Flying this summer? 8 things to know if you haven't been on a plane for a year

Dawn Gilbertson

As the summer travel season begins, we bring you this important news from the department of duh: Airports are going to be packed. Again.

Forecast after forecast calls for record airline travel between Memorial Day and Labor Day as the economy continues to hum. Airlines for America, an airline trade group, says passenger counts on U.S. airlines will be up 3.4% from a year ago, the 10th consecutive increase. The Transportation Security Administration expects to screen 10 million more passengers than last summer and says it will likely set records for the highest number of passengers and crew screened in a single day and single week.

Here's what you may not know about flying this summer, especially if you haven't been on a plane for a year:

1. Baggage fees are higher. Airlines boosted bag fees as the summer travel season ended last year. Travelers will now pay $30 each way for the first checked bag and $40 each way for the second checked bag on domestic flights on major carriers except Southwest Airlines. (Southwest allows two free checked bags.) Bag fees are more complicated at discount carriers Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant, and newbies should note they charge for carry-on bags in addition to checked bags. 

More: Airline bag fees: 5 ways to avoid them.

2. Basic economy tickets, airlines' cheapest but most heavily restricted fares, are more widespread. In addition to American, Delta and United, Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines have gotten into the game, and JetBlue Airways plans to later this year. The fine print varies by carrier, but in general travelers don't get an advance assignment and board last. United has the added restrictions of not allowing carry-on bags bigger than a personal item that fits underneath the seat and makes basic economy travelers check in at the airport instead of online to police it. Traveling to Europe on a basic economy ticket? Don't expect one free checked bag like you get with regular economy tickets on major airlines. Delta, United and American each charge basic economy passengers $60 to check a bag on flights between the U.S. and Europe.

Bottom line: Check your ticket or reservation confirmation ahead of time so there are no surprises at the airport. 

3. Want a seat assignment? On an increasing number of airlines, it'll cost you to reserve ordinary seats. Seat-selection fees, a fixture at discount airlines, are on the rise. American and Delta have had them, and United joined the club in late 2018. The tab on a Chicago-Los Angeles flight on American in mid-July: $31 for a middle seat and $37 for a window or aisle seat, each way. Southwest doesn't assign seats but sells EarlyBird boarding for travelers who want a shot at a better seat during the airline's open boarding, and the price rose on most routes at the end of the summer last year.

4. No, you don't have to have one of those new driver's licenses to get through security yet. The Real ID requirement doesn't take effect until Oct. 1, 2020. You should start preparing now, however.

5.  TSA and customs and immigration lines might be longer than usual during peak times because the federal government is temporarily moving or plans to move some TSA and Customs and Border Protection employees to the U.S.-Mexico border. So far, there is only anecdotal evidence of slowing at select airports' customs and immigration operations, according to Airlines for America, but the group says it will be monitoring the issue closely. Bottom line: Getting to the airport early is never a bad idea.

6.  Your TSA PreCheck or Global Entry membership may be expired or expiring soon, so check your status well before you trip or risk getting turned away from the (usually) speedier TSA PreCheck lane at the security checkpoint. Membership in both programs lasts five years, and key anniversaries are upon us. 

7. No PreCheck status? You might get lucky and fly out of an airport with the TSA's new 3D scanners. The advanced computed tomography machines, which more quickly identify prohibited items, allow passengers to keep their laptops and other electronics in their carry-on bags. The TSA tested the CT machines in Phoenix and Boston in 2017, expanded to more than dozen more airports including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and is adding 300 more beginning this summer.

8. No, that plane you're on isn't a Boeing 737 Max 8 even if it's listed on the safety information card in the seat-back pocket. The plane, involved in two fatal crashes in five months, has been grounded since March 13, and Southwest, American and United have taken the plane out of their schedules through mid-summer. The grounding could be lifted sooner, in which case airlines say they likely will use those aircraft as spares. Nervous about getting back on one of the planes? Airlines hear you.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Flying this summer? 8 things to know if you haven't been on a plane for a year