Now, I don't really mind air travel. Sure, it's annoying, but I feel like I keep getting better at it. How to pack, how to talk to gate reps, what to do when you're on the plane so you don't go insane. It never fails that I am seated next to a first time flier. How is this possible in 2008? And even if it is possible, how is it that I am always next to these people? As airfare costs go up, wouldn't the first timers fade away since they are usually headed on vacation? As the costs of airfare keep going up, I would expect the planes to be full of business travelers at this point. Oh, but I forget I live in Hawaii, so almost all of the people on the plane are coming here for vacation. Now it makes sense.
I wanted to point out how I fly because I want to write something on the blog and can't think of something else to write about. Also, there are a lot of TV shows on right now about airlines, so I started thinking about that. Maybe readers will post comments on what they do. So, here we go.
- Packing. This is probably where most first time fliers go wrong. Don't take so much stuff. If you can pack entirely in your carry-on luggage, do that. The more you take with you, the more annoying your trip will be. You'll have to check in the bags (which now costs money on most US carriers) and you'll have to wait at baggage claim at the destination. It's really nice to be able to deplane and head right out of the airport rather than stand around with the same people again to wait for your bag.
- Organize your Bag. I use large Ziplock freezer bags to organize my packing. Charger cables go in one, misc cables (USB crap) in another, small items in one. Keep a spare one in your bag and place your wallet, keys, change, and cellphone in that right before you go through security. It still baffles me when people get to security and have a pocket full of change and don't know what to do with it.
- Hard Shell Rolling Luggage. If you do need to check a bag, get rolling luggage. Airports are large and carrying bags by hand for long distances will irritate you. If you can, get hard shell luggage. Why? When your bag is checked, it will be flipped over for the security scan and by the handlers. You also don't know what will be stacked on top of your bag. Unless you just have clothes, you probably have something you want protected, so consider hard shell luggage.
- Drink Water. Drink a lot of water on the plane. I usually buy a bottle at a Hudson News before I get on the plane. You will get dehydrated. Enjoy your tiny Coke or even some booze, but be sure to down water while you are in the air. It helps prevent headaches and keeps your energy level from dropping. I know it sounds stupid, but for the longest time I wondered why I always felt like crap after long flights. You get dehydrated.
- Leave Non-critical Toiletries at Home. Take your toothbrush, hair brush or comb, and your choice of shaving equipment. If you use ordinary Gillette or Schick disposable razors, don't even bring them. All of these things can be obtained at your destination. Yes, it's wasteful, but so is air travel. Your hotel will have toothpaste and shampoo and soap and deodorant and shaving cream. If they don't or if you aren't staying in a hotel, head to your nearest drug store. Chances are they have a section of travel sized toiletries for 99 cents each. At the end of your trip, pitch everything in the trash. Don't take toiletries on the plane unless you want to spend some time with TSA examining your tiny tube of toothpaste.
- Get a Window Seat. It makes it easier to sleep if you can sleep on planes. Lean against the window, it's way more comfortable than the aisle or center seat.
- Bring a Book or iPod or both. In flight entertainment on domestic US flights suck more than ever. Most are still 8mm cassette systems with screens every few seats. In the event that you do have a clear view of the screen, you'll need headphones. Plug yours in to the port on the seat and discover that the headphone jack on your seat isn't working. This has happened to me on my last 4 flights. Do yourself a favor and bring a book and/or an iPod.
- Be careful with the inflight magazine. These things rarely get changed for the month they live on the plane. They are most often used as a home for discarded gum. Be careful grabbing this and flipping through it, you might touch something unpleasant.
- Walk. On long flights, get up at least once and walk up and down the aisle. Combine it with your bathroom trip.
- Stand and Walk. I rarely sit down in an airport. If I do, it's not for long. I try to stay moving walking around the terminal. I will be sitting on the plane soon enough, so I want to get standing time in.
- Eat. Burger, sandwich, bagel, quesadilla, whatever. Eat a meal. You will be starved on the plane and they don't have food on planes anymore.
- Buy Things. Water and snacks. But not a lot of snacks. I get a PopTart and then some salty things. Some people go get pizzas and burgers and bring that on planes. I don't like huge things like that. Plus, it stinks up the plane.
- Monitor the Boards. Watch the board for your flight. Gates change, times change, conditions change. If your gate changes, you should know about that. If you are delayed, you want to know about that before other people.
- Volunteer. If your airline looks for volunteers to give up their seats in exchange for some sort of compensation, take it if you can. The airline will put you on the next flight usually and will also give you some other compensation. Ask for miles over coupons or meal vouchers. Airlines are getting picky about miles, but collect as many as you can.
- Rule 120.20 and Rule 240. Before airline deregulation in the United States, we had certain requirements of airlines. For example, if an airline couldn't get a plane up in the air, these rules existed to protect passengers by allowing the disabled airline to rebook passengers on another airline's flight. The other airline would be compensated and passengers would get to their destination. These rules are really only honored by the long time airlines and each defines it a little differently. But, it never hurts to ask. If you are delayed because of a disabled MD-88 at the gate, you can ask the airline to put you on another flight per these rules. Sometimes, these rebookings occur and people don't realize what has happened. If you've been delayed and rebooked on another airline and it didn't cost you a thing, chances are the airline is using one of these rules. TIP: Ask the ticket counter for a real paper ticket rather than an eTicket. Some airlines define these rules as only accepting real paper boarding passes. If you have this style ticket, you have more power.
- Long Layovers. This is more of a planning detail. Give yourself long layovers to avoid missing connections in the event that a flight is late. 45 minute layovers seem nice, but sometimes you can miss a connection.
- Be Nice. Be nice and it goes a long way. Keep your cool. You will get to where you are going, but remember that you are not the only person affected (usually). Be nice to airline employees. Say thank you. Avoid raising your voice or being rude. Yes, after standing in a line for hours to talk to someone is annoying, but it's not that employee's fault. Save your complaints for the airline's web site. Be nice to the airline employee you have to deal with at the airport.