by Vicky Jo & Robin

Try to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before an international departure, just in case there are lines or unexpected delays at Security.  Bring a crossword puzzle or something to read to while away the time.

Sky Caps typically offer curbside luggage service only for domestic travel, so you may not get an opportunity to utilize them. (If you can use them, remember that Sky Caps are not airport employees; they survive by tips.  The recommendation is to remit $1 per bag that they handle for you.)  For international travel, you usually must drag your luggage to the check-in counter inside the terminal.    

You are permitted 2 suitcases per person as "checked" baggage.  Make sure it's sturdy:  Baggage handlers practically have a competition amongst themselves to see who can break the most baggage -- they hurl it long distances onto hard surfaces whenever they can!  So make sure that you wrap anything fragile in clothing to buffer it.

Make sure your baggage has a tag with your name and phone number on it.  Since tags can easily come off, we have a name sticker attached to the surface of our bags as well, usually beneath a handle or clasp where it can't rub off easily.  If your house is going to be unoccupied while you're away, make sure that your baggage tag does not have your home address on it.  Many burglars frequent airports and note addresses so they know which houses to rob!  We use either our P.O. box address or Robin's work address.

Leave your bags unlocked, and be prepared to open them on request.  (And when you arrive at your destination, it's possible you will discover that your bag was searched without your prior knowledge -- they usually leave a note thankyouverymuch.)  

U.S. travelers  may wish to wear a U.S. flag as a pin or scarf as a sign of patriotism -- everyone will understand.  

Place a sticky on your ticket with your frequent flier number on it to make sure your flight is credited to your account when you check in.  If you don't collect frequent flier miles, sign up and take the miles anyway.  You can't give them to anyone, but you can donate them to charity, so set yourself up to do a good deed later.

The airlines all publish their luggage restrictions, usually on the ticket itself.  Be careful you don't exceed the carry-on allowance, otherwise you may have to forfeit a piece during boarding or be charged for overweight items.  International travelers are limited to 70 pounds per bag and domestic is limited to 50.  They are very restrictive about this, and will weigh the bags and penalize you if they go over.  If you are using Skycaps, you can sometimes get them to "fudge" if you wave around a $5 tip when they go to weigh your bag, but don't bank on it.  Try to check your luggage all the way through to your final destination so you don't have to worry about it when changing planes.  When a domestic flight connects to an international flight (or vice versa), you may still have to collect your luggage and wheel it physically through Customs, but if the tags show your final destination, they will be collected after Customs and sent on for you with no extra check-in required.

Do not pack items that buzz in your checked luggage like, for instance, rechargeable electric shavers or other items of this nature.  Pack them in your carry-on instead, unless you can remove the power supply.  On one flight we took, we were warned that these items sometimes begin operating during the flight, which upsets the crew terribly.

You will be required to show your ticket & ID at several checkpoints, so keep it to hand (but not so at hand that you lay it down and forget it).  An easily accessible outer pocket is a good stash location.  Better still, invest in one of these nifty travel wallets.  When you're juggling hand language, it's a joy to have this dangling around your neck for all the security checks you'll pass through.  We tuck a pen inside, for signing the various documents you will encounter. I was lucky to find ours for $5 each in a New Jersey airline terminal, but Solutions carries the same thing, and I've seen a variation at J.C. Penney and elsewhere.

Remember that waiting in line at the Security checkpoint could take up to an hour.  Make sure you know where the nearest washroom is!

Be prepared to remove your shoes at the Security checkpoint if asked to do so.  They may also search your hand luggage painstakingly, wand search you, and pat you down.  Don't worry, you are not suspect.  This is typical Security these days.  Be patient, keep your sense of humor, and DO NOT MAKE JOKES about being a hijacker or carrying a bomb, as this is ILLEGAL, and there is zero tolerance for violations right now.

Once you check in at the gate to await your flight, it is unwise to exit past any security checkpoint for any reason unless absolutely necessary.  The staff won't warn you, but the last time VJ tried this in England, it resulted in a new walk through a special metal detector, search, a shoe removal & sniffing, and a full patdown search before she was allowed to rejoin Robin in her seat.  Sheesh!  (If you really do have to exit and return through Security, make sure you take your boarding pass and identification with you -- another reason to wear a travel wallet.)

International travelers are usually permitted to wait in the airline's luxury lounge if there's a considerable time delay between flights, or if your initial check-in was completed quickly.  Ask the flight attendant or the ground staff as you alight from your flight or as you check in.  These lounges are much nicer than waiting in the general area outside the gate, providing comfortable chairs, complimentary drinks and snacks, and reading materials.  The lounge staff will announce boarding for you in plenty of time and even arrange assistance with bags and/or transport to the gate.

When changing terminals in the U.S. (Chicago, New York, etc.), approach the attendants and request assistance if you need it.  They have chauffeur-driven electric golf carts and/or porters whose job it is to assist older people in traveling from one plane to another. 

You may be required to claim your luggage at some airports and transport it yourself to the next departure point, but the airlines provide porters to help with this.  If you must change terminals (I hope you don't!), you may be required to show your luggage claim checks as proof of ownership.

Duty-free shopping is no big thrill -- don't let anyone convince you to buy liquor and perfume you don't need, whether on the flight or in the boarding areas.  You can usually find equivalent bargains in regular stores in the U.S. and Europe.  (If you do buy something expensive while you are visiting some European countries, you may apply for a tax refund at the airport before you leave.)

You may need to grab something to eat before you board the plane -- many flights have eliminated food service altogether.  Fortunately, most airport restaurants cater for this and will quickly pack something "to go."

Liquor is free on international flights, but don't drink too much or you'll have a hangover when you land.  And it will be a real bad one -- the reduced air pressure and dry air conditioning causes dehydration anyway, and alcohol exacerbates that!

Flying dehydrates you so drink water -- lots of it!  Take at least 1 litre/liter/quart of spring water with you and accept every glass of water offered by the flight attendants.

Then there's airplane air.  It's bad.  Beyond the threat of SARS, it's possible to catch other viruses from your fellow passengers -- but worse even than that is the fact that planes have been frequently criticized for not circulating the air properly or not maintaining healthy standards of filtering.  To combat all of these issues, Robin's company has provided him with a personal air supply.  From the device's literature:

"The [gizmo] creates a toxic particle exclusion zone in front of the wearer's mouth, nose and eyes. The unit substantially repels these ionically charged particles, including bacteria, viral microdroplets, dust, smoke, pollens, allergens or anything that is light enough to float in the air away from the breathing zone. Considerable testing also indicates that the ionic space charge is a lethal environment for many types of germs, so those that are not repelled may be killed before entering the breathing zone."

Robin and I have worn them on a few flights and are pleased thus far with their effectiveness.  We don't experience the grogginess or get sick upon landing right away the way we did before we started using them.  And last we looked we have been SARS-free, despite our recent trip to Toronto.

Pillows and blankets are provided on the plane.  You can request extras from the flight attendants, but be sure you have one of each first thing when you board.  It's a pain to try getting one when everybody's settling in to sleep.  If you have lower back pain, try putting an extra pillow behind the small of your back.  We recommend bringing an inflatable neck pillow (to stop your head from falling forward or sideways while you sleep).   Robin and I use a special travel pillow we adore from Magellan's that cradles the entire neck and makes us look like we've sustained neck injuries. But you won't laugh at how it looks after you've slept with one once.  When sitting on a cramped plane and there's nowhere to lean your head, this cushion will cradle your head no matter which direction it might loll.  Take care not to inflate any cushion until the plane is at cruising altitude; otherwise the decrease in air pressure will cause it to burst along the seams.

If you want to sleep more comfortably, and the plane is not filled to capacity, try this:  find a row of 3 or 4 seats that are unoccupied during boarding and "camp" there with extra clothing occupying the extra seats.  If people board later who genuinely have been allocated those seats, simply apologize and quickly find another set.  Once the doors are closed, the seats are yours!  Then you can raise the seat arms and stretch out for sleeping.  If you aren't that lucky, you will learn how sleeping on a plane can be astoundingly uncomfortable.  If you have a window seat, pile pillows and blankets against the wall and window and lean against them.  Don't lean on the wall or window without some padding as it gets very hard and cold!  Be sure to fasten your seatbelt outside the blanket, or a flight attendant will wake you up to check it.  Sleep with earplugs and a face mask if possible.

Remove your shoes and do occasional exercises while flying to ward against DVT.  Walk* up and down the aisles and do several "laps" of the plane each time you go to the toilet.

For personal hygiene on long flights, consider packing a small toiletries bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, talcum powder, underarm deodorant and moisturizer.

Airline flight attendants are touchy now about people moving too quickly along the aisles, and there are plainclothes guards aboard all flights.  Even if you must use the toilet urgently, try not to look grim and try not to hurry, especially if the toilet is toward the front of the plane from where you're sitting.  (This applies to males more than females.)

You will be required to fill out embarkation forms shortly before you arrive in a foreign country or before you arrive in your homeland again.  The airline attendants will hand them out.  The form will ask for your passport number as well as your flight number, so keep your ticket stub and passport where you can retrieve them after boarding.  When you fill out the embarkation papers, note that European date format is required:  Day/Month/Year (NOT Month/Day/Year as U.S. citizens are accustomed to).  They will also ask for your European residence address, for which you will write down the name and address of your hotel. 

If for some reason you are not issued an embarkation form, you may get one at Immigration when you arrive there, but it's easier to fill it out in advance on the plane.  On your return home, it will ask you to itemize your purchases.  You don't need to be too literal about this:  we usually list a few tour books, t-shirts, and pieces of jewelry as souvenirs, round off some figures, and leave it at that.  Unless you're smuggling, they usually won't demand to see receipts and rip through your luggage to "catch" you.

When the plane lands, you will be groggy and disoriented -- make sure to go through the seat pocket in front of you and check for any small items that may have drifted to the bottom.  Most seat pockets have one pouch inside another, so check both.  Also, check the seats and floor thoroughly.  Earrings, pens, ticket stubs, coins, etc., are easy to lose!  You will have plenty of time to do this search -- don't make a mad rush for the door as there will be plenty more waiting when you disembark (security lines, luggage, Immigration, etc.).  VJ often uses the airplane toilet at this time if the wait looks like a long one, rather than waiting until she disembarks and the lavatories are crowded with other recently departed passengers.

You may need to request the Immigration official stamp your passport, as they don't always do this any more (and you know how badly you want that stamp after all the trouble you went to in order to get that passport).  They will ask your purpose for visiting overseas, and the choices are usually "business" or "pleasure."

They should announce which turntable is disgorging your flight's luggage before you disembark.  If they don't, or you didn't hear it, monitors should be posted in the baggage area to tell you which luggage claim number is yours.  Baggage carts are free at many international airports, which is terribly civilized, so grab one right away. 

If your luggage does not all arrive, proceed to the baggage claim attendant for your airline and file a claim promptly.  It likely missed the last flight, so it should turn up quickly, and it's barcoded, so it's probably not lost permanently.  They will graciously messenger it to your hotel, so have that address handy.  Don't worry too much about this -- baggage rarely goes astray, despite all the horror stories you may hear.

A word about jetlag: You may have trouble sleeping and eating at the correct local time for a few days.  The best way to overcome jetlag is to expose yourself to bright light (preferably sunlight) at dawn each day.  This "resets" your body clock.  If privacy allows, open the hotel room blinds at dawn and stand or sit in the sunlight for at least 20 minutes the first 2 mornings.  Failing that, most hotel bathrooms have bright lights, so turn them on and stay in there for 20 minutes.  (You could lie in the bath or read or shave or whatever to pass the time.)  Avoid so-called "anti-jetlag" drugs and potions -- they usually do more harm than good.  

*Speaking of walking, practice walking NOW to prepare for what will no doubt be a strenuous trip.  Increase the amount you do each day.