Just got back from an international trip and was I reminded of the days when I was doing 22 transatlantic trips a year. (See the Wall Street Journal's "Globetrotter's Tips To Boost Performance on Long Business Trips.") That was five years ago and many things have changed in the air. So it seems like a good time to update those travel tips for folks who need to fly, especially internationally. Here goes:
1. If you frequently travel internationally, you might be able to save a lot of time at U.S. passport control by applying for the Global Entry Program, which according the CBP.gov Web site, "allows pre-approved, low-risk travelers expedited clearance upon arrival into the United States. It costs $100 and it involves a background check, but the sign-up hassle seems worth it for frequent travelers. I haven't tried this yet, but it sounds like a good idea.
2. There used to be a priority airport security screening service called CLEAR. According to its Web site, the service shut down in June 2009, but is scheduled to return in the future, under new ownership. No date is given for resumed service. The CLEAR service basically moved passengers who paid the $99 fee and underwent a background check, directly to the head of the airport security line. This was convenient for passengers traveling domestically via airports that provided this service.
3. With airlines now charging for checked luggage and priority boarding, it is more important than ever to take your 'gear' onboard. Ditch the trolley suitcase, which is always the first bag to be selected for 'gate check.' Rather, take two even-sized soft-sided bags --put your computer in one of them. One goes in the overhead bin and one goes under the seat. When the flight attendants look for bags to gate check, yours will be securely in the bin. These bags are much more flexible and they fit in the nooks and crannies between the trolleys. This way, you can forego the 'priority boarding fee' as well.
4. It is easy to say 'pack light' -- but here are some concrete ideas to put this into practice. Pack outfits so that any combination of pants and shirts match. This minimizes the number of clothes you need to take. Think twice about each piece of clothing you put in the bag. Try and take only one pair of shoes so you don't have to pack them; shoes take up tons of room. If you want to take sneakers for the gym, find a pair that is lightweight and rolls up into a ball. I have been looking for the ultimate pair myself; I haven't found them yet. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.
5. Take an extra shirt and wear it over your regular shirt on the plane. This serves three purposes. It protects you from spilling a drink on your dress shirt, it represents another shirt you can use o the trip, and it replaces the blanket, for which airlines are now charging extra.
6. When going through security, carefully eye the line in front of you. If you have seen the movie "Up in the Air," you know what I am talking about. Avoid lines with people that typically take longer to get through security. Some airports/airlines have a priority line for frequent travelers. Take advantage of this if you are eligible.
7. While we are in the topic of airline security lines, designate a pocket in your carry-on bag where you can easily store your wallet, keys, phone, watch, belt, etc. Empty your pockets into the bag and untie your shoes before you get into line. You want to keep the line moving the minimum amount of hassle. By following the rules, you can avoid the hassle of having to go through the screening process several times.
8. I have heard that some people 'overnight' their luggage to their destination. This, of course, works only for domestic travel. I have never tried it; I prefer to pack lighter and save this hassle as well, although people have told me this is a good solution ... especially if you can expense it.
9. Check-in online before going to the airport. This can be a huge time saver. Some airlines provide paperless boarding passes; they send a message directly to your mobile phone or email device. Just be aware that if you check-in on-line and then miss your flight, you basically lose the ticket, so make sure you get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
10. If you rent a car, sign up for the rental car company's priority club, such as Hertz Gold Club, Avis Wizard, National Emerald, Budget Frequent Renter, Dollar's Express, or Enterprise Plus. The last thing you want after landing is to end up in a long line for the rental car. Make sure the car has an electronic device for paying tolls, such as EZ-Pass, IPass, SunPass, or similar device, depending on where you are in the country. This way, you have the flexibility to pick the shortest line at the toll booth. You are typically charged a nominal fee for daily usage, but it is worth it.
11. Plan your trip to avoid rush hours and busy airports. I find that flying out of smaller airports, like White Plains in NYC, or Long Beach in LA, saves a lot of time getting to/from the airport and getting to/from the plane.
12. If you want to get to your destination on time, either take the first flight out in the morning--before the flights start backing up due to bad weather 'somewhere,' or take the last flight of the day and get to the destination the night before. Either way, you should have enough buffer to handle delays and their associated stress.
13. If you are traveling between cities that have less than 4 hours of driving time, consider taking the train or driving. Driving from NY to Boston, or taking the train from NY to Washington, saves you a lot of time, and it reduces the uncertainties associated with today's airline travels ... especially in poor weather.
Follow these tips and you should save yourself some serious time. Let me know if you have some good ideas as well.