Cruises are great. Decades ago, I figured out the difference between Club Med vacations and cruising. At Club Med, everyone was equal. On a cruise, everyone is treated like a king or queen. Because of that royal treatment, you can understand why some people choose to literally live on cruise ships, taking one cruise holiday after another.
Assuming you are like us, you need to fly to the ship and fly back home. Flights are the bookends of your trip. You’ve heard the expression: “The romance of air travel has become the romance of bus travel.” Over the years, my wife and I have learned how to optimize air travel, turning it into a pleasant experience. We hit snags occasionally, but here are the techniques that work for us.
- Be involved in making the arrangements. Your cruise line can probably arrange the air travel portion of your vacation. Their prices are often better than you can arrange on your own. Ideally you have a preferred airline where you have status.
- Earn status with at least one airline. This might come through flying a lot, spending a lot on their credit card or getting their credit card that provides perks. This should get you earlier boarding among other benefits.
- Get good seats in coach. We fly coach virtually all the time. Pay extra to get exit row or bulkhead seats. The cost is usually reasonable and the comfort is worth it. When traveling on a wide-bodied plane on an international flight, we usually tell the flight attendant on the jump seat in front of out exit row seats that the space between our seats and the bathroom, the window and the center aisle is the same size as our compartment was on the Orient Express!
- Check all your luggage. Your cruise line probably gets you air tickets that are better than bare bones basic economy. This should allow checking two bags each. Check everything if possible. This eliminates competing for overhead bin space. It lets you feel elegant.
- Dress well. You will earn the respect of the flight crew and gate agents. They wear a uniform for work. Dressing well silently acknowledges this fact. On international flight you often get the more experienced flight crew. They remember when flying was an event and passengers dressed up.
- Use the airline club lounge. If you get through security 20 minutes before boarding starts, just head to your gate. If you are there two to three hours in advance (like we are told) plan to spend your leisure time in the airlines club. If you do not belong, buy a day pass. It is far more civilized.
- Buy chocolates for the flight crew. We do this on international flights. I hand them over to the purser after we have boarded. I include a business card with our names and seating location. I explain we don’t want anything, but to share them after the meal service. Sometimes nothing happens, sometimes great things do. It’s a small investment and a courtesy.
- Do not hurry. As an ex New Yorker, I have a problem with my own advice in this case. People generally get off the plan my row location. It really doesn’t go any faster. The Immigration line moves at a certain speed. For some reason we have found well dressed people not in a hurry sometimes get directed to a faster line or a counter that just opened up.
- Get Global Entry or its equivalent. When returning to the US, ideally you want to be on the short line. Global Entry gets you through via an electronic terminal. At the Charlotte airport they seem to be using an even newer technology that didn’t even need our passports! We looked at a camera, they knew who we were and the machine ejected a piece of paper. FYI: This technology isn’t as smooth as it should be yet.
These steps often require spending extra money. They make air travel more of a pleasure, less of a chore.
Ed. Notes: CruiseCompete and its member travel advisors provide many curated cruise and land deals, offers and amenities on over 50 cruise lines with over 500 cruise ships sailing all around the world. Browse Cruise Ships and Cruise Lines
Cover photo: St Maartin Oyster Bay Photos ©Dennis Cox/WorldViews