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To Air is Human: getting there is half the battle

It starts the trip, it ends the trip, and it's often the most frustrating part.

It's air travel.

We want it cheap, friendly, on-time, and uncrowded, which is usually the opposite of how we get it.

For the best possible air experience, remember some basic things as you book your upcoming trip.

1. Book your air as far in advance as possible—about 9 months out for international trips and about two months for domestic. Booking early ensures the best possible choices of flights, airports, and options for connections. Direct flights may be expensive, so connecting through a major gateway can save money.

2. If going on an escorted group trip, be aware of the arrival and departure windows for group transfers. Transfers on your own can be expensive, so the group ones are a great deal.

3. If connecting from a domestic flight to an international one, try to use airlines that have alliances allowing you to check your bag all the way through to your final destination. It will save some real headaches, and your back.

4. When connecting to international flights, try to plan at least a 3-hour layover. It's better to cool your heels leisurely exploring an airport terminal than to miss your connection due to a delayed or cancelled domestic flight. When returning to the U.S., that extra time allows for backed-up Immigration and Customs lines, long security checkpoints, and time to get to your domestic flight. A longer connection time provides a margin of safety for unexpected delays and prevents missed cruises.

5. Get to the airport at least 3 hours early. TSA is admitting to severe understaffing and long lines this summer, and horror stories of missed flights abound. Don't be one of those frustrated travelers.

6. Download the phone app for the airline(s) you plan to fly. Load your flight schedule and sign up for alerts—you'll be first to know of a gate change or flight delay. Also keep the airline's contact number handy, in case of delays or cancellations.

7. If you need a wheelchair or special assistance, notify the airline ahead of time. Same for any dietary needs or special meals.

8. Know what your luggage weighs—most airlines will charge for overweight luggage.

Once you get to the airport, you may want to check in again with the airline (even if you have already officially checked in and printed your boarding passes). They will help you check your luggage, alert you to any updates for your flight, and help you find the shortest TSA line.

Pack your patience, a smile, and enjoy your trip!