Travel Tips for Infrequent Travelers

So, yeah, my Person of Interest DVDs arrived, and with the combo pack, there are too many ways to watch, so I’m late again.  When I’m at home, I watch the blu-ray discs on my big tv, and when I’m traveling, I stream on Flixster from my Ultraviolet account.  Plus, I’m saving November’s episodes from this season on my DVR so I can see the “three-episode event that changes everything” all at once with no nail-biting.  I understand and accept how pathetic this makes me look.

Earlier this week, I went to DC to the offices of a former employer for whom I’m doing some contract work, and the trip was an exercise in rookie travel for me.  I have great sympathy for people who can only travel infrequently and don’t have status with an airline or have their airport routines down.  Holy moly.  Just a series of smack-my-forehead, dumb things happened.

First, we couldn’t schedule the meetings in time to allow for non-stop flights both ways to be affordable.  I ended up having to take US Airways from DFW to Dulles with a connection in Charlotte and United on the way back.  My flight left DFW at 10:20, which seems like a really civilized time to fly, except that because I live 35 minutes from the airport, I had to leave at 8:30am (earlier than I normally would have) to allow for rush hour traffic.  Dallas, like most cities not located on either coast, starts its work day at 8, so I assumed that most of the traffic would have died down by 9.  WRONG.  I don’t know if there was an accident on the freeway, or if traffic always comes to a dead stop, but at 9:15am with the airport still not in sight, I bailed off the freeway onto the access road and wove my way to the airport at illegal speeds.

US Air and United are in the same terminal at DFW (for now – that will change with the US Air-American merger getting the go-ahead), but their gates are at opposite ends.  I made the decision to park and enter security at the United end; I only packed a backpack for this trip, so I didn’t need to prioritize getting on the plane early enough to ensure room for my bag in the overhead.  I also knew I’d be angrier with myself on the way back for having to walk all the way to the US Air parking lot to get home.

Here’s what I learned on Wednesday.  Terminal E of DFW is WAY BIGGER than I thought. United has Gates E-1-10; my flight to Charlotte was located at E-30.  Security closest to the United parking lot and check-in kiosks spits you out in front of E-8.  I don’t qualify as young and healthy for health insurance purposes, but for the purpose of hauling ass through airports, I do, so walking 22 gates didn’t strike me as a big deal.  WRONG again.  The airport built on an addition for US Air.  It took me fifteen minutes walking at top speed to make it to the right part of the terminal.  There were escalators and a fluorescent-lit tunnel (which I prefer to the seizure- and rage-inducing tunnel at O’Hare), and many, many, many people who had left themselves more time to get to their gates.

US Air, until the merger with American is complete, is in the Star Alliance with United, which means that my status on United allows me to check bags for free (which I try never to do) and get on the plane with one of the first few groups.  It does not allow me to sit in the front of the plane without paying a fee. I had a window seat, which is all I care about, so I skipped paying the fee and sat in row 24.  MISTAKE.  By the time all the people in the rows in front of me got their poky butts off the plane, I only had 30 minutes to get to my next flight.

You know what?  Charlotte’s airport is enormous and a US Air hub, which means that US Air occupies multiple terminals  My luck on Wednesday meant that I had to speedwalk from my gate at the end of one terminal to the center of the airport and then out to a different terminal to find my gate.  I mowed down several leisure travelers with a cheerful “EXCUSE ME!”  The startled looks on their faces told me that my tone and words conflicted with my actions.  I’m sorry, leisure travelers at CLT.

So here’s my advice for those of you who don’t travel for business and travel only a few times a year for fun:

  • Get yourself to the airport more than an hour before your flight.  It seems like a huge waste of time, but it will prevent you from panicking if something goes wrong with the location of your gate or the length of the security line.
  • If you connect (which you probably will because non-stops are so freaking expensive), make sure you have more than an hour to get off the back of the plane and to your next gate.
  • I’m neutral on checking a bag – if you’re in a higher zone number and board with no room for your carry-on, the airline will check it for free, so you’ll save yourself the $25, plus you may avoid the possibility that the airline loses your bag or leaves it behind.
  • Pack your own food.  The choices at most airports are still dire and expensive.  I paid $3 for a banana.  THREE DOLLARS.

Have your own infrequent traveler tips?  Hit me in the comments.  And sorry again for being tardy again.  Person of Interest, y’all.  It’s so good!

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2 Responses to Travel Tips for Infrequent Travelers

  1. hantaah says:

    Just keep your head down, staring at your phone. Busy yourself on the net. I spend all my time on the go booking and buying. I book my hotels on and hire cars on the go, keeps me busy and my head down

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