I'm preparing to take a flight. For most folks who don't fly for business on a weekly basis, flying is is a little anxiety provoking. Most days we move through our life under our own power, on foot, in cars, on bicycles. Even if we take public transit, we more or less control our route and don't need to make any special preparations to go.
Flying is so different, there are requirements about identifying yourself, showing things, what you can't bring, what you can bring and how much that can weigh. Every day there seems to be some new rule...you show your lap top, but not your iPad, oops, now you have to turn on all your electronics, but only of they ask. Getting prepared can feel like a military campaign!
Here are the steps I take to feel more comfortable flying- I've also collected a few stories of trips to the airport gone wrong...they remind me to not make the same mistakes (and in the case of my own mistakes- not make them AGAIN! I hope it helps you too!
As soon as I book my flight:
1) Triple Check the Details
The first two checks should happen before I am are booking flight, so I make one more check to make sure I got all the details right! It's easier to change problems even with a "no changes" fare if you can call within minutes of your error!
Check dates (and year!) If it's an international flight, remember that most of the world lists the date as day, then the month, then the year so 04/11/15 means NOVEMBER 4th not APRIL 11th.
Check that the AM/PM s are correct. Again in the rest of the world, a 24 hour clock is used so 8AM is 8 and 8 PM is 20. But it's easy to mix up an 8 Am flight with an 8 PM flight in the US. My mother recently showed up 12 hours early for a PM flight, with her poor kitty in the carrier (that's a long day without a litter box!) Luckily, a cat loving counter service rep took pity and got her on standby for a much earlier flight!
Make sure the destinations are correct. Confirm the abbreviations for your airports are correct. There are several San Joses - don't end up in California if you want to be in Costa Rica! And if you are using booking engines to book flights with connections make sure that the airports for the connecting flights are in the same location (or you've left enough time to get to the other airport) There are 3 airports in the greater NYC area, 2 in Washing to DC, so be sure your flights enter and leave the same one, or you have enough time to transfer (not always a short trip!) Even if your connecting flights are at the same airport, ensure you've got enough time to realistically get to that connection. For me, an hour is minimum for a domestic flight, and 2 for an international connection or domestic unfamiliar airport. Road warriors can afford to schedule tight connections; they have the "status" to bump to the top of the standby lists if they miss a connection and they are on the companies nickel and only missing dinner, not part of their expensive vacation or a cruise ship!
Make sure your name on the reservation exactly matches the name on your identification!
2) Check My ID and Documents
The very first thing I do when I book a flight (I'll have tips for actual booking of flights up soon too!) is check what documentation is needed to go and return from the place I'm flying. In the case of a domestic (within the US) destination usually you'll only need a photo ID, such as a drivers license or State ID card. In the case of an international flight, usually you'll need a passport. Lay eyes on both of these right after booking and make sure that the expiration date is not before or during your trip. In the case of international trips, many countries require your passport doesn't expire for at least 6 months after your trip dates. Some countries require visas, or a certain amount of unstamped pages. I check these for each of my countries as soon as I book a trip,and then have plenty of time to ensure there are no emergency fire drills in the days before the trip to wrangle last minute documents.
OK, unless it's a last minute trip EVEN as neurotic as I am about planning I don't pack the day I book, but I do check to see what my airline allows or charges for baggage so I can plan accordingly. Most airlines include carry on bags, but limit the sizes and amount (generally 2, one in the overhead and one under the seat). Some airlines are now charging for carry on bags. Most airlines charge for checked bags, Southwest and Jet Blue are two that have not, but even that is be changing with Jet Blue adding checked bag fees, so always check (no pun intended) the airlines website for specifics.
4) Check Those Emails!
After you've ensured you can legally fly and the flight is the one you want, you can relax till packing time. Except keep an eye on your emails...if you book well in advance there is an excellent chance your airline will "change" the schedule on you before you depart. Yup, you make a change, be prepared to pay 50 bucks (or more!) but expect the airlines to change your flight (for schedule and equipment changes) as often as they like with no compensation. If I get that email I don't ignore it! I review the changes immediately, if they are small, a couple of minutes here or there or a change in "equipment" I am probably all set. But I make sure they haven't seated me someplace I don't want to be or scattered my party around the new plane. If there is a big change, that no longer works, the best bet is to call. I had a friend who was officiating a destination wedding. She was required to go to city hall and sign some documents for the happy couple before she flew how on Monday morning. A change of her flight that sent her out of town before city hall opened was unacceptable. She was able to call and get her flights changed at no cost to times that would allow her to complete her business. Weddings, important business meetings and cruise ship departures require a close look at changes to ensure your new schedule still works.
Ok, now I can relax!
While Packing for my Trip
1) Bag Size
Make sure your bags are the right size and weight for the flights you are taking. Even if you use a US carrier to get you somewhere with their generous size carry on limits, you might be taking onward flights with stingier size and weight restrictions. Don't be that person at the check in counter unloading their underwear and deodorant onto the filthy airport floor to get bags under weight! Don't be that gal! Pack for the strictest requirement. In the case of our African Safari trip which included strict weight limits on small aircraft, this meant going to Johannesburg with a just duffle bag that weighed less than 25 pounds and a back pack carry on.
2) ID Your Bags
Once you've picked a bag, pick a way to ID them. I use Rue Me ID
(please note our "independence" on our home page, we have not received any items from RUE ME, or payment to promote them)
It is an online tag with a unique QR code that I can scan and then enter a new itinerary with every trip. I write out the itinerary with all of my details on the computer once. Then I have a copy to leave at home with the house sitter, a copy to put inside of each bag, (in case the exterior tag is removed or broken off) and then I can can copy and paste the same info into my online Rue ID site. If my bag is waylaid, a simple smart phone scan by anyone locating it brings up my contact information and more importantly where my bag is supposed to be on which days. I offer a reward; because someone who finds my bag may not really want what I have packed, such as my (glory days) bathing suit and my (glory days are over) swimsuit cover up, but I don't want to lose them, especially mid trip- so offering a reward gives incentive someone to return it.
Also think about some distinctive item to attach to your bag that will help you distinguish it from someone else's similar looking bag. Lots of bags look similar- a shower pouff or colorful duct tape wrapped around the handle helps you identify yours and also prevents someone else from grabbing it (largely because they wouldn't be caught dead with a shower pouff on their bag)
3) Check to See What You Can and Can't Pack
There is a whole list of prohibited stuff that makes you go "duh" and yet...every day people try to carry swords, guns, fireworks, etc.! Generally liquid toiletries that are carried on the plane have to be 3.3 oz or smaller and stored in a quart sized plastic bag. Other non liquid toiletries can be free to roam anywhere in your carry on bag. Electronics all need to be available for inspection and you have to be able to turn them on. So make sure batteries for everything is at 100% Before leaving.
Do not check medicines, or valuables (money, jewelry, cameras), and critical documents always carry these items on in a carry on bag or on your person. The jury is out on carrying pills with the original prescription bottles. The TSA has various regulations on this, technically it can be interpreted as needing the original bottle, but that is often debated and since those bottles can be bulky, I have traveled near and far to 6 continents with a special travel first aid kit, (the contents of which is a post for another day!) My unlabeled pills are in small zip pouches and while I'm always fearful that it looks like I'm a drug mule, I've never had any issue at the airport. If you have a lot of medication or controlled substances that you need while you travel, it's worth having the pharmacist print an extra label for your medicine and leave it in the bag with the medication, if you don't want to bring the bulky bottle. Prescription liquids and baby formula can be carried on in greater quantities than 3 oz, so bring the originally labeled medicine bottle for those liquids.
Before you leave
1) Quadruple Check
About a week before you leave confirm your flights are still what you booked. Maybe an email about a change missed you, and if there is any snafu, you don't want to discover that night before when there is little time to solve it! This is also an excellent time to lay hands on your important documents license or passport. Again, I leave some "search time" if these got mislaid (which purse is my license in! - good to know before I leave the for airport! )
2) Check into Your Flight On-Line
You can usually check in for a domestic flight 24 hours in advance. You can print the boarding passes, and just head right to security (after dropping any checked bags) while I am on the airline website, I go ahead and sign up for text alerts or emails on my phone of any last minute changes.
3) Pack Your Important Documents
Put them right in your carry on, and when you leave for the airport, don't forget to bring that bag! Yes, it's happened...a friend of my mom's headed east in Florida for a cruise, upon arriving she realized she had not packed the carry on bag in the car. All of the passports were 4 hours away (each way!) on the west coast of Florida and the ship was leaving in 2 hours! The whole family had to return for the documents and fly (at their own expense) to meet the ship in the Bahamas! Ouch!
Personally, I always stop the car at the end of the driveway and do a three point check. I check for the 3 things I can absolutely not travel without. I actually do a visual check and lay hands on these three things!
- any prescription medication that is required and not easily replaced.
- everyone's passports or required documents (in the case of only a few of us traveling I also open the passports and make sure I have the right pictures to match the faces of the people actually going in the trip and I haven't grabbed a passport of someone staying at home or an expired old one (oh yes, It can happen! )
- money or credit cards (pretty much any other packing problem can be solved with money, (buy toiletries or clothing at your location) but forgetting money and/or my credit card makes everything more difficult!
Once I've have those 3 things, it's time to begin the journey!
Once Upon The Airport
1) Check the Big Board at the Airport for your Flight...ensure it's all the same.
2) Check Any Bags and Get my Boarding Passes if I Don't Already Have Them
3) Head to the Security Line
I like to go as soon as I'm all checked in. Even if there is better "stuff" outside security, it can be a hold up, and I feel it's good to clear early rather than rush through at the last moment! I have my boarding pass and ID out and ready to show. Lines can form quickly and people who are running late can cut the line, taking more time than you plan. I'm prepared to quickly pull off my shoes (I wear slip ons and socks) pull out my liquid baggie and any laptop I may have packed. I take off my watch, coat and belt and remove from my pocket my phone, change, and keys. I find it easier to take all that stuff off before I reach the security line and put it right into my carry on until after I clear security, so I don't lose track of the pieces. Even If you clear security like a pro, there is always someone who needs extra attention holding things up, as your valuables fall off the conveyor belt while you are stuck on the unsecure side! Keeping valuables and bits all in one bag makes them less tempting and easier to retrieve when we are finally reunited.
Whew! We've made it! Ready to fly! Now that we've made it through the grueling planning, packing and security steps, we only have to survive the gauntlet of actual flying. But that's a whole 'nother post!