The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is often the busiest travel day of the year, but the Winter holidays and Winter vacation travel is not far behind. I fondly remember air travel back when passengers were treated like honored guests, with actual, advance tickets, a warm welcomes at the airport, and flight attendants that did everything they could to make your flight comfortable and pleasant. However, on my first flight ever, the plane had to make an emergency landing due to trouble with the motors! Today’s air travel is much safer, but it can also be stressful and adversarial. Frightening airport stories abound, from passengers being searched by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) beyond reason and others being pulled off planes for seemingly minor “transgressions” (eg. pants that sag or tee shirts with sayings the flight attendants don’t like), Flights are seemingly cancelled without reason, leaving passengers stranded for hours, or even, days. Add to this unexpectedly bad weather, horrendous traffic to the airport, and long lines and cranky kids once you are there. Suddenly, that trip you planned can seem like a nightmare! But flying is still the most efficient (and sometimes, most economical) way to get somewhere. If you have to fly, here are 10 absolutely essential “advicesisters” top tips to make the journey, easier:
Top Travel Tips:
1. Plan in Advance: The surest way to avoid long lines at the airport is to check in online (up to 24 hours in advance) and pre-print your boarding pass. You”ll still have to wait on line if you’re checking a bag or making changes to your ticket, otherwise, a pre-printed boarding pass will speed you to the gate. Some carriers are now charging for seat selection beyond the back of the plane, but if you must be in a certain seat or area of the plane, make sure it is available and lock it in ahead of time. Consult your carrier to see how far in advance they suggest you check in, then add at least 30 minutes to an hour to it. Travel to the airport can be unpredictable, and during peak travel seasons, the lines for ticket agents and getting through security can be long and slow. It is far better and less stressful to get to the airport much earlier than you think, and enjoy a cup of coffee or answer a few emails on your phone, than to be running to make your flight as the doors are closing (and your seat may have been given away to a stand-by passenger).
2. Weather or Not: Check with the airline (and the local news/weather channel) before you leave for the airport. If your flight is significantly delayed or cancelled, you might as well try to deal with the situation from the comfort of your own home instead of waiting on a long line at the airport.
3. Travel Light and Smart: Unless you like paying extra fees and waiting endlessly for your bag to make it onto the baggage claim carousel (usually very stressful), travel with just a carry on. But these days, where you sit on the plane and the order of boarding may find you having to gate check that bag, so carefully pack anything fragile (or don’t take it). Of course, carry-ons will be seriously scrutinized by the TSA. All carry-on liquids etc must be less than 3 ounces, placed into one 1-quart zip-top bag (this rule must be making the Glad company, very happy indeed), You are allowed just one bag, per passenger. Take it out of your carry-on, along with computers or large electronics (small devices like iPods/cameras can be left in a bag or purse). Put these separately in a bin for screening, or you may find yourself being pulled aside and your luggage, picked apart. Don’t wrap gifts, even a scarf for “grandma” because the TSA may unwrap them “for security scanning.” Better to ship gifts in advance. Barring that, carry pretty (foldable) gift bags and pouches, and put the gifts in them when you land, or pack gift cards. Food items are tricky, too. Don’t bother trying to take on anything more than 3 ounces, anything that can be spreadable (e.g. jellies, dips, peanut butter) and nothing liquid, even if it is in a can (TSA once confiscated a completely sealed can of boiled nuts, stating the can “might” have liquid inside). If you have purchased items that don’t meet the requirements and you have to take them, put them in a checked bag and make sure they’re carefully packed. I always take a few extra gallon sized zip tops for just this purpose.
4. Dress The Part: Nothing irritates your fellow passengers more than being stuck behind you in the security line, while you’re walking through the metal detector over and over again due to something like a belt buckle or metal jewelry, or a pocket-full of coins that makes the scanner, beep. Wear slip on shoes, and coats/sweaters that are easily removed and put your jewelry on after you’ve gotten through security. I also like to bring a pashmina shawl as a scarf and it also doubles as a chill-chaser in airports and on the plane.
5. Flying Food: I like to bring an empty, re-useable water bottle to the airport and fill it after I get through security. Some of the newer water bottles are not just lightweight plastic, but have filters built into the top, so your airport quality water is filtered before it reaches your lips. The bottle is a time and money-saver to keep hydrated, when you’re at your destination, too. Take a granola bar, an apple, or some dried fruit with you. That hour layover might become a marathon delay, when airport stores are closed, or they don’t have anything you want to eat.
6. Kid Stuff: If you are traveling with young children, extra supplies are a must (e.g. baby food, diapers, toys, formula). If an airport delay is miserable for you, imagine how awful it must be for infants and small children. Your fellow travelers will thank you.
7: Let Me Entertain You: Kindles, iPads, iPods, portable DVD players and game consoles, and plain old fashioned books and puzzles, can keep you calm when there is absolutely nothing you can do. Pack more than one type of “entertainment” because there is only so much time (and money) you can spend at the bar, or at the gate, watching everyone else’s flight leave, while you’re “stuck.”
8. Deal With Delays: Winter weather is predictable in it’s unpredictability. While you might not find yourself stranded for days, it could happen. Make sure you have chargers for your electronic devices so you can keep in touch and make alternate plans more easily. Never pack medications in a bag–keep them in your pocket or purse. If you have the room in your tote or carry-on, minimally pack a folding toothbrush and toothpaste, some freshen-up wipes, a clean shirt, and some underwear, and foldable slipper/shoes in it. It might just be the pick-me-up you need to get through a serious delay. Make sure you have all the airline, hotel and car rental numbers you deal with, and your frequent flyer information. Program these into your phone if possible. That way, if you have to re-book, you can call your airline and hopefully re-book by phone, while still waiting on the line. If it looks like you’re stuck overnight, call one of your preferred hotel chains and get a room before everyone else does. And, you can hear verbal status updates while you’re waiting in line, but taking care of the situation by phone.
9: Honor Your Neighbors: It’s amazing how many people forget that they’re not the only ones in a shared space. Try to keep your cell phone conversations what they always should be: quiet and private. Children don’t know any better, but you are the one responsible for their behavior in public. Watch them closely and don’t let them run about unsupervised like free range chickens. Do teach them about having an “inner voice” when in public spaces (and follow that example, yourself). Don’t bring toys that continually, loudly beep and play songs or do anything to irritate other passengers who may not find your child’s noisy play, so engrossing. If junior is going to pitch a loud fit because s/he can’t hear “mary had a little lamb” ad nauseum, try to rig up headphones. Once onboard, don’t linger in the aisle to chat it up with someone rows ahead or behind you (it is a safety hazard as well as an annoyance for the flight crew and other passengers). Don’t grab the headrest when you get up, grabbing the hair of the person in front of you and pushing that person backwards without warning. Do be polite to the person in the next seat, and don’t be offended if they really don’t want to chat with you (they may be unsocial or more likely, exhausted).
10. Suck it up: Bad things happen to good people. You have a goal — it’s to safely get to your destination, be it for work or play. If you don’t follow the rules, you’re not going to fly. We can all hope that the government adjusts the current security regulations to keep us safe, but also, sane. We can all hope that airline executives come to their senses, and start making passengers feel as good about flying, as they do, safe. But, for now, following the suggestions above will make your journey more bearable, if not pleasurable. In the end, travel has always been about adventure, and the unexpected is part of the experience.