travel tips

I travel a lot. Right now, I’m at San Francisco Airport (SFO) writing this as I listen to some music on my laptop and simultaneously download a video podcast of Countdown with Keith Olbermann. I fly on the order of 50% or more each month, and have gone from being a Silver member on US Airways to the Chairman’s level, which just means I get occasional upgrades and better seating options. 

Flying, as everyone knows, is a nightmare. And I’ve had my share of them. That said, having flown perhaps 150k miles over the past year or so, I’ve gotten into a routine to try to prevent complications as much as possible. Here are some tips, in no particular order.

  • Go to FlightStats and register. This is a great free site that provides comprehensive information about flights, airport delays, etc. It’s indispensable for me. I remember one time getting to an airport gate and wondering why no one was waiting for the plane. Not trusting what the airport kiosk displayed, I went online and checked FlightStats and got the correct gate. That’s how up-to-date its information is.
  • I don’t check luggage. Ever. Unless absolutely necessary. 
  • Because I always have a carryon, it’s critical to get on board sooner than later. On US Airways, at least, good luck with the overhead bins if you’re seated in zone 4 or higher; you won’t get your bags on because everything is full by then. I check the seat options online a few days before I travel, since it is occasionally possible to switch for a better seat, and one where you can board earlier and hopefully get your bag on with you.
  • Unless absolutely impossible, fly direct. The probability of having at least one connection be late or cancelled is not trivial.
  • I avoid the bulkheads if possible, since I’d have to put my laptop case in the overhead bin as well as a carryon suitcase. That doubles the possibility of not having space for your bags.
  • I train it to Philadelphia International from my house, since it’s reliable, relatively inexpensive (much cheaper, at least, than parking the car for several days at PHL), and on weekends always stops near my house on the return leg. It’s also better for the environment.
  • I also try to become familiar with airports I frequent, especially with regard to where AC outlets are. If I’m on a long day flight, like out to SFO, I try to top off my laptop’s battery at the gate.
  • Since I don’t carry a second laptop battery, at least so far, I turn the screen down on my MacBook Pro all the way and make sure WiFi is off. I can get at least 3-3.5 hours of battery life this way, enough for a few TiVo’d episodes of The Daily Show and Colbert. 
  • Be aware of other frequent travelers—you’d be amazed how many people also commute to the other coast for work on a regular basis. 
  • For red eye flights, a travel pillow and eye covers are essential. It’s impossible to sleep when some vantz next to you is keeping the light on all night or the person across from you is watching a DVD on his 17” laptop all night long. And while I’m at it, I also get my iPhone on to a wonderful application called White Noise. I listen to that all night, particularly the sounds of the waves crashing on the beach, and it’s much easier to drown out cabin noise and just sleep.
  • I prefer aisle seats mainly because it’s easier to get off the plane faster. When you have to catch a Septa train home, that’s essential.
  • If I park my car at one of the off-site parking services, I call them as soon as my plane lands. This way, by the time I’m outside the airport, it’s arriving.