Thanks to my perfectionist ways, I tend to do pretty well in airports. I arrive early, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to get on and off at security, organize my carry-on items well and constantly check the departure board for changes related to my flight.
But in the same way some travelers are always on the prowl for discounted getaways, my travel obsession of late is studying new strategies to master the airport experience. Fortunately, there are others out there like me, and they’ve shared their tips to hack your way through the airport.
Here are five tips and recommendations that I’ve found particularly useful lately:
Take screengrabs of your mobile boarding pass: This great article on the New Zealand website Stuff reminded me how finicky some apps can be — and that Murphy’s law dictates they’ll give you the most problems when you’re just about to approach the security officer in line at the airport. Avoid such problems by taking a screengrab of your boarding pass and displaying that. Chances are, it’s much easier to open your phone’s photos folder than to count on an airline’s app to work exactly when you need it to.
Pack an outlet splitter in your carry-on: There’s nothing more frustrating than needing desperately to charge your phone at the airport but finding all the outlets are occupied. Insider smartly suggests packing an outlet splitter, which turns one outlet into two. Then you just ask another tethered device addict to share the outlet and you both get to charge up. Outlet splitters cost just a few dollars and are widely available.
Download airport apps: I have plenty of airline apps on my phone, along with GateGuru, but I never thought to download apps for the airports themselves. Airplane News’ 10 Common Mistakes You’re Making at the Airport reminded me to download the airport apps too. I found this especially useful on a recent trip to seek out a decent place to eat and find an alternate restroom when the one near my gate was closed for cleaning.
Pick airport security lines to the left: I should have known this because I’m left-handed, but somehow it slipped my mind: Because most people are right-handed, they tend to gravitate to the right-side security lines. So it’s likely the lines to the left will be shorter, according to our own 18 Best Airport Hacks. This tip has been around for a while, but it’s still holding fast and true.
Check out the best travel stories you might have missed this week.
What the “Sully” Movie Gets Wrong
If you’re planning to see “Sully” — the new Tom Hanks movie about the emergency airplane landing in the Hudson River back in 2009 — you may want to take it with a grain of salt. Conde Nast Traveler reports that the film had to massage the truth a bit, adding in “villains” in the form of National Transportation Safety Board investigators.
Why “Sully” Made Me Proud to Be a Flight Attendant
While the movie may not have presented the NTSB in the best light, flight attendant Heather Poole found the portrayal of her profession to be both accurate and inspiring: “I can tell [my son] a million times that [my job is] not just about serving drinks and snacks, but until you see something like what happens in the movie ‘Sully,’ it’s kind of hard to grasp. To see his face light up like that made me feel good.”
25 Years After Independence, a Country at a Crossroads
This story offers a window into a rarely seen country: Tajikistan. As with most National Geographic features, the photos — stark mountain landscapes and probing portraits of the local people — are at least as striking as the words.
As More Devices Board Planes, Travelers Are Playing with Fire
As if we needed something else to worry about, the New York Times reports that the lithium-ion batteries found in smartphones, tablets and laptops are a major fire hazard on planes. Battery fires have contributed to three cargo plane crashes within the past decade.
Meet Earl, the Gatekeeper to Paradise
BBC interviews a man named Earl, the sole resident of a place called Paradise, located on a rough dirt road that runs between Montana and Idaho. Earl is the “camp host” for Bitterroot National Forest, welcoming hikers, rafters and other outdoorsy types throughout the summer months.
Airlines Mining Consumer Data to Target Potential Passengers
CNN reports that your airline may know more about you than you think — including your birthday, the places you visit most and what you buy besides airfare. It’s part of an effort to “improve passenger experience” (and/or market to you more effectively).
We cracked up over this week’s video, an “honest airline commercial” that sums up so many frustrating aspects of modern-day flying.
What bugs you most when you travel — a kid wailing on a plane? A backseat driver on a road trip? A dirty restroom on a train?
Busbud.com, a site for booking bus tickets, recently conducted a survey of 2,000 Americans to identify travelers’ top pet peeves. There was one common winner for both flying and bus/train travel: body odor. More than three-quarters of the respondents — 77 percent for flying, 76 percent for bus/train travel — found their fellow passengers’ stench to be bothersome. (Perhaps flight attendants should hand out deodorant in addition to headphones.)
The second-largest pet peeve for fliers was delays, with 66 percent of respondents reporting that they found them annoying. Crying babies or small children came in at number three (62 percent). The survey also discovered that people’s annoyance at crying kids varied by gender (66 percent of men were bothered, as compared to just 57 percent of women) and by generation, with millennials having less patience for unhappy babies than baby boomers or Gen Xers. (Just wait till they have kids or grandchildren of their own…)
On trains and buses, the next most common pet peeves behind body odor were unwanted bodily contact (69 percent), loud passengers (57 percent) and crying babies/toddlers (55 percent).
When it comes to road trips, respondents were less upset about assaults on their senses than they were about safety risks; the top two pet peeves in the car travel category were texting while driving (72 percent) and dangerous driving (68 percent).
The survey uncovered a few other interesting tidbits, including one that surprised me: Train and bus travelers would rather have a sneezing, coughing seatmate than one with smelly food. (Personally, I’d prefer to put up with a garlicky stench for a couple of hours than spend a couple of days sick on vacation.) And apparently fliers’ annoyance with checked baggage fees is fading; fewer than half of the respondents (43 percent) named them as a major pet peeve.
Matt Dimmer had just relocated to Los Angeles when his father, living in Michigan, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Dimmer flew back and forth frequently, spending as much time with his dad as he could.
As he made the trips, Dimmer kept thinking about others who had loved ones with cancer. He was able to afford the flights to go see his dad, but what about those who couldn’t? It pained him to think about people in that situation.
Just before his father passed away, Dimmer launched a small nonprofit organization to collect frequent flier miles from donors and to use them to book flights for cancer patients and their family members. His nonprofit, The Extra Mile, is marking its fifth anniversary this year.
IndependentTraveler.com: Tell us how The Extra Mile works.
Matt Dimmer: The premise of The Extra Mile is pretty simple. We take donated air miles and money and give them to those who cannot afford to visit loved ones terminally ill with cancer. Currently we are cancer-specific, as that is what my dad passed away from and I wanted to stay true to the nature of my inspiration.
IT: Can you tell us about some of the people you’ve helped?
MD: We’ve helped several people connect with terminally ill loved ones just before losing that individual. We’ve brought people over from Europe to the United States. We flew a 15-year-old with a rare form of brain cancer and his family to an event that was on his bucket list. And we brought a sister to her deceased brother’s funeral so that she could have one last moment with him.
IT: How does someone donate?
MD: There are two ways to donate. You can donate money directly through our website, or you can donate your accrued frequent flier miles.
Donating air miles is a bit more complicated. Because of airlines’ policies, there are fees associated with giving air miles, and the fees raise on a scale depending on the number of miles you’re looking to donate.
Let’s say you wanted to give 3,500 miles. There’s likely a set fee for that ranging from $50 to $150. If the individual donating the miles is willing to pay the fee, that makes for the easiest transaction. Otherwise, depending on the fees and amount of donated dollars in our account, I’ll offer to cover the fee in exchange for the miles. This is a bit more of a process, but has happened a few times.
The cash donations are used mostly for purchasing tickets, but some funds go to paying for taxes on donated mile flights as well as minor operating costs for the organization.
IT: How many miles have you collected in the past five years?
MD: We’ve received hundreds of thousands of miles. They usually get spent as soon as we get them as there’s always an ongoing queue of people who have reached out.
IT: It can be difficult to secure a flight using miles. Do the airlines show more flexibility in helping your recipients?
MD: Unfortunately, not really. The airlines stick to their rules, regardless of the reason for the miles being used. The most flexibility I tend to experience is the airline agent on the other end of the phone giving me a bit more time to pull all the necessary pieces together on that call so I can complete the flight.
I recently started a Change.org petition to encourage airlines to waive or lower the fees for transferring miles to someone else. I got frustrated one day and wanted to set something else in motion that would potentially get the airline’s attention.
IT: What plans do you in mind for the next five years of The Extra Mile?
MD: Within the next five years I’d love to hit a major milestone, whether that’s amassing a team of volunteers, having a corporate partnership develop or making progress with at least one airline.
IT: Since The Extra Mile started, you’ve become a father yourself. How did becoming a father change your perspective on your cause?
MD: Fatherhood is amazing. And it adds another level to the nonprofit. I can now imagine myself in my dad’s position, and all the things that I’d like to share with my sons about the time we had together. It also gives my boys something to continue, something that does good after I’m gone — a legacy started by their dad, in honor of their grandfather, that they can carry on.
Baggage fees are the airline surcharge that most fliers love to hate, but a new study shows that they have an unexpected silver lining: They’ve made it more likely for your flight to leave on time.
The study comes from the University of Kansas, where researchers discovered that the implementation of baggage fees encouraged fliers to check fewer bags, allowing baggage handlers to load planes more efficiently. Of course, it now seems to take longer for passengers to board, given that we’re all trying to find overhead bin space for our massive carry-ons, but this is apparently outweighed by the time saved on checked baggage. Says a University of Kansas researcher, “The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect.”
The time savings weren’t huge — the median departure time improved anywhere from 3.3 to 4.2 minutes, and delays went down 1.3 to 2 minutes — but they benefited all major airlines, including Southwest (which doesn’t charge for checked bags). The researchers note that some baggage handling responsibilities such as security checks are shared among all airlines, so the reduction in total checked luggage improved performance for everyone.
The biggest improvements in on-time performance came at large hub airports where layovers are common; fewer bags going through such massive handling systems led to fewer delays.
In other positive news, luggage-related complaints per 1,000 passengers have fallen since baggage fees were first implemented.
Do these findings make you feel any more kindly toward checked baggage fees?
Check out the travel stories you may have missed this week.
This Fee Could Triple the Cost of Your Reward Flight
The Washington Post reports that fuel surcharges could make your reward flight cost much more than you expect. Despite the low cost of oil, some airlines have surprisingly high fuel surcharges, and you have to pay them even if the base fare is covered by miles.
Travel Writer Thomas Swick on the Seven Joys of Travel
Parade Magazine interviews travel writer Thomas Swick, who recently published a book on what he sees as travel’s greatest joys: anticipation, movement, break from routine, novelty, discovery, emotional connection and a heightened appreciation of home. Discover which of these is his favorite and which destinations he visits over and over again.
I Lost My Job and My Husband. Then I Found Newfoundland.
We loved this New York Times essay about a writer’s impromptu trip to Newfoundland following the end of both her marriage and her job as a teacher at a summer camp. It wasn’t the most glamorous of trips, with several nights spent sleeping in a car and locals recommending a “local” brew called Coors Light, but it was full of the thrill of discovery.
Working Amid a Turbulent Few Decades in the Airline Industry
The Atlantic sits down with Paul Mozeak, a crew chief at John F. Kennedy International Airport, to discuss the changes he’s seen in 32 years of working in the airline industry. He explains the evolution of security regulations (especially since 9/11) and how airline mergers affect their employees.
As I prepared for an early-morning flight from Newark to New Orleans, I was excited to pack the JetComfy pillow, billed as the “world’s best travel pillow.” I hoped it would help me sleep through the entire flight.
JetComfy is a boxy pillow, built into a frame with an extendable pole so that you can bring the pillow closer to your head rather than the other way around. On the other end of the pole is a strap and clamp that you can use to attach the device to your seat’s arm.
The full pillow is fairly large, about half the size of a shoebox, so it’s not easy to take onto the plane if you’ve got a lot of carry-on luggage. I solved this issue by purchasing a bottle of water in an airport store and then putting the pillow into the plastic bag.
Here’s what I discovered about JetComfy:
It’s soft. I mean really soft. With two inches of memory foam, your face sinks gently into the pillow. The fleece-soft cover is also a pleasure to lay your head on.
It’s got phone chargers. Probably my favorite thing about JetComfy was the two USB chargers. I loved being able to power up my cell phone (even after I’d given up trying to sleep on the pillow). Note, however, that the chargers aren’t available with the standard JetComfy purchase; you’ll need to pony up an additional $29.99 for the Upgrade Kit, which includes two USB charging ports, an extra pillow cover and a stylus/pen/flashlight/pointer combo that fits into a slot in the base of the pillow.
It doesn’t angle well. Because it’s so soft, I couldn’t wait to rest my head on the JetComfy pillow and drift off into sleep. However, I found the ability (or lack thereof) to angle the pillow to be a problem. Though the pillow would start out angled, it would not remain so, and I’d wake up with a major crick in my neck. Because I was sitting in an aisle seat, there was nothing to lean the pillow up against to keep the angle in place. It’s possible a window seat would have solved this problem.
It’s bulky. Not only is the JetComfy a bit cumbersome to carry around and onto the plane, but it also takes a bite out of the space surrounding your seat. I quickly realized that using the pillow on the aisle-side seat arm wouldn’t work, as I’d just keep getting bumped by anyone passing by. But using it on the other arm wasn’t much better. Thankfully I was sitting next to my spouse, but he complained about the pillow bumping into him. I don’t know how you’d be able to use it next to a stranger. (Again, the window seat probably would be okay.)
My overall impression of the JetComfy pillow was mixed. I did sleep on it, and I loved how soft it was, but the pain in my neck from waking up with my head completely tilted to the side was not something I’d care to experience again.
The JetComfy pillow costs $49.99 and can be purchased at the JetComfy website (use coupon code INDY for a 10 percent discount, good through December 31, 2016) or at Amazon.com.
Want to give it a try? We’re giving away a JetComfy pillow. Leave a comment below by 11:59 p.m. ET on Wednesday, August 31, 2016. We’ll pick one winner at random to win the JetComfy pillow. This giveaway is open only to residents of the Lower 48 United States and the District of Columbia. To read the full contest rules, click here.
Editor’s Note: This contest has ended. The winner of the JetComfy pillow is Jessica Chen. Congratulations! Stay tuned for further chances to win.
A recent bill passed by Congress and signed by President Obama includes several consumer-friendly measures for U.S. air travelers, including refunds for delayed bags and a requirement that children be seated next to an older family member at no extra cost.
The FAA Extension, Safety, and Security Act of 2016, which funds the Federal Aviation Administration through September 2017, includes a section that entitles passengers to an automatic refund of their checked bag fee if they don’t receive their suitcase within 12 hours of the arrival of a domestic flight or 15 hours of the arrival of an international flight. This would apply not only to U.S. airlines but to foreign carriers as well. The bill mandates that the Secretary of Transportation issue this regulation within the coming year.
Also on the way in the next 12 months: a policy requiring that any child age 13 or younger be seated adjacent to an accompanying family member over 13. It’s worth noting that the language around this policy in the bill is less definitive: “Not later than [one] year after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall review and, if appropriate, establish a policy…” Parents, you may want to keep an eye on this one.
Other tidbits in the bill include expansion of the PreCheck program (which offers expedited passage through airport security), enhanced mental health screening for pilots and various enhancements to airport security, such as law enforcement training for “mass casualty and active shooter incidents.”
Your Awkward Family Travel Photos
Have a laugh over this slideshow from the New York Times featuring bad ’80s hair, goofy poses and kids having temper tantrums — all the stuff great family trips are made of.
Why I Love Being a Pilot
A pilot tells the Guardian about his experience of “place lag,” which he describes as the feeling of being immersed in one destination and then, after a few hours on a plane, having to suddenly adapt to a new place and culture.
The Ultimate Berlin Street Food
BBC Travel investigates the history and cultural significance of currywurst, which is said to have been invented in 1949 by a bored snack bar owner in West Berlin.
5 Changes That Have Made Flying Safer
Conde Nast Traveler highlights just how safe it is to fly these days — there were only 136 fatalities last year out of 3.5 billion fliers — and explains the policies and technology that have led us to this point.
Google’s Mobile Service Gets International Upgrade
Travelers who rely on their phones abroad should check out this article from Travel + Leisure, which describes improvements to Google’s Project Fi mobile service — including high data speeds in more than 100 countries. (One important caveat: So far the service is only available for Google’s Nexus phones.)
CT Scanners Could End the Liquid Ban, and They’re Coming to Phoenix This Year
Airline blogger Cranky Flier reports that American Airlines will be testing out CT scanners at Phoenix Sky Harbor International this year. Such technology is currently in use for checked bags, but if it comes to the airport security checkpoint it could conceivably speed up the line and possibly even keep us from having to pull out our bags of liquids and gels. Here’s hoping…
This week’s video is a twofer from Visit Norway, which has introduced a new campaign called Sheep with a View. First up is the video introducing the project, while the second one is a behind-the-scenes look that’s even cuter.
Catch up on what you might have missed in the travel world this week.
Meet the Husbands Who Fly First Class — While Their Wives Travel in Economy
Would you be okay sitting in cattle class while your spouse chills out in first or business? The Telegraph profiles a number of couples that regularly fly separately, with the husband at the front of the plane and the wife in the back. “In my opinion, everyone should travel this way. I think first-class is really rather wonderful — the only way to fly,” says one charming husband, who might feel that everyone should fly in first but won’t pay for his wife to do so.
U.S. Approves 8 Airlines to Fly to Havana Beginning This Fall
USA Today reports that the U.S. Department of Transportation has tentatively approved flights to Havana, Cuba, aboard eight American airlines. If these schedules are given final approval after the upcoming comment period, you’ll soon be able to fly to the Cuban capital from Los Angeles, Miami, Charlotte, Atlanta, New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa, Houston and Newark.
A Longtime Concierge on Hotel Tipping, Online Reviews and More
Conde Nast Traveler interviews a head concierge at the Stafford, a five-star hotel in London, and gets his perspective on the importance of responding to online reviews, the difference in tipping between the U.S. and the U.K., and his number one tip for hotel guests.
Shrinking Pool of Future Pilots Keeps Major Airlines on Edge
Bloomberg reports on an alarming problem in the airline industry: not enough people to fly the planes. Within 10 years, U.S. airlines are expected to be understaffed by some 15,000 pilots, thanks to many older captains retiring and not enough people interested in taking up flying as a career.