Tips before you book your next airline flight

Some small steps could save you big headaches

Phil Mosley |

Airline travel has been unreliable for nearly two years as the airlines struggled with staffing and logistics. Almost every airline has had at least one disastrous weekend with mass cancelations. The problem isn’t likely to end anytime soon. Here are some suggestions to help save you grief on your next trip.

Hedge your ticket purchase

Many airlines will hold tickets for 24 hours without payment, or will let you cancel your reservation and get a refund within that time frame, so you can make sure you get the best deal.

Check the flight’s record

Major airlines are required by law to provide on-time performance information on their websites when you consider what flight to buy. Check these out to help avoid long delays. In addition, the Bureau of of Transportation Statistics provides lists every month of “chronically delayed” flights.

For example, in January 2023, 105 flights in the United States were categorized as “chronically delayed,” which means more than 50% of flights arrived 30 minutes or more late, or not at all. 

No. 1 on the list: Frontier’s flight No. 1043 from Orlando (MCO) to Houston (IAH), that is scheduled for departure at 2:06 p.m. Of the 17 flights in January, 88% arrived a half-hour or more late. The average: Nearly an hour and a half late.

Also notable: American Airline’s flight No. 1117, from Charlotte (CLT) to Los Angeles (LAX,) which leaves at 4:45 p.m. ET. Of the 10 scheduled flights, six arrived more than 30 minutes late. The average delay: Nearly five hours.

Give yourself a buffer

If possible, plan to fly out a day before you actually need to be somewhere, particularly if you’re attending a wedding or going on a cruise.

Pay with a credit card, not a debit card

If you buy your plane ticket with a credit card, you have far greater protection to dispute the charge under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.

Fly in the morning

Schedule your flight as early in the day as possible. The DOT says you’re more likely to get where you’re going.
The later in the day you fly, the more chances there are for the airline to get off schedule. And if you have a late-night flight that’s cancelled, there may not be another one until the next morning.

Avoid connecting flights

This isn’t always possible, of course. But two flights mean two chances for a problem. And a delay on the first leg could mean you miss the second leg. The extra cost of a non-stop may save you a lot of stress and expense.

Avoid checking a bag

This also isn’t always possible. But having a carry-on reduces the chances of you getting separated from your bag.

Put a tracker in your bag

Today’s technology allows you to buy a small GPS tracker that you can put anywhere — in a suitcase, a carry-on in case it gets checked at the gate, or, when you’re at home, a set of keys or wallet. These generally connect to your smart phone to allow you to find your item anytime, anywhere.

Take a photo and document your property

If you are checking a bag, take a photo of your belongings in the suitcase in case you need to file a claim against the airline. You’re entitled to reimbursement up to $3,800 if your bag is lost. If you have expensive items, take photos of them and write down the model numbers, serial numbers, etc.
Also, while checked wheelchairs and scooters are considered baggage, they’re not subject to the $3,800 liability limit, DOT says. Other “assistive devices” not subject to the $3,800 limit include walkers, CPAP machines, hearing aids and prescription medications.

Consider travel insurance

It won’t keep your flight from being canceled but should help with other expenses. (But read the terms and conditions on the limits.)

Download the app

Get the airline’s app on your phone a couple of days before your flight. It can help you with notifications, rebooking and contacting customer service. Then you can delete it if you’d like when you return from your trip.


Teresa Murray

Consumer Watchdog, PIRG

Teresa directs the Consumer Watchdog office, which looks out for consumers’ health, safety and financial security. Previously, she worked as a journalist covering consumer issues and personal finance for two decades for Ohio’s largest daily newspaper. She received dozens of state and national journalism awards, including Best Columnist in Ohio, a National Headliner Award for coverage of the 2008-09 financial crisis, and a journalism public service award for exposing improper billing practices by Verizon that affected 15 million customers nationwide. Teresa and her husband live in Greater Cleveland and have two sons. She enjoys biking, house projects and music, and serves on her church missions team and stewardship board.

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