As I sit and type this, my Mac Book is scrunched up to my stomach as the guy in front of me has leaned back as far as possible, thus eliminating the already limited room I had to move. As all of you who have traveled by air already know, all the best laid plans and precautions are not foolproof. Inevitably, you end up with your laptop on your stomach.

That being said, this trip I am taking to Las Vegas to study risk management principles (what are the odds of that) has led me to write this quick, down and dirty, guide to help you enjoy your business travel. Let’s also agree that these strategies apply to your personal travel as well, though much will be geared to the business warriors who must on a regular basis disrobe, delay, and de-plane.

In no particular order here are my 19 strategies for better travel when flying:

1. Leave early. My wife laughs at me for being a stickler to getting to the airport early, but I hate the stress of being rushed. “Stuff” happens – traffic delays, bridge closures, construction, and detours to name a few. I’ve even had to turn around and go back home to get important things I’ve forgotten! I doubt I’m the only one to do that, although my wife thinks it’s only me. If you commit to leaving in time to get to the airport 90 minutes in advance to carry-on and 2 hours to check baggage, you will ease your stress from the start.

Note – More often than not, my wife or daughter drives me to the airport. We enjoy the time to relax and talk. However, there are many times they can’t make it work. Do yourself a favor and rent a town car or limousine. You will find the majority of limo services are only slightly more cost than taxis, but the investment is worth it. You get friendlier drivers, more comfort, air conditioning, better driving, and a more relaxed experience. I’ve found a regular service in Seattle that will frequently pick me up at the ferry terminal and drive me to the airport. My cost, including a generous tip, is $50. The taxi is $38 without tip. Do the math on your comfort and take the limo.

2. Bring snacks. I always carry a couple energy bars with me on my carry on bag. I learned my lesson the hard way. In December of 2001, on a flight to Juneau, AK, we were diverted twice to Sitka. The first time they wouldn’t let us off due to security issues from a few months earlier after September 11th. They almost didn’t let us off the second time, except a different type of mutiny almost occurred. I was starving, and if you know me that tends to make me cranky. I now make sure I have at least something edible to munch on so I don’t have to rely on airplane food (if there is any left).

3. Carry-on if at all possible. I’m headed to Vegas for four days. I was able to get everything in one duffle bag and my briefcase. I will be in class all week, it’s 95 degrees out, and I have nothing that requires business attire. Carrying-on is the only way to go. I understand business travel often requires that you must check baggage, BUT I encourage you to find ways to avoid it if you can. I purchased a fantastic roll-up carry-on case for my suit from Men’s Wearhouse. He suit stays wrinkle-free and I can carry it on with shoes and accessories. It’s by far the best travel purchase I’ve ever made. Same time and frustration whenever possible by carrying-on.

4. Charge your laptop the night before. If your airport is anything like Seattle-Tacoma International, outlets are few in number, in difficult locations, and in great demand. Take the time the evening prior to fully charge your laptop AND cell phone. Eliminate that stress with a little planning.

5. Carry George W. with you. No not George W. Bush’s photo! I’m talking about the other President named George W. You will constantly need one-dollar bills for tipping, vending machines, newspapers, or other items. I hate wanting to give a $3 tip and only having a $20 bill. If you’re rushing off to the cash machine on your way to the airport, don’t expect them to distribute anything less than a $10 bill. You may get an occasional $5, but that’s it. Keep a stash of George W’s on hand.

6. Become a frequent flyer member for your most used airlines. This should be a no-brainer but just in case, I’ve included it. The membership s free and you often get advantages in addition to miles. I have memberships in Alaska, Southwest, and Delta because those are my most used airlines. If you fly on any regular basis, consider joining their “board room” or whatever each one calls their special membership in the airport. You have better availability for high-speed Internet, food and beverage, and comfortable seats while you wait for your departure.

7. Fly first-class when possible. I wish I could fly first-class all the time I travel, but I don’t. That being said, about 35% of the time, I’m able to for just a few extra bucks. One of the airlines I frequently use, Alaska Air, will upgrade you to first-class if there is room for only $50. That’s a great deal! I usually check in early and get on the waiting list. More often than you might think, I get called and get to enjoy a more comfortable journey. Remember, I’m writing this with my Mac Book squarely in my stomach. If you have an extended trip cross-country, use whatever perks you have to go first-class because it will be worth it. The investment of you being fresh for your meeting or business event will be worth the extra cost.

8. Get your laptop or book out before you get comfy. I’ve finally learned (after too many mistakes) to get anything I plan on using out of my bag before I sit down. It eliminates the gymnastics you have to go through to pull out your bag from under the seat or above in the bin.

9. Sit on the aisle. I like to look out the window as much as anyone, but if you are traveling for business consider the following:

  • You’ve travelled enough in your life and one cloud looks like the next

  • It’s easier to get out to go to the restroom.
  • My favorite – you can at least stand up when the plane stops and you are waiting to get off.

10. Plan on using your time wisely. It might be sleep, reading the newspaper or a book, or writing your next position paper. The bottom line is that your time is valuable so take advantage of the time in the air. Get work done, catch up on rest, or improve yourself in the time you are flying at 33,000 feet.

11. Stake out your airports. I’ve found the best food places, quickest security lines, and most convenient ground transportation in my most common destinations. I’ve got my favorite shoeshine guy in Seattle and save time by getting my shoes shined every time I travel. Security gates are not all the same. Some are made to move quicker and it pays especially if you are in a rush. Know your airport and save time and frustration. As an aside, I learned on this trip that all coffee shops are not made equal. I wish I had waited in line for Starbucks instead of heading to my gate and going to another place. The coffee was average and the scone terribly dry. That’s the last time I make that mistake. I know what to expect at Starbucks and it would have been worth it.

12. Be courteous to others. I don’t like hearing other people’s cell phone conversations sitting on the plane. The thing in the ear, the histrionics of talking with your hands, the rising voice levels…give me a break. I’m not sure what’s so urgent that it can’t wait until you get off the plane. Think about the comfort of the other passengers. Okay, I’m now off my soapbox.

13. Print out your boarding pass at home before you leave. It makes life easier for you. Technology can be a great thing and being able to have that pass on hand is golden. In addition, use the business center of your hotel to print out your return trip-boarding pass in the same way.

14. Print out your hotel confirmation with your boarding pass. If you’re like me, you’ve had hotel personnel look at you funny when you gave your name to check in. Have it handy as proof that you are in the right place. By the way, you should make sure you ARE in the right place!

15. Buy travel insurance. I used to not do it and now almost always do. You never know when you will be delayed, lose luggage, or miss a plane. Travel insurance is relatively inexpensive and worth the small investment.

16. Get updates on your flight by text on your phone. You will find this to be critical to advise you of gate changes, flight delays, and other important things related to your flight. Don’t use text? Learn! It’s a free service available with every carrier.

17. Stay hydrated. Traveling takes a physical toll. It’s even more important to drink water.

18. This has been an issue for me at times – pack over-the-counter medications just in case. I’ve caught the flu and recently had a stomach virus on a trip. Packing your favorite “feel better” medications, like Alka-Seltzer, Sudafed, or Tylenol may come in handy, so you don’t have to run to the nearest drug store.

19. Relax! This may be the most important. There are very few issues in travelling that are critical. Even the most pressing business meeting can be missed due to a travel snafu without detrimental consequences. Understand that when you travel you will inevitably run into delays, missed connections, crying babies, and rude people. Don’t let it add stress to your day. Life is too short to be worrying about travel related issues. It’s bad for your attitude, which affects your business and stress level. Relax and enjoy the flight.

As I said, even if you do all of these things, there are too many factors out of your control. However, if you commit to most of these strategies, you will find that a lot of “luck” will come your way and you will enjoy a more stress-free and relaxed business trip.

You may now return your tray tables to their upright and locked position…

© 2009 Dan Weedin All Rights Reserved

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