For the past few months, I’ve experienced the mixed blessing of constant travel. Mixed because although I love the chance to partner with truly amazing people, to get to those people, I also have to suffer the unavoidable frustrations of air travel. Over the past seven days, for example, I’ve missed three connecting flights through Atlanta, and twice had to fly out on a different day than the one I’d planned.
Right now, in fact, I am writing this column from Atlanta airport, where I am waiting for a 10:30 flight instead of getting off my 7:30 scheduled flight to Austin.
So, sitting here in Atlanta, with a few extra hours, I thought I would share some strategies I’ve learned to use over the months and years I’ve been flying. These are tips I’ve gathered either by asking pilots and flight attendants for their suggestions, or the old fashioned way, through experience. Here, then, in no particular order, are my suggestions for my fellow radical travelers as you venture out into the airports around the world.
1. Take a photo with your cell phone of your car’s parking space at your home airport so you never forget where you parked it. When you arrive home from you flight five hours late, you won’t want to take an extra thirty minutes searching for your car. If you snap a photo, you’ll always know where it is.
2. Always carry on your luggage. Checked luggage can get lost, but more importantly, checked luggage can keep you from getting on an alternate flight. When you try to reschedule your trip, you will be asked, “Did you check luggage?” If your answer is yes, you won’t get the earlier flight home. Checked luggage also gets you on to the plane or out of the airport much quicker since you don’t need to check or get your bags.
3. Never take the last flight or the last connecting flight. Flight attendants tell me they are told to always do this. Taking the second-to-last flight dramatically increases your chances of getting where you want to go.
4. Always allow yourself more than an hour for connecting flights. Another tip from flight attendants, and another way of making sure you actually get to where you want to go.
5. Bring something to do in case you have to wait. I always bring a book, a notebook for ideas (analog and digital) and other items I need to keep me busy. If I have 100 emails I need to write, or a great book to read (I’m amazed by Jhumpa Lahari right now) it makes the wait much better.
6. Bring extra socks and undies. You usually won’t need them. But they don’t take up much space, and if they’re there when you want them, you’ll be very happy.
7. Use ziplock bags for liquids. You can toss the bags when you get home, so that each trip you have a clean bag to hold shampoo, toothpaste and so on. I like to use the hotel’s plastic laundry bags for my own dirty laundry when I head home, too.
8. Avoid Atlanta and Chicago O’Hare airports. Just trust me on this one.
9. Try not to fly at the end of the month. For reasons I don’t fully understand, flight crews can run out of time at the end of the month, and so you are more likely to be delayed because of a missing crew at the end of the month than at any other time.
10. Find out if your credit card gets you access to the airline’s clubs and if it does, use it. Consider getting a card that gets you free access if you don’t have one. Also, keep in mind that for $45.00 you can get access to a club for one day. Most of the time, that’s not a good deal, but on a day when there are three or four hour waits to get to a customer service agent, you can probably get served in a club in 15 minutes if you pay the daily rate.
11. Plan your diet. You can probably get a list of the restaurants in your airport, even read the menu ahead of time. Most of the food in an airport will shorten your life and expand your waist. But if you plan ahead, you can find something that is fairly healthy. I also recommend you bring a couple meal replacement bars just in case you need them. Like your extra pair of socks, these bars are good to have when you need them.
12. Buy an adapter that converts one outlet into three. This little piece of magic ensures that you’ll never have to search for an unused outlet again. Whenever you find an outlet being used, you just ask the user if he or she minds sharing, then plug your computer and your fellow traveller’s into the outlet. You get access to power, and you might just make a new friend.
13. Consider getting noise canceling headphones. I don’t always wear them, but when I’m sitting near an especially loud, especially opinionated person, I especially enjoy slipping on my headphones and turning up someone like Gustavo Santaolalla. Please don’t, however, get a bluetooth headset so you can talk loudly as you walk through the airport. Please just do that for me.
14. Get a frequent flyer card, and use it, especially to call for advice when you are significantly delayed. If you have a bad experience, call the customer service people, explain your situation, and ask them if they can help you out in any way. You might just get an upgrade to First Class, or points or money. I picked up $50.00 for my extra delay here in Atlanta, and it didn’t take more than a couple minutes to call.
15. Don’t take out your frustrations on gate staff, flight attendants, customer service people or other airline employees. Whatever you’re experiencing, it isn’t their fault. Also, losing your cool won’t help you get what you want. The people working for the airline, I might add, feel it when you lose it. One customer service person told me on the phone that she sometimes looks over and sees her colleagues in tears because of what people say. I hope I haven’t caused anyone to feel that way.
There are other tips, of course, and I’m sure those of you who read this can share your ideas. I’d like to write more, but it looks like my plane is going to board, so I’m turning this over to you. What are your tips? What have you learned about the experience of travel. We want to know, so please share you suggestions and experiences here.