I'm not sure whether God or Satan created airports, but depending on which one your in, it can seem like one of those is the right answer. Surviving the dreadful land of "AIRPORT" can be a challenge indeed. Images of mass overcrowding, snappy TSA agents, screaming babies, $10 coffees, annoying kids, and people smashing your heels off with their mobility scooters start flashing in front of you. If you have never been through an airport before, or just haven't traveled, don't worry, there's plenty of those times waiting for you. Hey, I'm just the messenger here. Before you get discouraged though, don't worry, what's a good military officer without a plan. From the person who steps into an airport for the first time, to the rugged veteran, the game is always changing and you want to be on top. Here are some tips to give you a head start. And unfortunately, I am not bullshitting you about being detained in Italy. I fell on that sword so we can all learn how to avoid detainment. It's all here folks.
Everyone who has ever had first hand experiences in one knows, airports can be quite a jungle. Personally, I would rather be dropped off by helicopter at my destination and eat dead animals raw, like Bear Grylls (exhibit A). It would be far less painful and far more interesting than getting through one of these circus acts called an "airport". For purposes of efficiency I will not even begin to enumerate the countless quality control problems the industry is having, especially in America these days. Just watch CNN for that.
What I want to discuss is not just attempting to survive the airport but to flourish in it. Yes, there is a way to do it. Exactly how, I don't know, but I do have a few good ideas. Before I hit the details this is my BLUF or military acronym for Bottom Line Up Front.
BLUF- YOU MUST POSSES THE FOLLOWING TO MAKE THESE TIPS USEFUL
- Some level of patience
- An expectation of challenges
- The ability to tolerate crowded spaces
Now that we are ready for war, shall we. Before you ever step foot in the airport you have to drive there, right. My first end all suggestion is this.....get a ride to the airport. You will save money by not leaving your vehicle in storage as well as keep it out of the public. Most airport storage parking areas are secure, however, keeping your vehicle secured at you residence is always better. This can help protect the car and your home, as people cannot tell that you have left upon first glance. Getting a ride isn't always possible in that case here are a few good suggestions to assure your not stranded in the storage parking area upon returning from your adventure:
1, Disconnect your car battery. This applies to anyone who has experienced any sort of power drain during long term parking or other inactivity. It takes just a minute to disconnect, and can save you from airport parking hell.
2. Don't leave your windows "cracked". Not only does it make your vehicle easier to unlock, outside airflow could blow your parking ticket from the dash to the floor. The last thing you want to be doing after getting back from a long trip is searching all over you car for the phantom parking ticket.
3. Use a windshield sun deflector. It keeps your car cool and protects its interior. This also has a dual purpose of obstructing the view inside the vehicle. You shouldn't have anything valuable inside in the first place but it serves as another deterrent.
4. Ensure that your tires are fully inflated. Even the slowest leak will have time to flatten a tire if you have an extended airport parking stay.
5. If it's winter, have an ice scraper. This sounds obvious, but an unexpected blast of winter weather coupled with a long term airport parking stay can be a real pain in the neck to get off the windshield.
6. Do a final walk around. Do a final walk around your vehicle. Make a mental note of all the bumps, scrapes, and pre-existing dents you may have on your car. Also, write down where it is (i.e row 5B) More importantly, when you return do another walk around and evaluate. At least you can recognize damage and report it if there is any. Airports are the epicenter of "big brother" in America and have more surveillance systems than banks and casinos combined. If your vehicle was struck or tampered with the airport has it on video somewhere.
Pack wisely, we must...
Listen to [Beats by Dre] Yoda, good packing is essential and can save you from some seriously painful experiences with security. Believe me I know this first hand, but we will get to that later. When packing, utilize some packing wisdom and it will seem like you will have "the force" to get through the security line. If you didn't get the pun I'm sorry, all I can do is help you be a better person.
Read below for some great strategies from personal experience as well as the Transportation Security Administration.
1. Carry-on baggage is a small piece of luggage you take on the airplane with you. The TSA states that (You are allowed one carry-on in addition to one personal item such as a laptop computer, purse, small backpack, briefcase, or camera case.)
a. All liquids, gels and aerosols must be placed in one quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. Larger plastic bags or bags that are not zip-top (such as fold-over sandwich bags) are not allowed. Each traveler is allowed to carry only one, quart-size, zip-top, clear plastic bag. If you have favorite products that will not fit in 3 ounce containers, pack them in your checked baggage.
b. You must remove your quart-sized plastic, zip-top bag from your carry-on luggage and place it in a bin or on the conveyor belt for X-ray screening. The TSA says that x-raying separately will allow security officers to examine the declared items more easily.
c. The TSA allows only the following exceptions to the 3 ounce containers/1 quart zip-top plastic rule, but you still have to present these items for screening at the security gate:
d. Label your laptop computer. Tape a business card or other identifying information on the bottom of your laptop to avoid loss or accidental "exchange" by travelers. Basically be smart and keep your carry on close and in sight at all times.
2. Checked baggage is luggage you check in at the ticket counter or at curbside. It will not be accessible during your flight. TSA advises travelers not to lock checked baggage, but if you must lock it be sure to use a TSA "Accepted and Recognized" lock. If your baggage sets off an alarm and TSA cannot gain access to your checked bag, an unrecognized lock may be broken.
e. Don't put film in your stow away luggage, the screening equipment will damage it.
f. Pack shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage. This will make it easier for security to check your footwear.
g. Avoid over-packing your travel luggage; the airport security screener should be able to easily reseal your bag if it is opened for inspection. If possible, spread the contents over several bags. Check with your airline or travel agent for maximum weight limitations.
h. Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
i. Don't stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage..
j. Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport. View the list.
k. Put all undeveloped film, and cameras with film, in your carry-on baggage. If your bag will pass through the X-ray machine more than 5 times ask for a hand inspection to prevent damage.
l. Check ahead of time with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline's travel baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring and size and weight limitations.
m. Carry-on baggage is limited to one bag and one personal item (1+1).Personal items include laptops, purses, small backpacks, briefcases, or camera cases.
n. Don't forget to place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer. It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
o. Avoid over-packing so that your articles don't spill out if your bag is opened for inspection.
p. Think carefully about what you pack in you luggage. The TSA does have the right to look through it in its entirety if they determine there is a reason do do so. By reason, I mean they could make up anything they want, so just be careful. There's a time to "fight the man" this is not a good time to do so and you won't win.
q. Wait to wrap your gifts. Be aware that wrapped gifts may need to be opened for inspection. This applies to both carry-on and checked baggage. Well here you go folks, can't say they didn't warn you.
r. For those of us that are visual people this is the picture provided on the TSA website outlining what they say looks like shit (right) and what is acceptable (left). Personally both pictures seem sloppy to me but you get the idea. Wrap your cords up and fold your clothes, its not rocket science. Once again, they gave you fair warning. A lot of times people get pissed when there items get looked through but as long as they are following some of these directions they would never have had an issue in the first place.
Finding Your Gate, Currency Conversion & Wifi
Congratulations, you have made it through the security line without a hitch. Next step find your gate. I strongly recommend doing this before anything else, especially if you are in an airport you have never been to. Once you have located it you will have ample time to go and take care of other things but the most important thing (knowing where your gate is) has been achieved.
The topic of currency conversion can be tricky. Generally, you will be charged higher rates to convert your bills in any airport or major hotel. I had fallen into this trap on my way to Germany. I came to realize that it was really not necessary to change currency if you are traveling to a location that has numerous ATMs available. I have found ATMs to be the most effective method of handling currency conversions. Be aware that your bank may charge high usage fees overseas. If this is the case, you should seriously consider getting a friendlier bank. For military members or their families, USAA has excellent benefits to include a coverage of all service charges. For more details concerning currency conversion check out Gocurrency.com. Also good to note, your credit card is a more secure form of payment then using your debit card. Generally, credit card fraud is easier to identify, and easier for banks to reimburse should you lose any money. I had my credit card stolen once and numerous fuel charges were put on it. Long story short, my bank explained that had it been my debit card, reimbursement may have taken twice as long.
Lastly, we have wifi. If you aren't a tech savvy person then the best thing you can do is start accepting that we are a global internet based society. More and more facets of human life are moving onto the worldwide network. If you can't beat em, join em.
Prices are typically given on a daily rate and range from 5-10 USD. Some airports do have free wifi available, ensure you check before you go. If you have to meet someone at an airport overseas, than wifi is an excellent option. Paying ridiculous world wide cell phone rates is not worth it. For a fraction of the cost you can communicate over wifi via messaging and locate each other. I will be using this method on my upcoming trip. Also, remember to check and see if individual companies and shops in the airport offer their own free wifi. You can use theirs instead of paying for the airport's.
He doesn't want a large Farva....
If you don't know who Farva is then your probably young and I am old, but Super Troopers was the movie that started them all folks. Anyway, Farva wants a goddamn liter o' cola. Well, when your in the airport, unless you want to look like Farva you probably want to layoff the cola. Don't even make me go into my last entry about fitness and travel again; the healthier you eat the better off your trip will be.
It can be tempting to get a super sized bunch of crap as soon as you get off a long flight where you were offered nothing but peanut packets and grape juice. It won't do your wallet, waistline, or weight any favors. Taking some simple steps can save you from the jungle of overpriced and unhealthy airport options.
BYOF- Before you leave for the airport, grab some healthy snacks for your carry-on luggage. The Transportation and Security Administration’s rules prohibit travelers from bringing gels and liquids through security, but solid foods like nuts, fruits, energy bars and carrot and celery sticks should clear just fine. Cliff bars are money, and will get you through long hours. Once you’ve cleared security, the food options will mostly unhealthy and generally overpriced. Its not a bag idea to grab a chicken wrap option (not the fried one from BK) before boarding the plane. It is healthier than the on board meal. Stock up on bottled water and dried fruit packages and if it’s near mealtime, grab a grilled sandwich or wrap to take with you on the plane.
Utilize Healthy Options- Even though you may pay dearly for healthy food in an airport there's one thing you must ask yourself. How much is your health worth? It amazes me that people would rather save 3 or 4 extra dollars on their meal and spike their glucose levels, block their arteries, and increase their chances of type two diabetes exponentially. It really isn't worth feeling like crap and gaining weight. The last thing you want is to feel horrible during your long flights and moving through a bustling airport all day. Not to mention that if you consistently workout and eat healthy you are undoing months of hard work for a few days of travel.
No Hotel, No Problem, Sleep in the Airport!
Ok, I know you are probably saying, "I'm to dignified to do that". But hey, everyone is doing it. Honestly if you want some adventure then why not start the party at the airport! Think about it this way. If you have a delay or a problem don't dwell on it because it will just put you in a bad mood and nothing will change. If its just one night, instead of giving yourself a headache and spending money getting a hotel, check into that sweet floor instead. Honestly, it is not uncommon these days with how piss poor the airline industry is. Keep your optimism and money and give yourself a story to tell your friends. Check out the airport bar if you want, then call it a night at your gate.
If you don't believe me, sleeping has become so common in airports they even have a website solely devoted to it, theguidetosleepinginairports.net. If you get a good enough story you can post it on there.
Getting a rental car for your trip?
This one is big, especially if you are a fan of using rental cars during your overseas trips. Watch out for some of these issues as they can get you and your money before you even drive away from the airport. Some are more avoidable than others but you should take what steps you can.
1. They are Liars- Technically, omitting information is not lying, but when a company withholds information about addition hidden fees from what its "advertised rate" is, I call that bullshit, and lying. At the end of the day the industry as a whole is guilty of this. Be prepared to see a different rate on your bill.
2. Fill the Tank- If the rental company has to top-off the gas tank after your return, you will pay a ridiculous price per gallon. Always ask that the car be filled up prior to your departure, and then bring it back full of gas. If that's not allowed without a fee, be certain you return the vehicle with as much gas in the tank as when you started.
3. Hidden Fees- Ask the rental company about any additional taxes and fees from the advertised rate. There's 10% sales tax, general usage fees, and something called a vehicle license fee. Don't forget an "arena fee" as well. Now you are paying more than $25/day for something advertised at $18/day. Keep that in mind when you see rates under $20/day advertised. It pays to do some shopping around if you can.
And Then I Got Detained
As promised, here is what not to do at an airport (via myself) getting detained by not just the Italian TSA authority, oh no, try the Italia Federali (Italian Federal Agent) an Italian military officer, and the Roman Policia. You know when you watch a funny movie like Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation. It was just like that except not funny at all.