“All I want to do is travel the world, eat and stay at nice hotels” is what you used to hear me say about five years ago. As they say, be careful what you wish for. While traveling, eating and staying at luxury hotels may seem like a dream life (and parts of it definitely were), being an international hotel inspector also meant becoming a supertraveler*, which is an entirely different experience that I didn’t see coming. It felt like I joined a secret club, full of people darting around the world who didn’t know each other yet shared many of the same characteristics.
Supertravelers come in all different shapes and forms, not just hotel inspectors. They can be consultants, CEO’s, wine distributors, you-name-it, but they are defined by the amount of time spent in airports and traveling to and from airports. Kind of like George Clooney from Up in the Air—I related to his lifestyle more than I would like to admit. After about a year in on the job, I would sit next to someone and almost immediately could tell if they were a frequent traveler by the way they moved and conducted themselves on the plane. It felt like an instant bond formed when I spotted one.
One such seat mate on a Delta flight told me that he’s been doing this same loop weekly for five years and knows all of the flight attendants. He wasn’t wrong. They all greeted him by name, asking about his family, which he also did in turn. As the safety video popped up on the screen on the seats in front of us, he said, “I’ve been a on a flight with her, she’s a real flight attendant,” referring to a rather attractive female with red hair that I always thought was a model/actress (I have to admit I didn’t actually think they were real employees).
Spending two to three weeks on the road every month, sometimes being gone for three-and-a-half weeks and returning home only to leave the next day, made me develop a go-to system for flying. Unfortunately, today’s airport experience is pretty unpleasant for passengers, so whatever can be done to improve it helps, especially if you’re spending a lot of time there. Here are some quick tips on making the process better.
Efficiency is Key
This is the main motto for frequent travelers and below some of the steps by which it is achieved. By the second year of being an inspector, I had my process down pat. I arrived at the airport, whether I was living in New York or LA, 15 minutes before my flight boarded, passed through security via PreCheck and arrived at the gate with enough time to buy a bottle of water before I boarded. I used to go early, sit in the lounge and do work, but I realized the time that I had at home was precious and rare, so I decided to trim down my airport time as much as possible. About an hour before I left for the airport, I’d start checking Google maps and Waze for any accidents or delays, keeping an eye on the arrival time to make sure all would work out to plan.
Use Your Phone
We’re all guilty of using our phones to take photos of literally anything and always having them on us. Use that to your advantage. Check-in via the airline’s app on your phone, save it to your iPhone wallet so that it shows up on the home screen, cutting out that middle step of having to open the app. I have a small attachment for my phone case that holds my license so that I can quickly present both of these things at the security podium. (Don’t be that person fumbling through their wallet looking for their ID when your turn is up. If that’s you, step aside and let the next person go ahead of you.)
Sign Up for Global Entry, Registered Traveler and Other Programs
This is a must. TSA PreCheck comes with Global Entry for the US, and, while it’s a little annoying now since almost everyone seems to have it, it is still better than not having it. Depending on what airport you fly out of, Clear is becoming a strong contender as another program to have to cut the TSA PreCheck line (only those with PreCheck can qualify). Outside the US, places like England and Hong Kong offer programs for frequent visitors so that you are essentially treated like a resident (and cut the crazy, long lines) to speed up the immigration process.
Roller bags tend to be easier, but any carry on is better than a checked bag[/caption]
The Answer is Always Carry On
Never, I repeat, never check a bag. Unless for some reason you are moving somewhere for over a month, require an exceptional amount of gear or equipment, there is no reason to check a bag. Why? First is the efficiency factor. Checking a bag is inefficient because you have to arrive to the airport earlier and leave later because you need to wait for the luggage, leaving room for further possible delays if the baggage system gets backed up. Second, it’s highly likely it will get lost at some point. Third, you’re probably bringing a lot of stuff you don’t need. It’s time to trim the fat. I’ve traveled for three-and-a-half weeks, to different climates, with a carry-on. If I can do it, then you can do it. (I did do laundry twice during the trip.) It forces you to be more efficient with your packing and, let me tell you, heels are the first to go. Vibrams are a great alternative to running shoes as they are easy to pack.
Status. Is. Everything.
Yes, this sounds completely obnoxious. But if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in an airport, then you want to make that experience as painless as possible. Having status elevates you from feeling like cattle being herded onto a plane to a somewhat human level. The boarding process becomes less nerve-racking as you’re among the first to board, never have to worry about storing your carry-on luggage or jostled in line waiting for zone 5 to board. Plus, the flight attendants are a lot nicer, the snacks and drinks better, there’s more space, and they don’t give you as hard of a time about shoving your bag under the seat in front of you. And, since you’re the first to board and the first to get off, this helps the efficiency factor to reduce the amount of time you’re on a plane. And who wants to breathe that terrible recycled air and dry out their skin for longer than they need to? Pick one airline, be loyal and gain status. The higher the better.
Credit Cards: Choose Wisely
Lounge access is clutch, especially if you find yourself stuck at an airport with a canceled or severely delayed flight. The Points Guy will provide you with a more in-depth analysis of the options out there. I’ve been sticking with The American Express Platinum as their Centurion Lounges are fantastic, and they offer Delta (my airline of choice) lounge access. But, the Chase Reserve is making a hard play for their customers.
Don’t be An Annoying Traveler
When you fly a lot, you lose patience for those who don’t. The ones who put the roller bags in the wrong way (wheels first, people, not sideways), put handbags and jackets in the overhead bins or block the aisle when they reach their seat, causing a line to back up on the plane. Or, people who decide to get drunk on planes. On one JFK to Las Vegas flight, I sat next to a woman who was drinking at 9 a.m. and playing on her iPad when she knocked over her second glass of Chardonnay onto my computer. I spent the duration of the flight airing out the pieces and trying not to freak out as I had a two week trip ahead of me. Accidents happen, so make sure to be careful with electronics around your boozy neighbors.
Don’t Let the Stress Get to You
Airports and plane are tense places. It’s hard to maintain a sense of dignity when someone is scanning your entire body as your belongings clump together at the end of the belt, and you can’t do a thing about it. For this reason, it’s also important to remember to stay calm. For me, while traveling for personal reasons is still one of my favorite things to do, I struggle sometimes traveling with those who are infrequent flyers. They don’t live by my intense rules, so I usually have to remind myself to relax, take a few deep breaths and remember that everyone has different styles of traveling. I often feel this way when I’m stuck in security behind someone who asks if they need to take their laptop out and shoes off for PreCheck (the answer is no).
*Skift’s article speaks more about supertravelers