Travel Expert Talk Show Radio Host Stephanie Abrams - Info
Radio Show Host, Travel Expert, Stephanie Abrams' Travel Blog

A Dozen Rules to Live by to Enjoy Air Travel!

The best way to have the best trip is to control as much as you possible can of your travel experience. You can muddle through complaining and moaning or you can do your best to control your experience to eliminate the hassles you hate! Yes, you can!

Broadcast media radio show travel expert Stephanie Abrams.  Photo credit: Dru Abrams

I love to travel and it if I were constantly made miserable you’d find me staying at home enjoying the view from my windows and the presence of Maggie McGee, our English Springer Spaniel so, clearly, I’ve learned some tricks and created my own rules for traveling elegantly and it’s my pleasure to share my ‘Rules of Air transportation Travel’ with you!

1. View your air flight day as the event of the day and devote the day to that experience. Your flight is not something you should be ‘running’ for. Plan to arrive three to four hours before your flight. Years ago, one hour before domestic flights and two hours before international flights was the rule for airport arrival for passengers. Since 9/11 and intensified check-in/check-thru procedures, that standard has been raised to 2 hours before domestic and 3 hours before international to give you time to get through the process without risking missing your flight. All that does is revolve around check-in/baggage drop/security check-thru and time to get to your gate which will probably leave you feeling over-stressed and living in a pressure cooker. Add an hour onto what is required so you have 3 hours for domestic and 4 hours for international check-ins. Most airlines will accept check bags starting 4 hours before the flight so that will also work in your favor and will take all the hassle out of becoming a breathless racer trying to stay on track!

2. Take advantage of all online services your airline will allow such as checking-in online and printing your own boarding passes or capturing a snapshot of your information to present at the airport. Be sure you are following the rules of the airline you are flying today and not those of another carrier from another trip as each is quite different. Assume nothing!

3. Use kiosks to check-in at the airline with whom you are flying to avoid long lines and follow instructions as to where to drop the bags you pre-checked.

4. Before you pack your luggage and carry-on, go online to carrier you are traveling with and/or the airport you are flying from and be sure that you are not packing or carrying on any “contraband.” Know what those articles are that are considered dangerous. If you are taking a wedding present to friend or family member that is valuable and you don’t want to pack it, be sure, if you are carrying it on, that it doesn’t look like a weapon or it will be confiscated. A set of steak knives or a sterling silver pie server that, according to the airline security folks is seen to have the potential to be used as a weapon, will be taken from you and you’re not getting it back! Some airports have a stand near the security area where you purchase what you need to mail these items to yourself or the destination you are going to so you don’t just lose them in the process but those stands and services are not everywhere! You are better off mailing ahead any items that could be considered dangerous. And don’t wrap your presents and then pack them in your carry-on as you are going to be asked to unwrap them!

5. Go to the US Government’s Trusted Traveler Programs and apply for acceptance into Global Entry/Trusted Traveler. If you’ve got a criminal record, chances are good you won’t get into the program! But if you can pass the acceptance scheme, which is really quite efficient and easy to do, and if you can get past the idea that the government is going to now have your fingerprints on file, go for it! I’m now well into my second five-year membership in this program and what it does is expedite your getting through security in US airports and speed-up dramatically your re-entry into the US when you fly in from abroad. Since the membership is for 5 years, the fee becomes nominal based on a yearly rate and if you are an American Express Platinum Card holder, you’ll get credited for the cost so it’s a gift! When you fly into the US into an international airport where, perhaps, ten planes each carrying about 300 people land at the same time so about 3000 are now flooding the immigration hall, Trusted Travelers walk over to a kiosk, place their passport info page in the noted place and in less than 60 seconds they are out of the immigration hall and waiting at the luggage carousel for their bags to arrive! It’s the best service the US Government has ever delivered to the traveler.  .  . and will eliminate a lot of moaning and groaning about inconvenience especially at the end of an international flight! Also, you don’t have to fill out that immigration form . . . tell them on the plane not to wake you up to give you that form as you don’t need it because you answer all those re-entry questions US Customs & Border Protection asks on the touch-screen of the Global Entry/Trusted Traveler kiosk. AND when you leave the baggage claim area and find another line of people trying to hand those white forms to the customs officers, either there will be a special exit line or Global Entry/Trusted Travelers or, if there isn’t, YOU HAVE FRONT OF THE LINE PRIVILEGES! Just bypass the line, go to the front and hand them the little receipt that has your photo on it that the kiosk spit out at the end of your entering the info into it and you’re done. . .unless you spent more than your customs allowance and need to see a cashier to pay up on the duty you owe and you’ll be told that if you need to! All of the above takes a huge chunk of hassle out of the airport process! (Note: If you are flying in from Dublin or Shannon, Ireland, or Toronto, you will clear US Customs & Immigration at those airports so when you land, all other passengers from everywhere else will be sent through the International Arrivals procedure but those on the flights from the Republic of Ireland and Toronto have already done that and just go pick up their luggage and leave the airport! A blessing!).

6. Don’t go to the airport wearing your laced up gladiator boots, your belt with the giant metal buckle, or fifteen pounds of bracelets, watches, and necklaces unless you are willing to start stripping down while you are on the line waiting to go through security! Wear shoes that slip off, which will make it faster to get out of and not require you find a bench to sit on to put them back on, and read the sign that tells you what you need to take out of your pockets, what you can’t bring on the plane and comply while you are waiting in line so you don’t become the source of the bottleneck that backs down the flow of passengers through security! Be sure that you have that one-quart sized clear plastic zip-top sack for your liquids and gels and that none are in containers that say anything over 3oz. If you have an 8 oz. bottle that is almost empty and it is clear to any thinking person that there’s only about an ounce in that container, some dumbo is going to take the bottle away because it says 8 ounces! This happened to a 20-something year old guy in front of me at an airport and he pleaded that he needed his saline solution, what was left of it, for the flight but, after all, the bottle said “8 oz.” It happened at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris and, happily, I was able to have a chat with the security fellow in French which resulted in him allowing the liquid to be poured into a clean plastic zip-top sack and having the container, itself, confiscated as if it was an instrument of torture. Most security people go by a very black-and-white book that doesn’t leave room for shades of gray! But if you follow the rules, you won’t create your own problem. Had this young man, who I later had on the air with me to retell the tale. . . imagine flying from France to the US without saline solution if you wear contact lenses!!. . . put the solution into a little plastic bottle that indicates it holds 3oz, he wouldn’t have had to go thru that nonsense! Lucky for him, the Lord put me in line behind him to sort things out. He thanked me and said, you have no idea what torture it is for someone who wears contact to take a 7 hour flight without saline! So if you need saline solution or anything else that comes in a big container, buy those little plastic containers and fill them with what you need. Just make sure that what you are transporting is not considered contraband!

AND DON’T PUT ON HAND LOTION AND THEN USE YOUR LAPTOP WITHIN A DAY OR TWO BEFORE GOING TO THE AIRPORT! Most hand lotions/body lotions and potions use glycerin as an ingredient which, by the way, is an ingredient in bomb-making equipment such as nitro-glycerine! I knew about a Mexican woman named Hilda who lived near Puerto Morales/Cancun who missed her flight because she used hand lotion the night before her flight and then checked her email before she went to bed and. . .BINGO. . .she got stuck at security at the airport because they swabbed her laptop and ‘glycerine’ showed up on the key pad! Two hours later, they figured out how that ingredient got onto her  laptop but, by then, she had missed her flight! That happened in 2003 or 2004. While I remembered that story, like a big Dumb Bunny, I put hand lotion on and then checked my email on my laptop the night before a flight and . . . BINGO. . . I, too, got stopped at security because of the glycerine content on the outside from my hand prints and on the keyboard. I was asked if I wanted to step into this cabana-looking room next to security on the floor or if I wanted to go to some clandestine room somewhere else in the airport! I figured I was better off on the floor in the little ‘dressing room’ so if I decided to scream someone could actually hear me. They finally came to the conclusion, when I realized I had “Pulled a Hilda,” and explained about the hand lotion that I was not a threat to anyone and would not be massaging anyone to death with my newly softened hands! Happily, because I follow my own rules of travel, that 20 minute delay at security didn’t cause me to miss my flight! REMEMBER: Don’t put on hand lotion and then use your laptop immediately! You need time for that stuff to absorb and maybe go through many numbers of hand washings and ‘wearing-off’ time before you touch your equipment or the swab they do of your laptop will trigger ‘further investigation’ that you probably don’t need!

7. If you’re not flying in an upper class of service, meaning you’re a coach-class passenger, you won’t have access to the oases of sanity provided to Business and First Class passengers by most airlines! There are some private clubs at many airports created for passengers who want that quietude and civil space where there is comfortable seating, TVs with access to news and entertainment stations, newspapers, magazines, everything from snacks to soup and sandwiches and beverages. . . your living room away from home. . . and if you don’t have membership in one of them, you can either buy a day-pass at one of those lounges or you can often buy a day pass from the airline you are flying with to use their lounge. This does not have much value if you only have 10 minutes left before you need to be at your gate so if you arrive as outlined above with some serious advance time, you’ll get through the process of check-thru with the better part of an hour so  you can relax in one of these lounges. Again, if your an American Express Platinum member, you receive membership in a club that has a presence at hundreds of airports domestically and internationally. It’s so much better than sitting in a less-than-comfortable seat at the gate with people traveling with children who only know how to scream!

8. You are so much better off not bringing through security items that are questionable when the same items are for sale in the airport stores! It’s fascinating that you can’t bring through security more than 3 oz. of ‘liquid-this-and-that’ but after you get past that check-point you can go into one of the stores and buy 12 oz. of a beverage, a bottle of booze, large sizes of shampoos and more! Or buy those items at the destination when you land and don’t weigh down your luggage with things you don’t really need to carry!

9. Take advantage of the opportunity to go window-shopping at the airport! Even if you don’t buy anything, you may be inspired by a creative idea or fashion-statement made in a store or window display. And if you need to pick up a last minute gift for someone at the destination you are flying to, get it now! AND if you see something you love, don’t wait to buy it thinking you’ll pick it up on the return flight! You may land in another terminal or land outside of store operation hours so you’ll see the store again but won’t be able  to get inside unless you plan to break in. . . which I wouldn’t recommend!

10. Don’t wait until you are on the plane to consider your happiness quotient with your seat assignment. Check and double check your boarding pass and the configuration of the plane to be sure you have your preferred seat location if that is an option. You may run into a surprise when you’ve been shown, online or at check-in, a seating chart and when you get on-board they’ve changed the type of plane and your seat is now one that clearly is not what you reserved. . . as in now finding yourself next to the galley or across from the lavatories. Ask for assistance but, regrettably, if the flight is full you won’t have much choice but to take what you now have. . . UNLESS if the plane is very full and your new seat location is truly unacceptable because of legroom or other concerns and there is space in Business Class, you just might have a shot at getting upgraded. . . BUT STAY COOL AND SWEET AND GENTLE IN YOUR PRESENTATION OF YOUR REQUEST or you’ll find yourself at the gate waving at the plane that is flying without you! Remember, although you are the passenger, the customer who pays the bills of the airline, there is an overwhelming attitude that started in the 1980’s when travel agents would fight for the needs of their clients and airline personnel would say things like, “This is what you’re getting. Take it or we’ll sell it to another agency!” Regrettably, there are more people than there are planes so there is, generally, someone else to replace any one passenger! And, therein lies the problem. You know something is wrong when the “Rights of Passengers” was written by the airlines!

11. If you are on a no-food-service flight, make sure you have time to pick up snacks and maybe a salad, sandwich, bucket of chicken (which you can resell on the plane when everyone smell how good it is and then you can pay for that upgrade to business or first class!. . .not).  Pick up that food after you clear the security check point so it doesn’t have to go thru the x-ray machine!

12. Start your trip being pampered. Rather than drive to the airport, park, take a shuttle bus with your luggage from the parking area of a private lot or walk from the airport, less secure, parking area, arrive by limo. Please do not confuse taxi service and limousine service. Too many residential regions are not served by taxis but when passengers look for transportation they equate the service of a limo with that of a taxi. No, no, no! Here is how to use and experience a limo:

a. Expect your driver to open the door for you.

b. Expect your driver to put your bags into the trunk of the limo. (Have someone in your party oversee that, you if you have to, to be sure that nothing is left at the curb or in your driveway and that nothing is inserted into your luggage that you didn’t put there! See the film, “Brokedown Palace!”)

c. Do not allow the limo driver to stop double-parked at the curb of your terminal or to stop 6 feet away from the sidewalk at the terminal.

d. Expect your driver to open your door to let you, or help you, out of the limo.

e. If you are doing curb-side check-in, if that exists at the airport you are flying from, or if you need a “Sky-cap” to assist with your luggage, allow/expect your limo driver to get the attention of those who provide those services while you sit in the limo, especially if the weather is extreme.

Most people, regrettably, use a limo like a fancy taxi! Limo drivers, from the better limousine services, are trained and skilled at providing pampering services to their clients. Let me ply their skills and enjoy the elegance and ease of it all! I  know you are self-reliant and don’t need any help! So what! Enjoy being treated like the king!

Year ago, when I traveled weekly for business, I can remember when a limo driver, after chauffeuring me to and from our local international airports in the NY/NJ area for almost a year, said to me, “It’s such a pleasure to serve you! You understand what limousine service is about! Most of my customers are jumping out of the back seat while I’m still pulling up at the curb! They think we’re just a snazzy cab!” I get it! And, in many cases, the cost of a limo, when compared to driving and parking yourself, is a great value especially if you’ll be parked at the airport for days or weeks! And if you’re off on a wonderful adventure to celebrate a bench-marking occasion or just to celebrate life and recharge your batteries, start and end with pick up at your home or office and being met at the airport by your limo driver who will help you with you baggage and bring the limo to the terminal door!

If you follow the above step, so much of the groaning and moaning associated with air transportation will fade into the background of positive experiences!

Happy travels!

--Gotta Fly Now!sm
Your Personal Travel Expert
Nationally syndiated radio show host
Stephanie Abrams

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