Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Trials & Tribulations of Air Travel…Surviving with Your Sanity!

Flying can be a painful, joyless experience.  Although the safety measures put in place are for our safety, when you have to nearly strip and dismantle your person and your possessions, sometimes it is hard to find the positives in the experience.  Long lines, surly airline employees, flight delays and expensive food cut with plastic knives add to the fun. 

Here are some tips to fly with your sanity intact!

  1. Realize that sometimes the airline employees are cranky because their jobs are constantly in question.  Rudeness is not acceptable, but often there is a reason.  Be nice, smile, act like you sympathize with the plight of the employee, and you might get a nice response back.  Not only do they fear for their livelihoods, they also get yelled at a lot by cranky passengers.

  1. Don’t put yourself in a time crunch.  A good rule of thumb is to arrive at the airport 2 hours domestic, 3 hours International.  Being bored at the airport because you are early is better than being late and rushing to your gate which is probably number 228 out of 229 gates.

  1. When you arrive at the airport, if you are flying domestic, often you can check in and drop your bags off outside the terminal.  Be sure and tip the baggage handlers, and some airlines impose a fee per bag.  You may also check your luggage inside, and if you are flying International, you must.

  1. Be luggage smart.  Many airlines have imposed baggage fees, even for the first bag.  When you (or your travel agent) purchase flights, make sure you take into consideration those extra fees when choosing an airline.  Often your “good deal” becomes a “not so good deal” when you have to pay $25-$50 more per person for bags, each way!  Also, make sure you don’t go over the 50 pound limit on your bags, because that can be incredibly costly.

  1. Get ready mentally for the security line.  Prepare yourself for a very long wait, and if you don’t have one, it will be a pleasant surprise.  Make sure your liquids are not over 3.4 ounces and put them in a clear plastic bag, and have them out in a bin, not in a bag.  Also take out your laptops, video cameras, and anything else that looks weird and put them in bins, out of bags.  It will save the screeners time if they have to examine the item. 

  1. Do not bring water or soda with you!  You’ll just have to throw it away. 

  1. If you have medical equipment, such as a sleep apnea machine, take it apart and have it in a bin by itself.  Be prepared for questions and for the machinery to be run through the screening machines multiple times.

  1. Wear shoes that are quick to get on and off, since you’ll have to place them in bins.  If you are traveling with children, especially little ones, prepare them in advance for this.  My youngest loves shoes and was most disturbed when she had to surrender her favorite Crocs to a scary dark machine.  Take sweaters, coats and jackets off and place them in bins, and empty your pockets.  To be extra safe, take off jewelry (watches for sure) but don’t forget them in the bins!

  1. Make sure your boarding passes and IDs are out and ready.  It is very aggravating to be behind someone searching for their documents.

  1. Just be patient.  I know that being behind someone with 4 kids and ten bins can be annoying (oh, wait, that might be me!) but you will get through the line.  Just smile…you are either on vacation, or returning from a great one!

Okay, so you are finally through the security check point.  Now what?

  • Verify that your gate is correct, and find out when you will be boarding.  If you want to buy something to eat or drink, you may take whatever you purchase onto the plane at this point.  You will most likely not need your IDs anymore unless it is an International flight, so put them away, and have your boarding passes in an easy to reach pocket.  Then have a seat!

  • When boarding begins, look on your boarding pass.  Many will have your boarding section printed right on the pass.  If you are flying Southwest and you don’t have a seat assignment, you will line up by number and boarding group when it is time.

  • BEFORE you get on the plane, make sure you have what you need for onboard entertainment in the smaller carryons, so you don’t have to juggle once you get onboard.  Once you get on the plane, stash the heavier, larger carryons above in the bins, and the smaller ones in the seat in front of you. 

  • Then try to enjoy the atmosphere.  If a crying baby sits next to you, which will inevitably happen, put in the earplugs you had the foresight to bring and comment on what a cute baby it is.  If the woman behind you starts loudly discussing the coffin-like claustrophobic atmosphere of the plane, and menopause, and fighting with her daughter about events twelve years ago (just happened to me, and I am not making that up for your amusement) just smile and be glad that you had the foresight to bring earplugs/headphones.

  • Watch the flight attendant as they go through the safety features of the plane.  Yes, you might have heard it many times.  Yes, the attendant probably looks bored to death reciting that speech yet again.  But they appreciate the people that actually watch them, and it only takes a minute of your time.  You are a captive audience anyway, so just watch.

  • Remember, no electronics until you are 10,000 feet in the air, and no cell phones at all unless they are on airplane mode.  Tray tables and seats must be upright, but the airlines have abandoned the window shades being raised, so be a rebel and lower away.  Then get ready for your tiny cup of soda/water, and a teeny packet of yummy peanuts (might be chips or crackers, peanuts are no longer politically correct on some airlines).

If you are going on vacation, you will have to do this all over again on the return.  If you have completed a vacation, then you are an old pro at this. 

Finally, the one key thing I can’t stress enough…BE PATIENT!