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Holiday Travel Tips the Airlines Won’t Give You

Submitted by Mary Schiavo on December 9, 2011 – 10:16 am

This is the time of year when you’ll hear tons of stories about getting the best airfare or traveling with gifts. What you really need to know, however, is how to prepare for travel dur­ing this frenzied season. Here are some tips:

Preparing to Fly

» Statistically speaking, the safest seats on the plane are those closest to the exits, usually over the wing or near the tail.

» Most accidents occur during take­off and landing. If available, flying nonstop will cut your risk in half.

» Is your child flying alone during the holidays? Children 5 years and older are allowed to fly solo, but some have been miscon­nected and abused while in the care of airline staff. Teach your children precautions, and give them a cellphone to use so you can communicate with them during their trip.

» Save the airline’s customer service phone number in your cellphone before your trip to help with any delay or cancellation issues.

At the Airport

» Complaining about the weather? Plane crashes occur most often in poor weather conditions. In the 21st century, nearly 26 percent of crashes happened as a result of weather or pilot error during poor weather. So, while it’s in­convenient when the airlines cancel or postpone a flight, they may be saving your life.

While In Flight

» Wear long pants when you fly — they will provide an extra layer of pro­tection from fire and debris in case of a crash. They’ll also keep you warmer so you will not feel tempted to use the airline’s blankets.

» If you can, buy a seat for your infant and put him or her in a car seat.

» Bring your own pillows and blankets. They are a hotbed for communicable diseases.

» Disinfect/wipe down the tray table for the above reasons.

» Keep money, a flashlight, your cell­phone and a smoke hood accessible to you at your seat (stored under the seat in front of you, not in the overhead bin). These are the most valuable items you can have in a crash.

» Don’t take off your shoes until you reach a cruising altitude; and put them on again when the flight attendant tells you that the pilot has begun the descent. Since these are the two most dangerous times of a flight, you’ll be ready to react — and not looking for your shoes.

In Case of a Crash

» Protect yourself by placing your feet under the seat you’re sitting in, not the seat in front of you.

» Turn on your cellphone and record video of the accident if your phone has this capability. The images you collect could help officials later.

Know Your Rights

» If you are on a plane sitting at the gate and your flight is delayed or canceled, immediately call the airline to rebook your flight. Have your credit card handy to secure your new reserva­tion. otherwise, the passengers who paid the most for their tickets will get priority during rebooking.

» Before your flight, review the airline’s Rule 260, found in its contract of carriage, which will be available on the airline’s website. If your flight is delayed or canceled, most airlines are required to rebook you on the next available flight, even if it’s with a different carrier.

» If your flight is delayed on the tarmac, most airlines can only keep you confined to the plane for three hours. After the three-hour mark, airlines must allow you to deplane. If you are plane-bound for more than two hours, the crew must provide you with adequate food and water.

— Mary Schiavo is an attorney with Motley Rice in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. She has been in the aviation industry for more than 30 years, first as a licensed pilot, then as the former inspector general for the U.S. Depart­ment of Transportation, a professor of aviation and now as an aviation attorney.