Previous month:
December 2012
Next month:
February 2013

Something we would all like to see more of: taxi to runway. Assuming, of course, we're not stuck behind a trip delay.Time flies when you’re incredibly busy. I’ve learned that the hard way at the end of this year, while working with our team to increase the benefits of our products: Study USA-HealthCare, Visit USA-HealthCare, InterMedical Insurance, and WorldMed Insurance. It seems like just yesterday, I was writing about my own travel goals for 2013, and how avoiding trip delay was one of the major ones. One month later, I’ve made movement on each of those resolutions – except for the one about avoiding trip delay.

Granted, there are many times where trip delay is completely out of my hands. Due to mechanical failure, irregular operations, or general obstinance, I’m not always guaranteed to get to where I want to go on time. But the one place where it is in my hands is during the TSA Checkpoint at every airport in America.

To begin with, there are plenty of things that I do already in order to make sure that my pathway through is simple and efficient, and not have security be the cause of my trip delay.

  1. Arrive at the airport with plenty of time.
  2. Have my shoes off before I get to the conveyor belt.
  3. Adhere to the 3-1-1 rule when taking liquids in my carry-on bags.
  4. Empty all my pockets and place all loose items together in a small bin. 

One of the apps that stays on my smartphone is the My TSA Mobile App – which can help navigate what I can and can’t take, and give a general idea of how fast security is moving at any airport in America.  Even with the assistance of the application, I know that it’s going to be between a 10 to 45-minute process getting through the security lane.

So my speed and timing are good now. But there has to be a better way to get through and avoid the danger of trip delay, right? In fact, there are a couple of ways to do just that.

At many major airports in the United States and around the world, most air carriers have special lines dedicated to their status-holding frequent flyers. It’s a subtle way to say “Thank you” for flying their airlines. But what they don’t tell you is that many of those are also open to their partner’s frequent flyers as well. For instance: at the US Airways terminal in Cleveland, a dedicated line is setup for Dividend Miles Preferred flyers, as well as Star Alliance Gold members. Once I have that status, I plan on making that my exclusive security line.

Additionally, many airports now have dedicated lines for TSA Pre-Check trusted travelers. Last year, I wrote about the Pre-Check system, and how I was hesitant about it until it was more widely adopted. This year, I’m planning on getting my NEXUS Card which will allow me easier border passage from the United States to Canada. Both NEXUS and Global Entry (the trusted traveler program for international travelers) provide you with a trusted traveler number that gives you access to the TSA Pre-Check program. Using Pre-Check seems to be much less trouble than going through the standard security line since you get to keep your shoes, belt, and jacket on, thus potentially preventing a trip delay. But, that’s not an easy process either. Both NEXUS and Global Entry require travelers to have an in-person interview for approval, which involves additional drive and appointment time.

That being said, it is possible to get Pre-Check status through your airline. The only downside through that route is that the Pre-Check status is seemingly assigned on a random basis, unlike the trusted traveler program.

If the drive is out of the question for you and you want a consistent security experience, another option would be CLEAR. For a nominal fee you can enroll in CLEAR, which requires nothing more than your passport and several questions. CLEAR lanes are available in several different major airports across the United States. The only difficulty is that, once again, you have to enroll in-person and wait 7-10 business days before you can get your CLEAR card and use the lanes. This is great if you live near a supporting airport, and can enroll and receive your next card before your next trip, and a great way to skip trip delay.

By some combination of those three strategies, I’m hoping to eliminate trip delays at TSA Checkpoints this year. What are your strategies to make the security checkpoint a lesser obstacle this year? I’d love to hear in the comments below and, perhaps, adopt a few!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)

A view of two gates at Washington Dulles Airport, after narrowly dodging a trip cancellation. Will 2013 get better for air travelers?Greetings from my first mileage run of 2013! Yes, at a low cent-per-mile cost (which I probably still overpaid for), I was able to travel from Columbus to Cleveland to meet with my boss and executive editor...routed through Denver, and then Charlotte. 2,632 miles credited and one stay later, I'm that much closer to free lounge access and gold hotel status. I could get used to that way of life.

But I digress. On the flight from Denver to Charlotte, I ran into (you guessed it) a trip delay! A loose bolt caused the flight to be delayed. Ultimately, as I predicted in the terminal, I missed my scheduled flight to Cleveland. I was just incredibly grateful that they were able to borrow the bolt from another airline, as that one little maintenance issue could have turned into a trip cancellation. No matter. I was able to get on the airplane, where I shared travel stories and newspapers with the nice Scotsman beside me in row 24.

Armed with his copy of The Wall Street Journal, I immediately turned to one of my favorite annual reports: the 2012 Middle Seat Annual Airline Scorecard. I was most excited to read this, based on all of my persional experiences this year. With all the airline troubles, financial insolvency, weather operations, and mergers that took place last year, I couldn't help but wonder: did 2012 go down as the year of the trip cancellation?

Much to my surprise, the domestic airlines, as a group, actually did better in the categories of trip cancellation and trip delay this year! In fact, 79% of all flights arrived with 15 minutes of their scheduled time - this is a three percent improvement from last year. I must have been on the other 21% of flights that were not on time, but that's just my luck.

What about trip cancellation? Surely Hurricane Sandy and other airline disruptions must have caused more canceled flights? Also to my surprise, this was not the case. Only 1.4% of domestic flights were cancelled in 2012. This is down 0.7%, which is actually a great sign that things are going the right way.

But every silver lining comes with a cloud. The frequency of passengers getting bumped from flights went up, as well as the total amount of FAA complaints. In conclusion, domestic aviation is getting better. Travelers (who weren't me) had less trip delays, trip cancellations, and a better experience when flying. This is despite a long process of mergers and a volatile market that caused carriers to go bankrupt.

But what does this mean for 2013? The trend appears that companies are listening to the consumers, and understanding that in order to keep a happy and loyal customer, operations need to be as streamlined and simple as possible. However, your chances of having a trip delay while taking to the air is still about one-in-five (much higher if you're flying with me). But if you have travel insurance, suffering under a major trip delay or trip cancelation may be able to be alleviated  that much easier.

What does 2013 look like for you? What changes are you seeing in your travels? Are things really getting better, or are these metrics out of touch? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Colonial Williamsburg - one of my favorite trips in 2012, despite my trip delay.I hope to replicate it in 2013.As it happens this time every year since we started acknowledging these occasions with the Gregorian Calendar, the closing of another year is upon us. Yesterday, we bid adieu to the 2012, and look forward to another trip around the sun.

At this time, we usually set standard goals for ourselves in the form of resolutions. You know the lot: lose weight, stop smoking, take up a new hobby, etc. But as I look at 2013, and what I want to get achieved, I have a completely different set of goals ahead of me. This year, instead of making the traditional resolutions, I'm setting a new personal course and making travel resolutions.

Yes, you read that right : travel resolutions. Over the long holiday weekend, I've gone to my favorite restaurant (where I ususally go to make important and potentially life-altering decisions) and decided on all of the travel goals I wanted to hit this year. My rules are the same as those for any other resolution: they have to be reasonable, be feasible, and not send me into bankruptcy by the end of 2013. And I think I've made a list of goals that I can make without much trouble. So here are my travel resoultions to hit:

  1. Star Alliance Gold status through Aegean Airlines
    This year, I flew for 5,000 credited miles to Aegean Airlines by flying Star Alliance carriers. And while I suffered a couple of trip delays as a result, I have no regrets. I now have Star Alliance Silver Status, which allows me to board faster and get priority waitlisting on other flights when I do travel. This year, I want to credit an additional 16,000 miles to Aegean. Why would I do this instead of try for United MileagePlus Gold? As outlined by one of my favorite blogs, View from the Wing, Aegean Airlines status is good for three years - and extends every time you credit miles to the account. Plus, I get free Star Alliance lounge access while traveling in the United States or abroad, extra checked baggage, priority handling (as to not suffer baggage loss), and super priority boarding. Once I have this, I'll have all the privliges of being a gold member, short of getting free upgrades.
  2. Enhanced status with at least one hotel chain
    Thanks to a weeklong stay in San Francisco this year, I was able to get Hilton HHonors silver status - which means I get to accrue HHonors points faster. In 2013, while I plan on having HHonors gold status through a credit card (which gives me free WiFi at all Hilton Hotels), I also want to earn status the old fashioned way. And with one trip to the Falls in February, as well as trips to the West Coast in March, April, and November, I think I can get enhanced status with at least one property chain. And if I have at least one trip delay requiring an overnight stay, it could work to my advantage. Now, to decide which one...
  3. Make it back to Europe at least once this year
    The last time I was in Europe was the summer of 2001 - I was an exchange student in Germany. Its high time that I go back. So sometime this year, I want to make it back to the European continent. It would be ideal if I could make it on miles - but even if I don't the experience of returning to Europe would be well worth it. I think this time, I'll go to London. Or maybe Edinburgh.
  4. At least two mileage runs for fun
    This year, I made a run to San Francisco just to get on an airplane. And because the price was right, and I needed to make the run for my status above. This year, regardless of trip delay, trip interruption, or baggage loss, I want to make at least two mileage runs - for fun - because I can. I'll be scanning the ITA Matrix and Google Flights to see where the best prices are per mile - and seeing where my adventures take me this year.

It's an ambitious list that I have above - but I have a feeling that I can make it all work this year. I'll keep you updated this year on how I end up.

What are your travel resolutions in 2013? Let me know in the comments below!

(Ed. Note: No incentive was given to mention any product or service in this blog. Travel Insurance Services and its affiliated companies do not endorse nor guarantee any product or service mentioned in this or any blog. Your experiences and results may vary. However, we sure would love to hear about your experiences with them!)