It’s been a hot minute since most of us have been on an airplane. With vaccination rates going up, you may be about to embark on your first journey in a while.
If you are, buckle up. There are few things that might have changed or you might have forgotten about flying.
First of all, remember that you’re going to be around a lot of people again and confined in a metal tube for a few hours in a world where everyone has a different sense of personal space and safety. It’s also fair to say that perhaps some social skills have deteriorated a bit after a year of staying at home.
So, along with a comfortable mask — the federal mask mandate has been extended to Sept. 13 — also make sure to pack some patience for airline staff and your fellow travelers.
Here are other things to think about before you head to the airport.
Check your bag for prohibited items
Before you take your bag on a plane, go through it to make sure you don’t accidentally have a prohibited item.
TSA screeners have found knives, guns and other prohibited items and the most common reason they hear from travelers is, “I forgot it was in my bag.”
So, go through that purse or duffle bag before you pack it and make sure everything in it is OK to fly with. If you have a question, visit https://www.tsa.gov/travel/security-screening/whatcanibring.
Check your flight status before you leave for the airport
Even though passenger traffic is not back to normal, airports are still busy. Three million people passed through Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in March. That’s down from 4.5 million in 2019, but still a significant number of travelers needing to get through security and to their gates.
Don’t cut it close. Sky Harbor recommends that you arrive two hours before a domestic flight and three hours before an international flight. Check your flight on Sky Harbor’s website to see if it is on time. You also can check the security wait times.
Need some extra help getting through the airport?
If you or someone you love needs a little extra time or help through the airport, consider signing up for a Compassion Cacti lanyard. The lanyard signals to airport staff that the wearer needs a little extra patience during their journey.
You can request a Compassion Cacti lanyard prior to travel by filling out a request form at Sky Harbor’s website.
The airport says it takes five to seven business days for its customer service staff to review the request. You can pick up the lanyard at the Compassion Corner Office by showing a photo ID.
If you have questions about the security screening process, TSA has a helpline. Call 855-787-2227.
You can’t drink your own alcohol on a flight
With adult beverage in-flight service mostly on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a few sly travelers have brought their own airplane-size bottles of alcohol on board. It’s against federal law to drink your own alcohol on a plane and you could face fines if you do so.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently proposed fines for three passengers who brought their own alcohol onboard and then were disruptive to flight attendants.
Leave your marijuana at home too
Even though recreational marijuana is legal in Arizona, its best to leave it at home. Marijuana is not legal at the federal level, even if you’re traveling to or from a state where it is allowed.
TSA’s focus is on terrorism and safety threats to aircraft and passengers, but agents can take action if they discover marijuana during the screening process.
“As has always been the case, if during the security screening process a TSA officer discovers an item that may violate the law, TSA refers the matter to law enforcement. Law enforcement officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation or what steps – if any – will be taken,” TSA spokesperson Patricia Mancha said.
Reserve parking in advance to save money
You’ll save money on parking if you reserve your space in advance — sometimes up to 50% off what you’d pay if you grab a ticket from the machine in the garage when you arrive.
Go to https://www.skyharbor.com to see the reservation options.
Reserve your rental car in advance
There’s been a nationwide shortage of rental cars. When the pandemic hit, rental car companies sold off their fleets instead of letting cars sit idle in parking lots. Now they’ve had a hard time refilling their fleets because a shortage of computer chips is limiting new car production.
Reserve your rental in advance or you may find yourself out of luck at your destination.
Uber and Lyft are cheaper at the 44th Street station
If you’re using Uber or Lyft for airport transportation, you can save a little money by being picked up or dropped off at the PHX Sky Train station at 44th and Washington streets in Phoenix and riding the free Sky Train to the terminals.
As of May 2020, the airport increased the user fee for Uber and Lyft passengers who are picked up or dropped off at the terminals to $4 per ride. The fee increase to use the Sky Train station is $2.80.
Get a day pass for an airport lounge
Airport terminals are getting busier day by day. If you want to make sure you have a seat while you wait for your flight, consider getting a day pass to a lounge.
The Escape Lounge in Terminal 4 offers day passes for $40 in advance, $45 at the door. The price includes food and adult beverages, so it could be a good value compared to sitting at the bar across from your gate.
You can often find Escape Lounge passes at a discount on Groupon.