The airlines have reduced the number of flights and are using
smaller airliners in order to decrease expenses. This means that
because flights tend to be full, reservations need to be made as
soon as a decision is made to travel. A decision on which departure
and arrival airports to use must also be thrown into the mix.
A traveler can still use a travel agent to book flights. Agents
do offer convenience, but be prepared to pay a fee for their
Most folks prefer to go directly to the airline and book online,
or they use an online source such as Travelocity, Expedia or
TripAdvisor to do the research for them. There are many of these
sites, but these are some of the most well-known.
In central Illinois, we have a choice of departure airports and
multiple airlines that offer service to the entire country.
Travelers doing it themselves would have to research each airport
and all of the airlines serving the airport, and then determine
which to use, based on schedule and price.
In Lincoln, we can chose to depart from Springfield, Peoria or
Bloomington, which usually offer short flights to larger airline
hubs such as Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta or Detroit. Some travelers may
elect to cut out the "middleman" and drive directly to the larger
hubs such as Chicago O'Hare and Midway, Indianapolis, or St. Louis
The decision to depart from a central Illinois airport or to
drive to a larger city offers benefits and drawbacks.
On the plus side of choosing to depart from a central Illinois
airport is the short commute time to the airport. Springfield, with
flights to Chicago and Dallas, is a 35-minute drive from Lincoln.
Bloomington, with flights to Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas,
is a 45-minute drive. Peoria, with nonstop flights to Chicago,
Denver, Detroit and Dallas, is a one-hour drive at posted speeds.
One small drawback to a local departure is that regional jets
that airlines usually use have limited passenger capacity -- around
50 seats. This makes securing a reservation as early as possible a
necessity around the busy holiday flying season.
One advantage of a local departure airport is the free parking.
Another is the much shorter lines encountered when passing through
TSA security. Just make sure that when parking, you note the section
and row where you leave your car, so that it can be easily found on
the return trip. Some local airports offer shuttle service from the
lot to the terminal -- a big help when multiple bags and toddlers
The use of regional jets with limited seating makes for some
other issues. In this era of roll-aboard luggage, even the smallest
one will not fit in the tiny overhead compartments on regional jets.
The small overhead compartments seem only fit for small bags and
coats. The airlines recognize this and offer valet luggage service,
where a legal roll-aboard is checked at the entrance to the airliner
and then brought to a similar location at the destination. These
bags are usually the first ones removed from the bins on the
airplane on arrival.
When a traveler decides to drive to a major Midwest hub such as
Chicago or St. Louis, say to catch that Southwest flight, one should
allow plenty of time to deal with big-city traffic delays and
gigantic parking lots. Long TSA lines are the norm on busy travel
days. The day before Thanksgiving and the Sunday after Turkey Day
are typically the busiest airline days of the year.
When boarding a flight in a larger airliner, be aware of some
issues regarding your roll-aboard luggage. Since some airlines have
been charging for checked luggage, most everyone has a carry-on.
Make sure your carry-on is the proper size.
Bloomington resident and American Eagle flight attendant Glenn
Owsiany says he is constantly amazed at the difference between what
the airlines consider to be a carry-on and what the passenger
considers to be acceptable. The aisles are often clogged with
passengers toting bags for carry-on that are obviously in the
On some of the smaller airliners, such as the MD-80 or 737, the
overhead compartments may be specific for the travel bag you are
using. The overhead on the right may be reserved for a roll-aboard
only, with wheels in first, and the left may be reserved for smaller
soft-side bags. Coats should not be placed in the overheads until
all luggage is stowed.
[to top of second column]
On a recent flight, one passenger with a roll-aboard did not
hesitate to take someone else's soft-side bag from the inappropriate
space and move it across the aisle to the other overhead. During the
flight, the owner of the soft-side could not find his bag to
retrieve something from it. He just knew it was in the space on the
right-hand side. Finally, a kind passenger mentioned a possible
switch. Help your fellow passengers by sticking to the rules on
luggage size and placement.
In-flight service has been reduced to a bare minimum if you are
seated in coach. The airlines do not even serve the tiny bags of
pretzels when the drink cart comes down the aisle. While soft drinks
and coffee are still free, there is a fee for everything else.
The airlines are using credit card readers for onboard purchases
now. Cash is no longer accepted on some flights.
If cash is still the only way to purchase drinks, such as on
American Eagle, make sure you have some $5 bills and at least five
$1s so that the flight attendants don't have to make change. That
helps them and speeds service to all passengers. A beer or glass of
wine is usually $6 on most flights.
If you are flying first class, skip the preceding paragraph.
While you may never see the flight crew on your trip by air, the
cabin crew is always available to help with boarding and safety
issues. Just remember that most flights will be full during the
holidays, and there is only one direction of flow when you board and
one when you deplane, especially on single-aisle airliners. Help
your fellow passengers and the flight attendants by stowing your
gear and sitting down as soon as possible.
The main goal of the cabin crew is to ensure safety during all
phases of flight. They work long hours in a small space. Courtesy
goes a long way in helping with a packed airplane.
As Lincoln resident and Southwest Airlines flight attendant Kim
Crane says: "I see a thousand people on a busy day. We always try to
be upbeat and helpful. The passengers need to help out also."
With all of this talk about traveling by air, we should not
forget that a means of travel to the entire country is accessible in
downtown Lincoln. No travel plans should be considered without
The trains coming through Lincoln, bound for Chicago and St.
Louis, are generally on time and comfortable. The new high-speed
rails that have been installed over the past two years make for a
quiet and very smooth ride.
It is important to know that all seats on Amtrak are now
reserved, so you will need a ticket when you board. Normal and
Springfield have stations with ticket agents, but a passenger
boarding at Lincoln's station will have to obtain a ticket by other
means. The easiest way is to go online, purchase a ticket and have
Amtrak mail it to you. If time does not allow this, generally the
conductor will have your ticket.
One nice aspect about Amtrak is the ability to check whether a
train is on time. A call to 800-USA-RAIL is all it takes, and input
your train number. Train times can also be checked online by
computer and by smartphone.
Speaking of electronic communication and travel, the airlines now
will email flight times and on-time notices straight to your
computer or smartphone. Be sure to give them your email address and
mobile number when making reservations.
One time-saving feature of airline travel is the ability to get a
boarding pass before leaving home. Just log on to your airline
website within 24 hours of departure, enter the locater number of
your reservation and print your boarding pass. If you don't check
luggage, you can skip the often-long lines at the airline counter
and go directly to your gate. Some airlines, including United, email
a confirmation of a reservation and embed the check-in link in the
Whether you travel by air or train for the holidays, knowing some
useful tips will help make the trip as smooth as possible, and "home
for the holidays" will only bring a smile and warm thoughts.
[By CURT FOX]