Sunday, March 30, 2014

Air Travel I

Nothing makes me long for the good ol' days of natural selection like traveling by airplane and spending time in airports. In ancient times, if you were too stupid to do things right, you starved, froze to death, or got eaten. Today I think we need three lines at the security check points: one for frequent travelers, one for infrequent travelers, and one for the clueless. And if someone makes one mistake in the frequent travelers' line, he gets escorted to the end of the clueless line.

Ok, I've done a fair bit of traveling for a non-business traveler - 27 round trips between Europe and the U.S. in 28 years plus a handful of flights within the U.S. and one from southern Germany to Berlin and back to visit my daughter. I understand that many people don't travel often and therefore haven't built up enough experience to get through a trip smoothly. I understand mistakes, but I don't understand ignorance. The number of people at security who pull out of their carry-ons large bottles of shampoo, soap, contact solution, water, and yes, once an entire bottle of wine, and then have to throw them away while looking dazed and mistreated...Have they been living in a box for the last ten years?

I've got two tips for infrequent travelers:
1. Inform yourself about travel in the weeks before your trip.
2. Watch the travelers around you who look confident and do what they do. 

Travel Trick: Getting through security

I learned this trick years ago, which will spare you (and those behind you) precious time and stress. On the day you fly, wear a jacket or sweatshirt with big, preferably zipped, pockets. While you are standing in the cattle shoot inching toward the plastic bins and nudie scanners but long before you get there, put everything that is not already in your carry-on into your jacket pockets. By everything I mean your watch, bracelets, cell phone, wallet, loose coins, keys, pens, individually wrapped wet wipes, lip balm, tiara, and passport* (unless it's in a separate passport holder with a strap). If you felt the need to travel wearing earrings and a necklace, you can take your chances or - if you're wise - take them off and put them in your jacket pocket. You can leave your wedding ring on, but I removed all other rings when I was still traveling wearing jewelry. Take off your belt before you get to the bins, and shove it in your carry-on. Rebelt later - like when you get to your gate.

Just before you get to the rolling counter, take off your jacket and put it in a bin. Since you've already emptied the pockets of your pants (which, as of 2014, you don't yet have to remove at security), you don't need to go through them standing at the bins. If you have a laptop, tablet, Kindle, I-something, or gaming device, make sure you packed it in a spot that's easily reached, take it out, and put it in a bin with nothing on top of or underneath it. If the people in front of you have been removing their shoes, remove yours as well and put them in a bin. Don't look surprised or wait for the security guy to tell you to remove your shoes if you have been standing there for 30 minutes watching others do it.

And for the love of all things holy, WEAR SOCKS!! Why? Foot fun, Gus!  (foot fungus...)

If you have tiny bottles of stuff like hand lotion, shampoo, etc., you will need to have packed them all into one 1-quart (1 liter) see-through Ziplock bag. Please have this "Freedom Bag" of dangerous gels in a spot that is easy to grab (such as in your large jacket pocket or on the very top of your carry-on), and before you get to the bins, take it out because it's supposed to go loose in a plastic bin. Why? Who cares. The TSA and their cohorts require it, so just do it and grumble about it on Facebook later.

Here's the key: You want to have as FEW things as possible to have to retrieve from the bins after they've passed through the scanner. The fewer things you have to retrieve, the less chance you will forget something. Ideally, you've tucked everything away and need to grab only your jacket, your carry-on, one electronic device which you swiftly tuck back into your carry-on, your "Freedom Bag," and your shoes.

*Once you have passed the initial check point and the grumpy Amazon has confirmed you have a valid boarding pass and matching passport, you won't need to show it again until you are boarding the plane (or passing through a 2nd security point). The longer you have it in your sweaty little hand, the better the chance you're going to drop onto all the foot fungus or lose it. 

Travel Trick: Passport & Boarding Pass

If you are traveling internationally, your most important possession is your passport. It's a pain if you lose your wallet, cell phone, your entire carry-on, or your spouse, but if you lose your passport, you're screwed. I cannot emphasize this enough: choose one spot for your passport (such as the outside-most zippered pocket of your carry-on, which is never out of your sight, or better yet in one of those totally uncool passport holders with a strap which you can put around your neck and inside your jacket). Put it in there every time you put it away. If you hear yourself saying "I'll just put it here for now," stop, re-think your choice, slap yourself if necessary, and put it in its proper place. 

This is my uncool passport holder. When I travel, it's my wallet. It's got three zippered pockets, a slide-in pocket for my passport with a velcro flap to seal it in, slots for credit cards, driver's licence, and several types of currency, and even a pen holder.

The proper place for your passport and boarding pass is safe, secure, zippered, easy to reach at short notice, and never more than 6 inches from your body. Do not go to the restroom leaving these two items with someone else, even your spouse. Because look, if you lose your spouse AND your passport... Check that these items (I mean your passport and boarding pass, but check for your spouse regularly, too) are where they should be every single time you leave a shop, restaurant, or restroom, after you wake up from a nap, and at least once an hour. Frequently checking for your passport doesn't make you look stupid or neurotic. Losing your passport does.

During your entire trip, until you reach your hotel or home, keep your passport in a safe place where you can quickly and easily reach it but where it can't easily fall or slip out. Check that it's where it should be at least three times a day. If you're in Europe, keep it with you at all times. Your driver's license is not a valid form of ID here.  

What about leaving it in your hotel room, locked in your suitcase? Is that where you leave your credit cards and extra cash? Natural selection, folks. Don't be stupid.

To be continued...

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