Airline Travel Tips

A big part of being in the military is traveling.  Whether it is traveling to newly assigned units or to visit family, it’s important to know travel policies so your trip goes hassle-free.  Airports and each airline has varying policies so these are only some tips that cover a broad range. 

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Arrival Time

Airports are insane (if you didn’t already know that).  From parking to check-in to the biggest time killer – security.  Depending if you are flying through a major hub like in Atlanta, or a smaller airport such as in Richmond, VA – your timing can vary. 

Since most airlines are allowed to over sell their seats (due to no-shows, cancellations, weather delays, connecting flight delays, etc.), it is better to be at the airport for longer than desired than to find your seat being given away. 

Many airlines have policies that coincide with one another.  However, it will also depend on if you are flying domestically (within the country) or internationally (out of the country). 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recommends arriving 2 hours before your scheduled flight. 

Delta Airlines suggests being at the airport 2 hours prior, checked in 30 minutes prior, and at the gate 15 minutes prior or change fees may apply. Their website, found here, provides minimum arrival times for listed airports that may require additional time.  This can account for a higher travel volume, security waits, and check-in times.

*Note the website has estimated check-in times not arrival time to the airport.

Southwest Airlines recommends having your passport verified by the ticket agent at least 60 minutes before the scheduled departure for international flights.  Their website also provides many airports with their suggested arrival times (in minutes) that you can check here.

American Airlines recommends to check in 45 minutes for domestic flights and 60 minutes for international flights.  Their website, found here, also provides a detailed list for other airports and their minimum check-in times to ensure your seat is available.

If you are traveling by another airline, check their websites for advised times.  For your convenience, I have listed some of the other websites: United (click here), Allegiant Air (click here), Spirit (click here) or check Seat Guru which provides a comprehensive list of other airlines (click here).

Better to be at the airport longer than to find your seat being given away

Baggage Policies (and Active Duty Personnel)

So once upon a time in a land far far from here…baggage used to be free (like included in your ticket).  Which was great except the airlines couldn’t continue to carry you and your 12 bags.  I love my family because they remind me of this (no not 12).  When they fly internationally, they always have an empty bag for things they bring back with them (which is quite clever). 

However, that is now going to cost you if you are in excess of your allotted baggage. 

Let’s review some of the airlines baggage policies (which are subject to change). Check websites for baggage dimensions.

Delta Airlines (policy) states that regular customers (not their Medallion members for example) pay $25 for their 1st bag under 50 lbs and $35 for the 2nd for domestic flights.  Active Duty receives 2 checked bags for free (each up to 50 lbs) for personal travel and 5 bags (each up to 100 lbs) on government orders. This is for their main cabin tickets (first class is 70 lbs for personal travel and 100 lbs on government orders).

Southwest Airlines (policy) states that passengers are allowed 2 bags per ticket (within 50 lbs) and then will pay $75 for each additional bag (one-way). Military is exempt from baggage allowances as long as each piece is not bigger than 100lbs. Check out their special luggage page if you are flying with Fido.

American Airlines has a lot of different variables for their baggage (see policy). First bag is $25 and goes up from there. Active Duty military members receive 3 complimentary bags on personal travel and up to 5 bags on government orders (as well as dependents with IDs). Main cabin bags are 50 lbs while first class, business class, and Brazil destinations are 70lbs.

TripAdvisor has a comprehensive overview of all major (and smaller) airlines and their baggage policies with their associated costs. Check here for those rates.

Traveling with Children

When I was 19, I traveled to London with my step-mother and 2 year old sister.  As we were getting off the plane in Gatwick, my sister decides she wants to throw an epic tantrum right there in the aisle.

Face it, children are unpredictable when they travel. You are removing them from order and putting them into a tiny little vessel that messes with their ears and can smell funky.  So keep these tips in mind.

  • Formula, breast milk, and juice are allowed despite the liquid limits.  Let the TSA agent know that you have them and they will typically screen them.
  • Children under 18 do not have to provide identification with a companion.
  • Children under 12 can keep their shoes on – yay for one less thing to do!
  • Remove babies from their carriers (if you wear your baby) and carry them in your arms.
  • Biggest tip – bring LOTS of snacks and things to do.

TSA Pre✓®

Active Duty members are eligible for TSA Pre® without having to pay the $85 membership fee. 

Safe time by not having to remove your belts, shoes, laptops, or liquids.

Check it out here.

Or check out the United States map to see which airports and airlines allow it.

Additional Tips

  • Check out these great tips from Million Mille Secrets (domestic or international arrival policies, seasonal travel considerations, and airport security lines and passport control) – click here
  • Always ask the gate agent if your seats are not together if there are empty seats.  When other passengers have not “selected” their seats or have not been assigned – they may be able to put your party together if you are split.
  • Understand the airline’s contract of carriage. Included will be the reasons they airline will refuse to transport you (for example if you have a communicable disease, are intoxicated, or fail to allow the airline and their workers do their job).
  • The more flexible you are with your travel dates – typically the cheaper your ticket can be. Traveling midweek is usually the cheapest.

Traveling can be a stressful or relaxing.  Check out my travel essentials to ensure your trip is as smooth as possible.

If you found this advice, or any of my advice helpful, please consider buying from one of my affiliates at no additional cost to you and supporting The Military Move. When you click and make a purchase within 24 hours (at no additional charge), we receive a small donation. Thank you!

About the Author

Kelsey Ramirez is a Real Estate Broker in western Washington. She is also a veteran elementary school teacher, military wife, and mom to two daughters.  She is the founder of The Military Move, a military-based website to help families in the PCS process. Kelsey loves to travel, write, and create amazing content.  She has her Masters in Technology, which she uses to learn all new things digital.

With three decades of military support, Kelsey’s mission is to help new and existing military families in their unique adventures through all military topics including PCSing, budgeting, school choice and rights, housing, and especially just being a military spouse.

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