The past few years have not been kind to commercial aviation. Flying is a significantly greater pain in the keyster than it used to be, and a year of freakish weather hasn't helped much. When I moved from NYC to greener pastures, I knew there would be tradeoffs--sure, my mortgage is now less than I used to pay to park my car, but flights are a lot less convenient and I now fly a lot of "regional jets," or as I like to call them, "sh*ttyjets." Still, there are tremendous benefits to using an airport that doesn't require a train to get from the parking lot to the terminal. You may not be able to move to a less congested airport as I did, but there are a couple of other tricks you might find useful.
- Join an Airport Lounge. This, to me, is not a luxury, but a necessity. $300-$400 just to have a bar and a cushy chair? Au contraire, mon frere. It is upon this little tip that the rest of this post depends. First of all, you needn't put all your eggs in one basket, airline-wise; I belong to Priority Pass, which lets me use a bunch of different lounges in every city I travel for just $400.00 a year. If you don't travel as often as I do, you can get a cheaper membership that allows 10 visits plus the ability to purchase more access (at 25 bucks) as needed for only $250 bucks.
Why is this worth it? Consider what $25.00/visit will get you:
Wi-Fi ($9.99) A nice adult beverage ($8.50) An outlet for your laptop that doesn't involve you stretching your cord across the jetway (pricele$$) Quiet (1 Meeeelleeeeon dollars)
Here's the thing--if you travel ten times this year, you will be delayed at least six times. You might even be really delayed. This causes stress. You are stressed for two reasons: 1) you will be late to your destination, and 2) you are helpless, out of the office, and unable to be productive. Can't help you on #1, but I can work like the dickens in a nice quiet lounge. In fact, there is nothing I need to work that I can't get in an airport lounge. If you are stuck for two hours in an airport, it is astonishing what you can get done with your phone, a desk, reliable wi-fi and some peace and quiet. Plus, if you are at the end of your workday, enjoy a nice adult beverage while you catch up on emails and summaries. Now, isn't that worth $25?
- OK--so you got your lounge membership. Now your day just became incredibly flexible. My number one delay-beating tip is to always take the first flight of the day where possible. For my frequent trips from RDU to PHL, that amounts to a Southwest flight at 6:10 am. Unthinkable, you might say--but that flight leaves on time, every time. The later the morning gets, the more airports like LAX, EWR and ORD get stacked up, even on sunny days. If there is bad weather anywhere along the flight corridors to Newark, incoming planes go into this funky chicken dance called SWAP (Severe Weather Avoidance Plan) which increases the distance between planes in the area even if your weather is perfect, and you aren't even going to Newark. EWR is the devil.
Also, not as much happens weather-wise at 5 or 6 am. If you travel in the southeast in spring/summer, you can pretty much set your clock around having a boomer around 4 o'clock, which snarls up the rest of the day. Getting out while it is still cold and dark means that all those happy air currents are just as sluggish and lethargic as you are, so they aren't yet causing trouble in the mosh pit of the upper atmosphere.
Finally, just as the roads get busier from 7:30-8:00 on, so too do the runways. If you leave on a 9 o'clock flight, I can pretty much guarantee you that you will hear these words from the cockpit: "Ladies and Gentlemen, we are currently number 27 for departure, so we'll be shutting down the engines for a while. We'll update you on our estimated blah blah blah..." Yuck. Leave at 5:30, and all you will hear is "Flight Attendants please be seated," which is pure magic (unless you hear it at 32,000 feet).
- What if you can't get a flight that early? For example, maybe the best or only flight you can catch doesn't leave until 9:30. Simple--pretend it leaves at 6 anyway. Let me tell you, getting to the airport in any city at 8 o'clock is a dicey proposition. Then once you get to the airport, you have to go through screening with every other Tom, Dick and Harriet trying to catch their flight as well. So, your commute gets longer, and the wait to get through security gets much longer. Go through security at 6 am, on the other hand, and you will sail right through.
C'mon, Tom, you aren't seriously suggesting I go to the airport 4 hours early to catch my 10:00 flight, are you? Well, yes...I am. That is part of being a grown-ass businessperson. You aren't going to the office anyway, so no one will even know you did it. Instead of spending an extra 45-60 minutes in traffic/security/hell, you are spending it in the nice cushy lounge you paid for in #1, above, getting ahead.
Now do you see what 25 bucks just bought you? An hour or two of stress-free, productive time. So when your flight does get delayed, or you have to circle above Miami for 45 minutes to wait out a storm, you started your day off like a champion.
- Finally, Mitch Joel and Chris Brogan are big fans of this Eagle Creek wheeled carry-on. I am not, because I don't get to fly in full-size, grown-ass jets as much as they do. Try sticking any wheeled carry-on in the overhead compartment of an RJ or (my favorite) a Dash 8, and watch the looks you get from your flight attendant. Sure, you can gate-check, but that's what everybody does - which means you're waiting for your bag one way or the other. Get yourself a Red Oxx Skytrain or a Tom Bihn Tri-Star (these are not affiliate links, and I love these bags.) Lose the wheels and frame of a wheeled carry-on and you can carry more stuff in less space. Try it for yourself - these bags are black holes. I take one plus a small laptop bag on two-week trips to the middle east and can sail through from Embraer to A380 without a hiccup.
Happy trails, crappyjet traveler.