Taking Flight

Business travel isn’t always easy, but there are a few things that you can do to make it better. Keeping a sense of humor, planning ahead and packing light are but a few of the steps you can take toward a trip to nirvana.

As I write this article, I find myself sitting on the floor of the Tampa airport in the “B” line of a Southwest flight which is soon to be headed off to Albuquerque with various pit stops along the way. Being in the “B” line precludes me from a seat in the exit row where I could open my computer without contorting my posture into pretzel-like positions. Luckily, I have recently started yoga and I am prepared. In today’s business environment it is good to be flexible.

For most airlines, including discount carriers, you can pre-register for your flight up to 24 hours in advance online. Doing so would have saved me time on the floor and assured storage space for my carry-on items. Registering in advance for other airlines is also beneficial, saving time in lines and giving you preference for upgrades or standby tickets.

When going through security, remember to smile and be courteous. Snarky remarks or any other departure from well-established security guidelines will result in significant delays and embarrassment to you. Generally, I don’t have any trouble going through security. I put any metal in the outside pocket of my carry-on bag, wear slip-on shoes that are easy to remove and put back on, and I place my laptop in its own tray leading into the x-ray belt. I also avoid liquids and gels.

The only times I have experienced trouble are when I travel through my home town. I must be on some secret list known only to red-neck TSA agents, because without fail the lady that checks ID’s for the gate always says, “Why bless your heart. Step right through here and talk to agent X.” Maybe it was the library book that I forgot to return in the 3rd grade, or the time that I filled my 6th grade teacher’s briefcase with purely organic fertilizer. My principal always said that those incidents would follow me for the rest of my life as part of my permanent record. Whatever the case, the pat-down and search are usually completed quickly.

When traveling cross-country touching down for a quick flight changes, I occasionally lose track of what airport I am in. But this time it is obvious. because the flight attendant is warning us to be careful when retrieving our “personnel bull-awnings,” so I’m sure that I’m somewhere in Texas. My flight into ABQ is delayed and I’ll be spending the next few hours switching from gate to gate as weather conditions worsen.

During flight delays, you can often talk your way into a perquisite such as a better seat, bonus miles or an upgrade. For best results, remain alert, know your options and choose the gate agent with the best hair. Mangled coiffeurs are often an indication of a day that started badly and has only gotten worse. Threats will not work here, but smiles often do. After being acknowledged, state clearly what you want and then chuckle lightly as though you were joking. You might be surprised by how far you get.

Happy trails!

This article was written by David Harwell, Assistant Director of the Department of Career Management and Development. Originally p ublished in the chemistry.org newsletter on Feb. 20, 2007.

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