Welcome to the "The Smart Traveler". Your March 2006 newsletter with tips and information to help make your traveling smoother.


Prepare For Takeoff -Part 2

Part 1 Tips On Dressing

 
There are restrictions on what you can pack in your carry-on and checked baggage. All of your baggage will be screened and possibly hand-searched as part of the security measures. This inspection may include emptying most or all of the articles in your bag. Here you will find tips to help you pack.

Pack Smart
 
Carry-on baggage is a small piece of luggage you take onboard the airplane with you. You are allowed one carry-on in addition to one personal item such as a laptop computer, purse, small backpack, briefcase, or camera case.
  • TSA will screen any "Carry-on" baggage that will fit through the x-ray machine, however, it is up to each individual air carrier as to whether the baggage fits the size restrictions for your flight.  Please check with the air carrier prior to proceeding through the security checkpoints.
  • LABEL your laptop computer.  Tape a business card or other identifying information beneath your laptop to avoid loss or the accidental "exchange" by travelers.

Checked Baggage is luggage you check in at the ticket counter or at curbside.  It will not be accessible during your flight.  Please refrain from locking your checked baggage.  If your baggage alarms and TSA cannot gain access to your checked bag, the lock may be broken.

DO NOT pack the following items in your checked baggage:

  • Jewelry
  • Cash
  • Laptop computers
  • Electronics
  • Fragile items (no matter how they are protected)

Below are a number of tips for packing your checked baggage that will help to speed your trip and ensure that your checked bag makes the flight with you:

  • Don't put film in your checked baggage, as the screening equipment will damage it.
  • Pack shoes, boots, sneakers, and other footwear on top of other contents in your luggage.
  • Avoid over-packing your bag so that the screener will be able to easily reseal your bag if it is opened for inspection.  If possible, spread your contents over several bags.  Check with your airline or travel agent for maximum weight limitations.
  • Avoid packing food and drink items in checked baggage.
  • Don't stack piles of books or documents on top of each other; spread them out within your baggage.

The following general packing tips apply to both carry-on and checked baggage and will help you to move through the screening process more quickly:

  • Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport. See permitted and prohibited items.
  • Put all undeveloped film and cameras with film in your carry-on baggage. If your bag will pass through the X-ray machine more than 5 times ask for a hand inspection to prevent damage.
  • Check ahead of time with your airline or travel agent to determine the airline's baggage policy, including number of pieces you can bring and size and weight limitations.
  • Carry-on baggage is limited to one carry-on bag plus one personal item. Personal items include laptops, purses, small backpacks, briefcases, or camera cases. Remember, 1+1.
  • Don't forget to place identification tags with your name, address and phone number on all of your baggage, including your laptop computer. It is a good idea to place an identification tag inside your baggage as well.
  • Avoid overpacking so that your articles don't spill out if your bag is opened for inspection.
  • Think carefully about the personal items you place in your carry-on baggage. The screeners may have to open your bag and examine its contents.
  • Consider putting personal belongings in clear plastic bags to reduce the chance that a TSA screener will have to handle them.
  • Wait to wrap your gifts. Be aware that wrapped gifts may need to be opened for inspection. This applies to both  carry-on and checked baggage.

Next month Part 3 will be "Access Requirements "


Faster Airport Security

A new test program by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may eliminate excessive airport security waits and make flying even safer.

The “Registered Traveler” pilot program asks volunteer frequent fliers to provide their names, addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth, along with biometric information, such as fingerprints and iris scans. The TSA then conducts a security assessment.

Once the volunteer successfully passes the screening, he or she can avoid the more extensive secondary screening travelers often face at airport security check-points. The volunteers will, however, still be required to go through primary screening (identification check and scan of carry-on baggage) before boarding a flight.

Participation in the program is free and open to approximately 2,000 travelers at five test airports.


HOW TO AVOID SUMMER TRAVEL HEADACHES

It's that time of year again - the summer travel season. The time when that occasional empty seat next to you will surely be filled; most likely by a precocious four year-old who wants to play with your laptop! It's a time when unhurried summer travelers take their time checking-in at your usually efficient business hotel. And when your favorite "unknown" on-the-road restaurant now has an hour wait for a table.

So other than simply staying home, how do you avoid the headaches of summer season travel ?

Elite Programs

Airline elite frequent flyers usually have a block of seats set aside at the front of the coach cabin, and of course have the opportunity to upgrade to first class (although the upgrade competition is pretty stiff). In either case, the precocious kid is probably not going to be in your row. There's often separate lines at ticket counters for the elite flyers, so you avoid the long lines of inexperienced leisure travelers who generally take longer to check-in and check luggage. And pre-boarding for elite members gives you the opportunity to stow your carry-on overhead. Invariably during the summer, there's not enough room, so the last people on the plane are usually forced to check their larger bags. If you are close to qualifying for elite status on your favorite airline, by all means make the effort to qualify now. If you're not sure, check out the rules of your frequent flyer program and see.

Express Check-Out and Frequent Stay Programs

There's nothing worse than trying to check-in or out of a hotel and find that you are in line behind a busload from the Fraternal Order of Procrastinators! During most of the year they wouldn't be in your business hotel, but during the summer there is less business travel, and hotels make it attractive for leisure travel groups to stay in order to fill those rooms. And you end up waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

By all means, use the express check-out from your room. That way, there is no stop at the front desk upon departure. And many frequent stay programs have separate check-in lines for members. If you're not a member, sign up before you go so that you can avoid the crowds.

Give yourself a Culinary Treat

Lets face it. Given the choice between a first-class restaurant and fast food, families with kids will choose the latter. And many leisure travelers eat in restaurants near their hotel, or near the tourist destinations. To avoid the crowds, and maybe find an undiscovered culinary gem, try out that upscale restaurant that's not located in the tourist and hotel areas, and which is a bit beyond the budget of a cost conscious leisure traveler.

Preferred Renter Programs

Just as elite programs and hotel guest programs can get you out of the crowd, so can the preferred levels of frequent auto renter programs. Many of these programs let you avoid the check-in counter all together, or give you a special automated kiosk where you can check-in.

Avoid Hubs and Afternoons

Often easier said than done. But with airlines flying many new non-stop routes, the chance to avoid changing planes at a hub is somewhat better than before. The normal sea of humanity at hubs becomes an ocean of travelers in the summer. Many of whom wander uncertainly, trying to figure out where they need to go.

There does not seem to be a "best time" to travel during the summer. But there is a time to avoid if you can. The afternoon. Not only is that the most popular time of day for both leisure and business travelers, but it is also the time when summer thunderstorms are most likely to pop up and interrupt air travel. And when service is interrupted, and planes are full, the result is predictable chaos.

Follow these simple guidelines and you'll lessen the stress of summer  travel. Now-if only that kid sitting behind you would stop kicking the seat!
 


 Travel Scams and How to Avoid Them-Part 1

UNLIKE MOST PRODUCTS, travel services usually have to be paid for before they are delivered. This creates opportunities for disreputable individuals and companies. Some travel packages turn out to be very different from what was presented or what the consumer expected. Some don't materialize at all! If you receive an offer by phone or mail for a free or extremely low-priced vacation trip to a popular destination (often Hawaii or Florida), there are a few things you should look for:

  • Does the price seem too good to be true? If so, it probably is.
  • Are you asked to give your credit card number over the phone?
  • Are you pressured to make an immediate decision?
  • Is the carrier simply identified as "a major airline," or does the representative offer a collection of airlines without being able to say which one you will be on?
  • Is the representative unable or unwilling to give you a street address for the company?
  • Are you told you can't leave for at least two months? (The deadline for disputing a credit card charge is 60 days, and most scam artists know this.)
If you encounter any of these signs, proceed cautiously. Ask for written information to be sent to you; any legitimate travel company will be happy to oblige. If they don't have a brochure, ask for a day or two to think it over; most bona fide deals that are good today will still be good two days from now. If they say no to both requests, this probably isn't the trip for you.

Some other advice: If you are told that you've won a free vacation, ask if you have to buy something else in order to get it. Some packages have promoted free air fare, as long as you buy expensive hotel arrangements. Others include a free hotel stay, but no air fare.

If you are seriously considering the vacation offer and are confident you have established the full price you will pay, compare the offer to what you might obtain elsewhere. Frequently, the appeal of free air fare or free accommodations disguises the fact that the total price is still higher than that of a regular package tour.

Get a confirmed departure date, in writing, before you pay anything. Eye skeptically any promises that an acceptable date will be arranged later. If the package involves standby or waitlist travel, or a reservation that can only be provided much later, ask if your payment is refundable if you want to cancel, and don't pay any money you can't afford to lose.

If the destination is a beach resort, ask the seller how far the hotel is from the beach. Then ask the hotel.

Determine the complete cost of the trip in dollars, including all service charges, taxes, processing fees, etc. If you decide to buy the trip after checking it out, paying by credit card gives you certain legal rights to pursue a chargeback (credit) if promised services aren't delivered.
 
Remember- Without a travel agent you're on your own
 
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