Summertime means vacation and vacation means traveling all over the place. If you're going to be doing any flying this summer, here are some good-time hints to make your trip unlike falling face-first into a vat of molten lava.
1. Plan ahead
This one's a little late for your 4th of July trip this year, but keep it in mind for future travel. It's a simple fact that the sooner you make reservations, the cheaper it'll cost to get there. Plus, your boss will always be more willing to give you a couple days off next February than next month. Double plus, you have more time to save up cash, which is important unless you plan on singing for your supper.
2. Shop online
Have you seen the Travelocity.com commercials where the woman talks about using their site for comparison shopping? She and her flippy hair ain't lyin'. Sites like Expedia.com are great starting points for finding cheap airfare. But don't just take the first offer you get. I like to use those travel agent-type sites to find a rate and then take the specific flight numbers to the airline's own site to see if they're offering a lower price on the same flight. It's all about cutting out the cyber-middle-man.
3. Carry on your luggage
This one used to be a slam-dunk decision. The thinking was, if you don't let your bags out of your sight, the airline can't lose them. But now with the increased security screening, you have to decide what's worse: possibly having your underwear shipped to Manitoba, or possibly having to stand around while some guy rifles through your stuff. I once had some poker chips in my bag and you would've thought they were Chinese throwing stars the way they were inspecting them. So if you have some oddly-shaped items you may just decide to take your chances and check them.
4. Pack light
Of course, Tip 3 only works if you're not taking half your closet with you. If you're going strictly with carry-on, your bags need to be able to fit under your seat. I've been allowed on with a duffle bag and a backpack as my "purse." But if you can't get all your stuff into one medium bag and one small one, just suck it up and check your luggage. There's no shame in not being able to follow Tip 3 on a long trip.
Remember, the laws of physics do apply to overhead compartments. If you've got a roller bag busting out at the seams, please check it. If you're coming home with a piñata and snorkeling equipment, please don't hold up the boarding process by standing in the aisle trying to shove your big fat square peg in that teeny tiny round hole.
5. Get your boarding pass before going through security
Another main benefit of Tip 3 used to be that you could bypass the front counter entirely and check in at the gate. But if you follow Tip 2 you aren't going to have a paper ticket, and in some airports, security will make you go back and get a boarding pass. They're tricky that way. So if you approach an unfamiliar airport, plan on going to the front counter first, just in case.
6. Put all metal items in your carry-on luggage
I've been doing this one for a while but now I see some smart airports have signs up suggesting everyone do the same. The rule of thumb is: If it could set off the most sensitive metal detector on the planet, it should go into your bag. This includes wallets, coins, belts, hats, watches, jewelry, phones and chunks of steel. The line to get through security is often long so you have plenty of time to un-metal. Your goal is to walk through the metal detector exactly once, and then you can put everything right back in your pockets.
But sometimes you just can't win. I recently went through an airport where I was pocket-empty and belt-free and they still made me take off the metal-less sneakers I always wear when I travel. The new motto must be: If they're not uncomfortable, they must be dangerous.
7. Eat before your flight
Another unfortunate trend in the airline industry is paying more to get less. Not too long ago I was on a three and a half hour flight and all we got to eat were peanuts and ice. Bon appétit indeed. Unless you know for sure a meal will be served en route, it's best to fill your belly before your board.
But whatever you do, don't compromise by bringing food on the plane. After getting off the long starving flight I stopped by the airport Pizza Hut before getting on my connecting flight. Bad idea. With the way they recycle the air in those planes the entire cabin was smelling like pepperoni within minutes. I was getting more ugly glances than the security check person who made everyone take off their shoes. I thought the poor guy next to me was going to stab me with one of my breadsticks. So remember, it's better to be hungry than bludgeoned.
Follow these tips and, well, flying will still be inconvenient, stressful and downright not fun most of the time. But it beats the molten lava, right?
Bye. Bye now. Buh-bye….