Air Travel Pro-Tips
It’s been a century and change since the Wright brothers took to the sky on a chilly December day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Over that time, we’ve seen air travel morph from a world-class experience reserved only for the elite into the modern day bus ride in the sky that we all know. Not all folks are incompetent travelers but the vast majority haven’t a clue.
To most, the airport terminal is some combination of fear, confusion, and general dumb foundry (I’m convinced that the average person loses 30 IQ points as soon as they get to the airport but that’s for another day). I decided to write this to share some of my knowledge of air travel and hopefully help those that are fly-tarded in the process.
First, a little background on me and why you should buy the bullshit I’m selling. I’m a native Tennessean knocking on the door of 30 who was bitten by the aviation bug at a young age. My grandfather was a corporate pilot and would take me along whenever he could to be Papa’s co-pilot.
I’ve spent my entire professional life in the aviation field and even have a bachelor’s degree on the subject (yeah, it’s a real thing). I’ve taught folks how to fly in several places, worked as ramp personnel for private planes in Little Rock, flown 50-seat regional jets out of Houston, and I’m currently an air traffic controller in Memphis. I truly love everything about flying and still get the same sense of excitement watching a plane go by that I did as a child.
BEFORE YOU GO
TSA Precheck – Precheck came about a few years ago and is absolutely a must-have if you travel more than once a year. For $85 (which is a five year enrollment) you get to skip all the grab ass, leave all your crap on, and make your way through security in a fraction of the time that standard screening takes. A nice added bonus is that most people in the Precheck line aren’t absolute morons. Precheck at a place like Nashville is around five minutes compared to standard screening that can take over a half an hour.
I rarely arrive to any airport more than an hour before my flight and with Precheck it hasn’t been an issue. If you think you’ll go international at least once you can get Global Entry for $100. It makes returning from abroad a breeze and comes with the benefits of TSA Precheck and the Canadian counterpart program called NEXUS. Precheck can be obtained in a few days time, if you want Global Entry it can take a few months as you have to schedule an interview with Customs and Border Patrol.
Luggage – If you travel a decent amount it is worth it to have luggage that is proper for the job. When a ramp rat in a place like Newark gets a hold of a bag it’s like a starved lion getting hold of an antelope. Don’t go out and buy Louis Vuitton luggage because it will get beat to shit and I promise you someone will go rifling through it looking for valuables. High end luggage is made for private jets, not gate C12. You also don’t want to go down to Marshall’s and grab the first American Tourister on the rack.
Cheap luggage will not survive these creatures and anything in your bag will be destroyed. Buy a piece of black, non-descript luggage that is made for flight attendants or pilots and then put a ribbon or something on it so you know it’s your’s. It’s not the cheapest luggage you can get but it’s designed with overhead bins in mind, it’s extremely durable, and it will last you a lifetime. LuggageWorks is a company that is pretty well known and reputable. They even sell replacement parts so you don’t have to scrap the whole bag if a wheel goes out. Expect to spend between $100-300 depending on how fancy you want to get.
Packing – If you question it, you probably don’t need it. There’s nothing worse than having to wait at the ticket counter because some soroistute’s bag weighs 51 pounds. Weigh it at home, have it right when you get there. As far as personal items go, backpacks are about the best that you can have efficiency wise. Shoulder bags are ok but be prepared to smack everyone sitting in an aisle seat when you board. Having Precheck helps in this department too, since you won’t have to open up your bag and pull things out to go through the scanner. No one has to know about your multiple tubes of spermicidal lube.
Smartphones – Hey everyone, it’s 2017 (almost 2018!). Download the app for whatever airline you’re on and bypass the ticket counter all together. Most airlines today have 200 kiosks for their 12 elite members and three for the rest of the world. It’s a ginormous pain in the ass and unless you need to check a bag you can get your ticket on the app and head straight to security. Most apps are pretty good, some better than others. Also to find cheap fares use Google Flights, it’s the best website i’ve come across hands down.
AT THE AIRPORT
Ok, you’ve made it this far, time to actually head to the airport. The following tips are what will separate you from the masses.
Wake up, take a shower, and put on something other than pajamas you hillbilly. Grab your stuff and get ready to go. If you aren’t driving yourself to the airport take a Lyft or Uber. No, we can’t drop you off or pick you up, we’re busy, grow up and act like an adult.
Put the things that won’t make it through security, like your cellphone, in your carry on or personal item. You look like an idiot when you’re dumping everything you own in a plastic bin like it’s a TSA shake down. As you leave security and make your way through the airport you’ll probably come across a giant moving belt that will mistify you. They aren’t stand and ride-ways, they are moving walkways. Stand to the right, pass on the left, don’t block the path unless you want to be labeled a jackass. Walk through the terminal like you drive on the interstate, move to the side if you need to stop or turn around. No one needs to blow out their ACL because you changed your mind on that Starbucks cafè latte. As you pass Hudson News, just keep walking, neck pillows are for assholes.
Ok good, we’ve made it to the gate. Put your bags on the floor by your seat or under your seat and not in the seat next to you. Get a battery pack off Amazon for $20 if you’re really that concerned about your phone dying. Don’t sit on top of me because I am next to the only power outlet in the tri-state area. Google Maps has pretty detailed information of most major airports. It’s great for finding out what’s around you or where your next gate is. When they start boarding stay seated until your group is called to board the plane. People that hover are obnoxious and everyone has an assigned seat (or boarding position in the case of Southwest) so no one will steal your place.
Right before you get on throw that neck pillow I told you not to buy in the trash. Seriously, neck pillows are for assholes.
ON THE PLANE
Alright, doing good so far. As you board, you may be given a tag for a gate check. This just means you’re on a small plane so they’ll have to throw your bag in the back and return it to you on the jet bridge when you land. Attach it to your bag’s handle (not the expandable one, it’ll get ripped off) and leave it out of the way at the bottom of the jet bridge.
When you get on, greet the flight attendant and make your way to your seat. An A seat will always be on the far right window as you face the tail of the plane. Most domestic aircraft are 3 by 3 so ABC will be on the right and DEF on the left as you walk to the back. Regional aircraft are mostly 2 by 2 with AB on the right and CD on the left. Some planes don’t have a row 13 because of the superstitious guy that designed it.
If you have a carry on, immediately start scoping out the over head bins when you get on. Sometimes you have your pick of the litter, other times it’s tight. If you see people looking around or closed bins near your seat try and find a spot on the way back to your seat so you can grab the bag on the way out. Give a quick look behind you before you hoist your bag. If someone’s hot on your tail you may want to let them by so they don’t imagine murdering you in their mind.
Once you settle into your seat there are a few things you can do to be polite to your seatmates. Use the bathroom before boarding and don’t drink like a fish if you’re in anything other than an aisle seat. Should you end up with a window seat, leave it open during take off and landing. It may not be a huge deal to you, but some folks don’t fly much and really like to look outside. Middle seat, aka riding bitch, always (and I mean always) gets the armrests. No exceptions. If you’re in the aisle you’re kind of quarterback for the row. Being a friendly aisle seater goes a long way with strangers as they won’t piss themselves because they’re afraid to make you get up. If you’re a deep sleeper the aisle is probably not the best place for you.
Time to dispel a myth. Using your cellphone will not crash the airplane and isn’t the reason they ask you to turn them off. What the flight attendants have to say is extremely important and they want you to pay attention to them and not Facebook. Seriously, should the plane catch on fire on the ground or something else catastrophic happen, it will be chaos inside and knowing a little bit about what to do goes a very long way. Give them your attention for a few minutes and follow their instructions. Flight attendants are there for your safety and not just to get you a drink.
As I type this, I’m somewhere over eastern Tennessee on American 4861 operated by Piedmont Airlines en route to Philadelphia. I smell tuna. I don’t see the person that has the tuna but I hate this person. Do not be this person. Gotta eat? Stick to food that doesn’t have a strong smell, energy bars are a good start. If they turn off the seatbelt sign it’s ok to get up and stretch, especially on longer flights. Don’t go stand by the lavatory while someone uses it though, you weirdo.
Alright gang, we’re almost there. Your flight lands, you turn on your phone only to find no new Tinder matches (bummer), you get to the gate, and they turn off the seat belt sign. You are under absolutely no circumstances to get up and run to the front of the plane. There will be people that do this occasionally, these people deserve to be Nancy Kerrigan’d. End of story.
LEAVING THE AIRPORT
Most of leaving the airport is just repeating what you did on the way in, but there are a few differences. Give another look-see before you pull your bag out of the overhead and let impatient Irma by if she’s raring to go behind you. Thank the attendants as you get off and thank the pilots too if they are still there. When I flew about one in every 200 passengers would say thanks and it really meant a lot when they did. I’ve never flown with a crew that didn’t want to get people to their loved ones safely and it’s nice when the customer acknowledges your work.
If you gate checked a bag don’t forget to stop and get it. As you start into the terminal, treat it the same way as you did on the way in and don’t you so much as glance at those neck pillows. If you’re connecting, you can use Google Maps to find your next gate or follow the signage. If baggage claim is your next stop, find your carousel and post up somewhere along it. Here’s the neat thing about a carousel, it brings the bag to you. Don’t go bulldozing grandma because you see your bag and just can’t wait. No one is going to steal it on its journey to you, trust me, not that many people are medium husky.
As you head out into the world, good luck remembering where you parked. Lyft and Uber usually have designated pickup points at most major airports. Make sure for the big airports, you select the right pick up point or you may be waiting half an hour for your driver. If you suckered a friend or loved one into picking you up, you can save a few minutes and avoid the crowds by having them pick you up on the departure level.
Welp, that’s it, that’s all I know. I probably forgot a few things but hopefully you learned something about air travel from this article. Twitter is a great place to vent if you think the airline screwed the pooch on something and they usually get back to you pretty fast to avoid public shaming. If you would like to drop me a line you can find me on Twitter @woodfinx.