It’s that time of year. Winter has overstayed its welcome; those of us who live in colder climates are sick and tired of bundling up and, no matter where you live, chances are excellent that you are thinking about hopping on a plane and heading out for a well-deserved vacation.
Having had the opportunity to do more flying in the last two years than in my entire adult life, thanks to some really entertaining events that perhaps one day I will be able to share with you, I have definitely learned a thing or two about the air travel experience. In the interest of complete honesty, I will tell you that I have learned most of these lessons the hard way.
Pick an airline that you actually enjoy flying. While you all know that I love getting a good deal, there are times when price may not be the most important factor in your decision, especially on a lengthier flight. Being on the short side myself, I thought I wouldn’t mind flying a discount carrier on a relatively short flight but I was mistaken; the rows of seats were so close together that I couldn’t reach my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me without banging my head on the aforementioned seat. Also, it helps to pick an airline with good customer service as I discovered on a recent trip to visit my parents in Florida when a last-minute flight change created scheduling problems for me. A relatively quick call to JetBlue got me a seat on a flight leaving a day later without having to pay any change fees.
Invest in a good suitcase/carry-on bag. Several years ago my daughter and I were headed to Florida and, since all of our rolling carry-ons were currently in use, we each grabbed an overnight bag and stuffed them with a few days’ worth of clothing. By the time we got to the gate, those bags were getting awfully heavy to carry but hey, we were finally there so we could put them down, right? Wrong. We were at the wrong gate and the correct one was all the way on the other side of the airport. I promise you those bags felt like they were loaded with rocks by the time we got to the right gate and our arms were achy for days after.
What kind of bag to buy? Shop the sales and get a bag made by a company with a reputation for durability. You want wheels that roll smoothly and won’t fall off when you hit that first bump, good quality zippers and a telescoping handle that can live up to the constant ups and downs it will be facing. More importantly, when you buy luggage from a reputable company, it typically handles repairs graciously and effectively. Having said all that, remember that your luggage will be abused by baggage handlers, so investing in pricey bags may not be the best idea.
Packing primer. G-d bless my mother who taught me how to use every square inch of space when packing a suitcase. Stuffing your socks and other small items inside your shoes not only helps your footwear keep its shape but also takes advantage of wasted space. Keep fragile stuff cushioned in the center of your suitcase and pack heavier items near the bottom to keep it from tipping over when you stand it up. If you have a laptop or liquids in your carry-on, keep them near the top of your suitcase so they are easy to access when you have to take them out to get through security. Also, be sure to pack all valuables (as well as your tallis and tefillin, guys) in your carry-on where you can keep them in your sight at all times.
Dress for success. What to wear on travel day? First and most importantly, socks. When you get to security, you are going to have to take off your shoes and I promise you that you don’t want to be walking around in your bare feet in the airport where there is who knows what lurking on the floor. It goes without saying that slip-ons are a much better bet than high tops when it comes to clearing security; they also give you the benefit of being able to kick off your shoes once you are finally seated. Also, while guys always have pockets, we girls generally do not, so I have learned to wear something with pockets to keep those little odd and ends I need in flight, like Blistex, tissues, a pen and moisturizer, within easy reach. (Oh, and make sure that your moisturizer is closed. Trust me when I tell you that reaching into your pocket and being greeted by gobs of moisturizer is a truly unpleasant experience.)
Never travel without food in your carry-on. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have a six-course meal ordered for your flight or are planning on picking up something at the airport, always take food with you because you never know when you are going to end up in a situation with absolutely no kosher food available and faced with magically turning two chocolate bars into a meal for your entire family because you accidentally left supper sitting on the kitchen counter. (And yes, that is the voice of experience speaking.) Also, throw an empty water bottle or two into your carry-on bag. You may not be able to take water through security but once you are past those gates you can fill up at the nearest water fountain instead of spending $2 a bottle at an airport kiosk.
Best seats in the house? I have long been a fan of aisle seats because they seem less claustrophobic and are easy to get in and out of, but the last few flights I have taken have been short ones and I have found the window seat to be even roomier. There is no one brushing past you in the aisle, you can lean comfortably against the window and the rounded shape of the plane’s outer wall provides a little bit of extra elbow room. I wish I could tell you that there are benefits to the middle seat but, alas, there aren’t any. My condolences to you if you end up there.
Check your gate. Always double check those big screens at the airport to make sure you know which gate you are headed to. The one listed on your boarding pass may be incorrect, especially if you printed it out in advance. Having gone to the wrong gate, not once but twice, for the same flight, I can tell you that it isn’t a whole lot of fun.
Last but not least, never joke around with TSA agents. Their job is to root out wise guys who may be potential threats to national security, so smile, be polite and thank them for their hard work. Who knows, it may just save you a pat down as you exit the metal detector.
So there you have it – just about everything I have learned about flying over the past two years, though there are still many mysteries that have yet to be solved (like why I need four bins to get through security when everyone else manages just fine with two). No matter where you may be headed, have a safe trip, don’t forget to say tefilas haderech and feel free to bring me back some chocolate!