My 6 Air Travel Tips

September 25, 2013
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airOver the last several years, I have clocked literally millions of air-travel miles.  I am often asked how I manage it.  On a recent flight, I spent some time reflecting, and realized that there are six lessons I have learned that make the journeys quicker, happier, and better.  Leadership takes many shapes and forms.  Learning from experience, and then passing it on is one of my favorite strategies.

Perhaps these tips are also a part of your routine.  Perhaps not.  I simply share them should they be of interest.  And if you have others, PLEASE add them in the comment section below.

Bon voyage, –N

  1. Dress up, then down.  If you’re hoping for an upgrade, dress the part. Many airline personnel have told me that they very rarely offer upgrades to travelers in their PJ’s (or as my dad calls them, his “fluffies”).  If you’ll take note, most first- and business-class passengers are dressed smartly.  But if you’ll also note, on long-haul flights, they change into fluffies once on board, returning to their dressier threads before landing, fresh for meetings and business.  If you show up carrying a pillow and wearing slippers, no upgrade for you.
  2. Don’t check in early.  Upgrades are only offered once the crew is certain that the back of the bus is full.  Arrive at the airport early, but stand and watch the line for your flight.  Once it begins to thin out, that’s the time to jump in.  Also use the wait time to observe the airline personnel.  It’s often easy to tell which agent might be more lenient on overweight baggage, and who seems more likely to respond to your request for an upgrade.  Then ask.
  3. Be nice.  Whether asking for an upgrade, lodging a complaint, or negotiating the use of a shared armrest, the old adage about honey vs. vinegar holds true. On board, I often say something like the following to the flight attendant for my section: “I travel all the time, and I know how rude passengers can be.  Can I tell your supervisor how much I appreciate your exemplary service today?”  Sometimes this gets me an immediate upgrade, other times it just gets me fancier wine and food from up front, and at the very least, it spreads a little sunshine, so why not?  (Also under the category of being nice, if you can see that an overweight passenger is trying to shrink as much as humanly possible, then try to be understanding.  Some passengers, fat and thin, just don’t care about the comfort of others, but many do.  Be sensitive to those who are also trying to be sensitive.)
  4. Learn chime-language.  Those “dongs” and “bings” mean specific things.  Each airline’s chime-language varies a bit, but not by much.  And if you frequently use the same airline, it’s easy to learn their meaning.  You soon learn which chime means that the crew can move about, and then about how long after that you can anticipate the seatbelt light to go off, etc, etc.  For people like me, relaxation comes with awareness.
  5. Follow the crew.  If you’re navigating an airport you don’t know well, just follow the crew.  They know the fastest routes and ways of moving about.  For example, in London Heathrow’s new terminal 5, passengers take a complicated series of escalators that carry them up and up and then down and under runways, etc, sort of like switchbacks up and down a canyon.  The crew members, though, know that certain elevators swiftly and directly take them to immigration.  Similarly, when waiting for a train between terminals, crew members walk to the end of the train that will be closest to the elevators upon arrival.  (Plus they always have bizarrely intriguing banter and gossip.)
  6. Finally, consider the past.  We’re making journeys across vast distances, at incredible speeds, and with far less discomfort–not to mention danger–than ever before.  This definitely goes on my blessings-list.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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