Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to be a Smart Flyer?

Early for my 95th hop, I am bored. Security was a breeze and the over-compensation for potential traffic snarls was frankly unnecessary. So looking at the travellers around me got me thinking. Back in September 2006, I had no clue about how to be a smart flyer, a la Clooney from Up in the Air. Obviously, even today, I am nowhere close to his 10,000,000 miles target, but I have a few miles under my belt and an array of experiences to share. Some of these need to be in a manual of air etiquette which every air pax should read even if they are veterans. Needless to say, there are many which my fellow countrymen do need to follow on domestic as well as international travels. This is especially in light of this video about stereotypical Indian flyers (English Captions available, mostly NSFW). 
So here goes: Your true journey starts the moment you get your ticket purchase confirmation. It ends when you cross the threshold of the airport arrivals building. During this time you will rub shoulders with people from all over the world with a variety of experiences and lifestyles. Most you may never see again. If I cross paths with you, I frankly don't want to remember you. The only reason I will remember you is if you forgot to be a decent human being during those few hours. And as I look back at the myriad of annoying faces from my various travels, I wish you had followed one of the following basic rules and not made yourself a memorable asshole.
Your seats: Look for your airline record locator and go select your seats on the airline website. Most airlines allow you to do this easily the moment they sell you the ticket. Nothing annoys me more than a family of four wanting to sit next to each other but who haven't bothered to get this sorted out till they board the aircraft. I will NOT give up my seat which was selected 2 months in advance for your lazy arse. In case you are separated, you can obviously spend a few hours apart. I have lived away from my family for 10 years now. 10 hours apart will not kill you. Trust me.
Your check-in: Buying your tickets and selecting your seats is different from your final check-in. Use the power of Internet. Get this sorted out in advance so that you don't create a long queue at the airport.
Your cabin baggage: Travel smart. Think of the things you pack as things that you cannot live without for the next few days. Everything else can be purchased at your destination unless you are headed to Mars. If you are going to Mars, you are on the wrong flight already. Also obey the rules for cabin baggage. I will NOT put my backpack under the seat in front of me because you have an oversized cabin bag. That legroom is my reward for packing smart, you on the other hand deserve the innermost circle of hell.
Your check-in baggage: If you are tiny and frail, do not carry more bags or weight than you can lift yourself. Trolleys at the airport are not supermarket trolleys or things that you use to run over people with. A frequent flyer once let me in on a secret. Get bags with 4 wheels on the base. This way you can push them around instead of endangering yourself and people around you.
Your check-in counter: Weigh your bags at home and conform to the airline limits. Else you will have to open them to shuffle things around and everyone will get to see your pink bunny underwear (no, I don't judge, even if I did see this in the luggage of a man traveling alone) while you shuffle things around. Also, if you are on a multi-hop flight, ask the person where you have to pick up your bag next. As a general rule, if you clear immigration (after an international flight), but have one or more hops to go, you will have to collect your bags and check them into the domestic leg of your journey. Forget this and you will find your bags lazing around in a city different than the one you end up in.
Your clothing: You are traveling and not going to a fashion show. You are also going to be inside a tin can and sharing space with lots of flammable fuel. If your fashionable clothes can catch fire, you will regret it in case of an emergency. Also if it takes you 5 minutes to get out of that fancy garb that sets off the metal detector, you are being an ass and holding up the queue.
Your security check: This one is a no brainer. Instead of ogling the girl in front of you, empty your pockets. As a rule, the moment I get into the line, I put the contents of my pockets into my bag. The laptop is ready to be pulled out. Ask in advance if they want you to takeoff the belt and shoes. Also, the security folks see idiots trying to smuggle liquids through their scanners daily. Save yourself and the people behind you some grief. Put all the liquids into the check-in bag. You may not be a terrorist but you definitely are an asshole if you have a bottle of liquid that holds up the security line. In India, they stamp your cabin bag's tag. Make sure you ask for the tag at the check-in desk. Don't add to the stress of security check by forgetting this. It may seem pointless, but it's their job so don't annoy them by not having it on you.
Your words: If you are a single brown Asian male, you know better than to use the words like bomb, terrorist and guns in the airport. If you are not one, but happen to be traveling with one, make sure you do not bring these things up for discussion with your fellow brown Asian colleague. A cavity search is not fun and he definitely doesn't want one just because you can't shut your yapper.
Your looks: Mainly applies if you are not really really white. Yes, racial profiling or whatever you want to call it exists. I used to get secondary security checks almost every time when I had a mustache. Even in freaking Canada (one the other hand, in Canada, it meant I got through the process a lot sooner than my colleagues). Try not to look too tired and shave that facial hair and mustache if you can!
Your Gate: Most airports show your gate at many locations and provide floor plans of their terminals. Study these in advance and get there on time. Don't keep a plane-load of people waiting because you are trying to score some duty free or you are stupidly lost.
Your boarding: Look at your boarding pass. It will tell you a zone of boarding. If you are at the gate then don't clog up the boarding queue until and unless your zone is called out. If in doubt, ask in advance before they start boarding. Your standing in the way is not going to ensure you get a better seat. Your crappy seat stays crappy and you deserve it.
Your overhead bin: If you haven't read the 'Your cabin baggage' part, read it again. Seat maps are available online for almost every airline. Know the general location of your seat. Once you get there and you have to put your bag into the bin above, be courteous. Let a few people behind you to go forward. Also, place your bag in such a way to maximize the space for the rest. Don't spread out as if your bag is the king of the overhead bin.
Your pre-takeoff: The captain will ask all ground personnel to disembark. This is generally the cue for you to stow away your luggage, lock the tray table, pull your seat upright, buckle up (leave this for later if your aircraft is being fuelled) and to stop yapping on your mobile phone. There is a reason why your seat has to be upright. In case of an emergency, the brace position requires you to take support of the seat ahead of you. So a reclined seat may lead to injuries to your fellow passenger. Any loose baggage/laptop/table can become a projectile which can maim or kill people in case of an aborted takeoff. Just on this trip, I saw this smartly dressed woman who would not stow away her massive laptop and couldn't stop yapping on the mobile phone even after push-back from the gate. Lady, you weren't impressing anyone. If you are so important, fly in your own private jet. Else follow the instructions of the stewardess. You deserve all the scorn that the stewardess felt for you.
Your seat once on board: Read that safety instruction card. It may save your life and also stop your ignorance from costing someone else's life too. Remember the closest emergency exit may be behind you. Memorize that "behind you" bit.
Your seat recliner: This is the most annoying of all. While the airlines tend to make the seat legroom minimal, you add to the agony of the fellow passengers by reclining the piss out of the recliner. I have flown about 30,000 miles without reclining my seat. I did not die of sudden seat reclining syndrome. You won't either, trust me. It doesn't add much to your comfort and it makes you an asshole if you add to the discomfort of the person behind you. If reclining is imperative to your survival on the flight, be courteous and recline the seat slowly. I have seen a person get a nose bleed after the seat in front of him was whacked into his face. Needless to say, the person in from was an asshole. Don't be that asshole. Also, sit up when the meal service begins. It is one thing to recline your seat when everyone is supposed to be sleeping and an entirely other thing when you keep your seat reclined when everyone is supposed to be eating.
Your seat belt: Put it on and leave it on. You can always loosen it a bit if you are that fidgety person who can wrap a leather belt around your waist but the airline seat belt seems like a python trying to strangle you. The have been many instances when airplanes have encountered turbulence (remember China Airlines Dynasty 006 to LAX) The passengers wearing seat belts suffered the least injuries. Plus if the aircraft were to experience explosive decompression at 36,000 ft, the seat belt may be the one thing that may save you from a free skydive to earth.
Your nails/smelly shit: This one is for women. Painting your nails in a closed tin can 36000 ft in the air is a sure shot way to earn the hatred of people around you. You may be into huffing chemicals, I am not. I don't care if you are the Miss Universe. If it were legal and possible, I would really love to defenestrate you. As for people in general, refrain from carrying and opening things that have a very strong smell in the cabin. You may love it, it may as well trigger an asthma attack for someone else. 
Your stewardess: Is not your servant. Be nice to her. Try and be a gentleman or a lady. Get out of the way or offer to help if possible. On a reverse note, stewardesses, please do not stereotype. Not all Indian men are after your bum. There are some sensible ones too.
Your landing prep: Just before the captain begins the final descent, he or she informs you about the same. This is the time when you turn off your devices, put on the seat belt, get the seat back to upright position and lock up the tray table. You are not a baby in diapers who needs to be told by the cabin crew to do all this again. When the captain says he is starting the final descent, he is not joking that you need to await instructions from the cabin crew.
Your gate arrival: No one gets off the aircraft until the aircraft reaches the gate and they open the aircraft doors. So unfastening the seat belt before the aircraft stops and trying to grab your luggage makes no difference. You may have spent the last 2-12 hours sitting in the tin can. If you survived that, you can survive another 5 minutes. Be considerate to the passengers who are connecting to another flight especially if your flight arrived late. Even if you were inconsiderate inside the aircraft, be mindful outside. If you are confused or disoriented, step to a side before figuring out things. Don't get in the way if some poor sod running towards his flight. 
Your moving walkway/escalator: This is another no brainer etiquette. If you plan to plant your plum arse and let the machine do the moving, stay to one side. Most airports follow a stand to the right, walk to the left rule. Follow this at all costs. Passengers with children, rein in those rug rats. If your prince or princess is in my way, I am going to judge you as a shitty parent.
Your baggage claim: This is a standard problem with people with families and especially common with passengers in Indian airports. You are not the only ones trying to claim your baggage. If you are a party of more than one, just put one of your representative close to the conveyer belt. Also,your trolley needs to be at least 5 feet from the belt. That space is for people not your Highness's trolley. If you have kids, remind yourself that the belt is not a jungle gym. Keep that rug-rat away. I am trying to pull a 20 kg piece of luggage off a moving belt. The last thing I should be worrying about is if this will crush your damn kid.
I know most of these make me sound like a grumpy traveler. I am usually a nice person if you come up and talk to me. But I have had my share of crappy experiences like holding out a barf bag for a fellow passenger as we came in to land in Amsterdam. But, I do follow these things myself in an attempt to make the experience of flying tolerable to ones around me. None of these makes you a smart flyer, but puts you on the route to be a decent traveler. To close this off, here are two pro-tips heard from a smart flyer:
Your lost baggage: If you are flying in for some important meeting, make sure you have a change of clothes in your cabin baggage. Just in case your checked baggage gets lost or delayed, you can still focus on the job at hand.
Your jetlag: This one applies only if you can sleep on a flight. While the airline has its own schedule, I suggest that if you are crossing timezones, switch to the timezone of the destination airport the moment the aircraft takes off. If it is night there, sleep, if it is day, stay awake. Follow this for each leg of the journey. It may just alleviate the jetlag a bit or a lot as in my case.
That's about it for now. With nearly 200,000 miles under my belt, all I look forward to hitting my magic number of 1,000,000 miles. Hope you do too! Happy flying.

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