Ode to Airports

An airport is a time pause. It’s an excuse to not stress or try. You’re trapped in the system and will eventually get there. You can’t leave or you’ll have to re-humiliate yourself through security. Airports are even powerful enough to make you cancel meetings if your flight is late, canceled…or you pretend it is. Your wedding could be delayed because of the airport and no one would really fault you.

Everyone is transiting, coming and going, and while the entry fee might exclude the very poor (and the super rich fly their own), you see everyone.

At a major hub, you’ll see people from all over: the guy with the “Ragin’ Cajun” hat, domestic and international grandmas, the harried big city lawyer, the dad-jeans set, and the local staff. People dress in all manners of business-business or super casual for comfort.

The mix of experienced and novice travels creates a crackly dynamic, paired with either overly friendly or direct gate agents. While some can escape to airline lounges, even those environments are little different than the actual terminal: you just get much friendly staff and free drinks and peanuts.

Airports can be calming if you look at them as escapes and the sort of delightful, enforced boredom that I understand meditation to be.

They can be toxic if you stress out about delays, lines, other people, overhead bin space, and how flight delays effect your plans outside the airport. And they can be distracting like an opium den if you let their peaceful hum shut-out your real life.

Don’t ruin your time at the airport. If you let it, it’ll make sure you get back out right where you wanted to go.

Keeping sane at the airport

After 10 years of business travel, this is how I cope at the airport:

  • You’ll get there, even if you’re late.
  • Don’t worry about lines, just wait in them.
  • Few people know what they’re doing here, don’t let their stress stress you out.
  • There are no special snowflakes, unless you have a doctor’s note.
  • The word of airline staff is law, you can’t argue against the agent of the FAA.
  • Relax and walk slow.
  • If you want a better experience, pay more or pay your dues.

When in doubt, and even if it contradicts the above, you can always:

  • Move fast and get out of the way.

Flexibility, short TSA lines, and smooth travel – survey on business travel

Millennials want choice when making a booking, Generation Xers want control over their trip, and Boomers don’t really care about the booking process — they just want a smooth travel experience while staying connected with friends and family.

“Although the major themes are the same for Millennials and Gen Xers, the key variables that make up the themes are different,” the report states. “Millennial business travelers want a variety of suppliers from which you can choose to book and prefer booking travel on a third party website. Meanwhile for Gen Xers, it’s all about the ease of making changes to their travel plans. Gen Xers place a value on the ease of making changes and booking directly on a supplier’s website. Gen Xers value this over having more booking choices. Conversely booking was not an important theme for Boomers.”

Source: What Makes Millennial, Gen X, and Boomer Business Travelers Most Satisfied?

The Luxuries of Executive Platinum

Coffee Time, Traveling

Last year I finally qualified for American Airlines top frequent flyer status, Executive Platinum. It was really a “hack” due to special programs AA had out. Over the summer and fall, there were several ways to double up on qualifying points. If it weren’t for those programs, I wouldn’t have made it.

Having been at Gold and the Platinum for several years, I’d enjoyed many of the benefits, primarily:

  • the ability to attempt to upgrade to first class – your given upgrade tokens that you can buy upgrades with
  • no fee on baggage
  • better seat choices – I nearly always got an exit row seat
  • earlier boarding – which matter a lot now since everyone brings a carry on to avoid fees, filling up the overhead bins quickly
  • bonus miles to get free tickets with
  • use of the first class ticketing desk
  • use of the premium security line – now that Austin finally has this, it’s great. Also, notoriously long security likes like Las Vegas are nice to jump around.

Executive Platinum has all of that, except that the upgrades are free, and I get them nearly every time. Nowadays I fly in first class frequently. This means boarding first, free drinks, and a meal.

Of course, there are some customer service benefits that I don’t always know are happening, but suspect are. I’ve been able to hop flights pretty seamlessly, booking earlier flights to get home.

I primarily travel domestically, in the US. There’s an international travel benefit of getting access to the top level lounge which I haven’t checked out yet. Though, once your gold or platinum you can go into oneworld partner lounges, all of which are excellent compared to the American-cheap Admirals Lounge.

Oh, and I got a luggage tag.

Next year, I’m petty sure I won’t qualify as I only hacked my way in this time and am trying to travel less with our son around. If I got some international flights, maybe, but that doesn’t happen too often.

My next goal is to get lifetime Gold. You can do this once you earn 1 million miles through flying, credit cards, bonus miles, etc. I’m about 180,000 miles away, which is a lot less than you’d think.

The Shoe Dilemma

Loafers

What kind of shoes should you wear when you’re traveling? Most frequent travels like slip-on shoes, sandals, or something else that’s easy to put on and take off. I’ve begun to question that theory, though I still operate under it.

The Defining Moment of Frequent Travel

There’s one, small moment in every trip that defines what you can take with you: the security gate. As mentioned in reference to the 3 oz liquid limit here, there’s something absurd about the whole security gate deal at the airport. Of course, one never really knows how well something is working; it’s much easier to know how well it’s breaking. But, let’s set aside the usual TSA griping for people who do it better. As ever, our job here is to simply help make frequent travel easier, not boil the oceans.

Ever since that guy tried to blow up a plane with his shoe, in the States we’ve had to remove our shoes when going through the security gate. You have to X-ray them, you see.

Slipping Off

Now, your goal at the security gate is to get through as fast as possible. Not only because you don’t want to spend time there, but because the longer you take the longer everyone else behind you has to wait. Being courteous is the rule for me when it comes to travel: most everyone else is either clueless or being a dick at airports, which aren’t two roles I relish playing.

To speed up your security gating then, you’ll probably want shoes without laces. “Slip-on shoes.” This way, you can quickly take them off and quickly put them on. Also, this minimizes the amount of time you have to walk around in socks, which is sort of the ultimate symbol of what we’ve let ourselves become at the airport, not to mention “dirty” for people who worry about that kind of thing.

I’ve had two pairs of these slip-on shoes: a casual-fancy pair of Doc Martin’s and a dark brown pair of Steve Madden shoes. It’s easy to find good looking slip on shoes that you can wear through the rest of your trip. They’re actually good for at-home use too: they’re so quick to put on and take off! (Who has time for laces?!)

Shoeless Luxury

Additionally, there are some who enjoy taking their shoes off on the plane. Indeed, if you sit in business class on American Airlines (and above, I guess), they give you a little bag to put your shoes in and a pair of socks to wear.

Personally, I’m a little wary of people taking off their shoes. I’m at the top of that list. I can see how it’d be great, but one often can’t smell their own stink, so how am I to do if my unsheathed feet are stinking up the aisle? Nonetheless, taking off your shoes on the plane is a sort of easy luxury for many, and I don’t hold it against them.

Can you Run in Slip-ons?

Of course, if you’re going to be going to the gym while you’re travel (a recent practice of mine that I highly recommend), you’ll need another pair of shoes, some sneakers. Packing sneakers in a carry-on bag is a bit tough, though certainly possible. And you might also be tempted to wear your lace-up sneakers while traveling and put the slimmer, slip-on shoes in your bag.

Of course, it’s easy enough to setup your lace-on shoe to be a slip-on one: you just keep the laces loose enough. This works well with Converse and skate-shoes, maybe not so much “real” tennis shoes.

My fashion consultant wears a uniform and latex gloves!

All of these considerations aside, I’ve been thinking of late: I don’t want to drive my shoe choice by the dictates of the security line. In reality, most shoes I wear, even with laces, I tend to fix up so I can slip them on and off rather than lace them up each time. But there’s other options, like boots. Boots are not easy to just slip on and slip off, you sort of have to be sitting to remove and put them back on.

At the moment, I’m perfectly happy with my slip-on shoes – like I said above, I wear them all the time, traveling or no. But next time I look around for shoes, I don’t think I’ll let travel considerations enter my mind. It’s too weird – maybe too disempowering in a rich-and-privlegaged way – to think that any of my decisions is driven by such a small moment in time as the security gate.

Use a Carry-on

Patagonia MLC In Action

Undoubtably, the best tip the frequent traveling is ever going to get is: never check your luggage, always use a carry-on. In the US, you can actually carry-on two bags: one of a purse, laptop bag, or other so-called “personal bag” and a carry-on bag/suit-case that fits the airlines allowed sizes. For most frequent travelers, this means a laptop bag and a piece of small luggage.

There are times, of course, when its not a good idea to use a carry-on like long trips that require more space than a carry-on bag or the fact that some people simply prefer to check luggage.

Carry-on Advantages

Backed-up Luggage

Those exceptions aside, here are the reasons it’s good to avoid checking luggage:

  • Your luggage will never get lost.
  • If you switch flights around, you won’t have to worry about your luggage getting to you later. Switching flights, or traveling on stand-by, means you can change your flight to a sooner one, a less crowded one, or even a different route. Airlines generally let you do this without hassle: once you’re in the airport system, you’ve paid to get from point A to point B. We’ll cover this more in another entry, most people don’t seem to take advantage of it.
  • You don’t have to wait to pick up your bags as baggage claim, which can take a long, long time.
  • You don’t have to wait in line to check your baggage.
  • For many airlines, you can avoid paying the extra “tax” on checking baggage.
  • You’ll be able to change clothes, freshen up with your liquids, or otherwise use the stuff in your bags.
  • Because you’re using a smaller bag, you’ll limit the amount of things you take an travel more lightly.

Problems with Carry-ons

Of course, there are disadvantages, primarily having to lug around an extra bag and find overhead bin space for it.

The overhead bin space problem is taken care of if you have status on the airline and are one of the first ones to get on. Also, most airlines will waive the checked bag fee if you have status. American Airlines, the airline I fly on, applies in both cases.

Shoulder bag or Roller-bag?

Lugging around the extra bag is at the center of one of the classic frequent flyer arguments: do you use a shoulder bag or a suit-case with wheels, roller-bags. It seems like there’s some pragmatic machismo for shoulder bags: they both give you more space and have that “I’m not a lazy roller-bag person” feel to them. As someone who primarily uses a shoulder bag (a Patagonia MLC, thanks to Stephen O’Grady’s recommendation), though, I think roller-bags have their place.

Shoulder bags are more flexible and easy to fling around. And if you’re taking small, 1-2 night trips, you actually will pack less bulky with a shoulder-bag. For longer stays, shoulder bags also encourage you to pack light which most people, myself included, can use all the encouragement I can get: I tend to still always pack one out-fit too many.

On the other hand, if you have to carry a lot of equipment, or extra shoes even (sneakers are bulky), the shoulder bag can get too heavy if you’ll end up having to walk around a lot. I do a fair amount of video for work, so I’m always traveling with a tripod, video camera, microphone, and associated wires. Those ad extra weight that just barely fit in my shoulder bag. Nonetheless, I’m usually only walking to and fro the airport, in the airport, and then from car/cab to hotel room with the bag.

Dolphin Checkin

However, sometimes you have to walk a lot more than that, like, when you go to Las Vegas. Las Vegas, though a concentrated frequent flyer destination (it’s all on the strip) requires a lot of walking around to get from the airport to your hotel room. Once you get out of the cab, you’ll have to hike to the front desk. Then you’ll have to hike through some hallways, through the casino, up the elevator, then around some more hallways to get to your room.

In cases like that, a roller-bag starts to look nice.

Whichever one you use though – shoulder bag or roller-bag – try your best to avoid checking a bag. If you’re a frequent traveler, it’s the kind of thing that’ll pay off all the time without you noticing: your bag will always be there right with you, instead of in Milan, and you’ll save time in lines checking in your bag and getting it at baggage claim.

Your Little Bag

Part of traveling now is the liquid bag. While you can take as much liquid as want if you put it in a check bag, if you’re not checking a bag (which I recommend for all business travel, if not all travel of a short enough duration), and bringing all your stuff through security, you have to follow get yourself that little liquid bag. The TSA has all the details on the regulations up, even a little wallet card for the wallet-stuffers out there

Sure, we all know these rules are absurd and there’s a whole cottage industry in the press when it comes to making fun of the TSA. For the rest of us who just want to get home sooner and fight The Man from the comfort of our home-ground, here are some tips.

The Bag

Little Liquids

You want a sturdy bag that’s not going to rip up easy and that opens and closes quickly and easily. If you’re traveling as frequently as I do, you’re going to go through a lot of these bags, esp. if they’re flimsy. Also, when you’re unpacking or packing up your stuff early in the morning, the last thing you want to do is fuss with those annoying plastic zippers on the tops of cheap zip-lock bags.

Instead, I use bags like the one pictured above: a quart-sized “freezer” bag with the little plastic zip-helper do-dad.

There’s no one brand that I’ve found better than another. I’ve bought over-priced Whole Foods bags, Hefty ones, and all the rest. They’re all the same, the price is just different.

Now, you’re still going to go through about 2-3 of these a year, maybe 1 a quarter if you over-pack the bag and have container corners puncturing the plastic. Also, if your dogs get ahold of them, you’ll get some holes in them ;>

As bonus, these bags are also good for packing other things you bring, esp. stuff with cords that might unravel like travel headsets.

Packing the Bag

While you can buy all sorts of “travel” sized (3 ounces or less) toiletries, you should really get your hands on little travel containers. You’ll save money and be able to take whatever stuff you want. This doesn’t apply across the board: toothpaste and shaving cream are esp. hard to re-container.

I have 3 such custom containers in my little bag: my conditioner, my face soap, and my hair-gel (I don’t use shampoo, see here). For the conditioner, I use a squeeze bottle, and for the face soap I use a little squat container with a screw top.

The hair-gel is a recent addition. I used to just carry the whole pomade container, and while TSA people never harassed me about it, I noticed that is over 3 ounces. The pomade I use is expensive, about $13-16 a puck, and I damn sure didn’t want to toss it in the name of absurdity. Also, the container was way too big for the little bag. So, I got Kim to give me one of her little make-up discs, which I scoop about 3-5 days worth of pomade into. It’s worked well:

Little Liquids

After slimming down the container, I have plenty of room in my little bag and I think it’ll rip less often.

As you can see, I also put toothpaste in there (a tube I picked up at a hotel, though you can get plenty of good travel sized tubes anywhere) and my shaving cream (a little travel size Barbersol: cheap and effective).

I also put my razor in the bag, just to have it all in one place and keep it from banging around in my bag. Toothbrushes are usually way too big to fit in the bag. I ended up getting an ultra-violet light bacteria killing toothbrush holder gee-gaw for Christmas (the Violight iZap UV Toothbrush Sanitizer to be exact), so I’ve been using that to carry the toothbrush.

Working with your little bag

Finally, for the frequent traveler, it’s worth considering where and how you pack your little bag. It’s one of the key items you have to fuss with when you go through the security gate (others being your shoes, laptop, coat, watches, phones, and other metal stuff). I always pack mine at the top of my shoulder bag, on one of the corners.

This way, I can unzip one of the shoulder bag’s corners, pull out my little bag and quickly put it in the bin for scanning. I leave the corner unzipped on it’s journey through the x-ray machine, and then when shoulder bag and little bag come through the other side, you can quickly stuff the little bag back into it’s special spot.

Late Check-out

Hotel

Hotels always have check-out times if either 11 AM or noon, mostly 11 AM for my slow moving self. Here’s a tip though: chances are you can just call up and ask for another hour, sometimes two.

I’ve stayed up to 3 hours later, but it’s usually just 1. The core problem is usually around having a work meeting scheduled early and needing time to pack up.

If you’ve been out late the night before and have to get up at, like 7am for a 7:30am meeting (wake-and-work is good skill to pull over from college for business travel) the last thing you want to do is pack your bag. Also, then you have to carry it around and give the bellhop another buck – good luck gettin’ a receipt for that, you cheap bastard.

The last time this happened – while at Lotusphere this year – I called up and asked for a check-out extension and was given it because I was a Starwood Preferred Guest member. That’s the frequent traveler program the hotel had. I don’t have status in it or anything, but it made me think that it can’t help to sign up for all those programs for these little things: stay a few hours later.