As I get ready for another business trip tomorrow and anticipate the holiday travel during Christmas week, I'm thinking about how to make that travel -- particularly the airport experience -- less odious.
Much as I hate doing so, I have to admit that traveling in comfy clothes makes things easier. If I spill something on myself (or someone spills on me), it's less an issue than if I was wearing a dry-clean-only suit.
Check into the price of a taxi or a car service. Depending on the length of your trip, it could be cheaper to let someone else do the driving to and from the airport. And how nice NOT to have to schlep out to the long-term parking lot after a tiring flight.
Whether you're driving yourself or taking a cab, getting to the airport early helps avoid a great deal of stress. Security lines, I have found, are the biggest wild card in air travel, and my wife and I both breathe easier once we're past that particular hurdle.
While some thrifty travelers advocate bringing an empty bottle through security and filling it with water once you're through, with the variety of vendors behind security, I have not been tempted to do so. But I admit it chaps my hide to pay $2.99 for that bottle of water post-security, especially when I KNOW I could've paid about $1 before security.
But the most difficult aspect of air travel before and after security (especially during the holidays) are the crowds. The people I derisively refer to as "amateur travelers" who have no idea about security requirements, elderly people (God love their slow-moving selves!), and families who give their kids WAY too much latitude make things considerably more difficult than they otherwise would be.
If you have a lengthy lay-over, consider buying a day pass to one of the airline lounges. Many will sell you one (for between $25 and $50 or so) even if you're not flying on their planes that day. And some airlines offer one-day passes which can be used at lounges all along your itinerary. On one recent occasion, I used the lounge at my departure point, then at a second club when I had a layover.
More airlines, however, are moving to "one-time" passes that cannot be used for multiple clubs. Be sure to ask before purchasing.
Some, though not all, airlines offer free or discounted food and beverages in these lounges but the best thing is the atmosphere. My favorite beverage experience was at the American Airlines lounge in Miami, where they poured a shot of Johnny Walker Blue (top-shelf scotch, for the uninitiated) for the ridiculously low price of $15. Most bars charge between double and triple that price.
While you may share the lounge with plenty of your fellow travelers, the likelihood of having to endure screaming kids is much smaller than outside its doors. After all, people PAID to be there, and staffs are usually quite good about asking parents to keep their kids in line. And many have bar areas where kids are not allowed at all.
Most lounges offer free wireless Internet connections, so they provide a good opportunity to catch up on things. And most I've been to have more power plugs than out in the concourse, so you can give your laptop and cell phone a quick charge while you wait.
Most airports have many more restaurants and shops than in the past, so if you're not inclined to pony up the price of admission to an airline lounge, there can be plenty to occupy your attention between planes, depending on the airport.
As of this writing, a dozen airports have Vino Volo wine bars where you can get a glass of wine without having to listen to the whine of tired kids. And they have nibbles, too. DFW has a similar establishment called La Bodega Wine Bar in Terminal A near Gate A15. Both establishments sell their wines by the bottle (which you can now carry on, because you've already cleared security).
Finally, some airports even offer play areas where kids can get their wiggles out. After sitting (relatively) still for several hours en route to Grandma's house, they need it even more than we do.
Travel safely, and have a great holiday!
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