Monday, July 26, 2010

Taking the stress out of air travel

I spend a lot of time on the road. And this leads to any number moments where I complain about clueless travelers, crowded airports and other hilarity.

I realized I haven't relayed a lot of the things that can make your day of travel better... and maybe even help make those around you get where they're going more smoothly. I am hardly the be-all-end-all of travel advice, but I've found a few practical things to be very helpful.

  • Packing - I have no major packing tips. I stuff socks in my shoes. I fold, but I know that anywhere I go will have an iron. And when my trip involves multiple cities, I totally recycle a shirt. I'm not some slob that gets every shirt dirty every day. Big ground rule... if I think I might need something, I usually don't pack it. For example, I might need my swim trunks. I can think of exactly one business trip in my life where they've been used. Leave 'em. Hanging at the pool with coworkers can be done in any attire.
  • Check in the night before. This should go without saying. If you cannot, please don't look confounded by the check-in kiosks. You're gonna need to swipe a credit card. It won't charge you... I promise. You might need to know your confirmation number. Generally, if you have a smart phone of any description it's not so hard to simply put this next to the calendar entry for your flight.
  • Phone numbers - primarily your airline's number. Landed late and you know you missed your connection? Don't scramble around the airport like the world is ending. Call your airline as soon as you land. Which brings us to...
  • Be nice. I imagine every customer service rep has a bad day every day. But airline customer service reps have to deal with tears, rage, stupidity and more... every 10 minutes or so. Even the ones not getting yelled at are dealing with some guy who walks up to the gate counter every five minutes to ask if his upgrade came through. Smile. Tell the person helping you that you know it's not their personal fault your plans are screwed. I've had people bend over backwards to help me, just by being nice.
  • If you really want to get good customer service, know a little bit about the airline industry. You stuck in an airport loses the airline money whether they compensate with cash or not. They have to give you a seat they could otherwise sell. Provide them with solutions. A friend was sitting at JFK trying to fly south to Charlotte. Her flight kept getting delayed (mechanical reasons) and cancellation was looming. The airline, faced with having to rebook nearly 200 angry passengers was more than happy to switch her to a flight out of LaGuardia the same night when they were asked.
  • Store your smaller bag under the seat in front of you. Yeah, I know. Wouldn't it be great to have more legroom? If so, drive. You're on a plane. Do not put your purse up in the overhead when people have actual bags that can go there. When people put laptop bags and the like up top, other people stand around looking confounded... and that holds up the plane leaving on time. Also, once you're airborne, you can slide the bag out and place it under your knees... and discover all the legroom you wanted.
  • If at all possible, don't roll your suitcase down the aisle. Carry it the 40 feet to the jetway. Trust me.
  • Security - The TSA has a lot of rules. One of them is not wait until you're at the metal detector to take out your toiletries/take off your shoes. Have your things in accessible places and have them ready.
  • Book smart. What I mean is, if you have a choice of connection cities, it's almost always a smoother connection the farther west your connection is (note: does not apply to O'Hare). Up north, congested airports can mean any number of issues with making your connection... congestion of air traffic and weather are conspiring against you making the switch at Logan, Philly and any NYC airport. Airports like Charlotte, Denver, Houston, Phoenix, Salt Lake, Cleveland, Memphis, Minneapolis... these are massive, multi-runway airports that can handle incoming and outgoing planes in ways that antiquated airports in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cannot.
Beyond these, I would advise any traveler to simply be patient. Millions of people fly every day. Moving millions of people around up in the sky is no easy task... especially if we want everyone to survive the trip.

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