Good and bad travel advice

Tara Hunt has some good (and bad) travel advice. I TOTALLY disagree with her about timing, though (her times are too short to be safe). Here’s why:

1) Many airlines won’t let your bags on if you don’t get to the counter 45 minutes before your flight takes off. I learned that one the hard way when we got to the counter with 42 minutes left and were delayed, which ended up costing us $300 due to a layover in Chicago that we hadn’t planned on before.
2) Most airlines won’t let you on the plane if you don’t get to the gate 10 minutes before your flight takes off. I learned that once at Alaska Airlines when I got to the gate with eight minutes to go. There’s nothing worse than looking at the plane you’re supposed to be on sitting right in front of your face and having the gate agent tell you she can’t let you on, even though you got there eight minutes before it was supposed to take off.
3) Security lines can often be more than 30 minutes — in Atlanta this week I waited 45 minutes in the line. At Oakland I’ve waited an hour in that line.
4) Getting to the ticket counter can occasionally take 45 minutes or longer, especially in heavy travel conditions. Due to lines, understaffed counters, or computer troubles. Remember when I was flying to see John Edwards? I waited in line more than two hours and still hadn’t got to the ticket counter (extreme condition because Southwest in Oakland was all screwed up that morning).

The thing is this all varies by airport. San Francisco and Seattle are usually pretty good (although SF can see lots of delays if there’s fog and/or weather). Oakland, really bad (only if you’re on Southwest, otherwise it’s actually pretty good). Atlanta? Horrid.

Anyway, the new rule we recommend? 1:30 for any domestic flight and three hours for any international flight. If you can add more, do. There’s nothing more stressful than seeing a super long security line or, worse, being caught in traffic on the way to the airport knowing you are about to miss the only flight of the day.

Keep in mind that we often break these rules which is exactly why I have this advice (we’ve gotten caught too short a few too many times). In Atlanta last week I was at the airport four hours before my flight took off so I had absolutely no stress (since getting EVDO I don’t care about sitting in airports anymore cause I can get a lot of work done). The thing is you can often get to the counter 50 minutes before your flight and be just fine (but even if this works nine out of 10 times, the 10th time might really cost you).

If you’re carrying your bags on you can even often push it and get there just 33 minutes ahead of time (29, though, and the ticket machines won’t let you print out a ticket and you’ll have to wait in line, which will probably make you late). In many airports that’ll work eight out of 10 times. Not odds I’d want you to bet on and is ALWAYS stressful, even if you make the flight. That brings me to something else, print out your boarding passes at home, especially if you only have carryon bags. That will let you skip the counter altogether and then you’ll only have to worry about the security line.

Some other things I’d add to Tara’s list? Have your airlines phone numbers saved on your phone, or written down somewhere. If you get caught on the freeway on the way to the airport (it happens, sometimes there’s an accident that’ll close all lanes) it’ll reduce your stress to know your options. Once we were caught in such a traffic jam and learned our plane was running two hours late by calling.

I wouldn’t travel anymore without EVDO either. It’s so nice to be able to get onto the Internet without worrying about finding a Wifi hot spot (airports often don’t have complete coverage and if they do many charge you $7 to $12 to get on, at least in the United States). Check Wikipedia about the airports you’re visiting, though. Often you’ll learn something about the airport and the airports with free Wifi will often be mentioned on Wikipedia.

If you’re flying to places you’re unfamiliar with, triple check your tickets and make sure you KNOW where you’re going. We almost went to Genova instead of Geneva and are just lucky my aunt checked our tickets before we got on the train.

I learned something else this week. If someone else is booking your flights (which often happens if you work in a company and other people are making your travel plans) make sure you look at the tickets before you approve them. I didn’t realize there was a stop in Phoenix and if I had known that I would have gotten a non-stop (they were available, but would have required a small change to my schedule).

Anything else I can think of to help you travel? If you’re a woman traveling alone you should check out Tango Diva (they have a man issue on the home page right now). Heck, I can’t help plugging Tango Diva. The founder lives a few houses away from me and she’s going out to breakfast with us in the morning.

30 thoughts on “Good and bad travel advice

  1. It all depends on the airport you’re into. The best way to deal with the problem is avoid being in the situation itself. It’s better sacrificing a few hours early rather than not getting on your flight.

  2. It all depends on the airport you’re into. The best way to deal with the problem is avoid being in the situation itself. It’s better sacrificing a few hours early rather than not getting on your flight.

  3. I usually fly business class, even for short flights, not just for the bigger, comfier seats but also for the lounge. Unfortunately, I find most of the lounges block UDP which breaks the IKE exchange needed for VPN. I haven’t considered EVDO because 80% of my travel is international, where GSM rules the market.

    Is EVDO widely available overseas?

  4. I usually fly business class, even for short flights, not just for the bigger, comfier seats but also for the lounge. Unfortunately, I find most of the lounges block UDP which breaks the IKE exchange needed for VPN. I haven’t considered EVDO because 80% of my travel is international, where GSM rules the market.

    Is EVDO widely available overseas?

  5. I totally agree with your times. Mine were absolutely minimum. I think if I had an EVDO card, I might not mind waiting an extra hour in the waiting lounge. :)

  6. I totally agree with your times. Mine were absolutely minimum. I think if I had an EVDO card, I might not mind waiting an extra hour in the waiting lounge. :)

  7. I agree on Robert’s times, though it depends on the airport & how well you know it :), eg. jfx United friday afternoon is always very fast ( fantastic service to ), but I arrive early anyway because I’m doing a domestic->international out of LAX.
    3 hours international reason, security, post 9/11 has added an easy hour & made the terminal experience very unpleasant ( vs just unpleasant ).
    I recently tried one of those aweful looking neck pillows & swear by them now, avoiding jet lag to me relies primarily on relaxing, sleep when you can, keep track of the destination time, but don’t push sleep patterns, if you feel tired sleep ( before around midday destination time ).

  8. I agree on Robert’s times, though it depends on the airport & how well you know it :), eg. jfx United friday afternoon is always very fast ( fantastic service to ), but I arrive early anyway because I’m doing a domestic->international out of LAX.
    3 hours international reason, security, post 9/11 has added an easy hour & made the terminal experience very unpleasant ( vs just unpleasant ).
    I recently tried one of those aweful looking neck pillows & swear by them now, avoiding jet lag to me relies primarily on relaxing, sleep when you can, keep track of the destination time, but don’t push sleep patterns, if you feel tired sleep ( before around midday destination time ).

  9. I’ve been using Skip from http://www.goskip.com. It keeps track of my flight information in real time. I’ve missed connecting flights before and it tells me where the airline has rerouted me and I’ll have the information before I reach the gate. Keeps track of gates, delays and everything else. I dig it.

  10. I’ve been using Skip from http://www.goskip.com. It keeps track of my flight information in real time. I’ve missed connecting flights before and it tells me where the airline has rerouted me and I’ll have the information before I reach the gate. Keeps track of gates, delays and everything else. I dig it.

  11. The requirement to check in 10 minutes before departure is so that they can check in standby passengers. There are many passengers that reserve seats but don’t show up, the 10 minute cutoff gives the airline time to fill these seats with standby passengers.

  12. The requirement to check in 10 minutes before departure is so that they can check in standby passengers. There are many passengers that reserve seats but don’t show up, the 10 minute cutoff gives the airline time to fill these seats with standby passengers.

  13. A great site to check for flight status and other options is: mobile.flightstats.com. I’ve pulled it up several times on my Blackberry as I’ve been stuck in traffic on the way to the airport.

  14. A great site to check for flight status and other options is: mobile.flightstats.com. I’ve pulled it up several times on my Blackberry as I’ve been stuck in traffic on the way to the airport.

  15. I’ve been doing a lot of flying as well, mostly through Logan, Pearson, and JFK/LGA. And the only airline truism I’ve ever found is this “The plane is always delayed, unless you’re running late, in which case they are miraculously on time.”

    The best time I’ve ever had though was using one of the empty courtesy wheelchairs at Logan. I road that thing around the airport for near 3 hours due to delays. I have EVDO, so I rarely get completely bored, but I realized something that every airport should have: a gym.

    If we had gyms at the airports, I don’t think a lot of people would mind being delayed. Get a quick work out in, burn off some of that travel food, and then be on your way.

    Anyone have a similar idea for what airports need to keep people more entertained during delays?

  16. I’ve been doing a lot of flying as well, mostly through Logan, Pearson, and JFK/LGA. And the only airline truism I’ve ever found is this “The plane is always delayed, unless you’re running late, in which case they are miraculously on time.”

    The best time I’ve ever had though was using one of the empty courtesy wheelchairs at Logan. I road that thing around the airport for near 3 hours due to delays. I have EVDO, so I rarely get completely bored, but I realized something that every airport should have: a gym.

    If we had gyms at the airports, I don’t think a lot of people would mind being delayed. Get a quick work out in, burn off some of that travel food, and then be on your way.

    Anyone have a similar idea for what airports need to keep people more entertained during delays?

  17. Robert, I did 30K miles in April, have another 30K in June…I would give up on travel if I did not live in Tampa. From my door to airport gate, I can still on a good day make it in 30 minutes (and we live in a quiet neigborhood, on a canal, so enjoy the reason to live in Tampa – not in an apartment right next to airport). Only on certain times like Monday mornings, the TSA crawls. Certain terminals like that of Southwest seem to move more efficiently than Delta’s. I print my boarding pass at home. I have the security routine down – the quart bag and all. And Tampa airport has free WiFi.

    Yes, I am bragging about our airport. It is consistently rated in the top 5 airports in the country. Because they constantly innovate and are always investing in new screening, baggage and other technology.

    But also to point out other airports, TSA and airlines can do much better…

    …and that each of us can make a difference. Once at LAX only 2 X-Ray machines were open when 4 should have. I called for the TSA supervisor and showed him the $ 2.50 charge on our tickets and said there was no reason the other lines should not be open given the money we were all paying for the additional security. He opened another line. Another time the line was so long that I called SW reservations and had them connect me to their airport ops and told them half their planes would be delayed if they did not investigate what was wrong.

    I was recently at Heathrow and the process is so broken – they only allow one hand bag (so add even more time at the arrival airport), you go through 2 passport checks, and 2 X-Ray’s (one specifically for shoes). Last year I transited through Paris Charles de Gaulle twice – flew in on Delta, flew out on Delta. Ended up, we flew out on same equipment. Yet we were bused to a satellite terminal 25 feet away, made to go through security again, then walk back on tarmac onto same plane. Tell me that busing, and worse the walking back adds to security.

    I am all for better security. But most airports the actual security takes a minute or a minute or a half. I wish it was 5 minutes. The rest of the lines can be fixed with better process and technology. But till us customers scream, all the waiting around will be sold as “security” time…

    BTW – there is plenty of technology that can be deployed – see link below (and I wrote this 15 months ago, so things have evolved even more..at San Jose this week, I saw the Clear program machine but hardly anyone was using them.SFO has had it for a while now)…

    http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2006/01/technology_inno_1.html

  18. Robert, I did 30K miles in April, have another 30K in June…I would give up on travel if I did not live in Tampa. From my door to airport gate, I can still on a good day make it in 30 minutes (and we live in a quiet neigborhood, on a canal, so enjoy the reason to live in Tampa – not in an apartment right next to airport). Only on certain times like Monday mornings, the TSA crawls. Certain terminals like that of Southwest seem to move more efficiently than Delta’s. I print my boarding pass at home. I have the security routine down – the quart bag and all. And Tampa airport has free WiFi.

    Yes, I am bragging about our airport. It is consistently rated in the top 5 airports in the country. Because they constantly innovate and are always investing in new screening, baggage and other technology.

    But also to point out other airports, TSA and airlines can do much better…

    …and that each of us can make a difference. Once at LAX only 2 X-Ray machines were open when 4 should have. I called for the TSA supervisor and showed him the $ 2.50 charge on our tickets and said there was no reason the other lines should not be open given the money we were all paying for the additional security. He opened another line. Another time the line was so long that I called SW reservations and had them connect me to their airport ops and told them half their planes would be delayed if they did not investigate what was wrong.

    I was recently at Heathrow and the process is so broken – they only allow one hand bag (so add even more time at the arrival airport), you go through 2 passport checks, and 2 X-Ray’s (one specifically for shoes). Last year I transited through Paris Charles de Gaulle twice – flew in on Delta, flew out on Delta. Ended up, we flew out on same equipment. Yet we were bused to a satellite terminal 25 feet away, made to go through security again, then walk back on tarmac onto same plane. Tell me that busing, and worse the walking back adds to security.

    I am all for better security. But most airports the actual security takes a minute or a minute or a half. I wish it was 5 minutes. The rest of the lines can be fixed with better process and technology. But till us customers scream, all the waiting around will be sold as “security” time…

    BTW – there is plenty of technology that can be deployed – see link below (and I wrote this 15 months ago, so things have evolved even more..at San Jose this week, I saw the Clear program machine but hardly anyone was using them.SFO has had it for a while now)…

    http://dealarchitect.typepad.com/deal_architect/2006/01/technology_inno_1.html

  19. Security lines can often be more than 30 minutes — in Atlanta this week I waited 45 minutes in the line.

    Well, this is pretty fast, actually: I have been travelling a lot from Europe to Atlanta, and my average waiting time is more than 1 hour (up to 2 hours in bad days).
    Atlanta is the worst airport I have ever seen (having to collect you lugages, than to drop them again to take a sort of tube, and then collect them again is an example of bad airport ergonomy…).

    Anonymous from Europe

  20. Security lines can often be more than 30 minutes — in Atlanta this week I waited 45 minutes in the line.

    Well, this is pretty fast, actually: I have been travelling a lot from Europe to Atlanta, and my average waiting time is more than 1 hour (up to 2 hours in bad days).
    Atlanta is the worst airport I have ever seen (having to collect you lugages, than to drop them again to take a sort of tube, and then collect them again is an example of bad airport ergonomy…).

    Anonymous from Europe

  21. Bill: lines for domestic tend to be longer because people have a lot more bags to check. Also the planes are a lot larger, which causes lines to be longer. Also the consequences for missing a flight on international are usually far worse than domestic. When flying to Seattle, for instance, there are several flights a day so if you miss a flight you usually just have to sit around for a couple of hours. When going overseas there might only be one flight every day and several days’ worth might totally be booked so it might take you quite a few days to get where you want on international if you miss your flight.

  22. Bill: lines for domestic tend to be longer because people have a lot more bags to check. Also the planes are a lot larger, which causes lines to be longer. Also the consequences for missing a flight on international are usually far worse than domestic. When flying to Seattle, for instance, there are several flights a day so if you miss a flight you usually just have to sit around for a couple of hours. When going overseas there might only be one flight every day and several days’ worth might totally be booked so it might take you quite a few days to get where you want on international if you miss your flight.

  23. I’d recommend 2 hours for domestic flights Robert. The added advantage of the early check in is the ability to pick seating of your choice (providing you’re not flying Southwest and haven’t done so at the time of booking). Ya know everyone loves those emergency row chairs…

  24. I’d recommend 2 hours for domestic flights Robert. The added advantage of the early check in is the ability to pick seating of your choice (providing you’re not flying Southwest and haven’t done so at the time of booking). Ya know everyone loves those emergency row chairs…

  25. What is the justification for 3 hours before international flights. What happens there that doesn’t happen on domestic flights. Most of my flights over the years are international…can’t remember why there is a difference.

  26. What is the justification for 3 hours before international flights. What happens there that doesn’t happen on domestic flights. Most of my flights over the years are international…can’t remember why there is a difference.

  27. I once spoke to an off-duty First Officer about the cut-off times, and he told me that the limit was imposed to make sure that the load sheets, fuel and CG calculations are done and filed in good time. If a bunch of passengers and their bags turn up at the last minute, all the sums have to be done again, and there’s enough flight deck paperwork to be done already, especially with 20-minute turnarounds.

    One airport here in the UK often puts the status of the outbound flight to Final Call even before the inbound has landed, just to hurry passengers to the gate, where they then have to wait for 30 minutes or more.

  28. I once spoke to an off-duty First Officer about the cut-off times, and he told me that the limit was imposed to make sure that the load sheets, fuel and CG calculations are done and filed in good time. If a bunch of passengers and their bags turn up at the last minute, all the sums have to be done again, and there’s enough flight deck paperwork to be done already, especially with 20-minute turnarounds.

    One airport here in the UK often puts the status of the outbound flight to Final Call even before the inbound has landed, just to hurry passengers to the gate, where they then have to wait for 30 minutes or more.

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