By John the CEO
If you’ve followed this site and corresponding Instagram page (@AffluentBlacks) for a while, you probably know I travel at times, usually for business. This means I’m in and out of airports a lot, particularly some of the busiest ones in the world. If you are new to corporate travel, have not flown on a plane before, or have not been traveling by air in quite a while, here are some important tips to keep in mind to minimize delays and maximize peace of mind.
All airlines, hotels, and rental car companies have websites. And then there are travel booking websites like Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Travelocity.com, etc., that can make selecting air, car and hotel easy. TripAdvisor.com also does something similar, as well as offer great traveler reviews to help with your selection. Be sure to allow time to get good rates, ideally at least 2 weeks in advance. Tues night tends to be a good one for cheaper air flights, but these can vary. Major cities offer multiple airports, so if you have a budget, be sure to check city airport options. For instance, in Miami, you can fly in to the main Miami Int’l Airport or Ft. Lauderdale Airport. (There’s also West Palm Beach, but that’s a little further north). The latter can be cheaper. But also keep in mind your transportation options when you choose a smaller airport. Ft. Lauderdale, for instance, if further out than Miami Airport, so Uber will cost a bit more.
Once you have made your booking selections, create a folder on your computer to save all ticket files, receipts, notes, etc. I usually name my folders like “Charlotte April 2018” or similar.
For a 2-3 day trip, I usually pack
- One pair of dress slacks and 2 collared shirts
- One pair of dress shoes
- Sleep clothing items (a shirt and shorts)
- A coat if the city has cool weather (always check the weather of the city you’re going to as many people forget this)
- 2nd laptop (if needed) on top of everything
Also plan to wear something comfortable, unless you’re traveling the same day as your business meeting. In that case, you probably want to switch out the dress slacks and one of the shirts in #1 above.
Women have slightly more complex wardrobe needs than men, but I’ve seen business women travel just as lightly as I do, so try not to go overboard. If you’re traveling for leisure, women may need more shoes and make up, but remember, the more stuff you bring, the greater the chance of a delay in the TSA line as they scan for everything and will ask you to dig through your suitcase and pull out, say, a curling iron, if it looks like a weapon. This is truly where beauty is a curse sometimes, lol.
Luggage and Packing
For the most efficient airport experience, only bring two bags, which can cover most 3-5 day trips. They should be a 20-inch suitcase with 4 wheels and a handle, and a nice backpack that can fit one or two 15-inch laptops. The suitcase will have to go overhead (over your seat), while the backpack goes under the seat in front of you. Be sure the height of the suitcase is 18-20 inches. 21 and 22 inches may be acceptable for your overhead carryon, but some airline gate agents will make you check it into baggage claim, which means when you land, you will have to waste 15-30+ minutes waiting for your bag, assuming it does not get lost. And don’t get caught in a situation where your laptop is in your checked in bad. I found out the hard way that airlines have fine print on your ticket that they are not responsible for damage to your laptops, and if your luggage gets damaged, you have to report it within 4-24 hours of damage.
Make sure if you use your suitcase for your laptop that your laptop is at the top of your items inside. This is so that when you have to take it out for the TSA security scan, you can quickly take it out and put it in a tray. If it is buried beneath your clothes, you will have to waste time digging for your laptop. Also, in your backpack, keep the laptop easily removable. Most modern backpacks accommodate this well. If you only have a backpack from high school days, ummm, stop being cheap and go by a good one immediately! They are between $20-50+. Don’t go cheap on this as you want a backpack that can keep your laptop snug and cozy, as well as protect your valuables.
The day before your flight, you are allowed to check-in online on your airline website. This is a big time saver. If you wait till you get to the airport to check in, you will increase the time it takes to get on the plane. Please, please, please do this on the early side of 24 hours and pay careful attention to what you can and cannot bring on the flight. Trust me, this will save you more time.
It’s better to either get a seat as close to the front as possible or pay for one. Why? Because you will be lined up to get on the plane as well as get off once you land. If you are way in the back, there’s a chance your suitcase will have to be checked in to baggage claim, and it will take about 15-20 minutes just to get seated on departure and to get off the plane (deplane) when you land. These little things are what make flights exhausting. I usually choose a seat on the end or next to the window. The middle seats are always rough as you’re dealing with two sets of elbows. If you’re ballin’, then first class or business class is golden.
Again, be sure to follow ALL warnings about what you can and cannot carry on the airplane. If you skip these warnings, you will be greatly delayed at the airport and may miss your flight. Also, you may get in legal trouble if you forget to remove your marijuana or other paraphernalia, liquor, etc. And forget about bringing an expensive bottle of cologne or perfume. Buy little travel size spray bottles from the store and pump some of your smell-good into those. This is what I do with my cologne. Otherwise, the TSA agent may ask you to throw your cologne away or have you step aside and instruct you on how to mail it back to your home or whatever. You don’t want this delay!
Transportation to the Airport
If you use Uber or Lyft, a taxi, public transportation or a friend to drop you off, then some of this won’t apply to you. If you’re like me and you travel often for business, it’s sometimes better to just drive and park at the airport. I can write off the parking fee or get reimbursed, so no biggie. If you use airport parking, take a pic of any signs near your parking spot and the exit pathway to the airport gate. This will help you remember where you parked when you get back.
TSA Security Scan
The function of the TSA system is to ensure the safety of all airline passengers and crew. Of course, some of it is necessary, but some of the scan policies might be a little extra (just my opinion). Besides that, the TSA security line is usually longest during the morning rush Mon-Fri, 6-9am, so if you can avoid traveling during those times, you can move pretty easily through the TSA line. There are some things you have to do with the TSA process:
- If possible, get a printed boarding pass before getting in the TSA security line! This will save you time as it is more convenient than having to keep your phone out in one hand and your ID in another hand, all while you have your suitcase and backpack. Once you get past the ID step, you still have to put your phone back in your backpack before putting the backpack on the security conveyor belt!
- Ideally, if you followed my advice back in the Packing phase, your backpack will be your most important carry-on bag because it is guaranteed to never be forced to check in to baggage claim. Don’t wear a belt on your pants! Empty all pockets and put your phone, keys, and whatever is in your pockets in a secure pouch in your backpack (not your overhead suitcase). Your sunglasses will need to go in one of your bags, too. Keep your driver’s license or passport in your hand along with your boarding pass – or you can keep your phone out to show the pass, but as you’ll see, this can slow you down and cause a slight delay as you’ll have to put your phone back in your backpack before the TSA scanning. Trust me, if you are late for your flight, you don’t want any delays in the TSA line! They will pat you down and make you go back through the scan, plus you have to wait for your bags and laptops and shoes once you get beyond the scanner.
- Present your driver’s license or active passport to the TSA ticket agent, along with your boarding pass. If you followed my advice, you will have a paper boarding pass you printed off at your airline kiosk in the airport and just your ID, both in one hand to easily hand to the agent. Be sure to make eye contact with the agent and be pleasant. They are trying to make sure you look normal and not suspicious.
- Once you’re past the TSA ticket agent, there are these gray or white trays under a conveyor belt. Put your laptop(s) in a separate tray, one laptop per tray usually. Your shoes go in a separate tray (not all airports require shoes off at certain times). Then your two carry-on bags need to be placed on the belt beside your trays. And whatever you do, don’t wear a belt! Put your belt in one of your bags. Often, because I have 2 laptops, I may have 5 items I’m pushing through the conveyor belt. Be sure to watch them as they go through the scanner.
- Now that your items are going through the scanner, Big Brother wants a full body scan of you! With no shoes and belts on, they will ask you to step forward and step your feet over the yellow feet markers on the floor and hold your bent arms over your head. As long as nothing is in your pockets, the scan will go quickly. If you forget to empty your pockets, you will be delayed as they do a manual hand search of your body. Meanwhile, your valuable bags are on the other side with no owner to claim them. Often, no one will take anything, but you never know, so it is important not to delay your body scan.
- Once on the other side of the scanner, you have to locate your items that went through the scan. Usually, you will be out before they are scanned. As long as the scan is successful, grab your things and find an open table to put them on so you can put your shoes and belt on, get your wallet and phone, etc. Basically, put yourself back together the way you were before the scan.
If you followed my advice about packing and the online check-in process, you will not have any delays here. (You might be a little out of breath here if you have a lot of luggage items). Now you can proceed to locating your airline terminal/gate.
Locating Your Gate
The airport will have plenty of sometimes confusing printed and electronic signs letting you know where to find your gate. Sometimes they are close, but often they require a fair amount of walking. If you are in a wheelchair or have difficulty walking, be sure to ask an airport employee for assistance. They are usually located near all airport entrances.
Using Gate to Gate Airport Trains
The biggest airports have a lot of terminals and gates that can be spread a long way. Many airports offer internal transportation systems to move you from one terminal to another. At Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, the gate transportation system is called Sky Link. In Atlanta, it’s called Plane Train. Other airports have similar systems. At DFW airport, you can move from Terminal A to, say, Terminal C using the Sky Link train. This saves you time and walking, unless you want the exercise. At Love Field Airport, you only have the People Mover walk belt to go from parking and ground transportation to the terminals, unless you get dropped off at the designated drop off location at the main entrance.
Airport Dining and Bathrooms
Once you’re all done with the Big Brother TSA checkpoint, if you have at least 40 minutes before it’s time to board your plane, you should have time to eat at an airport restaurant near your airline gate. But watch your time – if you get to your gate with only 30 minutes before time to board, you won’t have time for sit down dining, just fast food. If you need to use the bathroom (and you should force yourself to do before boarding time), then you should do so only if you have no more than 10 minutes before boarding time. Be mindful of the fact that you want to line up ahead of as many people as you can to avoid the risk of having to check in your overhead suitcase. Also, on Southwest Airlines, there are no assigned seats, so you really want to line up for boarding early.
Boarding Your Flight
To me, it’s more convenient to print the boarding pass you got back in the online check-in phase than to clumsily stick your phone over or under the barcode scanner. Why? Because you have to bring up your boarding pass (it’s better if you screenshot it rather than fool with the PDF file). If your phone adjusts the angle of the pic or PDF file, then you may have to scan multiple times to ensure the picture angle displays the barcode correctly. A printed boarding pass saves time at the TSA line and the airline gate line.
At each gate, there will be big monitors to show the gate number and flights times. As it gets closer to boarding time (the time to get on the plane), the airline gate agent will start a series of announcements to give you advance notice. Once it’s boarding time, passengers will be loaded based on priority boarding first and by group after that. Your group is listed on your boarding pass (which is easier to find on a printed pass than your phone since you have to log back in your phone then display it again if it’s not on top). Hopefully your group boards earlier. The lower your group in the order of things, the more likely overhead luggage bins will fill up, meaning you may have to check your suitcase in to baggage claim at the gate agent desk. It’s good to get in line once your group is called asap! I was on a flight where I was in line only 10 minutes after boarding time, but the overhead bins were already filled up, so I had to check my 20 inch suitcase in to baggage claim! Fortunately, getting to baggage claim once I landed was not too long (about 10 minutes wasted time, plus the time to walk all the way over there).
On the Plane
For many newbies, you’ll get nervous as you’re sitting in your seat, with your backpack crowding your feet under the seat in front of you (unless you bought a seat with more leg room, some of which only cost $30+ more). The flight attendants will help make your flight smooth. There are 3 phases to a flight:
You probably heard of turbulence. This is where the plane feels like it’s hitting potholes in the sky lol. The takeoff usually has turbulence because the 2 big engines are sucking in a bunch of air, trying to find that perfect balance to keep the plane as smooth as possible. They usually find that balance within several seconds or a few minutes. So you will feel the plane shake a bit, but this is normal (hence, the need to wear seat belts). You just have to get used to it. I was on one flight recently from Omaha to Dallas where the pilot somehow managed to not have any noticeable turbulence at all during any phase of the flight, which surprised me. Anyway, during this time, you have to put your phone in Airplane mode so as not to interfere with airplane electronics (or at least that’s what they tell us). Within minutes, you’ll be at cruising altitude.
Cruising altitude is usually described as 30,000 to 33,000 feet. That’s about 5 miles! I’m not always so sure about their math as I can still see the ground below, and I know that at home, I can’t see anything that clear and close that’s 5 miles away, but I digress :-). When the plane is cruising, this is when you can use your phone in normal mode. The flight attendants start serving drinks and lavish pretzels (unless you’re in first class). You can move about the plane at this point, unless unexpected turbulence happens (again, the plane’s engines are trying to find the perfect balance of air to offset any rough air pockets).
About 30 minutes before landing, the pilot will announce that it is time to prepare for landing. So seat belts come back on and phones have to go back to Airplane mode. During this phase, the engines will be trying to find smooth air but will likely encounter some rough air pockets as it compresses all that air to keep that big plane even. The plane will dip as the pilot lowers it, so get your stomach ready for this if you’re not used to it. Most landings are kinda rough, but I’ve been on some pretty smooth landings, so it’s possible have nice landings. If there are a lot of cross winds in the area, the plane may move side to side. On the ground, sometimes the pilots have to hit the brakes hard, especially for shorter runways.
Once you land, it is tempting to want to stand up and get your bags to walk out, but it won’t be like that at all unless you’re in first class. You’ll have to wait a few minutes until the ground crew hooks the plane up to the terminal so you can walk out. This might be a good time to look at your boarding pass to know what gate you’ve landed at and get ready to get off the plane easily and figure out your ground transportation (ride sharing, public transportation, taxi, friend, rental car, etc). If your ground transportation is not close by, you need to look for signs that show gate to gate airport transportation to get you there, or you can walk if close enough. The remaining steps are basically outlined above for how to navigate airports. But at this point, your best friend will be your phone GPS so you know where your hotel is, or the building to your business conference if that’s your next step.
Happy travels! And be sure to bookmark this article as I will update it with more tips in case I forgot some. Be sure to follow this site, too. Like and share!