by Ken Knezick - Island Dreams Travel
Since 9/11, air travel has become an increasingly complex and potentially frustrating affair. Additional regulations and restrictions are continually being added to the mix. Still, with knowledge and patience it is possible to travel safely and enjoyably. With four decades of international travel under my weight belt, I find that I am still learning from my experiences...and my mistakes. The following suggestions are offered to make your travel as hassle free as possible.
- HURRY UP and WAIT -- Early arrival at the airport for check-in is now more important than ever. You will avoid many problems and much distress simply by arriving at the airport check-in counter two hours or more in advance of your flight departure.
- CONNECTING FLIGHTS -- When planning connecting flights, allow at least three hours for you and your luggage to change planes, especially when making an inter-airline connection and/or clearing Immigration and Customs. Cutting this too close can ruin a great trip before it even begins.
- FALL-BACK OPTION -- Avoid scheduling the last flight that will connect from your home airport to the major gateway. If your flight is late or cancelled due to weather or mechanical issues, your entire vacation may be placed be in jeopardy. If at all possible, book an earlier flight for a safety cushion.
- TRAVEL INSURANCE -- The best laid plans are still sometimes derailed by circumstances beyond our control. Disruptions due to unforeseen family health issues, hurricanes, current events, or simple mechanical failures will be much easier to tolerate if you know that your substantial vacation investment is protected. Now more than ever, travel insurance should be part of your plans for success. Follow this link to learn more: Travel Insurance Primer.
- PACKING FOR SUCCESS -- Baggage weight maximums are decreasing at the same time carry-on capacity and contents are being restricted. So no more kitchen sink, plus a backup -- we all must learn to pack ever more lightly and efficiently. Our checked luggage is also subject to greater scrutiny than ever before. My dive bag and camera case ice chest are often opened by the TSA inspectors. In a proactive response, I have begun to put a carefully worded note to them inside each bag, packed right on top. It explains the contents, assures that any dive lights have been securely locked in the off position, stresses that the components are delicate, and respectfully requests careful repacking. This straight-forward approach seems to have cut down on sloppy "rummaging around," as well as more extensive inspections.
- BAGGAGE WEIGHT LIMITS -- This is an aspect of air travel that is experiencing immense change. Most domestic flights allow a maximum weight of 50 pounds per bag, and charge a fee for every checked bag. Most international flights allow one checked bag (up to 50 pounds) complimentary, and may charge a fee for additional checked bags. Overweight bags will be charged a penalty, or with increasing frequency simply denied loading aboard the aircraft. Carry-on bags are also being limited in both quantity and weight. Don't be surprised at the gate. Phone your airline in advance, and/or check with their web site, and ascertain current baggage allowances. Then pack accordingly, or be prepared to pay extra.
- WEIGH YOUR BAGS -- The bathroom scale is now an important part of packing for success. Don't try to pack the night before your trip. Start one week in advance, pack all you think you need, and then carefully weigh each bag. Next remove some of that (now superfluous) stuff, and repeat as needed. Scales differ so strive to bring it in a bit below the maximum.
- FREQUENT FLIERS -- In some cases elite members of frequent flier programs may receive more generous baggage allowances. This has become one of the most valuable benefits of gaining priority elite status on the airline you use most often. Check with your airline for current policies and learn to play their game.
- EXTRA LUGGAGE -- Underwater photographers feel the pain. It may be possible to purchase the right to check a third bag, at a cost of something like $125. In high capacity travel times however, it may no longer be possible to elect this option, at any price. Again, don't be stymied at the gate. Check with your airline in advance.
- TAG YOUR BAGS...INSIDE AND OUT -- It is surprising to note how many people arrive at the airport with no identification on their luggage. Wiser travelers will have at least two external tags securely affixed to each piece of luggage, and one inside the cover of each bag for good measure.
- WHAT TO WEAR FOR SMOOTHER CHECK-IN -- Almost all clothing accessories, including shoes, belts, hats, sweaters, jackets, etc. must be removed and sent through the x-ray machine. Simplify matters for yourself by wearing such items that are relatively easy for you to remove and re-don. On another note, wear at least one garment that has secure button-down or velcro pockets suitable to keeping your passport, wallet, pen, glasses and other critical items safely on your person. A travel shirt such as Ex Officio, "safari pants" with good button pockets, and/or a photo journalist style vest or jacket can be very helpful in securing important items. I've really come to appreciate my SCOTTeVEST.
- CARRY-ON LUGGAGE -- As of now travelers in the USA are limited to one carry-on bag, plus the equivalent of a purse, laptop bag, or small backpack. Don't test the capacity limits too closely, as your carry-on may be denied boarding, or forced to be gate checked. Plan and pack accordingly.
- WHAT SHOULD BE IN YOUR CARRY-ON BAG -- Carry-on only the most important items, such as your identification, airline tickets, vouchers and travel documents, any required medications in their original prescription container, cell phone, eye glasses, and reading materials. Add in the most delicate of your camera equipment and you've got a full bag.
- WHAT NOT TO CARRY-ON -- An extensive, and ever-growing, list concerns what may not be contained in your carry-on luggage. Newest restrictions forbid carrying on any liquid, gel, or lotion products, unless they are specifically less than three ounces in volume. This includes toothpaste, perfume, many make-up products, and even things as seemingly innocuous as lip gloss. All such items should be packed in a quart-sized Ziplock bag for easy inspection. As anything battery-powered invites extra scrutiny, when possible, limit the amount of electronics you are carrying. As these policies are in a state of flux, you are strongly advised to access this TSA link for current data: Transportation Security Administration - Permitted and Prohibited Items
- HOT-BUTTON TOPICS -- In the airport and on the aircraft, never use hot-button words like bomb, terrorist, etc. This is simply not the time for humor. An offhand remark or attempt at a joke can quickly put you off the flight, and into big trouble. When clearing security, keep smiling. Be patient, helpful, and relaxed, but don't try to be funny.
- VALUE OF A PASSPORT -- A U.S. Passport is one of the most valuable items you may ever own. Immigration restrictions are tightening worldwide. Destinations that once could be visited with only a driver's license and/or birth certificate are changing their requirements. If you intend to engage in international travel, make your passport application now. Basic processing can take three weeks or more. As of this writing, new application fees total $145, and the passport is then valid for ten years. For details please visit: http://travel.state.gov/
- RENEW YOUR PASSPORT -- Many destinations now require that your passport remain valid for at least six months after conclusion of your visit. If your passport will expire within the next year, make immediate plans to process your renewal. As of this writing, renewal fees total $110. Again, details are here: http://travel.state.gov/
- TSA PRE CHECK and GLOBAL ENTRY -- Qualifying for these programs will help immensely to mitigate some of the burdens of standing in line. For flights within the USA, TSA Pre Check enables you to bypass or minimize some of the screening process. When returning to USA from international travel, Global Entry makes passing through U.S. Immigration a breeze. As a bonus, Global Entry certification also includes TSA Pre. Here are links to begin the certification processes:
- AROUND THE WORLD WITH A SMILE -- Traveling to your exotic holiday destination can still be part of the fun. The most important things to have with you are all times are patience, a ready smile, and a sense of adventure. These simple attributes, obtained and offered free of charge, will help to make your airport and flight experiences more bearable for you and those around you, and your holiday more successful and satisfying.
I hope that some of the suggestions offered above will be of value to you. If you have ideas of your own, please share them by sending me an email: Ken@divetrip.com.
MORE TRAVEL TIPS -- For additional ideas, please visit Island Dreams': International Travel Tips.