This subject is generally crucial to spring-boarding you to your next adventure. Sometimes you can perform the entry and exit from an airport with the form of an Olympic diver, barely making a splash in the water, or with the grace of an uncoordinated youth, belly flopping your way through customs, immigration and the general throng of travelers. There’s no doubt that everyone has their fair share of stories and tales, from that guy who is amazed he has to bring his passport to fly international, to the lady who is straight faced in her attempt to pass off a suitcase that is bigger than herself as being fit for carry on luggage. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done a lot of travel in my life so far, and as fate would have it, I worked fly in/fly out job for the last 4 or so years. Net result, lots of time spent at you guessed it, airports! Now being the huge travel fan that I am, I feel I readily embrace everything to do with travel. To be fair, this might not have always been the case, but I truly enjoy the ride nowadays.
Ok maybe there are a couple of things I could leave out of the travel equation, namely taxi’s. Maybe the final straw was when a driver was nonchalantly scrolling Facebook and sharing photos while negotiating a turn at an intersection, or just the general ineptitude at delivering me to the correct destination without step by step instructions. Seriously dude, I’m here on holidays, of course I don’t know the way! Never mind the fact that it’s a game of roulette when booking a cab. I suggest firmly crossing your fingers and hope you have allowed enough time to get to the airport while you wait for the cab. I am a huge fan of Uber for a number of reasons. I was rather slow on the pickup to use this excellent service, and it was love at first sight when I booked my first ride. The previous day was my sister’s wedding and my flight back to work was the following morning. It was a tight schedule. Somewhere during the evening I had signed up for Uber, my drunk self realizing that my tomorrow self will have a hard time getting out of bed. Hats off to you, drunk self, because I woke up with an hour and half before my flight and I was staring down the barrel of an hour drive to the airport. My Uber chariot was booked and arrived before I had even descended in the elevator. There was a bottle of water and some much need mints ready to go, and I made the flight with minutes to spare. What has been your experience with taxi’s? Or Uber, if it is available in your area?
Before the journey begins
Preparation is key to achieving the Olympic diver approach to airport navigation. First, I am always far too early (with the above example as the exception). It’s this habit that has saved me more than once. Hot tip #1 – don’t pack your bags the night before a flight heavily under the influence. Being early allows you travel all the way back home if you forgot something important, you know, like your passport. Potential belly flop averted. For a hassle free start to your journey, having your passport and wallet sitting in plain view next to your packed bags is an excellent start. This stops you second guessing yourself if you’ve packed these essentials, and eliminates the need to double check your belongings. I have done this recheck too many times and it’s something I can do without. Keeping all your devices on full charge is a must too. Plug them in the night before people! Don’t get caught out on a plane with no TV screens and find out your iPod/iPad/eReader/laptop is out of juice. On the other hand, you may enjoy listening to the serenade of the infant in row 15 and the snoring of the gentlemen beside you who should have purchased an extra seat to accommodate his bulk. I think I’ll pass thanks. There’s nothing I recommend more than having a pen handy at all times. In fact, pack three just in case. This simple tool gets you through immigration and customs that much easier because you know none of the pens at the customs desk work, and the one that does has been commandeered by a family of seven. Side benefit, you are ready to take down phone numbers and emails like a boss.
So you’ve arrived at the Airport
I will forever be in awe at the people who adorn themselves with all things metal before they go through the security screening. Absolute utter awe. Thought process: I know I will be going through a metal detector at some point, I better have at least $53 in spare change in my pocket, mobile phone in the other and have my iPod and headphones in use when I submit myself for screening. I will also act surprised when I have to empty all these items into a tray before I am allowed to take another step. What’s that you say? Give them a break? They may be first time travelers? Never! If a big warning sign doesn’t give away what is required of you, there are bigger issues at stake. Then again, signs and rules only apply to everybody else I guess. You can also spot these “above the law types” with their enormous carry on luggage they must have hid from the agent at the check-in desk. Hot tip #2 – Pack smart. Meaning, keep your passport and boarding pass in your pocket before security, and just pack the rest (in order of priority for use) in your carry-on until you are through. It sounds like common sense, if only it was so common. I am a big fan of maximizing my carry-on potential. I might not reach the extreme proportions of trying to get away with a full sized suitcase, but I’m generally not in the mood to be price gouged when I check in luggage, and exiting the airport ahead of the pack. Most international carriers these days include luggage in their fares, it’s just the domestic connections you should be wary of. Being a male means I can travel pretty light for most of my adventures, so this is not generally an issue. It always pays to check with your carrier/s before game day to make sure your discount fare doesn’t become much less discounted. It never hurts to be polite to the staff either, you never know what magic they can whip up for you, not to mention, it’s just good behavior. This magic may manifest itself as something as simple as an extra helping of desert, all the way up to an upgraded seat. I’ve seen too much unwarranted abuse of airline staff while they go above and beyond the call of duty to accommodate the rude and ridiculous behavior of some passengers. Don’t be that guy (or girl).
Layovers and downtime
Depending on your price range, distance to travel and personal preferences, layovers will be part and parcel of almost any trip. From as little as running to the next gate to catch your connecting flight to establishing a base camp in a quiet part of the terminal, the time spent in layover can vary, and effective use of this time is completely in your hands. I confess, I have “wasted” untold hours and days in layover. I say wasted in reference to how I utilised my downtime. Sure I watched movies and maybe read a little bit of fiction to pass the time, but I really didn’t feel like I made the best use of my time. A large chunk of my traveling was before I could endlessly scroll Facebook and like Instagram photos, so the time warp offered by these features has been generally unavailable to myself up until recently. I have subscribed to my fair share of meme pages since then and I do get utterly lost in the laugh out loud categories to pass the time here and there when I’ve visited a Wifi friendly airport.
I bring this subject up because I love and value using my downtime productively. The meaning of productively to me is learning something and improving my physical condition. What do I mean by physical condition? Generally on planes you are confined to a sitting position for a number of hours, with the option to wander the corridors between turbulence and food service. Why not take a moment before boarding to pre-stretch a little bit, maybe sneak in a couple of squats and pushups, or daringly do a set of burpees. I know this is not for everyone but try it one time and tell me if you didn’t feel better after. As for learning, books and podcasts are my saviours! My eReader and iPod are my constant (and fully charged) travel companions. These amazing devices can be utilised at anytime, anywhere and have a battery life that won’t let you down. I also can be the biggest time waster imaginable. This dichotomy pulls me in opposite directions on a daily basis and I have to consciously choose the former, which is leaves me far more fulfilled and usually a little bit more intelligent and useful to the world (at least in my opinion!).
Ready, set, GO!
To all the people that travel Business Class, I envy you. You guys with your priority boarding, arm chair sized seats and champagne before take off. What luxury. I upgraded to Business Class one time, and in all honesty, I didn’t want he flight to end! Never has someone given me such excellent individual service. Well, that, and the ready supply of double bourbons. For the rest of us, general boarding never fails to amuse. I do have a laugh every time at boarding when they announce the row numbers they are seating (which is disregarded by everyone), and there is a mad rush to get on the plane. I mean, we’re assigned seats right? I will forgive the lady with the enormous suitcase carry-on because you have to be quick if you’re going to find room to get that beast into the overhead compartment. That brings me to my Hot tip #3 – Take out what you need for the flight before boarding. There is better ways to start the flight than restricting the entire plane from finding their seat while you decide if you will read your book before take-off. Please avoid the sudden rush of blood to the head during take off that tells you that you MUST have something from the overhead compartment right this second. It’s those rules that apply to everybody else in effect again.
If you’re a tall individual like myself, reclining seats can be your best friend and worst nightmare. We all have the right to a measure of comfort when we travel by air, but I think some empathy and consideration for others must be observed. I’ve had my knees crushed, my drinks spilled all over me, and even been struck in the head from reclining seats. Abrupt and severe use of the seat recline function can mean an extremely uncomfortable flight for the person on the receiving end. It also makes the flight that much more comfortable when you are the one reclining. Who has the right of way here? I’ve read numerous articles that touch on this subject and the opinion is equally in favour of the recliner and reclinee. The most common opinion in favour of the recliner is that the recline function is there, so I should use it with reckless abandon, the person behind me be damned. I still think back on a flight I boarded in Sydney, traveling direct to Vancouver. No sooner had the seatbelt light gone off, when I was suddenly struck in the face by the seat in front. Being hit in the face caused me to yell out, in a) pain and more importantly, b) utter surprise. To this noise, the reclining offender casually looked back to the source of the sound, was unmoved by the sight of my face against the back of his seat, and promptly rolled over and went to sleep. All the reclining in the world couldn’t extricate my knees from the base of the seat in front, something I could look forward to for the next 16 hours. We now have a situation where both parties are at either end of the spectrum of possible comfort. Like most people, actually, like everyone, I have a vested interest in being comfortable also. Being 6’3″, I don’t enjoy the concave effect a plane seat affords my spine. I want to recline as well. I also deserve it. If I employ this reckless abandon however, I’m only passing the problem on. I want to advocate moderation! I want to advocate empathy for those behind! I’m not apologetic in this advocacy. There’s no need to be soaking in cider with bruised knees for 7 hours. If everyone can show just a tiny bit of respect for those around them, we all win.
So how do you approach your time spent at the airport? Are you super prepared with an itinerary planned down to the minute? Do you throw together a bag just before you walk out the door? Do you accommodate others or have you got your blinkers on and do what suits only you best? I know what works best for me and I actually enjoy going through airports. It’s all part of the adventure as far as I’m concerned. I’m all for turning potential negatives into positives, especially if it is something that can’t be helped. So if you think airports are a drag and nothing but an inconvenience delaying your holiday, take a minute, a moment, and make it part of the adventure. Even if that doesn’t appeal to you, what have you got to lose?
Happy travels everyone.