Tightwad Tuesday: Airline Travel Tips

I’m going to be flying across the country on Thursday.

In two days, I’ll be spending the day flying to Arkansas. I don’t fly that often. Last year I took a quick weekend trip to see my aunt in Phoenix, but before that I hadn’t flown since my college days. And things have changed a lot!

Regulations regarding liquids, including drinks, are strict nowadays. Airlines are charging for checked baggage. They charge for food, and some airlines even charge for what used to be complimentary drinks and snacks.

Here are a few of the things I’ll be doing to make sure I have an enjoyable, yet frugal, trip.

Check the Airline Website for Regulations

I’m flying United, so I logged on to the United Airlines website to find out what the airline regulations are regarding baggage, snacks, and meals. I found out it’s $15 to check a bag, soft drinks are still complimentary, but meals cost $9.

The options aren’t real frugal, but at least I can plan.

Check the Airport Websites to see the Amenities

On my way to Bentonville, I have a three hour layover in Portland and a shorter layover in Denver. On the way back I have another short layover in Denver and a 3 hour layover in San Francisco. I checked out the airport websites, and I can get free internet access in Portland and Denver. I’ll probably spend some time online getting caught up on email during those layovers. San Francisco’s internet access is super-expensive, though, so I’ll need some other things to occupy my time.

Plan Meals and Snacks Ahead of Time

I’m planning on taking lots of dry snacks with me, so I can munch throughout the day. I know I will probably have to cover lunch and dinner on both Thursday and Saturday. Rather than waiting until I’m hungry and paying $9 for a small meal on the plane, I will be looking for slightly less expensive places to eat in the airports. Since I already checked the websites, I already have an idea of what’s available.

As for something to drink, I’m going to take an empty water bottle with me. I have some of those Crystal Light water flavor packets, so I can just fill my water bottle after going through security, rather than paying obscene amounts for a water bottle at one of the shops.

Plan Something to do During Layovers.

I already know I have some long layovers. By planning ahead for those times, I won’t find myself wandering through expensive airport shops, spending too much money. I’m taking my laptop, so I can work, books and magazines, so I can read, and my mp3 player, so I can listen to my favorite podcasts.

Realize that Sometimes You Will Pay for Convenience

And that’s OK. I will be checking a bag for $15, even though I could probably get away with a carry on for free. I don’t want to spend my long layovers dragging my suitcase all over the place. I will also be taking my laptop and a pretty big purse as carry-ons. My purse will be stocked with my water bottle, snacks, and a change of underwear, in case my checked luggage doesn’t make it.

I’m also planning on buying my meals in the airport, rather than trying to pack something in my oversized purse that won’t spoil or get squished. To me, the convenience and fresh food are worth the expense.

So wish me luck! I’m going to be leaving my hometown at 11:30 Thursday morning, and I won’t be arriving in Arkansas until 11:00 that night. And then I have to turn around and travel all day on Saturday too. I’ll be arriving home at 11:30 Saturday night…way past my bedtime.

Do you have any additional tips for me? I’d love to hear them!

Photo by M@mad.


By , on Oct 7, 2008
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.


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  1. Jemelene:

    You can bring your gel sanitizer if you remember the rule. One 1 qt ziploc and your liquids may not be bigger than 3 oz each. I don’t go anywhere without my sanitizer.

    I have found that the United terminal in SF has a decent food court. Stay away from the sit down places. The food isn’t better and they gouge you. I do bring trail mix with me.

    I can’t think of anything else that hasn’t been suggested.

  2. Denise E.:

    On a germy note, try not to touch your face, eyes especially, without sanatizing or washing your hands first. The last time I flew, I came off of the airplane with pink eye. I also carry nasal spray in case i have a stuffy nose and therefore, trouble with my ears and chewing gum in case of ears popping.

  3. Amen to Marci on remembering the cell phone charger. I once got stuck at the airport with a dead phone and no confirmation number to check-in. Thankfully, I had my charger, so I plugged in and called one of my friends to break into my email and get my confirmation # for me. Also, wear shoes that are easy to get off and on quickly, but remember that a lot of airplanes have vents near the floor so your feet will freeze if you wear flip flops!

  4. Greg:

    I always pack an empty water bottle in my carry-on when I fly, then fill it a a fountain after I go through security. I have never had an issue in secuirty or on the plane.

  5. They are flying you there with 2 layovers in-between? That’s not very nice of them. :-)

    If you can (or have the choice) in the future, fly Southwest – still give you food and drinks, and they dont make you pay for baggage. I dont fly anymore really (I use Amtrak instead), but my wife just flew SWA and thought they were great.

  6. Bringing a water bottle is an excellent idea. I always bring a snack and a fleecy hoodie sweater. A hoodie sweater can serve as a pillow for comfort, a sweater for warmth, and keep the draft off my head and neck if the flight is over night. Keeping warm keeps me from getting sick.

  7. Marci:

    Remember to carry your cell phone charger in your carry-on also. The night I got to sleepover in the airport I was glad for the phone charger!

  8. Marci:

    Old as I may be, (mid 50’s) I still carry a light backpack on airplane trips. Always a full change of clothes in it in case luggage does not arrive. I fold the spare jeans in half, place the shirt on them and undies and roll it all into a tight roll, put a plastic bag over it just to keep it intact.

    The backpack is easy to tote thru the airport and can double as a footrest or a lumpy pillow. If you set it on the ground, you can put one leg thru a strap so it can’t run off :)

    The laptop can go into it, a ziplock with toothbrush etc, clothes, other overnight stuff. The front pockets can hold snacks etc. Apples, Tillamook cheese & sausage snacks, mints,and crackers are my usual fare. Lately, I’ve started carrying a sandwich also for the first meal. I also carry a fanny pack in it that I can strap on my body on the plane with my meds – I don’t want to risk losing them, and then I can stash the backpack under the seat as I feel it’s safer there.

    I always travel in 5 pocket jeans. Place keys and change in a ziplock for taking out of your pocket at the scanners. Carry two pieces of photo ID, two credit cards, and two bundles of cash on separate parts of your body in case one gets stolen. I keep my tickets and luggage check in one pocket always. My cell phone is in another pocket. In case of emergency, I want all those things with me and on my body. Maybe it’s paranoid, but it works for me. I’ve done this for the past 30 years… :) I don’t usually carry a purse ever, but for planes I have a large one that will carry books, magazines, writing paper. My wallet stays in my pocket – always.

    One other thing – I carry a lighter reversible hooded jacket, fleece on one side and waterproof on the other. This can be wrapped and folded up in such a way that it will all roll into the jacket hood and be tied with the collar strings. This way I can hook in onto my backpack for carrying it. (a snap hook) And rolled into the hood it also makes a nice pillow, or I can use it open as a blanket.

    As I’ve had to spend an overnight in an airport more than once, these precautions have paid off!

    Happy travels!

  9. boomeyers:

    I know hand sanitzer is not allowed, but you can take hand wipes! :-) Get a good novel to take along or a few magazines from the library you want to catch up on. I agree with the jacket though! I am always freezing on planes and so far they don’t charge extra for a jacket! :-)

  10. I strongly recommend bringing nuts (assuming you aren’t allergic). They pack well and travel well, are a healthy snack, and can be quite filling. Oranges are also a good choice and they are less ‘squishable’ than other fruits.

    And to answer another poster’s query – once you are through security, you will be all set with your water bottle. They do not re-screen before you board the plane (at least, not in my experience!)

  11. Tina:

    I don’t think you can carry water onto a plane unless it is sealed and purchased after going through security.

  12. Kristen:

    If you get cold on airplanes (I always do), you might want to pack a sweater or a small blanket in your carry on if you have room. I don’t know about United, but I recently flew American Airlines. They only give blankets to the business class customers now. You can’t even pay for one if you’re merely a lowly coach flyer. I was so aggravated … and cold.

  13. I hate flying. This past January, I had to go on an overnight trip from Ohio to Atlanta for work. I had to take my breastpump, as I was (and am) still nursing. I was concerned about the liquids issue and the pump itself.

    I went to the TSA website and printed the info stating breastmilk is allowed in any quantity. I took it with me on my trip. I also brought a battery pack and extra batteries for my pump, and wipes for the equipment. I brought lots of extra ziplock bags and milk storage bags to triple bag my milk.

    I pumped about 60-70 oz of milk on my trip, and was able to bring it back with no problem. It did have to go through the xray machine, and I stated when I approached, that I had breastmilk in that lunch cooler. They did have to specially screen my pump. I said “This is a breastpump and I have breastmilk in this cooler” and I was waived through with no issues.

    For nursing moms, traveling away from your baby can be unnerving and if you hate flying, that makes it all the much worse. Being prepared with spare parts for your pump, batteries, and plenty of storage bags helps!

  14. Bridget:

    A three hour layover may seem long, but you’re in a different state, different world – allow sometime to people watch! Stay safe, my debit card and my driver’s license go into my ‘breast pocket’ along with a twenty dollar bill. You’re still a woman traveling alone even though those darn airports are very secure. Put the crystal light packets into a sealable baggie in case they burst due to the air pressure of flying. You DO NOT want that powder all over the inside of your purse. A little bottle of hand sanitizer couldn’t hurt. My last flight from Toronto, the plane had no water – even in the bathroom. Yay, hand sanitizer.

    Hope you enjoy your trip. Arkansas will never be the same!

  15. JvW:

    I travel 3-4 times a year just for work, so I am pretty used to flying. One thing I like to do for layovers is to bring a few DVDs to watch on my laptop. Even if the airport charges for internet, I can still plug into the wall and watch a movie!

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