Airport hacks - share 'em here

I usually travel to conferences 4x times a year or so. I pride myself on being an efficient packer and good traveler, and I’ve picked up some tips… I figure we can share stuff we do to make the whole business more pleasant.

  1. I have a clothes-folding system I got at the Container Store - it consists of a plastic rectangle that fits into a fabric pouch. You fold your clothes using the plastic insert, then secure the pouch. Keeps the clothes pressed pretty well and means I can leave the suit bag behind.

  2. I just purchased a photographer’s shooters vest. I am gadget central when I travel - Bluetooth headset, iPhone, iPod, Palm TX (for video), sometimes a camera… this thing has 21 pockets, which seems ideal for stashing my stuff. I can just throw it in a bin for the scanning machine and pick it up on the other side.

  3. Of course I check in at home 24 hours before my flight, so I can go directly to the gate.

  4. I always believe in getting to the airport at least 90 minutes before my flight. So I can do everything leisurely. Invariably something comes up, and I can deal with it without panicking about missing my flight.

  5. I always wear cotton - breathes, best stuff to wear if you are ever in a fire (God forbid), and sneakers that slip off. If I have to travel in business attire then it’s slip-on shoes for me as well.

  6. I never panic about packing. If I remember my netbook, favorite tie, needed power accessories, and favorite cologne, everything else can be purchased at a drugstore/department store at my destination. I know my wife tortures herself to remember everything… totally unnecessary if you’re traveling to a city on business - they have the same stuff you have here.

What are your air travel/business trip hacks?

My carry-on bag is a small shoulder-slung gym bag that has a zippered mesh pouch encompassing the entire inside of the zippered flap on top of the bag. I put anything in there that needs to be x-rayed separately (the liquids ziploc, Epi-Pen in another ziploc with a letter from my doctor) so that when I get up to the tables I can just reach in there and have those items immediately at hand.

I’m paranoid about being late so I leave to arrive two hours before a flight, at least. It worked out when once the cab broke down on the way to the airport.

If I’m flying on vacation (versus business where I can expense my breakfast/lunch at the airport), I’ll pack a small lunch in a disposable plasticware container/disposable takeout container. It helps to have learned about making and packing bento, which emphasizes good food in a very compact (and easy to eat) form, ideal for taking into an airport or on a plane. Obviously any liquid condiments should go through security in your liquids bag.

I put all my toiletries in the TSA-mandated 1 quart bag. But I don’t take it out when going through security. Instead, I keep it in the front pocket of my carryon, with nothing else above it. Going through the x-ray machine, it looks like it’s sitting in top of the suitcase. I have never had TSA ask me to remove it.

When parking at the airport, don’t just prowl the first floor you get to that says it has parking available. Drive up an extra floor or two and you’ll probably get a spot closer to the elevators. Less walking.

I book everything online, print out the confirmation e-mails, highlight the important bits (flight no., confirmation no., etc.) fold in half and write “flight”, “rental car”, or “hotel” along the edge. I’ve got a backpack with a pouch at the top that’s supposed to be for a music player. The paperwork goes in there so I can get whatever I need instantly.

After check-in, wallet, phone, coins go in one small pouch on the backpack. Car and apartment keys go in another (I know I won’t need those until the trip’s over; saves me from worrying if I’ve dropped them 1,000 miles from home.) Everything is handy if I need it, and no futzing around with bowls at the security checkpoint.

I’ve found that my netbook slides neatly into into a pocket that’s on the back of my CPAP carry bag, so that’s where I put it when flying. It saves me the trouble of having to unzip my carry on bag to get the netbook in and out at security, and since the CPAP bag is the one that I put under the seat I don’t need to worry about the netbook being damaged when some asshole tries to cram an oversized suitcase into the overhead compartment.

Knitters on US flights: knitting is allowed (this is not necessarily true overseas) but TSA agents are allowed discretion in forbidding even allowed items. My tips:

  • If you haven’t already, it’s time to move away from metal needles, at least for on the plane. If you check a bag, put metal needles in that one.

  • If you have a work in progress that was on metal needles but don’t want to check the project, thread a tapestry needle with a contrasting yarn and run the yarn through the working stitches, then knot it off to save it for knitting at your destination. Alternately, transfer the project onto non-metal needles for the plane.

  • Paranoid about your convertible, non-metal needle tips being confiscated out of your x-rayed carryon? If you’re not likely to be searched, remove the needle tips from the cables and stick them in your back pocket, or mix them in with pens in your bag.

  • This is not the time to work on a super-bulky weight yarn on massive needles, making that cuddly winter sweater you so desperately want to finish. Not only are the needles more likely to be confiscated, but you’ll surely elbow the person sitting next to you. Start some socks on tiny wooden double-pointed needles, knit mittens for little kids, something like that.

You know, I’ve travelled by plane a lot, domestically and internationally, both before 11/9 and subsequent to it, and I’ve never once seen someone doing their knitting on an aircraft. Ever.

Yet I’ve heard a couple of people here on the boards discussing knitting on planes. Another one for the “Only on the SDMB” file, I guess. :stuck_out_tongue:

As for the OP: If you’re travelling on a budget airline, depending where you are, you can often take an empty water bottle through the security checkpoints and then fill it up for free from the water fountains on the other side (Singapore has signs up encouraging you to do this, FWIW), thus avoiding extortionate airport prices on bottled water.

Never wear a vest with pockets. The strain you feel on a long trip is mostly strain on your shoulders. (The armrests on airline seats are just a bit too low for some reason.) Avoid carrying anything on the upper body.

Get a carry-on that opens at the top, with a flap. Get one as black as possible. put it under your knees for the entire flight. This give you more foot room. The stewardess will never see it.

Sleeping pills are more trouble than they are worth.

Sit in the window seat. Lean against the wall and try to get some sleep. Take off your shoes.

Usually there’s no room for knitting! :slight_smile:

Knitting on an airplane topics are so done to death on the LiveJournal knitting discussion group that threads are shut down and the poster is referred to their FAQ for reference. Plus many international flights forbid it.

I only knit on a plane when I’m snuggled up to my husband, and if I’m in the middle seat, if the person on the other side isn’t crowding me. (I was between two men on a business flight where I literally spent part of the flight squeezing my arms and shoulders together as much as I could, and at times nearly had an elbowing fight with one guy, trying to claim one armrest, while the other guy kept flopping onto my seat while sleeping. I think I should have pulled out knitting with some slim metal needles for that flight.)

My contribution here has to do with what I call “airport mindset.”
I used to be a cranky and impatient flier, until I realized that such an attitude was doing me no good.

Traveling is a much less stressful experience now that I make a conscious effort to remind myself that more likely than not, there will be people slowly bumbling their way through security in front of me; there will be people blocking the escalator; there will be people suddenly stopping and changing direction without looking as I walk to my gate; when boarding, there will be people blocking the aisle while messing with numerous oversized carry-ons; the flight may not take off on time… and most importantly, none of this matters.

I always get to the airport early, and I’m not in danger of missing my flight. The plane will go where I want to go, and it will leave when it leaves. Lots of deep breaths and the right midset can make situations beyond my control a lot easier to handle.

  1. Arrive at the airport 2 hours before a flight. Occasionally I may trim this down, if I’m very familiar with the airport.

  2. Once I park the car, everything goes in my backpack. Wallet, phone, keys, everything. I keep out a credit card, and my I.D. This saves time when getting through security.

  3. Always pack some sort of ‘stay alive’ food on your carry-on. I’ve found combos work well. I got into the habit when I flew to Korea several times a year, as you never knew when the meal served would be inedible. Now since noboby serves any food, it’s something filling that will keep me from getting hungry during the flight.

  4. On the same note, plan ahead. If on a long flight (4 hrs or more), try and find a sandwich shop or something to take a sub with you on the plane. However, limit the toppings to those that won’t go bad while it’s stuffed in your bag for 3 hours. Mayo is not your friend after 4 hours in a warm backpack. Trust me.

  5. Never fly the day of business. If I need to meet someone, I fly in the day before. Trying to fly in the day of a meeting more often than not ends in missing the meeting and having to reschedule, or being late. Which is unprofessional.

  6. When flying back, I don’t mind taking a later flight and getting home late, but if there aren’t any flights that are late enough for me to spend the entire alloted time with the person I’m meeting, then I fly out the next day. Nothing worse than having to cut short a meeting by 2pm so I can make a 5pm flight.

  7. If you’re flying an airline that doesn’t charge for a checked bag, check the fucker and don’t think your time is so precious that 20 minutes spent waiting for your bag is going to ruin you. See above about not trying to fly in at the last minute.

  8. By the same token, sometimes those seat fees and bag fees can work to your advantage. For instance on Airtran, it costs $20 to reserve a specific seat for your flight. A fee that I’m allowed to expense back to my customer. And they charge $20 per bag checked. Again an expense I’m allowed to charge. However when I get to the airport to check in, if I purchse a business upgrade for $69 or so, then the seat fees and baggage fees are refunded as part of that fee. So I can fly business and only be out $30 from my own pocket. An amount that I’m happy to pay.

  9. Now that I have kids I’m much more sympathetic to people traveling with small children. I have a Dell Mini an an external hard drive with a bunch of movies in case I feel like watching one during the flight. However I also have about 20 kids movies on the drive as well. In case a parent is faced with a little one that just absolutly doesn’t want to sit quietly in the seat, and they don’t have some sort of DVD player, I offer to let them watch a movie on the mini. Saves everyone in a 5 row radius several hours of screaming child.

We live in the Midwest, and have three small regional airports within a two-hour drive of us. We also have O’Hare 2.5 hours away. We never, ever, ever elect to drive to O’Hare. Not only does it frazzle and exhaust us before the real travel even begins, but the small airports mostly have free parking and no lines at check-in or security. For a week-long trip, the savings on parking almost pay for the connecting flight to O’Hare. It makes travelling 90% easier.

I always wear slip-on shoes and something with an elastic waistband, when I fly. The slip-on shoes are great for security and the elastic waistband prevents discomfort while on the plane, and guarantees I won’t put on a belt with a heavy buckle that tips the metal detector at security. I also usually wear a knit top with 3/4 sleeves, and bring a shawl. The shawl doubles as a blanket while on the plane. I don’t wear any jewelry, either.

My husband and I have both given up on carrying laptops when we travel–we have iPod Touches that are good enough for email and finding hotel/restaurant information. Of course, neither of us ever travel on business, so we never need a laptop while we’re gone. Not having to maneuver the laptop in and out of our bags is one less hassle at security.

I try to treat the airports as part of the vacation fun, to make the travelling less odious. If I have time I shop, get a massage, and eat in a sit-down restaurant. In our everyday lives we try to budget and economize, and generally don’t do that kind of thing. It makes the whole waiting-around experience much easier than if I were to sit at my gate for the whole layover. BTW, Detroit is our favorite airport. We ride the train up and down the main terminal, then ride the moving walkways back and forth in the “acid-trip tunnel” for a while.

Netbook not notebook

Easy on-off shoes

Use PDA-Net to tether your android or iphone smartphone to your notebook so you don’t have to pay airport or hotel wireless access charges.

Use a very distinctive luggage tag or luggage marker. It’s amazing how alike many bags look alike when rounding the luggage carousel.

Try to eat small snacks before you come to the airport. Airport food is expensive and fattening and riding a plane after a sizeable meal is not all that pleasant.

Put Amazon’s Kindle app on your smartphone and download a few free books to read.

If you’re checking a bag, see if your airline - and at that airport - offers curbside check-in. For the cost of a little tip, you can usually avoid a long check-in line inside. I haven’t seen more than 5 people in line at curbside check-in (and usually far less) when I’ve looked at that booth.

If you’re leaving on an early flight, consider staying at a hotel with shuttle access to the airport on your last night instead of driving to the airport in the morning.

I was staying with some friends in Athens, GA (for free) and was absolutely stressing about the drive to Atlanta to return the rental car and make my 10 AM flight. I had a stroke of genius and just said my goodbyes early the night before, drove out to the airport to return my rental car, then made some calls from the shuttle station to find a hotel.

However much that hotel cost was absolutely worth it for having a relaxing evening, a good night’s sleep, a continental breakfast, and a leisurely stroll to the airport.

I had a brilliant idea and had mrAru use backpack material and canvas webbing to make a case for the folding wheelchair we use while traveling - airports have wonderful people with wheelchairs to transport you between the counter and the gate when you check the chair, and then any transfers, and at the end to the baggage claim. The case makes your chair less able to be damaged.

An Asus EEE PC is more than enough laptop for travel, on vacation I don’t have the time to bother with playing EVE Online or WOW, all I do is surf the internet, watch movies from a thumb drive, or load music and ebooks onto my droid phone and Ipod.

I use a large backpack as luggage, and have a spiffy mesh from Pac-Safe that entirely encloses the back pack, and has a TSA lock. Keeps people from cutting in to steal anything large and giftboxed I might have packed as they simply cant get it out of the mesh and it can still be inspected by the TSA if they want to. I can sling the pack on the back of the wheelchair, and lock it to the frame of the chair. I would love to see someone snatch it off a 35 lb chair with a 300 lb broad sitting in it. I can also lock the pack and the chair to something solid to keep it from walking off while I am asleep. sells all sorts of spiffy travel sized goodies ranging from exotic foods to toothpaste. I take all my meds locked in a med case, and a selection of toiletries that I need at a minimum and a thin silky kaftan that folds down real small that I can wear while I hand wash my clothing if my luggage doesnt make it, all of which nicely fit into the hardcase rolly computer case I use.

[I also have folding canadian crutches instead of the nonfolding ones when I travel]

On that note sometimes park and fly deals at hotels can be a good deal compared to parking or even a taxi.

We are traveling next month to the east coast for a 11 day trip and because of much cheaper pricing driving down to San Francisco makes more sense than flying out of Sacramento. We could either park near the airport for about $160 or rent a hotel for one night and 14 days of parking for $170. We picked the hotel, which means we will be well rested and can leisurely wake up for our noon flight rather than trying to drive down that morning. Hotel pricing is seasonal so often the one night stay with full trip parking is cheaper than regular full trip parking at a standard lot.

Almost the opposite advice, I find smaller airports to be more pleasant. Easier to get around, oddly sometimes they have better food options and are more likely to offer free wifi. I’d take Sacramento over San Francisco, or Dayton over Cincinnati, any time. Sacramento in particular has lots of good food options and is laid out such that you can get from your plane to the parking or taxi within three minutes. The downside is that air prices are sometimes more expensive, although that is less of a problem for me with business travel.

I used to get sick every damn time we went on vacation, and would usually lose at least one day to headache and puking, until I finally figured out that I was bringing it on myself.

I hated using the tiny airplane bathrooms, especially if I had to wake up the person sleeping next to me so I could squeeze in and out of my seat, so I used to try not to drink anything within hours of the flight. After being dehydrated most of the day and having my ears clogged from the pressure change, my sinuses would go to hell and that would be that.

So, a very obvious yet very important tip: Drink plenty of fluids when you are flying!

I’ll stay hydrated, but I also like the sauce. Anyone else drink? If I don’t have to drive when I land, I like drinking at the airport and in-flight. It puts me in a mood where all the minor airport annoyances seem even more insignificant.

I paint chevrons onto all of my luggage, that way if I’m ever in a situation where I have to check luggage, it’s distinctive on the luggage belts.

I take my work ID even for personal trips; my company and DTW have an agreement where employees can use the first class security line. At other airports where there’s a Delta presence, we also have an agreement with Delta for use of the first class line. So, try taking your own company badge and see if that works for you (but only if you’re an expert solo traveler that won’t hold up other expert people by cheating). No one at security has ever doubted me. (Note: this doesn’t mean we get to board with first class passengers, though.)

Taking the stairs is often much faster than trying to push your way through lazy people who stand still on escalators. (They seem smart enough to stick to the right on moving walkways, but it seems people get stupid and/or lazy on escalators.)