Been meaning to write this stuff down for a while. A lot of youse reading this know all this already, but it appears that even these days when it's unusual to meet someone who isn't a regular plane traveller, some of them don't get the fundamentals.
A few tips for the regular transatlantic traveller to make things a little less annoying. Some of this is Dublin-specific:
1. Learn to Drive
If you're a Dublin person, chances are reasonably likely that you don't know how to drive, and/or don't have a reason to. I've only had a driver's license for about 3 years, because previous to that I lived in town. Even if you've no intention of driving in town, getting your license can be done relatively easily. Do your theory test, get lessons, get license.
Driving in the states is a piece of piss. People talk a lot about how Californian drivers are mad, etc, but they're actually talking about not indicating when merging, going too fast, and other stuff that's actually pretty normal for Ireland. If you've driven in Dublin city centre at all, California (and America in general) is a cakewalk.
2. Packing (i.e. Leave shit at home)
This is a list of things you don't need for a 2-week trip to the states:
- More than a couple of changes of clothes.
- More than one spare pair of shoes (pack your larger pair).
- Every goddamned cable you own.
- Giant bottle of shower spooge/shampoo.
Here's what goes in my carry-on:
- Passport/Drivers license
And in the hold:
- PSU for laptop
- 3-5 changes of clothes
- Spare shoes
- Small toilet bag with small razor, meds, deodorant stick, toothbrush.
- Assorted cables - Phone charger, ipod cable, etc.
This time round I also brought my GPS for driving in California, which I can usually leave out.
I flipping hate people who bring those giant rolly bags on the plane with them. I particularly hate people who bring a bag so heavy they can't lift it. Protip: If you're unable to hold your carry-on bag above your head, it's too heavy.
Oh, and don't put a laptop or anything else of immediate value in your hold luggage. Baggage handlers nick shit ("Oh no!" I hear you cry "So prejudiced!". Well, they do, and having magnanimously placed expensive shit in your hold luggage because you're not prejudiced won't get you your laptop back).
Also, don't put stuff you'll need right away in your hold luggage. It can go missing for up to several days, and possibly longer. This includes stuff like work ID badge, drivers license, etc. It also includes your car and house keys on the way back :-)
3. Checking in, security, and using your waiting-around time
Checking in online is grand if you like paperwork. Most airlines allow you to book seats online without checking in (BA let you pay money, about 20 quid per leg, which is well worth it on an 11-hour flight). I did that this time, which worked out pretty well.
You don't need the email or any printouts to check in, you just need the PNR reference, which if you use Tripit will be right there on your phone. Even at that, all I did was scan my passport this time in the wee machine and it was all good.
When you go to drop your bag in, and you see a big line at the economy/premium economy, and no line at the Business bag drop, chance your arm. The Aer Lingus guys in Dublin never care.
Before you get to security, you're usually standing in line for 5-10 minutes. By the time you get to the end of this line, you should have two things, one in each hand: Your boarding card inside your passport, and your carry-on bag with all your stuff in it. Including pocket contents, phone, jacket, hat, belt, everything.
Don't take your shoes off unless you're told to, most airports either do or don't ask at random intervals. I've seen entire lines of people with their shoes in their hands fumbling through, when I just walked through with shoes on.
Wait until the guy waves you through the scanner. Nothing pisses them off more than people walking through unexpectedly. If the thing goes off, ask them what to do. Some will send you back, some will just use the wand.
When you get through security, grab your stuff from the trays and get out of there. Don't go re-arranging your stuff before moving away. Most airports have benches or chairs right after security for doing this. If you want, just head a bit down the way before re-arranging yourself. Nobody cares that you're not wearing a belt or shoes, you just went through security.
Airports mean a lot of waiting around. I usually leave a good bit of time to get into the airport, through security, and have some decompression time. Get a large bottle of water for the plane so you don't have to bother the flight attendants.
In general, being on a plane is very light on activity, so if you're planning on sleeping, don't eat a lot, and eat light foods before flying. Dublin's pre-flight eating options appear to specialise in the biggest Irish breakfast you can possibly eat, which is in general the last thing you want to be eating getting on a long-haul flight.
Another Dublin-tip: Even if you're not going through security in Dublin, go into the 'form-filling area' in the B terminal and fill out your visa waiver and customs forms now. It's a pain in the hole to do it on the plane later. This also kills some time.
Another pro-tip: Your plane is SEATED. Being first in line to board doesn't mean you win anything. The overhead baggage bins are never 'full', and if you've got a sensibly sized carry-on, it should fit under the seat in front of you anyway. Usually if the overhead bins are starting to fill, the flight attendants will ask people to put their 'personal item' under the seat anyway, leaving room for you.
4. Don't be a stupid arsehole
Read the customs and visa waiver form before filling it in. Fill it in properly. You'll be sent to the back of the line if you screw up in even the tiniest way.
Do. Not. Lie. To. The. Immigration. Dude. Do not sass, or in any way antagonise them, because you just signed a form saying you agree not to question their decision.
Being unsure of where you're going means you stand out of the way of people who are.
If you're nervous of flying, go to your doctor. Doctors don't care about prescribing Xanax or Valium or something. Make sure you're not driving right after. Take it 45 minutes or so before takeoff to cover takeoff in the fuzzy period between when it kicks in and when it wears off.
Booze when flying is in general a bad idea. Airlines only serve booze on long haul flights any more because people expect it, and nobody wants to be the first airline to stop doing it. It dehydrates you, and at best it sends you to sleep for an hour or two and then you feel shitty for the other 5-7 hours of the flight.
That turned into slightly more of a rant than I had expected, of course. My general bugbear with flying is that it's not a big deal. People make such a rigmarole about doing it, taking half their worldly possessions, running round all freaked out in airports, etc. It's basically equivalent to taking a slightly less bumpy and longer bus to somewhere. Hopefully at least some of the above has been useful, at least.