Air Travel in the Age of Anxiety – Tips For Flying in Turbulent Times

It has been a long time since flying was considered glamorous; today, travelers are happy when their trips are merely tedious. Long waits, armed guards, and increased security are making business travel more challenging than ever. What can you do to cope with the changes? These tips will help:

– Arrive early. You’ve heard that repeatedly, and it’s true. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to sail through security, you’ll end up waiting at the gate, but that’s better than missing your flight because of a delay at a checkpoint. The standard is two hours prior to the departure of a domestic flight and three hours for international flights–more if you’re traveling with infants, small children or persons with disabilities, and less if you’re departing from a smaller airport or at a time when the airport isn’t busy.

– Avoid the busy times. Typically, early Monday and late Friday flights are the fullest, and that means long lines at security checkpoints. If possible, travel during the middle of the week. If you must travel on Mondays or Fridays, choose flights scheduled for a mid-day departure.

– Carry cash. Keep at least $25 in small bills handy, so you’ll have cash for tips, cab fare or a cup of coffee or snack without having to use a credit card.

– Follow instructions. You’ll move through the checkpoints faster if you politely and promptly obey all reasonable requests from police, airport security and airline personnel.

– Don’t leave your luggage unattended, even briefly. You may return to find that airport security has confiscated your bags.

– Avoid wearing excessive metal jewelry or accessories that might trigger the metal detector. Also, remember to remove your keys from your pockets before passing through the detector. Failure to clear the detector in two tries could make you subject to search.

– Double-check what you’ve packed. If you travel frequently and use the same luggage, review the contents before each trip. Don’t get caught with a forbidden item in your carry-on because you took that bag on a road trip last week and didn’t completely unpack it.

– Carry two forms of photo identification, with at least one that was issued by a state or federal agency. When booking your ticket, use the exact name on that ID. Keep your ID handy, either in a convenient pocket or even around your neck on an ID badge holder, so you can show it quickly and easily when asked.

– Travel light. If you can, use only carry-on luggage, so you don’t have to deal with checked bags should you be rerouted or your flight is canceled. Of course, check with the airline to determine its requirements for carry-on bags and don’t attempt to take more than is allowed.

– Pack with the assumption that your luggage will be hand-searched. Layer clothes neatly, even on the trip home when you might be inclined to simply wad up dirty garments. Use clear zip-lock bags and pouches for smaller items so they can be easily examined.

– Protect your electronic possessions. Inscribe your name on your laptop, cell phone, camera, and other electronics in case they are accidentally left at a security checkpoint. Place these types of items in a plastic bin before sending them through the x-ray machine. Be sure batteries are fresh so you can turn the item on if asked.

– Be prepared for flight cancellations. Though the airline will usually (but not always) try to help, it’s best if you know your options. Can you take a different route? Or a different airline? What about ground transportation? Use a travel agent who will work with you in such situations, and call him or her immediately if your flight is canceled. Be sure you have a 24-hour supply of toiletries, medications and other essentials in your carry-on luggage. And have a plan for alerting anyone at your destination who needs to know about the flight change.

– Wait productively. There’s no way to avoid waiting in airports, especially these days. But you can avoid wasting that time. Bring work with you. If that’s not possible, bring those professional journals you’re behind on to read. Keep a supply of note cards in your briefcase and write some personal notes to clients, colleagues or friends. Read a novel–a little escapism is a great stress-reducer. Strike up conversations with your fellow passengers, but keep the tone positive. This can be a great opportunity for networking, so don’t dwell on the negative aspects of the situation. Be sure to pass out business cards when appropriate. If you’re going to make calls on your cell phone, step away from the crowd so you don’t distract others with your half of a telephone conversation.

Tighter airport security measures may cost you time, but they have been implemented for the safety of everyone. A primary reason for delays at security checkpoints is people who ignore or try to circumvent the rules, or who become belligerent with security or airline personnel, so avoid being part of the problem. There’s not much you can do about the increase in time air travel requires, but being gracious, cheerful and cooperative will make the process smoother and more pleasant.