Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Tips from a Road Warrior by Blythe Gifford

If your trip to the RWA Conference in San Francisco marks your first airline flight in awhile, be prepared! The rules of the road have changed. As one who has come by my travel credentials honestly (and has the frequent flyer miles to show for it), I’ve got a few hints that will help make your airport adventure go more smoothly.

Pack light.
• This is old news, but never more important. American Airlines, and others, have announced a $15 charge to check a bag. (The second bag will cost even more.) Check your airline for requirements. Whether there is a charge for your bag will depend on what class of ticket you bought and when.

• I recommend no more than three pairs of shoes (and you’ll be wearing one!). And stick to a color scheme of neutrals and one color. That way, everything will go with everything.

• You can carry on a purse or briefcase and ONE bag that fits in the overhead bin.

Dress for security.
• You will have to take your shoes off. Wear slip on shoes or shoes with Velcro to get through quickly. No lace up athletic shoes, please!

• Keep your jewelry in your purse until you’re safely through. It can set off the metal detector. Rings are generally okay, but I’ve had silver bracelets give it fits.

• If you are carrying on lip gloss, makeup, contact solution, or any other gels or liquids, they MUST go in a one quart plastic bag and be placed prominently in the bin for scanning. And each container must be a three ounce size or smaller. A partially used four ounce container is NOT acceptable. (For me, this now means I always check my suitcase, since for any multi-day trip, I need more than three ounces of contact solution.) Yes, this means whatever is in your purse AND your suitcase if you are carrying it on. You can put however much you want in your checked luggage.

Make check in simple.
• Check in (online!) before you go to the airport. Print your boarding pass. Have it ready, with your photo ID, when you get to the airport.

• You’ll still need to “check in” to check your baggage, but the process should be quick. Use the self-service kiosk. It’s MUCH faster than waiting in line for a person. You’ll need a credit card, so they know who you are. Slip that in and out of the machine (your card is not charged) and follow the prompts. Note: despite my saying “no charge,” there may be a charge upon check in for the bag, depending on when you purchased your ticket and what kind of ticket you have.

• Once you punch in how many bags you are checking, and get confirmation, step away from the machine and wait a minute. An attendant will call out your name. Take your bag over, show the attendant your boarding pass and photo ID. S/he’ll tag your bag and either put it on the belt, or show you where to take it to leave for X-ray.

• Hold on to your photo ID and boarding pass and head for security.

• Don’t buy anything to drink on the way. You can’t take it through.

Plan your security strategy.• Some airports now have lines to sort travelers by level of complexity: frequent flyer, ordinary traveler, or families/people with special needs. If you can’t breeze through security on auto-pilot, don’t pick the frequent flyer line.

• Here’s my routine:
o Lay out three gray plastic bins:

o Remove shoes (now see why I said slip ons?) and jacket or sweater and belt, if you have one, and put in the first bin. (Yes, you have to take off any “outerwear” as well as shoes. And a belt buckle can set off the alarm.)

o Briefcase or purse goes in the second. The plastic bag with the gels and liquids can go on top in either bin. Any bags that go through security must be flat on their sides. Note that cell phones, change, anything that is metal must go in the bins, not stay in your pocket.

o The third bin is for your laptop, which must be scanned separately.

o If you are bringing a bag through, lay that on the belt last.

o Still clutching your photo ID and boarding pass, smile and walk through the metal detector when prompted.

o On the other side, the bin with your shoes and clothes will come though first. Grab them and slip your shoes and jacket on while the other two bins are being scanned.

o When the second bin comes through, set your briefcase up straight, grap the computer from bin three, and put it back in the bag.

o If you are not dressed yet, please do not stand at the end of the line. There are people and bins coming immediately after you. Hold on to whatever you haven’t got on and move away from the conveyer. There should be a bench or a chair nearby where you can put yourself back together.

o Make sure you have everything: cell phone, purse, boarding pass. You can now put away your photo ID.

Relax and prepare to fly.
• Now’s the time to buy a bottled water or two (airplanes are dehydrating) and a book or magazine if you haven’t brought something with you.

• Go to the gate, but stay alert. Gate changes and flight delays are not uncommon. Even once you get on the plane, you may be delayed in take off. Never get on a plane without reading material. You may be there for awhile. And on a flight to San Francisco, you may have time to finish that book --- just in time to load up on all the new ones you’ll get from conference!

In a previous lifetime, Blythe Gifford ran a national publicity campaign and authored a booklet of “Tips for the Woman Business Traveler.” Now, when not traveling on business, she time travels to the 14th century to write her medieval romances. Innocence Unveiled is out now from Harlequin Historicals.. Visit her at


  1. Blythe, no one knows better how to give travel tips than you -- or to travel for that matter ;).Have a fabulous time in San Francisco. I hope to see you next year, and I see that your book is out. A trip to the bookstore is in order. Can't wait to pick up Innocence Unveiled.

  2. Excellent tips, Blythe! As a "sometimes" flyer I can attest to your wisdom. If only you could talke to the rest of the flying world and get them to be prepared and see reason. . .



  3. Blythe - I travel frequently as well, and I have to say that your wonderful blog will be a real boon to those who rarely board a plane. Everything you said is right on the money.

    I am giving San Francisco a miss this year, but will look forward to seeing you at the retreat in November!

    Congrats on your latest book.

    Janice Maynard

  4. Thanks for being my guest!
    This is valuable info for all travelers.


  5. How nice to see so many friends here! And glad to see your agreement with my suggestions. Travel is challenging for the experienced these days. Hope these tips will help the IN-frequent flyers have a smoother trip.

  6. Thanks for the tips as it has been a while!

  7. Great tips, Blythe. As a frequent flyer myself (and married to an airline pilot) I have two more suggestions. One, and this is cause I have to gigantic sons, is never to travel without food! I always bring a Subway sandwich and buy my water after going through security. The other is, that it is summer and storms are common. Don't panic or get angry if your flight is delayed because of weather. That pilot who makes the decision to fly has a family and doesn't take chances. That's why a book is a must!

  8. Wonderful tips, Blythe - thanks!

    I'm not a super infrequent flyer, but I can always use ideas to make the journey easier.

    Nancy Haddock
    La Vida Vampire

  9. These are fabulous tips! A great reminder. I'm a little nervous now, though, as this is the first time I'm flying by myself in about 8 years.

  10. Great tips, Blythe! One other little thing that I do is keep my earrings in an old candy tin (Altoids right now) so that I don't have broken earrings when I get where I'm going. The tin is light but supportive so earring backs don't get crushed.

  11. Hi Elaine! I'll see you soon at Petticoats and Pistols!

  12. I'm looking forward to it, Cher! I think I'll chat about ghost towns out here on the Colorado plains!

  13. Sounds SUPER, Elaine! yee haw! I set a lot of books in Colorado and always love fun info.

  14. Thanks to Lori and Elaine for those tips. Summer is thunderstorm season, particularly at my home airport, O'Hare. I just plan on being delayed, so I don't let it upset me. More time for reading undisturbed!

  15. Thanks for the tips! I haven't traveled by myself in about...mmm...10 years? Yikes. My husband travels for business all the time - but it would never even occur to him that someone would have more than one pair of shoes.

  16. Oh my gosh, Cheryl! I am such a bad flyer.

    The last time, I didn't take my laptop out of it's case, they sent it back. I didn't put my clutch wallet on the belt (Hey, I was clutching it!)
    They sent me back.
    I DID put my clutch wallet on the belt, I forgot to get my ID out. They had to wait until it came through, hand it to me, then they sent me back.
    I had a blazer on, they said it was a coat.
    They sent me back.

    People in line behind me were abandoning me like I was three month old milk discovered sitting on a furnace vent.
    Veering into other lines.
    I almost threw myself on the conveyor belt, hoping the x-ray machine would turn up some sign of a functioning brain.
    I have to get on a plane again this Saturday. I'm already a little weepy.

  17. My husband would say, bless you for the tips. He's a frequent flier 'round the world and is very frustrated when people who have no idea what they're doing get into the frequent flier line as he's sometimes making very close connections.

    Also, the tip about food is great. I always pack a few bananas and granola bars for him when he leaves home, (or for me on the rare occasions I accompany him.) Great blog!

  18. Blythe --

    Excellent tips for traveling -- I've done a bunch of it over these last 2 years and it has really changed...

    See you in San Francisco!


  19. I won't be at San Fran this year either, but I'm headed to Houston Friday and then Dallas on Wednesday.

    One of my former students is doing an internship for American. I love flying with him--and because I know him I can have decent conversations with the pilots flying me. I'm also spoiled when Chris takes me up in the small single engine planes: no security and your own flight plan!

    My piece of advice: wear socks. even with your slip off shoes. that way you don't have to walk on the floor in your bare feet. You can always take the socks off later and shove them in your purse.

    Another piece of advice: Get yourself some Earplanes. They are ear plugs that help with the pressure on your ears for takeoffs and landings. I don't fly without them and my doctor was the one to recommend them.

    Also, if you are on a small regional jet, be prepared for them to gate check your luggage. It won't fit in the overhead bins.


  20. This will be very useful! I am going to SF and haven't been on a plance since 1999 so I can use all the tips I can get...LOL

  21. Great info, Blythe!

    Another tip I would give to infrequent flyers is to check out the TSA list of items prohibited for carry-on. I've been in line behind a few people who should have checked the list before they got to the airport.

    There's a lot of useful information there, in fact.

    Looking forward to seeing you in San Francisco!


  22. Thanks, Blythe! I want to wear my walking shoes because they're heaviest, but they'll take too long to get off. Guess I'll leave them untied?


  23. Bylthe, Thanks for the great tips!!

    Hi, Cheryl!!


  24. Blythe,

    Thank you, thank you! I never thought about the order of the bins and how that would help me move faster once everything gets through the X-Ray machine. Great info!

  25. I always travel in my tennis shoes because after some recent foot surgery I need the support to schlep through airports. And tennis shoes take up so much room in a suitcase too. We'll be sightseeing before and after conference so I need those shoes. But what I do is untie them and pull the laces very loose so I don't trip on them yet I can slip them off quickly once I get to the head of the line. Then I can slip them back on quickly, grab my other things and sit on the bench and re-tie my shoes.

    I have a little neck wallet thing that holds my passport, ticket and boarding pass. I think I got it at Target. I keep my travel documents in that and they're all in one place.

    You didn't mention TSA locks. I have one on my suitcase. TSA can get in with their special key, but nobody else can get in. They're available at Walmart, Target, JC Penney etc for around $10.

    I also pack things in ziplock bags. I use everything from a quart size to a huge one that I got at Wally World. You can put clothes in them, seal them almost closed, roll out the air and save lots of room. Also, if you're taking any sparkly clothing for partiess or awards night, putting it in a ziplock bags keeps the sparklies off your other clothes. And depending on the type of fabric, it can reduce wrinkling. If TSA opens your bag to search it, and most of it is in plastic bags, you shouldn't get to your destination and have your stuff scrambled in the suitcase.

    Great travel tips. I agree that it'd be smoother flying if everyone took your advice.


  26. Blythe! Blogging national linked to us!

  27. Glad to see the advice being made widely available. In addition to my post, there have been lots of good suggestions. I use TSA locks myself. And for those who need to travel with walking shoes with laces, there certainly ARE ways to move through the line quickly if you just plan ahead. Thanks to all for the feedback!