I haven’t done a personal post in awhile, so I suppose now is a good enough time. With sWE12 Annual Conference in Houston next week, I’m sure everyone’s thoughts are on travel. For a lot of people, including Region G, this might even be the first time someone has flown in a plane. Regardless of whether you are a seasoned traveler or newbie, I’d like to share some of my knowledge or observations that I’ve stumbled across through my years of flying.
For those of you wondering, I’ve flown to and from Florida more times than I can count, and a few trips back and forth from Georgia/Alabama. I’ve also flown to Colorado, California, and Hawaii. My longest trips include two to England (London and Birmingham) as well as to Melbourne, Australia (which took me 25 total hours of traveling btw). So, I suppose I’m a little bit of an “expert.”
You can already start your trip off right just by preparing. Honestly, making sure you know how to get to the airport is a great start. I laugh at this point only because I’ve been guilty of this as well. It was actually on my return trip home in an unfamiliar city, I asked Siri (on my iPhone) for directions to the airport. Sure enough, there were two airports in this city, and since it was dark, I didn’t realize that I was going to the wrong one until after I had gone about 20 minutes out of the way. Thankfully I had left pretty early for my flight, but I only barely made it since I had to backtrack so much. In a world where we are used to getting reliable information on-demand, take a second to double check.
Which brings me to my second point, leaving early. I know some people that arrive to an airport 3 hours early for a small flight and others who race in at the last minute. From my experience, a good rule of thumb is about an hour and a half for domestic flights. This can be a little shorter if it’s a smaller/local airport or if you are traveling on a weekday afternoon (eg. Wednesdays). The opposite it true for holidays, Monday mornings/weekends, or larger airports. Regardless, it’s better to be early and have some time to get organized or check out some of the cool shops in airports.
The next thing that can make your trip go smoothly (and faster) is determining the checking-in procedure for your airline. For some, you can check in online, which is always convenient, and many offer self-service kiosks where you can check-in by entering in your confirmation code, scanning your passport, or looking up your name. The part that I’ve noticed people tend to struggle with is not the checking-in part, but the checking baggage part. Now, with fuel prices surging, many airlines are charging $25 for checking a bag (even more if it’s overweight-which typically means over 50 lbs). So just be aware you might have to pay this fee, and weigh your bag before you go. The worst thing ever is having to repack your suitcase on the floor in front of the desk (super embarrassing, in everyone’s way, slows everything down…). Generally, you are allowed to check one bag, have one carry-on bag, and one personal item. Personal items are like purses, and many airlines have displays where you can check to make sure your carry-on is under the maximum dimensions. Double check yours fits or else you will get held up trying to shove it into the overheard compartment (once again, embarrassing and holding people up). Also, be sure to check what seat you are in at check-in (if the flight is not full, you might be able to switch to an aisle or window).
When you pack, pack light. For real. Lugging a heavy bag through the airport stinks. Try to use a structured suitcase with wheels rather than a duffle. Not only is it easier to transport (no sore shoulders), but it helps keep your clothes neater and less wrinkled. When I pack, I try to consider mix-able separates that I can color coordinate. This helps trim down the different shoes, accessories, coats, etc. needed for a certain color scheme. Also, if you bring full-sized liquids (shampoos, etc.) make sure you put them in a plastic bag in your checked luggage. Things get jostled around quite a bit during transport, and having exploded shower cream or leaked perfume on all your clothes can ruin a trip. Sealing these liquids in a bag helps contain the damage (Mom taught me this one). Also, for your luggage, if it’s not an odd color or has distinguishing marks, attach a small ribbon or tag so it’s not mistaken for someone else’s when you land. Other things to note for luggage, make sure your name is either on a tag or paper inside in case it gets lost/needs identified and remember to rip off old airline tags (it can confuse the baggage sorters as to where it’s supposed to go!).
Now that you are checked in and your checked luggage is sent away, it’s time to go through security. This is often my biggest pet peev…not because I dislike the TSA (bless them for work they do because I do not have the patience they do), but because I get irritated with the travelers. Ignorance is not an excuse for slowing the line down! Theoretically you should have checked any items (like large amounts of liquid) in your checked luggage. The maximum bottle size for liquids to go in carry-on luggage is 3.4 ounces. Any of these bottles have to fit inside a quart-sized transparent (Ziploc) bag and have to seal shut. They are really serious about this…this includes bottles of water, etc. (you will just have to buy drinks on the other side or bring an empty bottle to fill at a water fountain). I have seen people have to throw away/try to send home $100 bottles of perfume because they were over the liquid limit.
Which bring me to my next point, getting yourself through security. You will first go through a checkpoint where they will check your ID and boarding pass, so have these handy (not buried in the bottom of your bag). Also, these days are not good to wear tons of accessories or boots. I would suggest wearing shoes that can easily slip off and on as well as a light jacket (planes/airports can often be chilly). Your shoes as well as your jacket will have to go in a bin to go through the scanner. You might want to wear socks because you (and hundreds of other people) will be standing in line in your bare feet (which is kinda gross if you think about it too much). Another point to note is electronics. If you have a cell phone/charger, laptop/charger, these will have to go in a bin as well. If you have a laptop, remove it from your bag/case and put it in its own bin. This is a good time to note that a backpack is probably preferable to purses or shoulder bags. Backpacks generally cause less shoulder strain and it frees up your hands. If you take these things into consideration, going through security should be a breeze. And if you do get stopped for additional screening, don’t get nervous or mad. I have been body-scanned, “poofed,” checked with a wand, patted down, and random explosive tested. Any of these additional tests don’t take more than a moment or so, and it’s to keep you safe!
Now that you are through security (with a small carry-on and personal item that will fit in the overhead bin or under your seat), you can also buy a bottle of water or fill up your empty one. Planes have a tendency to have dry air, so it’s important to drink water (but not too much or you will have to use the restroom a lot, which is inconvenient). This is also important to contact lens wear-ers. Since the air is dry, you might want to forgo wearing your contacts when you fly. If this is not an option, just make sure you have some contact solution or eye drops (under the liquid limit and in a quart-sized transparent bag, of course).
For the flight itself, try to organize your stuff as quickly as possible and get out of the aisle. Lingering in the aisle slows traffic and can delay departure. During the flight, it’s good to have some snacks or candy to munch on during the ride. It’s good for if you are hungry but also the mechanical movement of your jaw helps prevent ear pain due to pressure changes. Also, make sure you bring a book, magazine, etc. to occupy yourself. An iPod/Mp3 player, Ipad, Kindle, whatever is good to have but you won’t be able to use any electronic devices during take off or landing (even if it’s in “airplane mode,” it doesn’t matter. The law dictates it has to be “off.”). From my experience, I usually bring some homework or studying to do on the plane, but try to keep it to one binder, book, or notebook. There’s not a lot of room on planes, and the table trays are pretty small. They don’t do a good job of accommodating my Process Design book, binder, TI-83, highlighters, and writing utensils. Keep it to the lighter homework and save the heavier homework for when you land.
Other than that, you should be good. Not everything I discussed here were hard rules. But hopefully some of the observations and suggestions I’ve noted can help you make your travel plans go a little smoother (and prevent you from being “that person” at the airport).
And for those of you who get anxious about flying….
“Air travel is the second-safest mode of mass transportation in the world. This is second only to the escalator and elevator. Your chances of being involved in an aircraft accident are approximately 1 in 11 million. Your chances of being killed in an automobile accident are 1 in 5000. The most dangerous part of your flight is the drive to the airport.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/)
So drive safely, and see you in Houston 🙂