Let Our Frequent Traveler Help You Avoid the Pitfalls
Almost half the country will be traveling between late November and mid-January. The TSA anticipates airport security checkpoints will be busier than ever before. Although the airlines may not suffer a situation like Southwest Airlines cancelation of flights last year, you should still expect the bumps that accompany airport travel over the holiday. That’s the reason we invited Scott, our guest blogger and Paris traveler, to return to share some of his tips for traveling through airports. Here are some of the things Scott does that let him keep smiling through it all.
1. Plan Ahead
You can’t control the weather or the crowds, but a few minutes of online research can help you to avoid frustration once my trip has begun. When my flights require changing planes, I usually look online for a map of the airport where my connection will take place. It lets me know if the gate for the connecting flight is next to the gate for the arriving flight or in an entirely different terminal. That information may figure into my choice of flights, but it certainly lets me know if I will need to be concerned by an unexpected delay during my first flight. I also check the weather at my destination (and add the city I’m visiting to my weather app so I can stay up to date on any changes).
2. Check Your ID
Check your passport when you start planning a trip overseas, so you have plenty of time to renew, if necessary. Processing times right now are 7-10 weeks. Even expedited processing takes 3-5 weeks. Check your driver’s license early enough to be sure it has not expired, particularly if you will be driving during your trip.
3. Get to the Airport Early
I’ve always enjoyed airports, to the point of bringing my children when they were young to ride the tram and escalators and to watch the planes take off. Those days are long gone; however, I still enjoy the feeling of possibility that exists when I arrive at the airport. Even were that not the case, I would arrive early. It leaves room for error, on my end and the airline’s.
4. Take a Photo of Where You Park Your Car
Once you’ve arrived back from your travels, you do not want to be dragging your luggage around the parking garage looking for your car. Take a photo of the location, floor and row numbers, when you park.
5. Take Advantage of Curbside Check-in
If your airline offers curbside check-in of luggage, take advantage of it. Curbside check-in lets you drive up and check your bags without rolling them through the parking garage and into the airport. You can get your seat assignment and boarding pass, as well. Be prepared to show the Skycap your identification, and to use a credit card to pay for any bags for which there is an airline fee. Finally, don’t forget to tip them at least $5 per regularly sized bag. When traveling with oversize luggage like golf clubs or bicycles, tip more. They’re well worth it.
6. Download the Airline’s App on Your Cellphone
Even if, like me, a paper boarding pass gives you a sense of comfort, download the airline’s app on your cellphone. It will allow you to handle a lot of the business of checking in ahead of time. I like receiving notifications when my bag is on the plane or has arrived at the baggage claim. I also appreciate the personal notice when a flight has been delayed or a departure gate has changed.
7. Make the Most of the Airport Lounge
Particularly since I like to get to the airport early to avoid the anxiety of being late, airport lounges provide the benefit of a place to spend the extra time. If you’re flying on a business- or first-class ticket, you typically have access to the airline’s lounge. If you fly often enough to accumulate sufficient mileage or use a credit card that entitles you to admission, take advantage of the quieter space, restrooms, food, and drink, when you can. If you don’t have access, but end up with a long layover, check online to see if you can purchase one-time access. Active-duty members of the military may have access to lounges for free. It’s worth a couple minutes to check online.
8. Stay Hydrated
I take an empty water bottle in my small carryon bag that I fill after I’ve passed through security. Most airports have water bottle filling stations. Avoiding a headache is worth the extra weight. (Along with the empty water bottle, I usually have a granola bar of some kind.) You may also want to throw a Chapstick in your bag since the air on the plane can be very dry.
9. Be Prepared in Case You Need to Gate Check Your Carryon
As this is a possibility on short flights in small planes or longer flights on bigger planes when you’re the last to board because your connecting flight was delayed, plan for such an eventuality. Place the items you might need during the flight in your handbag or the smaller carryon bag that will fit under the seat in front of you when you pack. (I use a backpack so I can balance the weight on my back and be hands free.) These items include my reading or viewing material, reading glasses and extra contacts, earphones, eye drops, tissues, travel accessories (more on this later), and Jolly Rancher hard candy. I keep a little bag of these long-lasting hard candies just for traveling. They’re great for helping to reduce the pressure in your ears during takeoffs and landings and for combatting nausea from motion sickness.
10. Pack the OTC Medicines in Your Purse or Backpack
Traveling light is easier when you have a traveling companion (wife) who doesn’t. However, when I’m traveling alone, I trade traveling light for traveling with necessities. It only takes one flight with nausea or a headache to ensure you’re prepared the next time with the right over-the-counter medicines.
11. Remember Your Chargers
Need I say more?
12.You Can Only Control Your Own Behavior (Smile)
I can’t control the behavior of others, but I can control my own. I don’t remove my shoes unless I’m wearing clean socks, trim or file my nails, brush my hair, or apply cologne. I hope others similarly refrain from this type of self-care while on the plane.
It’s amazing what smiling at someone and saying hello can do to change the fraught atmosphere of a crowded airport. Traveling makes me happy so this one is not usually a big ask.
13. Dress for the Plane
Since I can’t control the temperature at the airport or on the airplane, I dress accordingly, in long sleeves and long pants with an extra sweater. I suggest wearing closed-toe shoes in case there should be any messy issues during the flight.
14.Take the Travel Accessories with You
Unless you’re on an overseas flight in business class, you’re likely on your own when it comes to travel accoutrements. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be comfortable when you go. And I wouldn’t recommend waiting until you’re at the airport to shop for your travel accessories. The airport shops may not have exactly what you want and that will reduce the time you have to spend in the airport lounge. As the brother of Down Etc’s founder, I have become attached to a few of Down Etc’s travel products.
Expect families to be traveling over the holidays. I have been a parent traveling with small children, struggling to time feedings, changes, and Disney movies just right so the kids will sleep or be engaged on the flight only to have a flight delayed or canceled. I sympathize with their plight; however, I’m on vacation. This is where an eye mask and travel pillow, the ones you’ve packed in your handbag or small carryon, come in handy. They also come in handy to eliminate the debate over the position of the airplane window shade and put an end to the frustration caused by another passenger’s reading light or choice of in-flight entertainment.
Bonus: Don’t Panic When You End Up in the Middle Seat
If worse comes to worst and you end up in the middle seat while your carryon luggage is being placed in the cargo hold with checked luggage, know that this too shall pass.
Here’s to enjoying your holiday travels no matter what’s thrown at you!
-Scott Litwin and the Team at Down Etc