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So, security has been heightened (to say the least) at all of the airports in the US. This is going to make traveling a lot more difficult than ever before. I’ve listed some tips below, and will post some Airport Games as well.

Before you start for the airport, take a patience pill. And a calm pill. If you’re allergic to dogs, take an antihistamine pill. And, yes, even a generosity pill. We’re all going to have to work together, and play together, to get through this.

Where to get Information

For more information, you can check the following Web sites: (These are also references for this wu.)

  • Federal Aviation Authority: www.faa.gov
  • Department of Transportation: www.dot.gov
  • Department of State: www.travel.state.gov

Before going to the airport check www.fly.faa.gov to see if your origin, layover and destination airports are open. Also check your airlines’ web page to see if the flight is still scheduled (may be unreliable).

New Restrictions

  • Must have photo ID to get into gate areas.
  • Must have ticket or proof of ticket to get into gate areas.
  • No knifes or blades of any kind, including on key rings.
  • Must arrive earlier at airport (check with airline to find out how early)

New activities:

  • No more curbside check-in
  • Luggage search at front counter check-in.
  • Security personnel in all parts of airports, possibly with dogs.
  • Plane searches prior to take-off.
  • Armed US Marshals on flights.
  • Potential for delays or random flight departures.

Packing

Security personnel are now opening and inspecting luggage. To make it easier, get a clear plastic toiletries bag and some other clear plastic bags. Pack non-clothing items in the plastic bags – this way the inspectors can inspect your bag faster (hopefully!). The whole name of the game under the new restrictions will be trying to keep everything moving as quickly as possible while allowing security to be thorough. Anything we can do to help will probably be appreciated.

Carry-on luggage may be restricted. In some cases, I’ve heard that carry-ons are not allowed. Make sure you have a “Plan B” where medicine, jewelry, and necessities for the first 24 hours can be put in your pockets in the event that you do need to check your carry-on. If you carry a laptop and are financially responsible for it (yes, this is something you need to directly ask your employer) then buy insurance for it now. If you’re lucky and have big pockets, you may be able to take the hard drive out and put it in a pocket for the flight.

See here for some packing tips. The airlines are now asking that you minimize both checked and carry-on baggage.

The limitation on carry-on luggage will present special problems for women. You know how the outfits that look best have no pockets? Well, don’t wear these for travel anymore. Wear clothes that have as many pockets as possible. (Sorry that you won’t look so good on the plane, but really, have you ever sat next to the handsome doctor? No, in fact you’re always sitting next to the person who is sized such that they should have two seats and has the breath of a cat who likes rancid sardines.)

All types of knives are now disallowed, including that tiny knife on your key ring. You’ll have to take it off and put it in your checked luggage. If you want to be nice to the inspectors put it in a mesh pocket or a plastic bag. Make sure you can find it quickly if you are asked to show it.

To the Airport!

In brief:

The FAA is recommending that you call your airline to find out how early before your flight you need to arrive at the airport. Here in Charleston they are recommending 3-4 hours. Ouch. See Airport Games for ideas of how to spend your free time at the airport.

Why will you need something to sit on? Because no airport has enough chairs for the number of passengers who will now be waiting in the gates for flights. I’d recommend a plastic bag – just something to keep your clothes from getting dirty on the floor.

Curb-side baggage checking is now disallowed. For some, I know, this will be a problem. Personally, I have a bad back and my local airport does not provide transportation between the long term parking area and the main building. Ouch. So, if you’re going to have similar issues, it may be better to take a train, bus or taxi to the airport.

Overall, while you’re at the airport, watch your actions, attitudes, and belongings. IF you leave a carry-on unattended, even for a minute, chances are it will be taken away and detonated. So keep your stuff with you all the time. Don’t make jokes with a) ticket agents, b) security personnel, and c) flight crews. Everyone is on edge, and most of these people never had a sense of humor to begin with. Feel free to laugh and have fun with fellow travelers though!

Check-in

As usual, you’ll need a photo ID. In addition, you’ll need either a paper ticket or paper proof of your electronic ticket such as a print out of you web confirmation, an itinerary from your travel agent, etc.

Security Checkpoints

Someone will probably open and search your luggage before you check it. This is where having everything in clear plastic bags will help things move faster. Also, there will be security personnel wandering around the airport, free to stop, question and search anyone at random. Be patient and polite; don’t joke with them.

There may be police dogs patrolling the concourses. While we hope the dogs are trained to sniff out bombs and weapons, they may have been recruited from the drug force. So, if you normally carry illegal drugs with you when you travel, don’t do it now! Do not carry anything that may have picked up the smell of drugs. No need to attract those nice dogs and their police officers. Even if you’re carrying just one joint, if the security staff is bored, it will be a very big deal.

At the Metal Detectors

You will need a ticket and a photo ID to get into the Gate areas. So, if you’re e-ticketed, you’ll have to stop at the front desks anyway to get your boarding pass before going to the gate.

Boarding the flight

I don’t think they’ve changed the boarding procedure. However, Security staff may inspect the cockpit, luggage holds, and cabin prior to takeoff. Be prepared for delays here too.

Finally, don’t drink. I know this may be impossible for some, but trust me; the airport is not a good place to drink. First, it increases the rate of dehydration that you will experience during your flight, thus making you more susceptible to colds, flues, etc.. Second, alcohol brings down many of our natural barriers and a small annoyance can easily develop into feelings of rage.

Good luck to all! And here’s to hoping I get to play Pictionary with you some day while waiting for a flight!

There are other things to think about] with air travel then getting through the TSA lines and packing well.

Another important thing to think about with air travel is irregular operations, better known to the public as those damned airplane delays and cancellations. First note: It is somewhat possible to avert delays through sensible planning. For example, try to avoid making a connection in Chicago in the winter. Other then that, if the weather looks bad the day of your flight, you will sometimes have luck if you call the airline's reservation number and ask to reroute your flight.

If a cancellation happens, your best bet is to get on the phone and call up reservations. Unless you're the first person to get to the gate agent's desk, you'll probably wait in line forever there. Also, you'll probably be dealing with someone who is less stressed out on the phone, which should work in your advantage. Also, don't get mad at the airline employees. They can't control the weather, and its not them to blame if that's why it gets cancelled. If the flight is cancelled due to mechanical problems or crew fatigue, don't get mad at the staff either. They're just trying to ensure your safety. You don't want someone who can barely stay awake flying an incredible machine, and you definitely don't want to have the engines brake in midair.

Some things to note: In the event of a weather related cancellation, the airline is not required to pay for a hotel room for you overnight. If they feel generous, they might, but federal law says they don't have to. In the event of a different cancellation, you should get compensation if you are extremely late or your flight is cancelled. In the end though, the airline is required to get you from where your itinerary started to where it ends.

Now, onto booking flights! This will focus mostly on getting a good deal. You'll generally be able to find the cheapest ticket from a ticket consolidator. One of the cheapest sites is Priceline. The problem with some of these tickets is that they may not earn miles, depending on what consolidator you use. Other suggestions involve searching for tickets flying into and out of alternate airports. You can sometimes find a cheaper flight, and might also find flights leaving at better times. Also, sometimes if you search using the multi-city search instead of the round trip search, you can find cheaper itineraries, or itineraries that avoid connecting in certain cities (such as, Chicago in the winter).

If you buy a ticket, and the price later goes down, you are entitled to compensation from the airline. You should call or write their customer service desk, and ask for money back. To make life easier, you can put your itinerary into Yapta, a website that monitors itinerary prices. Also, not all seats are created equal. In order to have a more comfortable flight, you should check SeatGuru or SeatExpert when selecting seats.

Now, onto overbooked flights. The best way to avoid getting bumped from an oversold flight is to make sure you have an assigned seat. The first people to get bumped from the flight, are passengers who are not assigned a seat. It also helps to have status on the airline, as an airline will bump someone who is a VBIT (Vacation Bound Intermittent Traveler) versus someone who is an extremely frequent flyer with hundreds of thousands of miles on the airline. Also, higher fares are normally bumped after people who paid lower prices for their tickets. If your flight looks like it might be overbooked, it might behoove you to get to the airport early and try to standby for an earlier flight, if possible.

In the event that they do have to bump passengers, and your schedule can handle a delay, you may want to volunteer to take a bump. If you decide this, you should approach the gate agent at a time where she isn't busy, and mention that you would volunteer your seat if needed. People who are voluntarily denied boarding will often get better compensation then those who are involuntarily denied boarding and you may be upgraded a class on the next flight.

Also, one might want to consider flying on only one airline in order to gain status. If you know you'll fly more then 25000 miles (the cutoff for the lowest tier of most elite programs on most airlines) in one year, you may want to consider booking all or most of your flights on one airline. Status on an airline may get you roomier seats, special reservation phone lines, special check-in desks, bonus miles on your flights, and priority boarding and security.

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