Travel Tips for That Summer Flight

My job requires me to do quite a bit of traveling. Over the years, I have acquired some habits that I find useful in navigating the vagaries of airports, planes and other passengers.

So, as summer travel beckons for some of you, and with the hope of making your trip smoother, here are ten SIMPLE tips. And they come with a warning — some of them drive my wife crazy when we all go on a family trip!

1. Check in online as soon as possible (normally 24 hours before departure time). This secures your seat and increases whatever chance you have of getting upgraded. Do it even if you can’t print out your boarding pass. You can do that later or just get it e-mailed it to your phone.

2. Think about signing up now for the “TSA pre.” It is a terrific expedited screening program offered by the Transport Security Administration. It makes a huge difference as you can materially reduce the time it takes to go through security and the hassles this can involve.

3. Pack in a separate part of your carry-ons all the stuff that you will need to take out at security. Whether it is a computer, a tablet or liquids, this simple act reduces the probability of misplacing things as you feel pressured by other passengers to move through the line.

4. Once through security, immediately check the monitors for an earlier flight to your destination. If you find one, go straight to the gate to see if there is room on that plane. You will be surprised how often this helps avoid some pretty nasty delays, albeit sometimes at the cost of ending up in a worse seat. And airlines will often waive any fare difference if there are empty seats.

5. Get on the plane as soon as possible, even if this means waiting in line for 10 minutes before they start boarding your group (and, yes, this may invite glares from other passengers at the gate). You have a much greater chance of securing overhead space near your seat. The standing is actually good for you given that you will be sitting for hours. And you can use your time at the gate to take out of your carry-on the stuff you will wish to use on the plane. (I pack in my carry-on one of those grocery store cloth bags to help with the pre-boarding sorting.) All this helps avoid the frantic sorting out adventure as you try to take your seat and one that risks seeing your stuff fly around the cabin.

6. Headphones, no matter how flimsy, are really useful — even if you don’t plug them in. If you so desire, use them as a signaling device for neighbors likely to engage you in excessive conversations — particularly critical if you wish to sleep, work, read and watch a movie on your computer/tablet (or pretend to do any of this in quiet solitude).

7. On certain airlines, the snack boxes — albeit overpriced — are quite good, even if you happen to be upgraded to first class and have access to a hot meal. The best thing is to bypass the food on the plane by bringing on board your own snacks (which I always forget to do).

8. Just like it is rare to find the “perfect passenger,” do not aspire to be helped by the “perfect flight attendant.” They have tough jobs, do a lot of invisible work, and are often challenged to respond to different constituencies on the plane.

9. When turbulence hits, and particularly if it is bad, remind yourself of a simple fact: There isn’t much you can do other than the extra nudge for your seat belt. So, as they tell you at the outset of the flight, “sit back and [try to] relax.” The overwhelming probability is that the shaking will stop pretty quickly.

10. Finally, think of your bathroom strategy in risk management space. In other words, don’t pass up the opportunity to go! Yes, you end up visiting this (less than pleasant) place more often than is strictly needed. And again you may invite glares from other passengers as you walk up and down the aisle. But you avoid being paralyzed into discomfort by the sudden fasten seat belt sign that comes with unexpected turbulence or a crew that is overly eager to prepare the cabin for landing.

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