next flight experience easier and maybe even seamless. The good news is that with a little knowledge and some advanced planning, you can avoid many of the most common air travel snafus. 

Start with high fares to Europe. If your airfare searches for a flight from New York to London have left you with nothing but pricey tickets on American, British Airways or Continental, check out Air India.

The carrier stops in London on its way to Mumbai and the JFK to London segment is traditionally one of the most competitively priced. Other airlines heading to the Middle East and Asia offer similar city stops in Europe, airlines that may not turn up when you do a conventional fare search. Like another Indian carrier, Jet Airways, which stops in Brussels on its way to Mumbai. Or Royal Air Maroc, which stops in Paris' Orly Airport on its way to Casablanca.

When it comes to domestic flights, one of the last truisms left about the airlines is that the first flight of the day is the one least likely to be delayed. That's the one you want to be on. And if there are weather-related delays? Well, you've still got an entire day ahead of you to sort out the flying options.

Then there's the matter of luggage. It's going to cost you to check it. At American, it's $15 for the first bag, $25 for the second, and if you're gullible enough to bring along a third bag that happens to be overweight and oversize, that bag alone will run you an extra $350. That's right, maybe more than your actual ticket. Clearly, carry-on is the way to go.

That's assuming you actually get on the plane to begin with, of course. Oversold planes are still the bane of domestic fliers. More than 170,000 fliers opted to be bumped from the 19 major carriers in the first three months of 2009.

But if the airline is calling for volunteers and you elect to be bumped, you want to get bumped on your terms, not the airline's. So don't jump at a carrier's first offer. You should always try to negotiate for more.

Will the airline pay for your meals, a hotel room and ground transportation should you have to stay overnight? And how about a pass to enter their airport lounge while you're waiting? When it comes to compensation and you're offered cash or a free ticket — which invariably is laden with restrictions — remember that cash is king.

On the other hand, there are some flights you want to avoid at all cost. Like Northwest 803 from Atlanta to Kansas City, which was late more than 96 percent of the time in April 2009, the last month statistics were available. Or Continental Flight 1126 from Chicago to Newark, which arrived late more than 80 percent of the time during April 2009. The Department of Transportation makes it stats ready available with the Air Travel Consumer Report.

When that all too common announcement of a long delay or cancellation comes over the intercom, don't rush to the gate but take out your phone and call. Well, you did preprogram your airline's reservation number into it, didn't you?