Saturday, May 22, 2010


Back in our parents' and grandparents' days, air travel was an adventure, a distinct and exciting part of a trip itself. Today, getting from Point A to Point B, especially by airplane, is about as enjoyable as having bamboo shoots rammed down one's nails. Granted, the events of September 11th have understandably (and, at least from me, appreciatively) dictated that travel be far more about safety than enjoyment, but with a bit of decency and common sense, we can return to those long lost days. Following are my personal rules of travel:

Don't bother arguing with the ticket agent about the airline's baggage policy. Not only does it hold up the line, but it starts your day off badly. You likely have a long day ahead of you and getting bent out of shape about something you (and quite frankly, the ticket agent who doesn't make the rules) has no control over is only going to make you unpleasant to be around. In fact, if you're arguing with the ticket agent because you've gone over the 50 pound limit, or you didn't know that you have to pay $25 for your one check in bag, you've got only yourself to blame. You're either not reading/listening to enough news or you didn't plan well enough. So pay the damn fine and move along. Next in line.

Fact #1: Security lines at airports, most airports, ALL airports, are long. Yes, some are longer than others, as evidenced by my last trip, when the line downstairs was only the line to go upstairs.

And the line to go upstairs...

...was only the line to go down the hallway.

And the line to go down the hallway...

...was only the line to turn around and go back up the other side of the hallway.

And THAT line was the line to get through the security line.

So believe me. I know. I get it. They are long. And they suck. But they are a fact of modern day travel and complaining about it incessantly to the person behind or in front of you will not make it go any faster. So rule #1 for security lines is, simply... accept. It is what it is.

Fact #2: Thanks to Richard Jackass Reid (the "Shoe Bomber"), anyone wishing to get past security must remove his or her shoes (and yes, that includes flip flops). Period. There is no negotiation. Know this now because my next rule of air travel is that everyone should be ready to go through the metal detector without more than two or three seconds of pause. An easy enough rule of thumb to follow should be the following:

5 people before you reach the front of the line: Take a mental inventory of what needs to be removed from your body (shoes, belts, jackets, etc).

4 people before you reach the front of the line: Place your ID and boarding pass in your back pocket(or some other place that will remain with you while you pass through the metal detector). Some airports don't require that you to have these documents on your person when you pass through the detector, but several still do and you likely won't know if you need them or not until it's too late. And if you've left the documents in your purse or jacket pocket that is on the conveyor belt, you will have to wait until they are returned to you and then go back through the detector with them in hand. This is an unnecessary hold up of the line and one that is easily avoidable. So err on the side of caution and keep them with you unless otherwise instructed.

3 people before you reach the front of the line: Star undressing. Take off your jacket, remove your belt, untie your shoe laces. This is also a good time to assess whether or not you placed all liquids in a plastic Ziplock bag. If you have not, mentally prepare yourself to have them unceremoniously thrown out by the FTA. Again, your fault for not having planned better in advance.

2 people before you reach the front of the line: Grab as many bins as necessary to hold all your crap (I myself require a minimum of three). If you are traveling with children and have a stroller, now is the time to remove the child from said stroller and hand him or her off to your traveling co-parent while you collapse the stroller and get it ready to go through the conveyor belt. This is also a good time to remind any walking children that they need to pass through the detector by themselves and that doing so without a scene will earn them a big fat candy bar on other side of security.

And finally, 1 person before you reach the front of the line. Place all items in your bins. Empty your pockets completely. This includes coins, cell phones, plastic combs - everything. DO NOT LEAVE ANYTHING TO CHANCE. And if you have a metal plate in your head, well, you're screwed.

1. The Queue: This one is very simple and one that even the most inexperienced of travellers should not need much direction on. Do not attempt to board before your row number is called. Just don't.

2. Right Foot First: My best friend Cristina and I have this loudly spoken and non negotiable rule that, upon entering an aircraft, one must ALWAYS step onto said aircraft with his or her right foot first. NOT left. Right. We don't know where the superstition came from or when we picked it up, but given that she and I have flown countless times, both together and alone, and are still around to tell about it, means it works. So do it. Every time. And if you happen to be traveling with either one of us and, in an uncool attempt to be funny, step on with your left foot (and tell us about it), prepare to either continue on with your travels alone, or be smacked upside the head, pulled roughly back off the aircraft, and made to re-enter again - right. foot. first.

(This one is tricky but vital to proper etiquette for air travel) Rule #1: . Start looking for a place to store your overhead baggage 3 rows before you get to your assigned row. This does not necessarily mean you should automatically store your luggage 3 rows ahead of your own, mind you. It simply means that you start looking 3 rows ahead, all the time craning your neck to see if there is room above you own (which, admittedly, if you're short, can be challenging). If you see nothing available ahead of you, store your bag in the bin closest to your seat. The reason, my friends, this is so important is because nothing disrupts the otherwise peaceful and civilized boarding of an aircraft more than the person that needs to make an about face and backtrack to find overhead storage space. It creates chaos and unnecessary roughness. Don't be "that guy." Be smart. Think ahead.

Rule #2: Don't hog. There is limited overhead compartment space. If you're the first to get to an overhead bin, don't lay your nice little hanging bag flat across its entire 3-foot span and NOT expect someone to either unceremoniously push your bag to one side or lay their bag on top of yours. Because if they do, the fault is entirely your own.

Rule #3: Don't take out your fellow passengers. Be CAREFUL when lifting your bag to store, and when taking it down to disembark. If I had a dollar for every time I've either been hit on the side of the face or came close to being hit on the side of the face by someone with their carry-on bag, I'd have a Carrie Bradshaw wardrobe and the killer Manolo collection to match.

I have two children. I have two very active children who do not quietly entertain themselves for hours on end. I've had to buy everyone two rows in front and in back of me drinks as a token of my sincere appreciation for not opening up the door mid-flight and throwing my screaming child out the plane. I've had to apologize to the flight attendant for the urine-soaked seat that occurred because turbulence forbade me from taking my daughter to the potty. So believe me, no one is more sympathetic to the plight of parents traveling with children than me. That said, you probably expect me to go on for paragraphs on end stating numerous (bitchy) rules for travelling with children, including putting muzzles on them and threatening them with the dismemberment of their favorite Care Bear if they don't shut the hell up. but I'm not going to do that. Because I get it. I know how hard it is to travel with little ones and I am sincerely sympathetic when sitting next to a parent with a screaming child. So I am only going to offer one tidbit of advice...

Do a test run on new meds.
The first time I travelled with my eldest child, our pediatrician told us it was perfectly okay to give her Benadryl one hour before boarding to make her drowsy. He advised us, however, to do a test run before the trip, because apparently, in a small percentage of children, Bendaryl has quite the opposite effect and turns a normal child into a Satanically hyper child. I did not heed his advice and gave Vivian Benadryl one hour before our flight. And it worked beautifully. She slept damn near the whole way from San Francisco to Mexico City. So, a couple of years later, on our first family flight after my son was born, I ignored Dr. Cisco's advice yet again. And my one-year old son, Jesse screamed bloody murder for four thousand miles, clear across the Pacific, from Hawaii to California. It was the longest five hours of my life. And, by the way, the time we bought drinks for a dozen fellow passengers.

Experienced fliers are either window people or aisle people, meaning, of course, that they either prefer to sit in the window seat or the aisle seat (no one in their right mind is a middle seat person). I myself am an aisle person. I have a notoriously small bladder and, if stuck in the window seat, will quite literally stress throughout an entire flight thinking about the next time I will have to ask the two people sitting next to me to get up. So I give up having a sturdy wall to rest my head up against (the window seat) for the freedom of being able to get up whenever the hell the need arises. That is my sacrifice. And I accept the good with the bad. Because the downside of sitting in the aisle seat is having to move when people need to get up. And therein lies the compromise:

If you are sitting in the aisle seat and someone sitting next to you says "excuse me, I need to get up," please, do not shift you legs to one side or pull them up to your chest so they can squeeze by. UNBUCKLE YOUR SEAT BELT AND STAND THE HELL UP SO THEY CAN GET OUT. Do not make the person shove either breasts or ass in your face to shimmy by an already too narrow space. It's simply not necessary, and is, quite simply, rude.

This one is for flight attendants. Two years ago, when Cristina and I were flying to Honduras, I heard a flight attendant say something that, in all my years of flying, I have never heard. She said, "Ladies and gentlemen, our captain has informed us that we are going to experience some SEVERE turbulence. We ask that you all return to your seats IMMEDIATELY and make sure your seat belts are very securely fastened around you. And if you are traveling with children, we recommend that you hold on to them. Tightly."

Cristina and I have flown together dozens of times. We've had more than our share of choppy flights, rough landings and unpleasant take offs. But never, ever has a flight attendant sounded so stern or so ominous. Never have I seen a flight attendant cause so many people to turn sheet white without an iota of reassurance or calm. As the flight attendant buckled herself into her own seat, Cristina looked at me and said "oh shit" as I looked at her and said "here we go."

And we closed our eyes and waited. And waited. And waited.

Twenty long and deathly quiet minutes later, we heard the ping over the loudspeaker. The flight attendants got up and pleasantly began serving drinks without so much as a word. The plane had not bumped once. Not once. We might as well have been sitting on the tarmac.

"What the HELL was that?" I said to Cristina? She didn't answer. She was too busy ordering a double scotch on the rocks from Chicken Little in the Little Blue Suit.

There is a very crass expression in Spanish that goes "tanto pedo para cagar aguado," which basically means "all that drama for nothing." Now don't get me wrong. I am thrilled that the severe turbulence that was ominously forecast did not come to fruition and that we landed safely and without incident in Honduras. That said (and I confirmed this with a commerical pilot friend of mine) flight attendants should not use the word "severe" or tell parents to hold on to their kids for dear life unless the plane is quite literally, on it's way down.

The ordeal is almost over. You are at baggage claim, tired, perhaps a bit grumpy, and definitely wanting to get the hell out of the airport. My last two rules for traveling are:

1. Don't crowd the baggage carousel. Have family/pick-up friends stand toward the wall and leave only one person to grab the bags. There is no need to form an iron curtain around the baggage claim carousel. Nothing makes a long and trying day seem longer and more trying than having to elbow your way through a gaggle of friends or relatives, grunting "excuse me, pardon me, I'm so sorry but if I could just squeeeeeze by..." all the while watching your bag slowly pass you by.

2. For the love of God, help the elderly. Nothing incenses me more than seeing someone casually watch an elderly person struggle to lift his or her heavy bag off the carousel without offering to help. I don't care how long your day has been, how rough you flight may have been, or how exhausted you are - we help out the elderly. Period. End of story.

I once wrote that airports are one of the few places where people of all ages, creeds, races and income brackets come together with only one absolute common goal - to get in, get out, and get on with life. The stress of modern air travel coupled with the desire to get from point A to point B as quickly and efficiently as possible has made flying an unnecessarily unpleasant experience. I, myself am guilty of at least half the infractions I listed in this blog. But we are nothing if we are unwilling to learn from our mistakes, those of others, and to follow the most golden of all golden rules: Do Unto Others.

Happy (and safe) flying.