Rewind to a week ago. It’s a million degrees in Atlanta, it’s about 8:30 p.m., I was starting to pack for my trip to get the heck out of here and cool off in Maine, and the power goes out. The house heated up faster than an MD-88 with the shades up on the Hartsfeld tarmac, and my closet was pitch black. I already suck at packing, and this made it pretty much impossible, especially since I like to edit like crazy and pack light.
I hate packing and traveling. The only thing I really envy about rich people is that whole flying private thing. Airports are such a pain in the arse, and as for packing, inevitably I forget something crucial, like prescription medication or my glasses. I realized I needed to turn to some experts for efficient packing advice. Since half of my friends work for an airline or travel for business on a regular basis, I’ve started to collect their best tips to share with you. At first I thought it would just be a post about packing, but they’ve been sharing all kinds of advice about navigating the not-so-friendly-skies, I’m going to start back at the very beginning – when you decide to go on the trip. This week, scheduling tips, next week, packing tips.
Never schedule yourself for the last flight to your destination of the day. If something goes wrong, you’re stuck for the night. The earlier you go, the less chance of a backup there is – it’s a lot like the doctor’s office in that regard.
Schedule a MINIMUM of 45 minutes for a layover, longer for big airports like Atlanta and JFK. Better yet, avoid JFK whenever possible – that place is a truly disgusting hellhole. It’s dirty, gross, claustrophobic and it stinks. But I digress. Most airports are nicer than JFK, and now they have spas, shops, and even mini-office suites; you’ll find something to fill your time. Sit and have a meal, since you won’t be getting much food on the plane.
Try to get a seat a close to the front as possible. This is harder than it should be lately. This is because you have no status. If you can’t book anything besides the middle seat of the back row online, try and call the airline. As their passengers with status get upgraded closer and closer to take off time, the good seats they had in coach will open up, so it never hurts to check for some coveted exit row availability once you get to the airport. Sometimes you can even buy an upgrade for a relatively nominal fee that can make the difference between making that connection or getting stuck exiting behind 35 rows of jerks who carry way too much crap onto the plane and take way too long to get it out of the overhead bins they have hogged.
Get Status. It’s not as hard as you think. Join frequent flier programs and try to fly one airline as much as possible. Get their credit card and charge everything possible on it, know an MQM from a bonus mile, join dining miles and partner sites, sign up for email alerts, become obsessed with earning miles any way that you can. Convince your loved ones to go with you to far-off destinations on your favorite airline. You must be shameless and always keep your eyes on the prize. Eventually you will gain some status that will give you upgrades, access to faster security lines, free checked bags and a choice of better seats. I don’t travel that often, but ever since I focused all of my extra energy on getting miles, traveling has become a whole lot more pleasant.
Print your boarding pass out online. In fact, some airlines now have an option where you can just flash your boarding pass on your phone screen. If you aren’t checking a bag, you can breeze right up to security – no lines, no security.
If you are checking a bag, check it curbside and duke the baggage guy a few bucks a bag. Smaller airports tend to have one person manning the kiosk, larger airports often have long lines. The guy at the curb is your best bet.
Find the magic security line. When you get to security, a quick scan will tell you which line has the most experienced business travelers – they’ve got laptop bags, they are alone, they’ll have a small rollaboard or overnight bag, they’re wearing a suit or khakis and a button down, and they’ve probably already got their belts and shoes off. There are no children or people wearing complicated lace-up boots in sight. Get in that line.
Alright, those are just a few tips for organizing the often confusing airport logistics. Next week we’ll tackle what’s in the bag. In the meantime, please forward me any of your airport survival tips in the comments section!