By Yuki Hayashi for readersdigest.ca
Mistake #1: Leaving your bag(s) behind: “My husband and I were taking a family vacation to Orlando with our three sons, and one of us left one of our bags on the ground, right by the door of our minivan, in the airport parking lot in Buffalo. We left it behind as we rushed to catch the airport shuttle bus, and didn’t realize the bag was missing until we were checking our baggage,” says Sonja Babic, of Toronto.
Fortunately, this didn’t ruin their vacation – but it could have been worse, had medication or valuables had been in the bag.
Upshot: Note how many bags your party has and conduct regular bag counts before you leave the parking lot, check-in counter, airport Tim Horton’s, baggage claim, etc.
Mistake #2: Being stuck barefoot: Wear socks with your shoes, or pack ankle socks in your carry-on and slip into them in the security line, so you don’t have to hobble across dirty floors barefoot.
Mistake #3: Not packing snacks: Always pack snacks in your carry-on. If you’re stuck in a long security line and run out of time to buy food in the departure lounge, or if your plane doesn’t sell anything you actually want to eat, you’re covered.
Mistake #4: Not scouting the arrival airport: If you’ve got a connecting flight, plan your route to the second gate, before you get off your first flight. If your stopover is under an hour, it could make the difference between making or missing your next flight. Refer to a map of the arrival airport on your mobile device, or rip out the map page of the in-flight magazine.
Mistake #5: Arriving late: True story: a few years ago, my family drove nine hours from Toronto to Newark, NJ – after wasting three hours in a futile attempt to fly standby – because we missed the first leg of a three-plane journey to the volcano island of Montserrat, West Indies. We desperately needed not to miss the second leg of this trip, a twice-weekly fight from Newark to Antigua. If we missed that flight the following morning, it would effectively cancel a bucket-list trip we’d spent over one year orchestrating and pre-paying for.
We made it to our destination – a day late – and with $700 in additional fees, all because we got to the airport with under an hour to spare on a CDA-US flight during peak-travel March Break.
Lesson learned: on busy travel days, arrive at the airport 3 ½ hours before an international flight, 3 hours before a US flight, and 2 hours before a domestic flight. Paranoid? Maybe. Better that than the alternative!
Mistake #6: Parking in the most-expensive lot: You’ll pay a premium to park in the lot closest to the airport terminal. Discount lots save you big-time, but they require a short shuttle drive. Savvy park-and-flyers arrive early so they can be choosy about parking.
Mistake #7: Over-packing: Overweight baggage results in steep penalties. Cumbersome carry-on bags make travelling uncomfortable, particularly if you have young children with you. Solution: edit, edit, edit! Pack less and you’ll stress less.
Mistake #8: Waiting in the loooooooong security lineups: If you travel to the US more than once a year, apply for the joint US-Canada NEXUS program. Cardholders sail through dedicated border clearance lines, making the $50 program fee (free for kids) a bargain in time and aggravation saved.
Mistake #9: Bearing an about-to-expire passport: Some countries won’t let you in if your passport expires within three or even six months of your planned date of entry. Check the entry requirements for the country you plan to visit, and renew your passport in advance, so you don’t get turned back at the airport.
Mistake #10: Not bringing a “permission slip” for your daughter or son: Travel consent letters aren’t just for divorced parents, as Toronto mom Ceri Marsh discovered a couple years back when she tried to fly from Toronto to New York City with her then 2-1/2-year-old.
“We were meeting my husband in New York. I had been told by the Canadian passport office and the airline that I didn’t require a notarized letter from my husband to fly with her on my own. They both said since we’re not divorced, it wasn’t necessary. Of course, in retrospect that’s ridiculous: you can’t tell someone’s marital status from a passport or airline ticket,” says Marsh.
Upshot: Marsh and her daughter were detained by US Customs agents, missed their flight, and had to wait hours for the next available flight. Airline and customs agents are trained to spot possible child abductions, so if there’s a second custodial parent, always carry a notarized permission letter on cross-border, solo-parent trips. “This was about the least pleasant travel experience of my life. Throwing a 2 year old off her schedule is never a good idea,” says Marsh.
Mistake #11: Losing your cool with airport personnel: From callous gate agents to creep-tastic transportation security personnel, everyone has a complaint about airport personnel. But, the fact remains, there are more good apples than bad, so chill.
Also: venting is more likely to get you delayed or arrested than en route to your vacation.
Mistake #12: Not gate-checking your bags: Why pay to check your bags, when you can gate-check them for free? (Provided they are carry-on size, of course).
Mistake #13: Slowing down the security line: Do your bit to keep the security checkpoint moving. Wear easy-on, easy-off shoes. Take your jacket off in line so it’s ready for the bin. Empty your pockets and get that laptop out of your briefcase. Done and done.
Mistake #14: Crowding the baggage claim carousel: Unless you have catlike reflexes and are in great shape, don’t join the scrum right where the bags first drop onto the carousel. Ditto if you have a common-looking bag: a black nylon soft case, for instance:
“Ooops. That wasn’t mine. Can I just squeeze past you to put it back…Oh, sorry for hitting you with that. Hey: is that my bag—excuse me, I need to squeeze past again…”
If you need to use both hands and some swinging action to get the bag off the carousel, pick a spot where you’re less likely to have a neighbour within hitting distance.
Mistake #15: Not IDing your bag properly: For your personal security, check bags with a discrete tag marked with your name, cell phone, and email address – or your business card – never your home address.
Mistake #16: Not IDing your bag flamboyantly: To quickly identify your bag on a luggage carousel and prevent baggage theft, tie a ribbon, use a decorative luggage strap, or decorate the bag with stickers or colourful duct tape.
Mistake #17: Packing valuables into your checked baggage: Just one word: don’t.
Mistake #18: Sketchy airport transportation: Planning ahead saves you money and headaches when it comes to transportation from your destination airport to your accommodations, so don’t even get on your flight without having done your advance recogiscence. In big cities, grab a marked taxi from the official lineup (don’t try to save money on a “gypsy cab”), but if you’re headed to a resort destination in an unfamiliar country, pre-book transportation with your resort.
Mistake #19: Not knowing when to cut your losses: Sometimes you’ll slip up and pack a liquid that’s over 100mL, or forget your Swiss Army keychain is, technically speaking, a knife. Upon being faced with confiscation, you may want to rush back and check the item within a bag. But if it’s a particularly busy travel day, doing so may cause you to lose your flight. Smart travellers know when to cut their losses.
Mistake #20: Not spending when necessary: Yes, the noise-cancelling headphones at the gift shop cost nearly double what they did at Best Buy. But… if you forgot to pack yours, consider that you’ll be spending the next six hours packed like a sardine next to potentially snoring/humming/crying/muttering/mouth-breathing strangers… Sometimes, paying that airport-retail premium may just salvage one airport mistake, preventing it from morphing into something worse: a plane ride from hell