2010-01-20

Jet Set Willy

This trip (I'm in Seattle for 2 weeks, with a few days in California in the middle) is a lot more relaxed and less annoying, mainly due to experience (It's trip #16 to the states in the last few years) and optimisation of stuff. I've spent zero cash so far, and the first piece of actual paperwork was from Budget for the rental car. I've been trying to work with zero paperwork this time, Through using Tripit and Evernote on the Nexus One (although Tripit's iPhone app is also great).

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:
  • Towels
  • 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:
  • Laptop
  • Kindle
  • Headphones/iPod
  • 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.

5. Flying

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.

5 comments:

  1. You forgot a) Don't catch a morning flight to JFK. - 2 Hours waiting on line for immigration 4-6PM ET.

    b) Get an SSD for your netbook/laptop - was able to watch the stuff I wanted for the whole flight rather than rubbish on the seatback.

    Good post, it's amazing how many people turn into complete retards in airports.

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  2. That pretty much summarises my views of travelling, particularly the "ferchrissakes be ready when you get to the front of the security line" bit. Hint: Yes, your belt will probably set the metal detector off. Your aim is to not set the metal detector off. Then once your stuff comes out of the scanner, grab it and feck off. You can sort it all out at the seats that are invariably provided immediately after the screening area.

    I know people who see things like airport security as such a big deal that they go OMG I HAVE TO FLY OMG THIS WILL SUCK for weeks beforehand. Wrong - the bit which sucks is sitting in a seat for 11 hours. Provided you have your act together and your arse in gear, the airport bit itself is a breeze. Okay, I have the advantage of flying through the annoyingly efficient Zürich airport, where the lines are short and the security people are friendly and professional so long as you're not a dick, but that's just the universe making up for years of flying out of Heathrow.

    And yes. If you're spending 12 hours getting there and will have to stand in a line for immigration anyway, check your huge wheelie bag. After wrangling a bag to the airport, there are few feelings nicer than dumping it at the bag drop and only having to take a relatively small (in my case) messenger bag through the airport and onto the plane.

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  3. I suppose the real question is whether you should ask the person behind you the permission to recline your seat.

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  4. I go on hollyers around 8 times a year, so it's amusing to me to think that there are people who spazz out at the thought of going to a fucking airport. They're the most boring, normal places in the world.

    Most of your notes were bang on. I never take my shoes off at security, for example. And I travel super-light. For a holiday less than 3 days in duration, I'll have carry-on luggage only. I don't bring my laptop as I can do without it easily. (Hey, I have an iPhone ffs!)

    I really, really don't like long haul and only do 1 a year at most. Short haul is a fucking breeze. Bring a book and if you're nervous, get drunk beforehand (yes, I accept being drunk only works shorthaul, as for longhaul you get a hangover). I used to spazz out as a nervous flyer a few years ago, but I do mental exercises now to keep calm, and they seem to work. One thing that helped was using the Google Earth Flight Simulator - seeing a plane wobble and bank and lift all over the shop yet realising that it wasn't in any danger of crashing made me cop on when actually in a plane.

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  5. (con't)
    Online checkin has meant I show up at airports with only about an hour to go at this stage. Ryanair in particular are nazis about having you show up at the gate super-early, like 40 mins before the plane leaves in some cases. Since I get to the front door of the airport with only an hour to go, this gives me 20 mins to get through security and down to distant gates. It'll be my undoing, I swear.

    One thing I've learned is that if you're in a long queue, don't be afraid to go to the top and ask to skip it if you're really in danger of missing your flight. They're surprisingly amenable to this.

    However, I have never actually missed a flight in all my years, and I've been to 42 different countries.

    One last thing. Fuck Heathrow.

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