Speeding up Pre-Boarding – Ask Alex – Travel Question Wednesdays

Ask Alex - Travel Question Q and A every Wednesday

This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.

A quick introductory note – When I began authoring VirtualWayfarer in July of 2007 I never expected that I’d still be blogging on travel, adventures, study abroad and everything that goes with it nearly five years later. Over the years I’ve had a lot of questions and luckily my friends, network, and more than a few random strangers have gone well out of their way to answer those questions. While I still find myself asking questions on a regular basis I’ve found that I can also pay it forward as a resource for friends, my readers, and strangers alike. In an effort to share what I’ve learned from my various adventures I’ve launched Travel Question Wednesdays. I’ll be answering one reader-submitted question every week. You are all encouraged to submit, and all past questions will be archived and available as a resource for readers of this blog. I’m going to take a very open approach to the topics I’ll cover, so feel free to ask me just about anything , just keep it somewhat travel related.

This week’s travel question is from AJ S. he asks,

Q. “How to cut your prep time down (everything pre-boarding)?”

A. – If you review the packing videos that I’ve posted you’ll note that I tend not to change the basics much.  While it may vary slightly depending on what I have on hand, a lot of the core items such as jeans, shirts, underwear, etc. are all the same from trip to trip.  I would estimate that these stable items make up about 60% of what I pack.  The remaining 40% depend on the duration of the trip and the climate/weather I’m expecting. This consistency cuts down a lot of my prep time as I generally know exactly what I need in advance. As a result, so long as I’ve remembered to do laundry, I can throw my gear together a few hours before leaving.  I also like to make sure that I pack relatively light which means I don’t have to worry about dealing with heavy/checked baggage. Remember, in most cases if you’re not sure about taking an item I suggest you leave it behind. If it turns out you need the item, you can usually purchase it while traveling without too much added cost/trouble.

If there are items you need, consider buying them online ahead of time.  While this can create an issue if the item gets delayed or you don’t order sufficiently in advance, it can save a lot of time hunting around for things like power converters and combination locks.

To aid and speed up the boarding process I tend to avoid mailed/pre-printed paper tickets. Instead I prefer e-tickets.  Many airports allow you to check in and print your tickets through automated kiosks provided you have the credit card you used to book on hand.  These are a great option that often lets you bypass long checkin lines.  I’ve noticed that many airports have expanded these kiosks beyond carry-on-only travelers, allowing you to check in at the kiosk, note the number of bags you have, and then proceed to an expedited luggage drop off window.   This can cut a lot of stress and bypass significant airport delays.

Another easily overlooked time delay is what you wear to the airport.  It always amazes me when I see people, women especially, wearing a number of bracelets, jewelry, and other metallic items.   If you are going to wear these types of items, a belt, or have a lot of coins on you make sure you put them in a jacket coat pocket or your carry on bag before getting in line for the metal detectors.  You’ll find yourself significantly less stressed if you slide through security without any major delays.

An additional airport hack is to try and schedule your flights at times that are less popular.  Think about when people prefer to fly and keep in mind that those times will often have significantly longer check in times, and long lines at security.

One of my biggest time savers tends to be how much pre-trip research I (don’t) do.  I’m pretty comfortable taking a by-the-seat-of-the-pants approach, so planning out every little detail and researching every item I’ll be visiting in advance isn’t something I spend time on.  That frees up a lot of time while preparing for the trip, and gives me a lot of added flexibility.  Instead of doing a wealth of pre-trip research I usually glance through the wikipedia page for the destinations I’m considering, then look at wikitravel. From there it’s mostly done through word of mouth, or on-the-ground research a few days in advance.  This approach won’t work for all travelers, especially those interested in traveling at a quick pace – but there’s a good balance which is just right for everyone.  I always encourage friends to remember: a key part of travel is adventure and a cornerstone to finding adventure is having enough flexibility to explore opportunities as they arise.

For additional tips head on over to the more-in-depth resource list I’ve created at The Ultimate Packing List.

Have a question of your own? ASK IT! Want to see previous questions? click here.

Renting A Rowboat and Expecting a Luxury Cruise Ship – Let’s Talk Budget Airlines

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

It happened again, I posted an update about an upcoming flight with a budget airline and before long had messages from several friends and readers telling me to be careful or suggesting I book with a traditional airline. I ignored their warnings and happily booked with EasyJet. Why? Not only because they were the cheapest option but because I genuinely like budget airlines.

Wait….what?  Those of you who have been reading for a while will no doubt recall that I have a long history of being disappointed by airline customer service and transparency. From being charged for water by US Airways on a ticket between AZ and Europe to being lied to by British Airways I always groan a little when the time comes to deal with airlines.

I should be the last person ready to sing budget airline’s prices, right? Not exactly. My upbeat opinion seems to lay in managed expectations. When I book with a budget airline I’m not expecting traditional “airline” quality service. I’m booking a ticket on an air-bus. An air-bus that is usually only slightly above the quality of a city bus, lacks the crazy people and has slightly more comfortable seating (though RyanAir is working on “fixing” this). The ticket is cheap, the perks are non-existent, the rules are firm, and it gets me where I want to go. In effect, I book a rowboat to get me where I’m going and expect a rowboat when I arrive. The big problem, and source of endless frustration, complaining, and agitation among travelers seems to stem largely from occasions where people book a rowboat usually knowing it’s a rowboat and then show up expecting a luxury liner.

To be fair, budget airlines don’t make a major effort to differentiate themselves from traditional airlines. Let’s face it, “service for a premium, shitty seats, cramped planes and ridiculous fees but GREAT prices!” isn’t exactly marketing gold. For those who assume most airlines are the same, this can be a massive shock. Especially if they’ve paid sticker price for their ticket and failed to anticipate and incorporate the secondary fees and rules designed to generate the airline significant secondary income.

When I book a budget airline, I book differently.

I do my research on the front end and make sure that I know what the rules are – especially for luggage and check in – and then make sure that I’m well within a safety buffer. If I think there’s a chance I’ll go over weight or that my bag is over sized I don’t assume they’ll overlook it, or that I can just risk it. I incorporate the $10-$20 extra for a checked bag into my fare cost.

I’m also not put off by the $5 credit card fee, the $5 nonsense fee, the $5 made up just because fee or the $7 mickeymouse convenience charge. Again, these are all expenses that I’ve already incorporated into my cost when analyzing which airline I choose to book with. It’s an annoying game and involves some added mickey mouse, but if I can play the game and get a a fare at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of a conventional carrier then so be it. Bring it on!

Additionally, I almost never book a standard or last minute ticket with a budget airline. Budget airlines are cheap within a certain structure. That does not mean, however, that they’re always going to be the cheapest option. In many ways I view them in the same way as department stores – if you’re paying sticker price and it’s not on sale, you’re tossing money away.

At the end of the day I weigh the actual cost of the fare with a budget airline, the length of the flight, the airports I’m flying between, and the cost of more traditional airlines before booking. The end result? I book about 40%/60% on traditional/budget airlines.  There are also a number of budget airlines I just won’t fly.  Groups like Spirit Airlines have chosen fee structures which I find defeat the purpose of flying on a budget airline entirely.  Others have reliability or safety issues which leave me uncomfortable.

For many of you this may be nothing new. For some of you, hopefully it serves as an invitation to re-frame your personal perspective and approach to engaging with budget airlines. Still not convinced? Share your piece in a comment – I always value your feedback!