Thursday, March 05, 2009

my two cents

I fly a fair amount. I'm boarding a plane tomorrow in fact. I don't fly a crazy amount like some people who have heavy work related travel. But often enough to know my way around an airport and specifically, how to get through TSA fairly seamlessly. I do not presume to be an expert but I feel I fly enough that I have developed a system that might be helpful for those less than frequent flyers out there. Plus, I'm always looking for good travel tips. Especially packing related. I hate packing so I procrastinate it until the last minute and then I never have quite what I want to wear when I arrive. This is especially exaggerated by the fact that I don't normally travel to places where I am required to wear "business casual" which is about 89% of my wardrobe but I don't usually discover this until I'm packing and only have one or two go-to casual outfits and I'm not even sure if they fit anymore.

But I digress. Here is what I do:
  • always, always, always check in online as early as possible. For most airlines this is a 24 hour in advance deal. It is quick and easy and even if you are checking luggage it generally saves some time. Advantages? Sometimes you can pick a better seat than you originally booked. And if nothing else, in these overbooked flight times, you guarantee yourself a seat on the plane. Airlines will often bump people by the last to check in or they will change your seat if you haven't checked in and the flight is overbooked.
  • if you are checking luggage, utilize the skycap guys on the curb. This will generally save you some time because you rarely have to wait behind more than one person and that way you don't have to haul your stuff through the airport. Of course, you can't use them for international travel or when checking oversized items (like a snowboard). But I find it well worth the tip: I generally pay $2 a bag but wonder if I should pay more. Thoughts?
  • dress simply. I have a uniform because it makes the whole security line thing so much easier. In the winter I wear a black turtleneck with either jeans or dress pants (depending on whether I'm leaving straight from work or home). I avoid wearing cardigans or jackets (unless I have to wear a suit) because TSA will ask you to remove it and that just slows everything down and risks a bit of embarrassment if you aren't willing to walk through in the camisole you wore under your cardigan. In the warmer months I may take a cardigan to layer over a t-shirt but I put it in my purse before I reach security to avoid delays.
  • pack a pashmina. That is just a fancy word for a very large (wide) scarf that can be used as a blanket on the plane since it is more often than not freezing once you are airborn. I pack this item in all but the hottest months because planes get cold when they are cruising at 30,000 feet or whatever. Especially if you are seated at the window.
  • wear slip on shoes that slide off at the last minute to be dumped in the bin on the conveyer thing at security and can be stepped into quickly on the other end. Never boots that take some work zipping on (maybe I'm the only one who owns those) and I only wear sneakers if I'm trying to minimize my packed items (like to Peru).
  • wear minimal jewelry to avoid anything that might set off the buzzer thing and prompt a wanding. No lie, I was once in line behind a woman with two arm loads of bracelets jangling on her arms, tall boots over her jeans and a number of items I have forgotten that she couldn't believe she had to remove before going through. It was a ridiculous delay and could have been avoided if she wasn't trying to compete with Cleopatra in the jewelry department.
  • don't wear a belt. I almost never wear belts to begin with so I do not deem them a necessary fashion accessory. It will only slow you down when you have to take it off and put it back on so just pack it for when you arrive.
  • pack snacks. This is a must. Even on short flights when I do not expect to be hungry, I try to pack one or two snacks because you never know when you will get stranded these days. And when I am on a long flight, I pack a sandwich.
  • bottle of water. I hate that I can't bring my non-explosive water (in my reusable bottle) from home and I hate how crazy expensive water is in the airport but I always buy a bottle. Planes are dry, dry, dry and the free drinks are often slow to come down the aisle. And when they do they generally offer water in that tiny little cup with the gross ice (I never get the ice) that has to sit on your tray table that is cramping your already condensed space. A bottle is always easier. Not to mention good security for those times when the plane runs out (it happens!).
  • pack your liquids in a ziploc bag. At this point, this should go without saying but I am constantly encountering people who are surprised by this rule (I'm usually waiting impatiently behind them in the security line at EWR holding my laptop and ziploc bag!). While this is kind of a pain, I have to admit it makes packing easier. I have purchased several small (much smaller than the 3 ounce upper limit) bottles and pots to contain my various creams and cleansers and shampoo and makeup remover and toner, etc. I keep them replenished and stored in their little bag under my sink which makes packing toiletries much easier!
  • pack a book or magazine or something to entertain yourself. Please, please, please do not rely on your seat-mate for entertainment. If you happen to fall into easy conversation that is mutually desired, great, then you can put away your book. But 9 times out of 10, your neighbor wants to pretend that your arm is not resting up against his or hers and would prefer to escape into whatever he/she is reading. Respect that the headphones are there for a reason (to take me to a happy place where I can fully extend my legs).
  • pack a neck pillow for long flights. You may feel silly lugging it around the airport but chances are you won't be handed a pillow on the plane so it is best to bring one of those funky little u-shaped ones (preferably purchased nowhere near the airport for economic reasons). You can use it behind your neck as was intended or up against the window if you are a window person or sometimes I like just having it to hold onto (security thing? I dunno). I find them useful and essential on any flight over 3-4 hours long despite the fact that I am pretty much incapable of sleeping on a plane (or train or in a car).
  • at the security line selection, respect the now newly implemented self-selection lines (at some, but not all, airports) for Expert/Business (travel frequently, know the rules), Intermediate/Leisure (not quite expert but you have flown in the past decade), Beginner (self-explanatory) and/or Family (people traveling with children). These are one of those great ideas with potential that often fail in the execution because novices (the ones who should steer clear from the Expert line) don't always notice the signs and are already confused by the process (which is confusing!) and the TSA people don't normally point out the differences. Which results in a line of irritated Expert fliers who are backed up behind your Aunt Marge who is flying across the country for the first time in 20 years with all her earthly belongings - including a lengthy list of prohibited items and difficult to remove shoes/jacket/belt, etc. And, incidentally, I have been told by someone in the know that the Family line is great and usually shorter - even at SLC! Just be realistic with yourself and admit when you aren't an expert.
  • maneuvering through security. Now, I am not the type of person who can walk on the plane with nothing but an ipod and book (clearly as I have recommended other items above). I generally do not check (I like to minimize my time in the airport as much as possible) so I usually have a roller suitcase and an oversized purse that contains: a laptop, my travel pillow, some snacks, my ziploc bag, a book, my usual assortment of purse supplies (such as glasses/sunglasses/wallet/cell phone/blackberry/ipod, etc.) with my pashmina looped through the handles. But when I get in line, I prepare for the bins. I put my driver's license/passport away (you won't need it after the TSA guy inspects it at the first check point and scribbles on your boarding pass). I then put my ticket in my back pocket or a side pocket on my purse where I can grab it easily so I can keep my hands free when I reach the convery belt. Then, I take off my coat and I pull my laptop and ziploc bag out of my purse. When I reach the bins I grab two or sometimes three depending on whether I have a coat or how bulky my purse is. In the first bin I put my coat and my shoes. Second bin is my purse (if my coat isn't too big I put my purse on top of the coat with the shoes on the side). Third bin is my laptop and I put my roller suitcase on last. Shoeless and free of all my belongings, I walk through with just my boarding pass (which was either in my back pocket or pulled from my purse once everything was in the bins). On the other end - easy. Slip the shoes on, toss the coat over my arm, collect purse and insert laptop and then grab the roller case and I am off to my gate. I am seriously fast with this process (I should be, I generally go through this routine once a month at least).
  • wait until your zone or seat row is called before bunching up at the gate. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to push through a bunch of impatient passengers pressing up against the gate agent to board the plane. I don't mind the semi-circle that forms at a respectable distance but I do not understand why people rush the gate for airlines that board by row or zone number. Why are you so anxious to get on the plane? Oh, right, because you are afraid you won't have anywhere to put your overstuffed suitcase and giant bag of souvenirs.
  • a word about overhead bins. If you cannot lift your suitcase up and into the overhead bin without assistance, maybe you should check it. I am not trying to be mean to the elderly or the frail (although I did have a very bad experience with this when some old lady reeking of flowery perfume with very well-tailored clothes demanded I put her suitcase in the overhead compartment for her) but if you cannot lift your suitcase on your own you should store it beneath the seat in front of you (HA! Like there is any room there) or just check it. Especially since most of the time I see this problem it is with some young girl whose suitcase weighs a literal ton.

Okay, I think that is all. Sorry the list grew so long but once I started I couldn't stop and I am sure I will think of more as I maneuver through airport security tomorrow. But I am curious, what are your hints and tips for surviving airports?


michele said...

my tip: do not try to streamline baggage by packing everything for a family of 4 into one giant suitcase. inevitably it will be above the weight limit, and unless you want to fork over an extra 50 bucks, you will be forced to unload 10 pounds of stuff and stuff/strap it into/on your carry on making that awkward and pushing the ziploc bag of stuff down to the bottom of said carry on which then must be unpacked at security to find it creating enemys along the way.

great tips though. i used to be pretty good at travelling...then i had kids.

Tiffany said...

These are great tips, for sure. This should be in a magazine. Have fun traveling tomorrow. Where are you going, anyway?

Soul-Fusion said...

HA! Michele that is a good one. I think we have all had the too heavy suitcase. I think someone else needs to write the tips for traveling with kids because I have no idea how that works.
And Tiff, I'm going to SLC. But it is a super short trip so if I miss seeing any of you I am sorry. I will be arriving late Friday night and leaving late Sunday. Time to snowboard at Solitude on Saturday and relax with my family on Sunday.

critts said...

I so echo bringing an extra bottle of water on the plane! Marcus and I were once on a flight that was VERY delayed going from Dallas to NYC. The airport restaurants shut down around 9ish and we didn't end up leaving until about midnight (it was supposed to leave around 7, I think). By the time the plane arrived they didn't have time to refill the drinks and literally had nothing for our flight. I had a massive migraine from the lack of water by the time we landed in NYC. Never again!

Have a fun trip!

Voice of Reason said...

When I worked as a Skycap, 2 bucks a bag was real good, but if there was a line, a 10 or a 20 would move you right to the front. Also, no offense to the fairer sex, it always helps for a female to have the money out and in plain view while in the skycap line. When you work as a skycap, the percentage of people who stiff you breaks down to about 80% females and 20% males. Also if you have any old BYU id tags on your bags, rip them off before your next trip. If a skycap sees one of those on your bag, he will treat you like you are transporting anthrax.

nhsphoto said...

i loved the part about the ice. take it from me (my husband worked for skywest for over 4 years in commo... which basically means he put ice and drinks on the plane) you DO NOT want that ice in your drink. good call. enjoyed this post, especially after our chat about it at the moma.

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