In today’s Wall Street Journal, Scott McCartney shares 25 tips for making travel less painful. Some of them you already know, and Top 10 lists are certainly common on other news sites. I thought I’d share my favorites and how they’ve helped me turn flying into something fun instead of a chore. I think there are also a few places where Scott’s advice could be revised.
Email me if the link doesn’t work and you’d like me to forward the complete article.
Get elite status
This is the real key. You can get “fake” status through a credit card or a la cart buy-ups that will allow you to board early, skip lines, or pick a better seat. Sometimes that’s enough. But it isn’t going to count for much when you really need it. You don’t have to have top-tier status. I have pulled the “Do you know who I am?” trick only twice in my life, when I was only a silver or gold elite, and that was still enough.
The first time was when we were stuck in Houston for hours due to a thunderstorm, and it looked like they were finally going to let some regional jets depart late at night. The customer service agent originally refused to rebook us on the 10 PM flight (delayed from 7 PM, and we were supposed to leave at 2 PM), but when I reminded her I had silver status and asked if that counted for anything, she relented. The second time was when we were late for a flight and a redcoat at Newark rudely refused to let Megan take her bag through the security checkpoint because she claimed it was too big. I knew it would fit and made a point of saying so, explaining that I had gold status and had taken that bag with us on several trips in the past year. Again, the agent immediately relented.
Most of us know not to pack valuables, but it’s also important to strategize what you do pack. I used to be a horrible over-packer. Huge heavy bags that wouldn’t qualify as a carryon, even for short weekend trips. Now I make sure everything matches everything else and ask myself if I really plan to wear everything I take with me. Only one “extra” outfit is allowed. I have to remind Megan that just because one or two outfits are super cute doesn’t mean she should take up half her suitcase with these clothes if she can’t wear them with anything else.
And while Scott didn’t mention this, another benefit of packing light so you can bring a carryon is that you improve your chances of getting voluntarily bumped off an overbooked flight. This can easily mean a few hundred dollars in future travel and maybe even a confirmed upgrade.
Scott doesn’t seem to distinguish between checking in online and printing your boarding passes from home. While he suggests doing both, I only check-in online. This is the key part. As soon as you check-in, your seat is relatively safe. It also makes sure you have an assigned seat (assuming you didn’t already select one, which you should have). Without being checked in or having an assigned seat, you could be involuntarily bumped, which is not good.
I don’t print my boarding passes at home unless I expect a zoo at the airport, like during the March 3 integration of United and Continental’s computer systems. I like the smaller pieces of paper you get at the airport, but this is purely personal preference. On the other hand, I also don’t use a mobile boarding pass because there are too many opportunities for things to go wrong if your phone dies, you lose an internet connection, or the scanners don’t work. Paper is simple.
Plan ahead for security
Really, we should all know what to expect from the TSA at this point. I try to minimize what’s in my pockets in advance and put into my bags what I can. I don’t do this with everything. If I want my phone after going through the checkpoint, I don’t put it in my bag. I’m just going to take it right out again. But I’ll put my car and house keys in my suitcase since I won’t need them until I get back home.
Dress sensibly. Slip-on shoes are great, and although I’m not a very dressy person when I fly, I do like to wear my Nike Free sneakers, which don’t have a separate tongue and can slip on and off without untying the laces. Avoid coats unless you really need them. Since I usually need it in Seattle but not where I’m going, it’s one of the things I put in my bag after reaching the airport, usually in the front pocket of my carryon.
Do you remember Ryan Bingham from Up in the Air? Megan says that profile fits me to a T. Hopefully I won’t be firing people for a living, but the early scene where he’s going through security, picking out the fastest line, and has all of his belongings ready to go on the conveyer belt in 30 seconds or less is definitely something I do on a regular basis.
I’m sure I’ve skipped a few things. What favorite tricks have you found make travel a breeze?