With all of the nightmarish travel stories in the news — from passengers stuck on airplanes for hours to extra charges for checking bags to airlines shutting their lounges — I felt quite brave going to the airport this morning.
Flying contentedly to a conference in Boca Raton, I started to think about my strategies for making business travel bearable. My tactics may not appeal to everyone, but they generally work for me and I think they’re worth sharing. After all, if I can help make one person’s next flight one percent better, I’ve done a good deed. Here are my top tips:
1. Get to the airport ridiculously early. This is a favorite trick of my Dad’s. I have memories of spending hours upon hours at the airport as a kid because we would leave, like, 11 hours early to drive from Connecticut to LaGuardia. “There could be traffic,” Dad would say, leaving us enough time to walk the 50 miles to New York if necessary. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little, but not much.) The thing is, the more time you have, the less stressed you’ll be. And the less stressed you are, the more patient and tolerant you’ll be of inevitable airport mishaps. My formula: decide when a normal, rational person would leave for the airport, then add 30 minutes to an hour (obviously I prefer the hour). If you’re not sure what you’ll do with all of that extra time, read on.
2. Bring distractions. You know how parents bring lots of toys, books, snacks and blankies for little kids when they travel? Do that. Have enough stuff with you so you’ll have plenty to do while waiting on a one-hour security line or surviving a three-hour flight delay. No joke, I bring the following when I travel: BlackBerry/cell phone (and charger just in case), laptop, iPod, Gameboy with Tetris, 2-3 magazines, crossword puzzle book, nail polish and snacks (almonds if I’m feeling healthy, jelly beans if I’m not). This also saves you from spending $1,000 at airport shops.
3. Wear ear plugs. This is really my #1 how-not-to-be-annoyed-in-public tip of all time. I wear ear plugs to block out noise on the train, on the subway, in taxis with annoying drivers on their cell phones, at my desk when the guy in the next office is making 16 identical sales calls in a row, to the one NASCAR race I attended and, of course, on airplanes. My favorite brand is Hearos. They are little foam miracles.
4. Do everything you can to get “elite” status. I used to fly on whatever airline had the best prices. Now I limit myself to the one airline (and its partner airlines) where I have frequent flier miles. I’ve built up enough miles on this airline to reach silver status, which means I can use the elite access security line, board early and occasionally get upgraded. This is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. If you fly anywhere in the ball park of 25,000 miles a year (or more, of course), do your very best to fly on only one airline or airline alliance. If my elite silver status is ever in jeopardy, I would seriously fly back and forth across the country for five days straight to get myself to 25,000 miles. If you travel frequently, it’s a life saver.
5. Find a safe haven. I am fortunate now to have a credit card that allows me access to most airport lounges — a great investment and even worth the $40 or so it costs to buy a day pass to a lounge if you have a really long layover or delay. Before I had this perk or when I’m at an airport without a lounge, I make my own oasis. Instead of shimmying past a million legs, suitcases, strollers and cords at the gate and fighting with the guy next to me for the armrest, I find another place to sit — alone — and relax/read/talk on the phone/play Tetris/snack/refresh my manicure before my flight. My favorite spots are an empty gate close enough to my gate to hear any important announcements and underneath the pay phones (no one uses them anymore).
I hope those tips are helpful if you are a frustrated traveler. Please share your favorite airport survival tips as well — we could all use more. And, if you run into me at an airport, please come over and say hello. I’ll probaby have plenty of time to chat.