Group Flight Check-In Tips with Music Travel ConsultantsAndrew Moran
As charter motor coach prices rise, the travel industry is seeing an uptick in the number of student performance groups that fly. Flying means new challenges. Airport check-in can sometimes make the first day of a trip absolutely miserable. With its ever-changing rules and regulations, the flight check-in process can be intimidating. It seems each airline does something different. There’s all this new security, and TSA is always changing and upgrading. Or, maybe it’s your first time flying? Regardless, nobody likes surprises at the airport. When a performance group flies on an MTC trip with an MTC Tour Director, check-in can appear effortless. Take a look at these group flight check-in tips on how to safely get your student group on that plane.
First thing to do: Just take a deep breath.
Communicate with your students (and adults), to manage expectations. Explain the process to all before departure day, so they are aware and prepared. On the bus ride to the airport, review the process again. Remind everyone that during the entire journey from the bus to the plane, it is really important to stay together. If you’re flying out of a large airport like Chicago’s O’Hare or Los Angeles International, flat-out tell them, “the airport will be totally crazy, so stay together and follow instructions!” Remind students and adults that last-minute problems can surface in an instant: flights can be delayed, over-booked or canceled. Prep everyone mentally, so they know what they’re getting ready to walk into. Hopefully, their anxieties will be relieved.
Be prepared the day before:
MTC Tour Directors cross-check manifests for spelling errors and incorrect dates of birth, prior to the first flight. If they have a chance the night/day before departure, they go to the airline check-in counter to meet with the airline supervisor to review the plans for check-in, luggage drop, carry-on concerns, boarding and the like. They find out which supervisor they should meet for check-in and where to stage the group in the airport on arrival. This ‘day before visits’ can make a world of difference. For instance, United Air Lines now checks-in departing passengers on the ‘arrivals level’, not the ‘departures level’ at O’Hare. Without a pre-trip visit to learn that, a group would end up in the wrong area for check-in. Note: if the group is traveling on a chartered aircraft, verify in advance where to go to find that plane. Charters often depart from private facilities, far away from commercial airline terminals.
Have questions prepared.
Ask the airline supervisor how he/she wants to receive the travelers. Should the travelers be lined up? Should they be in alphabetical order? Maybe the counter person wants your group separated into its multiple record locator ‘subgroups.’ If you’re departing on only a single airline, through a common check-in area, it will probably be helpful to the airline to process each ‘locator group’ one at a time.
If arriving by bus, tell your travelers first to take off every piece of luggage, equipment and personal gear from the bus and place it on the curb. While that’s happening, the MTC Tour Director or Group Leader should enter the terminal and connect with the airline supervisor or representative who can summon that supervisor. Verify with the supervisor where the group should go and how the airline will check-in the passengers. For commercial flights, the easiest way is to check-in travelers by ‘record locator groups.’ With those details confirmed, return to the group on the curb and lead it into the terminal to begin check-in.
If you’re flying within the United States, it is sometimes possible for your Tour Director to print your boarding passes in advance. If travelers have a boarding pass in-hand (and do not have to print one from a kiosk at the airport, or wait for a check-in agent to do so), check-in goes much more smoothly and faster. However, if you are in line and there are a hundred and fifty people ahead of you, all trying to check in at the same time, you may be experiencing the worst customer service ever. In that case, always be on the airline representative’s side. The whole process will go a lot smoother.
Reminders Are Important.
While they are standing in the check-in line, remind your travelers what can and cannot be present in carry-on bags. Make sure they know bottles of water, coffee, and drinks are not allowed to go through security check. Lotions, etc. in zip-lock baggies cannot be over the three-ounce limit. Early notification gives everyone a chance to put those types of items in their checked suitcase or bag. Then no one has to re-arrange or discard things from their carry-on bag. For airport security tips, feel free to visit our post on getting through airport security.
Although it is a little more work, make sure that each traveler receives his or her checked bag luggage tag from the airline at check-in. If the airline agent hands an MTC Tour Director or group leader a stack of luggage tags, without traveler names on them, no one will be able to track their bag in the event it is lost or misplaced by the airline. This detail takes a little extra time, but it makes a big difference to the person who loses a suitcase.
Instruct. Instruct. Instruct.
Before travelers who’ve never flown before (and those who have) leave the check-in area, make sure they go through security and directly to the departure gate, ideally accompanied by a chaperone with each batch of students and adults. Make sure they stay together and have an adult or experienced student teach first-timers how to read the boarding pass, how to find their assigned seat on the plane, and how to find the departure gate. Tell all travelers the exact time to return to the gate for boarding. The check-in agent should provide that information, but it’s a good idea to have them arrive at least 15 – 20 minutes prior to the boarding time.
Note: It is entirely possible that a gate change may occur after the group has gone through security, after you told the group, “Meet me in one hour at Gate 99.” If this happens, you can bet the new gate is at the other end of the airport. You can keep a group informed of last-minute changes with apps like Remind and the Music Travel App, which has lots of messaging features. It is the MTC Tour Director’s or Group Leader’s responsibility to let travelers know where they need to be and when to be there.
Before the group lands, tell travelers that they should not leave luggage claim tickets, boarding passes or personal items behind on the plane. Once debarkation has begun, all travelers should assemble together in the arrival area to make sure everyone is present. Only after all are accounted for may they go to restrooms. Once the group has re-assembled following the restroom break, it can walk to the next gate or luggage claim.
Final Group Flight Tip!
It’s a great idea for Tour Directors or the Group Leader to make friends with the departure gate agent. That person is the most powerful person in the airport, and she or he can move mountains for you and the group. Let the agent know your role with your travelers and that you are responsible for watching (and counting, with a helper) them when boarding. As a final check, a Gate Agent can inform you if anyone on the manifest has not checked in or boarded. In most instances, they will help, because they don’t want to be responsible for leaving a minor missing at the airport.
Important Reminder: The MTC Tour Director or the Group Leader should always make sure she or he is always the last one on the plane and the first one off the plane.
Stay tuned in for our future article with important information about making connections and traveling internationally. In the meantime, we hope this helps. Safe travels!
To take on the hassles of group flights, it pays to have an MTC Tour Director at your side to take care of the details. To learn more, call a Music Travel Consultants Travel Designer to begin planning your best trip ever!