Back in the old days, the Cunard steamships were advertised with the slogan “Getting There is Half the Fun.” No one is going to say that about flying these days, but many frequent flyers have figured out how to avoid being a “frazzled flyer.” Here’s Gumbo’s collection of personal experience, good tips, and links to helpful places for more information. We’ll break it down in comfortable chunks:
• BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
• AT THE AIRPORT
• SECURITY LINE TIPS
• THE BIG CALM PILL
If packing doesn’t sound like a subject for this article, you’ve never stood at the end of a conveyor in the security area trying to stuff a little-too-much back into the bag. Here are a few suggestions to reduce the chances of being selected for a grand opening, and to make it easier if you are picked.
- Pack neatly; if an agent has to see something that couldn’t be identified in the x-ray, the less has to be moved around, the better.
- Don’t stack solid items, like books, electronics, etc. on each other. Giving the x-ray a clear shot at each one reduces the chance of an agent needing a look-see.
- Make sure you know your carrier’s weight and size limits (you can find them on their website). Fees what they are these days, you don’t want to guess. If you travel often, and especially if you use low-cost carriers with high fees and tight allowances, $15-20 buys you a tiny luggage scale that slips into a suitcase pocket. I like Taylor 8120; it’s cheap and works.
- Don’t waste money on fancy locks for your checked bag. The point of baggage locks isn’t really to prevent theft; a razorblade can open any suitcase. A twist-tie or cable-tie serves the real purpose: keeping the bag from accidentally unzipping in flight.
- If it’s a carry-on…don’t forget to leave your 3-1-1 liquids bag accessible. Remember: “medical liquids” such as prescriptions, cough syrup, etc. are exempt from the limit, but still have to be shown. Laptops are best kept out of carry-on suitcases; it just guarantees you’ll have to open up for scanning. Carry the laptop separately or in your backpack/purse/”personal item.”
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
You can save lines and aggravation by doing a few simple things at home. And in some cases, airlines are now starting to charge you for NOT doing some of them!
- Check in on-line and print boarding passes, including extra copies. If they get reprinted at curbside check-in, it still saves time because all the info needed is right in your hand.
- While checking in, register for the airline’s updates by phone or text. Sure it can be annoying to have your phone rings in the security line with a reminder to check in--but it’s not so annoying when you’re the first to know of a gate change or a delay.
- Tag your bags, inside and out. You don’t want to be the guy looking for a tag while everyone behind is waiting. Put your name and address, your flight numbers and dates, and where you’ll be staying on it, as well as a contact back home. And a copy inside the bag as well.
- Make your bags easy to keep track of and retrieve. If you don’t have distinctive luggage tags (easy to make with a laminator!), go for a brightly colored ribbon or other easy identifier. Remember—even if you’re the only one you know with that yellow suitcase…you’re not!
AT THE AIRPORT
Nobody likes long lines at the airport—do your best not to get stuck in one! If you’ve followed the tips above, you’re probably in a good place to avoid them.
- If you’re checking a bag, get rid of it right away. The curbside check-in was made for people who prepared ahead as you did. Occasionally there’s a fee; a tip is often expected, but there’s just about NEVER more than a couple of people ahead of you. And if you’re a family with several bags, well…
- If you’ve checked in on-line, you can usually still use the curbside as your bag drop. But if you do go in with a bag, watch lines/signs carefully, check with staff near the kiosks: “I’m just dropping a bag—am I in the right place?” You’d be amazed how often you’ll be re-directed and save time.
- Get ready for security before you hit that line. You can even start at home, because most of what you have in your pockets isn’t needed most of the time. Drop as much as you can into your backpack or coat pockets, and leave yourself with only wallet, change, belt and phone for the last minute.
- BUY NOTHING UNTIL AFTER SECURITY. There are plenty of places inside for food, newspapers, water, etc. Anything you buy outside security is one more thing to juggle and worry about.
SPEEDING THROUGH SECURITY (AS IF&hellip
Actually, it is possible to speed up the process in two main ways. One is to be a member of a “trusted traveler” or airline elite program. The other is to be ready to go, and alert to what’s going on.
- Don’t always look for the shortest line. It may be short because people have noticed it is moving slowly! Check to see which agents seem to be moving people quickly. More and more, TSA is positioning an agent to guide you to the best choice.
- Have your stuff stowed (see above) and listen for announcements. Things change; one day it’s shoes on, one day off; one day hold your boarding pass, the next day put it in the tray. Watch what’s happening ahead of you.
- If you’re carrying a laptop, be especially vigilant; sometimes your sleeve can stay on, other days not.
- After you’ve passed through, take a deep breath and collect everything that’s yours. Don’t move until it’s all there, and then carry it all away from the scanner to the nearest table or seat before re-assembling your life. You won’t lose anything—and the people behind you on the line will love you.
THE BIG CALM PILL
You’re going on a trip—whether business or pleasure—and something good awaits you at the other end. Why spoil that by having a heart attack in a cab on the way to the airport because there’s more traffic than you expected, or…
Airports are not terrible places to be for a while. The A/C or heat works, restrooms are available, there’s all kinds of food and shops, and lots of chairs. Bring a book or some music and plan on a half-hour or so to veg-out or snack. Many airports have at least limited free wi-fi—catch up with e-mail or social media. This way, if traffic doesn’t work out for you, you lose only the break, not your health or good mood!
image credits: top, leobudv, Wikimedia Commons; center, nomadsoul1/123RF Stock Photo, bottom, Transpotation Safety Administration.