I’m far from a nervous flier, but I just don’t like to rush to any airport to catch my flight. I chalk it up to being prepared, but it drives my family crazy over the years when I insist on being at the gate at least an hour before departure. Here’s one reason I don’t like to rush: I lost all of our undeveloped film from our honeymoon in Maui rushing to catch our flight back to Chicago. Yes, it was the days before digital cameras when 35mm film was king.
Today, you can use technology to help be prepared when you travel. Yes, getting ready for a flight is more than packing up the suitcase these days — you also have to load up your smartphone or tablet with helpful apps. Here are some apps recommended by AARP Travel to help make your next flight more efficient, less stressful and a little more fun.
Your Airline’s App
At a minimum, your airline’s app will let you review your reservation, check in and have a mobile boarding pass. This is the beauty of smartphones and tablets: You have one less thing to print out and one less piece of paper to keep. While waiting to go through security, just pull up your boarding pass on your screen, and you’re on your way.
Nervous fliers should keep this app open during the flight. Created by an airline captain and a licensed therapist, SOAR uses cognitive behavioral techniques to help ease your anxiety. The app offers a “G-force meter,” which measures the current G-force of the plane and offers a reassuring explanation that turbulence isn’t a safety issue for planes or pilots. The app also provides a “turbulence forecast” so you can anticipate when bumps are coming up, along with other general weather information. For people who take comfort in more information, the app also gives detailed explanations on how flying works and how airplane safety is maintained. It also discusses the backup systems that are in place when something goes wrong and the safety systems that prevent pilot error.
Need a quick snack during your layover but you’re not sure what the best options are? There’s an app for that. GateGuru is a worldwide airport guide to restaurants, cafes, shops and even free Wi-Fi. There are also ratings and reviews to help cut down decision-making time. (Why grab a bag of trail mix when you know there’s a Shake Shack six shops down?) Along with takeoff and arrival information, the app provides estimated TSA wait times for your various checkpoints.
If you frantically search your email for flight, hotel and car reservations the night before a flight, TripCase is for you. It lets you organize all your reservations in one place, and you can share your itinerary with family and friends — alerting them to travel plan changes and delays. Just forward your online reservation emails to TripCase, and voila!
An itinerary is generated for you and stored in the app.
If you’re a travel geek who likes to know the exact takeoff and landing times plus the actual in-flight location of your own plane — and of every other plane en route around the world — FlightStats is for you. The app’s flight tracker lets you access flight status information by flight number, airport or route. (It even breaks down runway arrival time vs. gate arrival time.) Information is updated every few minutes, but location information is delayed about five minutes for safety reasons.
Need to get comfortable at the airport? LoungeBuddy gives you the scoop on your airport’s lounges. View the hours, check out photos and reviews and book access. Filter the lounges by location, amenities (Wi-Fi, showers, spa services) and guest privileges. There are more than 2,000 lounges featured, so while you’re relaxing in the lounge enjoying free Wi-Fi and high-quality snacks, browse what other lounges around the world have to offer. (Featured lounges at Dubai International Airport have some amenities that will make you wish your flight was diverted to the United Arab Emirates.)
These apps are just some of the tools that can make travel less stressful, whether or not you like to be at the airport an hour early. For more tips and exclusive articles such as how to plan a stress-free vacation the whole family will like, go to travel.aarp.org.
Ron Mori is a board member for the Washington, D.C., JACL chapter, and manager of community, states and national affairs — multicultural leadership for AARP.