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Careers: Airport Survival Tips

My all-time longest-shortest trip had to be my stay in Boston last week. I flew in to meet with a few companies but ended up spending 15 hours at Logan Airport. Everything seemed good to go until, over the period of a few hours, fog completely enveloped the airport. One by one, flights were cancelled including both flights back to Raleigh. To make matters worse, all the hotels in the area were completely booked and there wasn’t a rental car to be found. Armed with my laptop and suitcase, I had to hunker down for my first ever all-nighter at an airport.

My all-time longest-shortest trip had to be my stay in Boston last week. I flew in to meet with a few companies but ended up spending 15 hours at Logan Airport. Everything seemed good to go until, over the period of a few hours, fog completely enveloped the airport. One by one, flights were cancelled including both flights back to Raleigh. To make matters worse, all the hotels in the area were completely booked and there wasn’t a rental car to be found. Armed with my laptop and suitcase, I had to hunker down for my first ever all-nighter at an airport. This week, I thought I’d to share with you some survival tips and observations from the adventure.

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Always pack long pants. Because it was a quick trip, I only packed a suit and some shorts. They had the air conditioning on full tilt (and I mean full tilt) and that made for a pretty uncomfortable night. At one point it got so cold, I thought I saw the Abominable Snowmonster and Yukon Cornelius from Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Dunkin Donuts is good. One of the benefits of being stranded at Logan was having a Dunkin Donuts in the terminal that was open 24 hours. I must say I was pretty excited at first as I don’t get a chance to eat donuts all that often, but by morning I never wanted to see another glazed donut again.

Handy hint: Pace yourself when eating glazed donuts and drinking coffee.

Fog will dissipate if the temperature rises or falls. I struck up a conversation about fog with the guy sitting next to me at the gate and we weren’t sure if it was better if it warmed up or cooled off. A pilot later told us either would work but unfortunately neither happened on that Tuesday night. And, if you’re a fan of Murphy’s Law, you’ll be happy to know that the fog completely cleared about by 8:00 pm but by that time the airport was almost completely shut down leaving most of us stranded.

Power outlets are a traveler’s best friend. When I knew I was going to be stuck there a while, I went on a scouting mission to find an outlet. It always amazes me how hard they are to come by at most airports. Once I found electricity, I set up camp for the night.

Handy hint: look high and low as some airports have outlets in the ceiling.

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YouTube is the greatest invention ever!!!! I usually bring DVDs with me in case my flight is delayed but this trip I didn’t. So I had a ton of time on my hands with nothing to do. Thanks to YouTube, I was able to pass the overnight hours watching clips from some of my favorite movies. I also played “stump YouTube” by trying to search for clips from obscure movie and tv shows. Try it some time.

Sleep is overrated. Maybe it was the uncomfortable airport benches with 75 armrests that made it impossible to lie flat, or the comfortable cement floor, or people talking with their “outdoor voices” at 3:00 am when I was trying to sleep, but at some point I decided sleep was overrated. Later I realized that could have been the sleep depravation talking.

There’s a ban on liquids, gels, and aerosols. You might have heard something about this once if you have electricity, but that wasn’t the case for the woman behind me going through security. She had a 46 ounce jar of Heinz ketchup in her carryon. I don’t even know what to say about this one. The TSA screener threw it away (I hate to see good ketchup go to waste) but I had to wonder if there was another traveler with a hamburger in his or her carryon that is without ketchup as we speak.

Handy hint: If you love ketchup, bring a few of those packets you get from McDonald’s. I’m a Pittsburgh guy so I’m partial to Heinz, but even I know there’s no need to bring a year’s supply of ketchup in my carryon.

Always try standby. I was booked on the 10:40 am flight the next day. That flight was also cancelled. Because I slept at the airport, I was able to speak to the gate agent to get on standby for the 6:45 am flight and to get a confirmed seat on the 8:00 am flight. And that was good seeing the 10:40 flight had also been cancelled. Had I been at a hotel on the outskirts of town, there’s a good chance I would have missed the two earlier flights.

Watch what you say. Standing in line waiting to rebook my flight, I started chatting with the woman next to me. At the time, I had no idea she was a senior administrator for a major university. Good person to know and, because it’s a small world, also good that I didn’t say anything goofy.

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I’m back in North Carolina no worse for the wear. I met some really cool people including a pharmaceutical consultant who does acting and voiceovers on the side, learned more than I ever wanted to know about fog, and got my donut fix through 2009.

Have other airport survival tips you’d like to share? Post a comment.

Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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