The ramblings of a giant squid…

Make your air travel better (Part 1)

Friends-Romans-Countrymen, Travel

As I sit here in the airport (10 May, 2009, about 19h00), awaiting my flight to Montreal and thence to Charlottetown, I have decided to jot down a few notes about the air travel experience that I think can help novice and perhaps even experienced travellers. I’ve logged hundreds of thousands of frequent flyer miles the old-fashioned way – I earned them flying. And although I’ve perhaps not travelled as much as some people, I am quite comfortable in saying that I’ve travelled a lot more than most people. What this article will cover are things that I do that help make my business and personal travel easier. If more people did some of this stuff, it would make it easier for everyone.

I’ll start with the causes of grief. In my experience, there are only a few primary causes of air travel grief: lack of preparation, excessive consumption of alcohol, unreasonable expectations and circumstances beyond the travellers control. Problems in those areas, even by other travellers, can wreck your travel experience.

Lack of Preparation

It really surprises me that there are so many people who show up at the airport woefully unprepared for the journey that awaits them. They don’t have proper documentation. They don’t have proper luggage or have too much luggage. They can’t properly manage their children. The best way to delay yourself or other people is to not be properly prepared for your trip. The vast majority of “rage” issues I’ve seen have stemmed directly from a lack of preparation on the part of the raging passenger.

What preparations do you need to make? First and foremost, book the right tickets. That sounds like a “suck an egg” sort of statement, and I wish it was. Not only do you need to book the tickets to the correct destination, but you should also consider other factors:

  1. What about your personal comfort? Booking a different flight might mean it goes on a different aircraft with more space. Travelling business class costs more up-front, but you’re going to be treated better, get access to shorter business-class lines, get access to the executive lounge, and generally have a more relaxing trip. That might be worth something to you. Think about where you want to sit on the aircraft, but be prepared to be flexible.
  2. What about your schedules? If your schedule is not locked in stone and can be changed by circumstances beyond your control, you might not want to book those super-cheap excursion fares. Cheap plane tickets come with potentially expensive restrictions if your situation changes. Getting burned for a change fee because you booked V-class tickets and then your customer/cruise line changed the date you need to be there is NOT the airline’s problem. Think ahead, and buy flight insurance if you need it, or buy a less-discounted ticket. Business class tickets cost more but tend to be fully refundable. If you use a travel agent, you should discuss this with the agent. If you do your own bookings, pay attention to those long winded lists of restrictions when you purchase.

There are other preparatory measures you should consider as well. For example, do you REALLY need to have two big suitcases, a laptop and a carry-on bag to travel to Hawaii for a week? These days, you may well be pinned for extra charges if those bags are heavy, and you’re going to annoy the out of other passengers. An experienced traveller can go anywhere in the world with 1 bag and a carry-on (which will probably be a laptop). Less baggage gets you through the airport faster, on and off the plane faster, and means there is less baggage to be lost or damaged. It’s also less for you to haul around.

If you plan to travel with small children, realize that even if they don’t say it, other passengers are probably wishing you ill. Plan in advance how you will control your kids. Plan in advance how you will keep them busy and quiet. Plan in advance on paying extra for all the big luggage you’re going to have to carry if you have a toddler. Plan in advance to pay full price for a seat for your child if they can walk – whining about it at the counter is too late. Quiet, well-behaved children are cute and other passengers love them. Noisy, undisciplined brats make the other passengers hate you and your child, and are a hazard to the crew. The onus is on the parents to be prepared to handle their children. The onus is not on the other passengers to tolerate your unruly brood.

If you are ill, don’t travel. Hundreds of people trapped with you in that aluminum can do NOT want your diseases. You’re going to be uncomfortable, and you’re going to annoy the out of the other passengers. Seriously folks, this is what travel insurance is for. There’s really no valid excuse for travelling with a communicable disease. That means cold, flu, plague, whatever. If other people can catch it, I guarantee that on a plane other people WILL catch it.

Pack your bags properly. It’s not a secret that liquids, gels, and anything that is even slightly pointy is not allowed on an aircraft. Kidding yourself that “they let me on last time with ” is setting yourself up for a maddening experience. Leave that crap at home. Similarly, for the love of all that is holy, ladies and gentlemen, no perfume or cologne and please shower before getting on the plane. That should go without saying, but unfortunately it doesn’t.

One final note of preparation. Always carry a change of underwear in your carry-on luggage. Your checked baggage may be lost, and if you’re caught short, a change of underwear will make you feel better the next day while you’re buying new clothes or waiting for your luggage to arrive.

That’s enough for today. Tomorrow, I will post the rest of this article.

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