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Air Travel Hassles

By Conrad Sear

Air travel is convenient, but at the same time, can be as annoying as anything a traveler can do. Recent security measures, flight delays and other problems can turn a pleasant vacation into a nightmare. There have been numerous stories about how to deal with these problems, but they tend to deal with one problem in particular. Here are the problems a traveler is most likely to face, and tips on how to avoid them, all in one package.

Most people are concerned about security issues and flight delays. These have dramatically increased since 2001, and they are issues, but travelers can minimize their impact. First, a traveler needs to check his flight before he leaves for the airport, if possible. He can look on the airline's real-time departures Web site or call their customer service number. To see if any airports are experiencing delays, a traveler can look up the Federal Aviation Administration's Web site and search for airport delays. A real-time map shows all major US airports, and their current status, as far as delays and holds are concerned. Rolling the mouse over the airport will detail any delays. If any flights are delayed, the traveler needs to contact the airline as soon as possible. Don't wait until arriving at the airport. Start making arrangements for alternate flights or other accommodations as soon as delays are announced. Airlines will usually accommodate a traveler who is stuck, or maybe stuck, but they have to know. Gate agents will be swamped with the disgruntled, so hashing the problem out with the airline's telephone staff is probably the best option.

Get to the airport early - very early - at least two hours for domestic flights and three for international. If there are delays at the ticket counters or security checkpoints, a traveler will have plenty of wiggle room built into his schedule.

Delays at ticket counters can be eliminated with the use of e-tickets. Most major airports have e-ticket kiosks and these are surely one of the best, most sensible applications of computer technology. A traveler simply needs a credit card or frequent flyer number. Insert the card into the reader, or key in the frequent flyer number. The traveler's name and itinerary will pop up. From here, with the use of a touch screen, a traveler can change seats on a plane, upgrade the ticket class and even print out baggage stickers, if he is checking baggage. When he is finished, the computer will print out his boarding passes for the flight he is boarding, and the connecting flight, if there is one, and will also print out baggage stickers for his checked luggage. Folders and labels are even available at these kiosks so the traveler can go ahead and put his name on his bags. From there, if he has bags to check, he clears them through security and hands the stickers to the agent. They are applied, the bags sent on to the plane, and the traveler goes to the security checkpoint. If he does not have bags to check (recommended, if possible), then he simply picks up his boarding passes and goes to the checkpoint with his carry-on luggage.

If a traveler has a paper ticket, especially if there are problems with the ticket, he needs to arrive even earlier, so as to resolve the issue in time to catch the flight. This also applies with those checking boxes or large packages. The earlier the arrival, the better off everyone is.

Carry-on luggage - the rules are stricter than they used to be. However, if a traveler can carry on, it is better to do so. This eliminates any chance of baggage being lost or misdirected. But be smart. Pack well, and pay attention to what is packed. Don't pack anything that could possibly be construed as a weapon. Safety razors will clear, and so will fingernail clippers, but don't count on anything else with a sharp edge to make it through. It's not a bad idea to have a friend standing outside the checkpoint to take anything that doesn't make it. Be certain the carry-on will fit inside the plane's overhead compartment or under the seat. For smaller aircraft, like the Canadair Regional Jets, the overhead compartments are narrow from bottom to top. A bag might squeeze in under the seat, though. A traveler can check a bag planeside, and pick it up when deplaning at the destination.

Now, the traveler is standing at the checkpoint, waiting to be cleared. What now? First, have identification and boarding passes in hand, ready to go. Some airports have agents who wind through the lines, checking this in advance. They will usually announce they will be doing this, but go ahead and have the documents ready. Don't stick them in the carry-on bag. Hold on to them. Be pleasant to and patient with the gate agents. Greet them pleasantly and don't make any comments about bombs or explosives. They take these things very seriously. Even if the lines get long, stay calm. Airlines are not stupid, and if the security checkpoints get clogged, they will hold the flights. They want your warm body in the seat as much as you want it to be there.

Wear sensible clothes and shoes. Wear clothes that do not draw attention to themselves, and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. Loafers are ideal. Boots will spark the ire of the entire population at the gate. Be ready to take off shoes and even your coat, to put in the tubs to be checked. Sometimes, agents will pull things at random to check. If this happens, smile and comply immediately. Stand quietly while the agent checks your bags. Don't make snide comments and don't do anything stupid. In fact, being calm, pleasant and agreeable will do more toward getting you through a checkpoint quickly than almost anything else. Demeanor is everything. Be the oasis of calm in the chaos of the checkpoint. It works. When you are cleared, smile, thank the agent and tell him to have a nice day, in the most sincere voice you can muster. Don't argue - just do it. Pleasant manners and civility may not guarantee you won't be searched, but they may do more than you will ever know. They will never hurt you, in any case.

Once a traveler has cleared security, chances are, most of the biggest hurdles have been cleared. If there are gate delays or other foul-ups, these may be resolved at the gate. Again, the key is to be pleasant and accommodating. Gate agents will do what they can, and they are far more likely to work with those who are being patient and calm.

Once a traveler gets on the plane, he should deal with whatever small inconveniences crop up with goodwill. After all - what are these small problems in the scheme of a life? Looking at "the big picture may help here. If a traveler starts becoming agitated, he should step back, take a few deep breaths, count to 50 and smile. There are horror stories about how poorly travelers are treated, but in many of these cases, a little digging will turn up a disgruntled traveler and a burned-out gate agent screaming at each other. Being civil halts 90 percent of these problems before they get started.

If a traveler will show the same consideration to airport and airline agents that he would like to be shown, he will avoid many of the worst airport hassles. Arriving early, using an e-ticket, packing sensibly and being a nice person are the best weapons in a traveler's arsenal.

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