By the co-author of The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit 2017, from the best-reviewed Disney World guidebook series ever. Paperback available on Amazon here. Kindle version available on Amazon here. PDF version available on Gumroad here.



yourfirstvisit.net—Disney World Instructions for the First-Time Visitor



Air Travel 101 for Walt Disney World: 1. Flights and Tickets



By Dave Shute

OVERVIEW: WALT DISNEY WORLD AIR TRAVEL 101

(This page is one of a series explicating Walt Disney World lingo, abbreviations, and FAQ for first time family visitors to Walt Disney World.)

This page is the first of several designed to give tips and insights to those traveling by air to Walt Disney World for whom air travel is a new or rare thing

I will try to cover in it all the key things they may not know about such travel. 

This series purposely excludes tips and hints for getting the best deals  on air travel.  Those are on a different page—Air Travel 201.

Air Travel 101 for Walt Disney World includes the following pages:

  1. Flights and Tickets
  2. Seats and Ground Transport
  3. Bags and Packing
  4. From the Day Before You Leave Until the Day You Return

A. PICKING YOUR AIRLINE, FLIGHTS, AND TICKET TYPE


(See Walt Disney World Air Travel 201 for more on getting good prices.)

You can book up to eleven months ahead of time, as airlines release their schedules 11 months in advance. 

Many vacation travelers book “non-refundable” tickets.  These typically are the cheapest tickets available.

  • What “non-refundable” means is that if you have to cancel or change your non-refundable ticket departure times, you will not get all—or in some cases any—of your money back
  • Many airlines let you apply the value of you old tickets to new ones for the same traveler, but only after they charge a re-booking fee of $50 to $100 or more.  Check the terms and conditions before you buy such tickets for exactly what your airline is saying.  Moreover, your new tickets may also themselves be much more expensive than your old ones. 
  • (You may not get any credit at all if you buy your tickets from someone other than the airline or a travel agent who is buying from the airline.)

The best thing to do varies by family.  If you are aware of circumstances that may cause you to need to re-book, and/or the price difference between refundable and non-refundable tickets is not that much, then you may be wise to book refundable tickets.

The specifics of your flight may change after you book—prices may go down, or the airline may change schedules, or re-book you on alternative flights.

  • If prices go down, you may be able to get the new lower price.  You can track prices on this site. Call the airline to see if you can get the lower price.
  • If your airline changes your departure times, and the new times don’t work well, your options are more limited than you might think.  Calling the airline may help if the new times just don’t’ work for you.

Book in exactly the names that are shown on the government-issued photo IDs you will be using to identify yourself to airport security.  A mismatch between your ID and your boarding pass means you have no ID…

Those under the age of 18 at the time of travel (including at the time of your return flights, if a birthday happens on your trip!!) are not required to have IDs.  See this for more on acceptable IDs. 

Seats should be assigned to you when you book (unless you are flying an airline like Southwest which doesn’t assign seats at all).  If the airline won’t provide you with assigned seats when you book try to book a flight, avoid that flight if you can, as your chance of getting bumped* is slightly higher.

There are three types of flights—non-stop, direct, and connecting. 

  • Non-stop” means what it sounds like—you go from your airport to Orlando without landing anywhere else in between. 
  • People are often confused about what “Direct” means.  It does NOT mean non-stop.  A direct flight stops, but you do not change flight numbers, and, usually, do not change planes. 
  • “Connecting” means that you stop, change planes, and change flight numbers.

A couple of key points about connecting flights

  • Your connecting flight may actually be on a different airline.  Airlines have business and legal arrangements with each other called “code-shares” that allow them to book connecting flights using each other’s planes.  This is usually not a problem—for example, you won’t have to collect your bags and check in again! 
  • Airlines will book you on connecting flights that may not work. 
    • If the time between arrival of the first flight and departure of the second is short, (60 minutes at most airports, 80 at the busiest) and if the first flight has a history of being late, you, your bags, or both may miss your connection.  You will be put on the next available flight at no extra charge, but your schedule will be something different than you had planned on.
    • You can check the historical on-time levels of your flights at this website. 
    • Resist booking a tight connection when the first flight has a history of being late.
  • If you can, avoid summer connections in the afternoon, and winter connections in the north in the morning.  Afternoon summer thunderstorms, and winter snowstorms, can mess up the whole East Coast, and screw up a lot of connections.  If you lose your connection because of weather, you won’t need to pay extra for another flight, but it may be some time before you can continue your trip.
  • Connecting flights can be cheaper than non-stops.  At many airports, a single carrier has a near monopoly position on non-stops (for example, US Airways at Philadelphia, Delta at Detroit).
  • But almost any airport of any significance also has many other carriers flying from it to their hubs, and then going from their hubs to Orlando.  So while you may have just one provider of nonstop service at your home airport, charging a ton, you could have 4-6 airlines competing for connecting service. 

If your flights choices are otherwise acceptable, avoid equipment that starts with the numbers 737.  Boeing 737 models have the narrowest seats…(you likely will be cramped in any coach seat you are in; 737s are just the worst of the bad options…) (All Southwest equipment is 737s, so you can’t avoid them on that airline.)

Also avoid if you can “Regional Airlines” or “partners” such as American Eagle, Continental Express, Continental Connection, Delta Connection, United Express, US Airways Express, etc.  These airlines typically fly in much smaller, less comfortable planes, and typically have much less experienced flight crews.

If you will be checking bags, and have a choice of airlines, check the bag-check fee for each.  Bag fees can end up costing your family more than the cost of the tickets!!

*“Getting bumped” means that even though you have paid for your ticket, you aren’t allowed to board the flight, as there is no room for you.  This can be either voluntary—you choose to be bumped when the airline asks for volunteers, or involuntary—you are told that you are bumped.

Taking some or all of the following steps will minimize your chances of getting bumped

  • Buy your tickets directly from the airline website (or from a travel agent who in turn gets them directly from the airline), and not from a third party or consolidator
  • Don’t buy tickets unless you can get seats assigned before you buy them
  • Buy refundable tickets
  • Check in and print your boarding passes as soon as you can—typically, you can do this over the internet 24 hours before your departure time
  • Plan your travel to the airport so that you will be done with everything else (parking, walking, check in, security, walking, etc) and can still arrive at the departure gate at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure

(Note: a very rich source of advice on air travel can be found in Scott McCartney’s The Wall Street Journal Guide to Power Travel.)

AIR TRAVEL 101 TOPICS

  1. Flights and Tickets
  2. Seats and Ground Transport
  3. Bags and Packing
  4. From the Day Before You Leave Until the Day You Return

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My response to questions and comments will be on the same page as the original comment, likely within 24-36 hours . . . I reserve the right to edit and delete comments as I choose . . . All rights reserved. Copyright 2008-2017 . . . Unless otherwise noted, all photos are by me--even the ones in focus--except for half a dozen from my niecelets . . . This site is entirely unofficial and not authorized by any organizations written about in it . . . All references to Disney and other copyrighted characters, trademarks, marks, etc., are made solely for editorial purposes. The author makes no commercial claim to their use . . . Nobody's perfect, so follow any advice here at your own risk.