Booking flight tickets and understanding the various nuances of domestic air travel in USA is a big challenge. Especially if you are from India where things continues to be simple. We still continue to struggle whenever we travel to USA but we are learning too! We thought of sharing some of our learnings while booking flights and domestic air travel in USA.
1 Booking the ticket
You want the best deal for your journey. How do you get it? With more than 20 major domestic airlines operating in USA, it is difficult to find out the best deal. Thankfully there are few websites which will help you. We have had a good experience with The Flight Deal which provides the information on latest deals. Other excellent website is ITA Matrix which combs all the airlines’ deals and provide the required information. Visit them and get the best of the deals.
2 Read between the lines
While booking your ticket, Make sure you book the correct airport. Make sure you book correct seat category. Make sure you know about time differences. These are the things we take it for granted in India. With multiple airports and multiple seat categories and many time zones, one may end up paying more or land at an unfamiliar airport at odd time!
3 Baggage troubles
Don’t assume like we do in India that you get free check in baggage when you book a ticket on a domestic Airlines in USA. It is not. While many airlines allow you to carry a ladies bag and a laptop bag free in the cabin, some airlines allow only one bag as cabin baggage. The check in bags have to be paid for depending on the category of the ticket you purchase. If it is economy, then you have to pay for check in bags separately. Always check the baggage policy of the airlines you are flying in by visiting their website. Buy the check in baggage while booking ticket which will help save few dollars!
4 E-ticket or Confirmation number
Not every airline follow the same process. Some airlines insist on carrying E-ticket where as others are fine with the confirmation number! Whatever, make sure you take the correct printout and keep it with you when you are on domestic air travel in USA. We also advise you to reconfirm your reservation by calling the call centre of the airline in advance.
5 Pick the seat first
If you don’t book your seat when you purchase the ticket, then chances are that you will end up in the window seat in the last row next to the toilet! With most of the travellers on domestic air travel in USA being seasoned travellers, they book seat when they purchase the ticket. You also do the same. Select the seat when you purchase the ticket.
6 Always do web check in
Web check in normally opens 24 hours before departure. Please do web check in to avoid queues at the counter. Check from the website of the airlines for details when the web check in opens and go ahead.
7 Travel to and from Airport
Travel to Airport
Check the departure time and ensure you are there at least one and half hour before the scheduled departure. American airports sometimes gets confusing with many terminals. Make sure you know which terminal to arrive at. Calculate the time to travel to the airport based on the time of departure. If your flight is in the evening, you are sure to encounter the peak hour traffic. Check with the local cab driver or your hotel concierge as to how much will be the travel time and plan accordingly. American cities are notorious for peak hour traffic jams. Be prepared for it.
If there is a direct metro link like “Airport Express”, take it. It saves time. If you are staying in a hotel close to airport, you will also get an option to use airport shuttle. Confirm the timings of airport shuttle from front office of the hotel before finalising your options. If you are using a self drive car, then make sure you know where to leave the car. Add more time for leaving the car, completing formalities and walking down from there to your gate.
The security check in American airports is an elaborate process. Make sure you are not carrying any prohibited items. Please check the baggage policy of the airline you are travelling in.
Travel from Airport
On arrival, you have four options
- Airport express – If there is a metro which connects to down town and if it is convenient and closer to your place of residence then take it. Metro may not be convenient if you have heavy luggage or in winters.
- Yellow cabs or Taxis – You have an option of shared taxi or individual taxi. Obviously individual taxi is more expensive.
- Uber or Lyft – This is an other option. Convenient. Make sure you have downloaded the American version of app.
- Self drive – If you are comfortable driving in USA and staying for longer duration this is a good option. Please check out driving licence requirements as each state in USA has different licence requirements.
8 At the airport
Forget free luggage trolley in American airports! This is not India my dear! You need to pay around 4 to 6 dollars for a trolley. Keep the cash or Credit/Debit card handy. No porters either. You have to fend for yourself. Domestic airports in USA are not great and gets crowded during peak times. The choice for eating joints are limited too.
The only ID which is accepted for Indians who are not naturalised American citizens is Indian Passport. Keep it handy and you have to show it every time you enter the airplane.
10 On Flight
Food – You have to buy food on any American Airlines whenever you go on dometsic air travel in USA and there is no free food on flight.
WiFi – Most of the flights have WiFi on board for a small fee.
Entertainment – Most of the airlines have in flight entertainment.
These were some tips we wanted to share. This is borne out of our experience of domestic air travel in USA few times in last two years. We are not air travel experts and these tips are from our perspective.