Opinion: Fly direct, skip the first restroom, and 7 other insider travel tips from a retired airline pilot

I was an airline pilot for 42 years before retiring about a year ago. Traveling was the job and, of course, the opportunity to fly free on days off was a big deal. That meant more traveling. Now retired with kids and grandkids scattered around the country, my lovely bride and I continue to fly regularly.

Read: How to be resilient when traveling during COVID-19

Planning your next trip? Here are nine tips to make the inevitably stressful experience a little better:

  • Never book a trip with connecting flights unless it’s absolutely necessary. Bad things happen when connections are missed. Go nonstop when you can. It makes a huge difference.

  • If you have to connect, don’t book a connecting flight that’s the last flight of the day. Instead, as a backup, make sure there’s at least one later flight. If you can, start a day with connecting flights early to midmorning. Be prepared for delays and cancellations. Connecting might be a cheaper ticket, but it can end up costing you more in the long run.

  • When I was working as a pilot, employee parking was free. Now, I have to pay. Airport parking fees can be outrageous depending on the airport. It can also be a hassle with late and overcrowded buses. If our trip is longer than a few days, we’ll use Uber because it’s cheaper and much more convenient. This also will save you 20 minutes or more on each end of the trip.

  • TSA PreCheck essential. It makes some of the nonsense go away. Sign up online and then go do the required interview. It’s absolutely worth the price and onetime inconvenience.

  • Drive when you can. We draw a six-hour drive circle around our house. If we’re within six hours, we’re in the car. The airport experience and the hassles associated with flying these days make driving a much less stressful trip. That’s true even with gas prices where they are today.

  • If possible, find a smaller airport near your destination, such as Melbourne, Fla., instead of Orlando. Smaller is better—assuming you can get there nonstop. You’ll find every line is less crowded. For many major airports, you’ll be surprised by how many smaller airports are nearby and served by a number of airlines. An added bonus: Tickets are often less expensive.

  • Enroll in a rental car company’s “fast break” program. Generally, this will get you into your rental with little or zero time in line. This is really important both coming and going. It’s helpful to end or start a stressful travel day without frustrations in a car rental line, plus these programs are free.

  • Never check bags if at all possible. We can pack for a weeklong trip in a carry on. Figure out how to do it. You generally never wear all the clothes you pack anyway. Of course, you can’t check golf clubs or skis. Look into shipping them separately. We do that frequently to avoid the luggage carousel, as well as the chance of losing our luggage.

  • Don’t stop at the first restroom you see after deplaning. Everyone from your flight will be in there. Pass that one up and maybe the next one, too.

This column originally appeared on Humble Dollar. It was republished with permission.

Tom Kubik recently retired from American Airlines after 42 years as a pilot. Working on both the management and union side of the business, he saw prosperity, bankruptcy and the disappearance of pension plans. Faced with this upheaval, he also had a side business as a home builder. Today, Tom and his wife still travel extensively. Three children and seven grandchildren keep them on the go.