These days the idea of airplane travel elicits a visceral dread. The system — from airport to air-traffic control to airplane cabin — suffers from overcrowding, understaffing and a scramble for profits at the price of civility. But while passengers have groused over the years about dwindling amenities and flourishing fees, they keep on boarding — in record numbers lately.
A new survey by Airfarewatchdog.com found that of the more than 1,300 travelers polled, 52 percent plan to fly to their summer vacation this year, while 23 percent are driving. Although the price of gas is sending more people to hit the roads in their cars, the airports will still be crowded.
But there are ways to minimize the suffering and to get at least a little bit of comfort along the way. You may even have a moment to stop, look out the window and remember what a miracle air travel is in the first place.
AT THE AIRPORT
Screening saver What would you pay to get through security faster? If your answer is “any price,” consider applying for TSA PreCheck, one of the Department of Homeland Security “trusted traveler” programs designed to expedite screening for “low-risk passengers.” You need to apply, provide your fingerprints and pay $85 for a five-year membership. If you’re cleared, you’ll be eligible to take the dedicated PreCheck lanes now available at more than 150 U.S. airports, where passengers don’t have to remove shoes, belts, light jackets or laptops. Any children 12 or younger traveling with you can also join the line.
While PreCheck helps with domestic travel, the Global Entry program is meant for international travelers who pass the more rigorous screening process (and pay the $100 fee). Not only do they get PreCheck perks, but when re-entering the U.S., they can scan their passports at the automated kiosks in international arrival terminals and skip the long passport control lines.
Lounges They’re not just for elite travelers anymore. Among the ways to gain access, along with frequent-flier status and buying a yearlong (expensive) membership through the airline, are specific credit cards.
Among the best cards for lounge access is American Express Platinum, which provides complimentary access to Delta lounges (for you only; $29 for each guest), Airspace and Centurion lounges (for you plus immediate family or two guests) and membership to Priority Pass Select lounges worldwide.
Citi Prestige MasterCard gets access to 40-plus American Airlines Admirals Clubs lounges for the primary cardholder plus immediate family or two guests and more than 800 Priority Pass Select lounges.
Often, you can buy a single-day pass with the airline you’re flying. American, for instance, offers them for $50, and three children under 18 get access as well. Similar options are offered through United, Delta and Airspace Clubs.
Priority Pass (prioritypass.com) has 900 lounges worldwide and three levels of membership: for $99 a year, each lounge visit is $27 and $27 for each guest; for $249, you get 10 free entries and guests are $27; and for $399, all visits are free and guests pay $27.
Using the loungebuddy app, you can either enter your itinerary and the app will list available lounges during your trip, or you can search by airport. If you enter your frequent-flier status, credit cards, etc., the app will show you which lounges are free to use, as well as lounges you can pay to access.
Amenities Gourmet restaurants, play areas, medical facilities, prayer rooms, sleeping pods, massages, wedding chapels and other amenities are popping up in once-bland terminals. Look for necessities like ATMs and restrooms or amusements and food via the apps Sleepinginairports.com, iFly.com, GateGuru, and the Airport + Flight Tracker Radar from Webport.
And for the four-footed family member or service animal in your travel group, remember that federal law now requires airports to provide pet relief areas in terminals. Among the sources for a list of these areas, plus other domestic airport pet services, is petfriendlytravel.com/airports
OK, this concept admittedly is oxymoronic. But every little bit helps, right?
Most sky warriors cite noise-canceling headphones as No. 1 for getting out of the stress zone. The top of the line seems to be Bose QuietComfort 25 for $280-$300. You won’t even hear your neighbor snoring or the baby four rows back wailing.
Necks aren’t the only body part you can coddle in flight. For less than $20 and some lung power, you can create your own mini Barcalounger with compact, inflatable foot rests. Among the well reviewed (and least expensive) is the Go Travel Footrest ($12.95 at Bed Bath & Beyond), which is slightly angled and covered in a velour so comfy that some owners use it as a pillow instead.
Also good for your feet: compression socks, which are, yes, good for your circulation but can be painfully ugly. But I found some cool ones from VIM & VGR. The company’s over-the-knee socks come in argyle, polka dots and stripes ($32, travelsmith.com or vimvigr.com).
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of the story mistakenly reported that Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard gets cardholders access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs lounges.