Air Travel Tips
"Today, most people consider just getting there to be the only remaining value in air travel." Zagat Survey
It's travel season and as a seasoned traveler I'm sharing some tips on how to make your airplane trip smoother, easier and a little safer.
A realistic, even fatalistic attitude is the key to sane air travel. Today's reality means you will be dealing with underpaid, overworked people in positions of power without proper training or enough supervision.
Many of those people can--and will--abuse that power and make your life hell. If you let them. (I'll tell you how to minimize that in a minute).
Chant to yourself over and over before you leave the house, "It's out of my control. It's out of my control. It's out of my control."
And face facts: if you can't deal with the inevitability of being overcharged, underserved, ordered around, invaded, ignored, pushed, prodded, poked and possibly insulted ... all while enduring endless, boring waits, don't fly. Just stay home. Really.
Keep a collection of ones and fives in a separate small holder, in your pocket or in the top compartment of a carry-on. This is for tips. Don't be stingy. You can afford to hand out a total of twenty bucks to people making minimum wage schlepping heavy stuff for tired, cranky travelers.
Make sure your wallet is packed way down deep in a bag that never leaves your side. I stow my cash and credit cards in a make-up case or anything else that isn't all that interesting and doesn't resemble a wallet. Put some extra money and one credit card in a different place or on your person.
If you're traveling overseas, try to get some local currency before you leave. Do not change money in a foreign airport unless it's a local bank branch. And even with our economy and buying power at an all time low, everybody still wants American dollars.
Send yourself email with your passport info, including number and expiration date, your itinerary and your credit card and bank numbers.
Make a Travel Packing List and save it on your computer. I have different lists for different destinations. Florida, Israel, California, Denver ... each requires different clothes and gear.
I also group my lists into categories, i.e. Backpack, Carry-On, Checked Luggage. When I'm ready to pack, I print the list and check things off as I put them in the bags.
Tape a copy of your list to the inside of each bag as a reminder so you don't leave anything behind on your return. Plus, it's a good way to keep track of your stuff ... and to let the airline know you're doing just that.
By the way, this is not overly anal. Disagree? Okay, get back to me when you reach your destination and realize you forgot your prescription reading glasses, special shampoo, camera or phone charger.
Pack meds, toilet articles, iPod, etc. in see-thru cases and fold clothes into plastic packing bags and big zip-locks, which you can buy at Target or CVS.
Remember, your luggage will be searched over and over, your belongings moved and touched by strangers. Security screeners only wear those blue plastic gloves to protect them from the cooties in everybody's luggage.
If they can see everything through your clear plastic cases and bags, security personnel are less likely to open them and physically touch your stuff.
Important: Pack all medications, essential small toiletries, a set of underwear and one outfit in your carry-on to get you through at least a day of lost or late luggage. Include a pack of tissues. And a small bottle of hand sanitizer to use after you've visited the bathroom. Especially on the plane, you don't want the lavatory water even to touch your hands.
If you travel with a lot of stuff, buy the cheapest, lightest luggage you can find. A $35 roomy 30" rolling upright from Walmart has lasted me six round trips and counting from Philly to Tel Aviv.
Mark the outside of your luggage front and back with duck tape. I write my last name in bold marker on the tape. I don't know why more people don't do this, but I can pick out my bags in a flash from the other side of the carousel, and so can a porter (or a kind stranger) if I'm exhausted and needing help.
Don't forget to put your name and address INSIDE your luggage. If those fancy monogrammed luggage tags you bought from Eddie Bauer fall off, how will the airline find you?
Take a digital picture of your bags inside and out and keep it on your camera (print a copy, too) in case the airline loses them. The copy of your travel packing list will come in real handy then too.
At the Airport
Have your ticket, ID or passport and a credit card all together up front where you can grab them instantly. How many times have you stood in line behind someone digging endlessly through her bag making everyone wait? Don't let that person be you.
Bring along a book or magazine, your iPod, take a pill if necessary. Whatever you can do to reduce stress, relieve boredom and let you go with the flow will save you a lot of aggravation.
It's a given you will stand in line quite a while to go through security. Seize that opportunity and use the time productively by preparing for the scanner. Dump the Pepsi. Take off your jacket. Get the laptop out. Unlace the shoes (slip-on's are so much smarter). Have your quart Ziploc ready to drop in the bin.
We all know we have to do this. Savvy travelers don't wait til they reach the belt to start the whole process. They also know you don't make jokes or conversation with TSA employees. Unless you need to point out the metal pins in your knee, the best approach is silent compliance.
While you're in the departure lounge be pleasant to people. Admire babies, smile sympathetically at the parents of crying or restless children. Help an older person with a bag or offer to get her a bottle of water. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you. All will make time pass and gain you points, if only in heaven.
And if you have a question or request for airline personnel, be nice, be patient, try to be courteous even if they're frazzled. Remember, they don't run the airline, their job mainly consists of stamping tickets and listening to angry people bitch and moan every hour of every single day.
On the Plane
Have your boarding pass (and ID if required) in your hand when boarding is called. If possible, have your book and glasses out or at the top of your carry-on too.
Read your boarding pass, figure out approximately where your seat is, find it fast, stow your bag(s) above and below your seat and sit down as quickly as possible.
Help your seat mate do the same if necessary.
You will have gone to the bathroom while waiting in the departure lounge.
Then you can settle back, open your book, embrace your Zen attitude and be well prepared to wait until the waiting's over.