This a short post on how to reduce the stress of air travel. The content is taken from my latest addition to ‘Next Avenue C’bus’ a feature offered by The Ohio State University’s WOSU Public media for which I’m a regular contributor. This particular post is from October 11th 2016. For many more essays on the ‘third-third’ of life, and lots of useful retirement tips, check out Next Avenue.
As recently retired expats, my wife and I are intent on doing as much travel as possible from our new base in the Republic of Panama. Stress is a big consideration in any travel endeavor—the packing, planning and pre-plane airport chaos. We’ve discovered shortcuts to get us through TSA lines faster, and to minimize the uncertainty and irritation of modern travel. I focus on air travel here because that’s the preferred method for most people to get where they want to go beyond 500 miles.
Expedite travel with TSA-Pre-check
You’ve arrived at the airport with plenty of time, you think. Then your heart sinks as you see that the security line stretches into the parking lot. A better option? TSA Pre-Check, a great way to move through the line faster and easier. In addition to the prospect of a shorter wait in line at the airport, as a ‘TSA-Pre’ customer you don’t need to check laptops, liquids or belts, and you can wear your light jacket and shoes. The TSA-Pre Check program costs only $85.00 for a five-year enrollment.
Avoid checked bags
Using only carry-ons minimizes the headaches and the expense of air travel. The days of free checked bags has gone the way of the corded phone. Airlines charge for every pound of weight that burns aircraft fuel and charging customers for their bags is one way they recoup that expense. Unless you acquire a premium credit card with the airline, or have some other perk that allows free checked bags, prepare to pay extra. We have an “advantage card” that provides many perks, including a number of free checked bags. For shorter trips there’s no need for a closet full of clothes, so acquire clothing that can be worn again and again, then hand washed and dried overnight. High-quality recreational-items stores have a wide selection, and such apparel is surprisingly fashionable these days. A word of warning: if the airline offers to check your carry-on, remove passports, medications, car keys, cash and/or travelers checks and anything else you can’t afford to lose.
Global Entry Program
U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) offers several programs to expedite air travel. One is called Global Entry. Once your ‘Global Entry’ status is official, your Known Traveler Number, KTN, becomes part of every airline ticket transaction. The KTN announces to TSA & other security personnel that the holder has priority. My wife and I acquired Global Entry status a short time ago. On our recent arrival at Tocumen International in Panama City we zipped through customs and immigration far ahead of fellow travelers. The time difference was noticeable. Global Entry status costs $100 per person, lasts five years and is worth every penny.
Fly when the airport is quiet
Don’t fly when everyone else does. Retirees often have the luxury of traveling whenever they wish, so stay away from the airport on the following days: Christmas and Thanksgiving, Spring break, high-season at your destination and Sundays. According to airfarewatchdog.com, the best (and cheapest) days to fly are Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Saturdays next in line. People typically return from vacation on Sunday, so airports are crowded and fares are higher.
When booking tickets, take advantage of the mobile app for the airline that alerts you to flight and other info. No one wants to arrive at the airport to learn of a cancelled or long-delayed flight. Download the airline’s app and use it.
Try these low-tech tips: For long layovers, find a quiet spot at the airport and take a nap, read, do yoga or just people watch. Most airports have a ‘meditation room,’ or small chapel you can use. Eat snacks brought from home—cheaper, and likely better. Disappear into your iPod. Take advantage of airline-offered lounges. Find a dog? Yes, some airports now offer ‘therapy dogs’ that roam the concourse looking for stressed-out travelers. Another tip: make a habit of using hand sanitizer posted at airports, and pack one or two small bottles of it in TSA acceptable sizes. Also, take a minute to swab the tray tables and armrests on the plane. Getting sick is a real stressor, and clean hands help a lot.
Take advantage of what’s offered
One last tip. Don’t be afraid to use such things as early-boarding perks, traveler-assist offerings found at every airport, and the use of the ubiquitous golf carts to get between gates. Especially with close connections, such courtesies are a real stress reliever. And remember, as stressful as it may be, don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades, cheaper fares, vouchers for late flights and free baggage check. You worked hard all your life; you deserve to travel stress-free.