by Bill

Travel Tips for Infrequent Flyers

1 Comment 26 June 2009

While returning from a business trip to New York last evening, I experienced a 2 hour non-stop reminder that we have now entered what frequent flyers refer to as “amateur season”, one of those periods when planes and airports are packed with lots of folks for whom modern air travel is not second nature.

It dawned on me that it might be helpful to re-post a piece I did a while back which offered some insights and ideas from 30+ years of regular business travel. So, in no particular order, here are some things to think about before you next venture into the “friendly skies.”

Planning Your Trip

For many, planning a trip means logging on to one of the large, Internet-based travel sites such as Expedia, where you can plan, reserve, and purchase your entire travel experience online… almost. I say, “almost” because these days, travel involves a lot of forced variability due to the vagaries of weather, crew scheduling, security, flight cancellations, missed connections, and the like. In such cases, you might regret not having a dedicated, professional travel agent on your side. A travel agent – remember them? They’re still out there, and can be worth their weight in gold when the stuff hits the fan. Here’s one I think the world of.

Generally speaking, airline and airport operations are highly interdependent, and contingent on a level of perfection that seldom materializes. Hence, most days, your best chance for an on-time, relatively hassle-free flight is to catch the first thing smoking in the morning. After that, the cumulative burden of weather and air-traffic delays can make for an aggravating experience that gets worse as the day progresses.

Be sure to take advantage of the very best thing the airlines have done in the past ten years and check in for your flight and print your boarding passes before leaving for the airport. Most airlines now also let you sign up to receive travel alerts via text message or email. Do it.


After years (no, decades) of carrying a briefcase crammed with electronic gear, files, and what not, together with a garment bag, and giving myself a screwed up neck, I’ve adopted some new habits insofar as travel packing is concerned. In terms of what goes with me through security and into the passenger compartment of the plane, I’ve become a lot more of a minimalist.

Gear consists of an iPhone with Vibe Vmoda earbuds, Kindle2 Reader, and 12″ Mac Powerbook that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep it updated and operating. In fact, it just came out of the shop with a new optical drive. I’ve not yet made the conversion to one of those omnibus power adapters, but if Santa is listening, I might get the chance.

Paper files are either scanned and stored on a 4 gig thumb drive, uploaded to our intranet, or FedEx’ed to my destination. Keys, medicines, an emergency flashlight (!), hairbrush, and copy of our latest book round out the carry-on articles. The briefcase is gone. Everything carried aboard goes into a mid-sized, black Tumi backpack. It’s stylish, useful, and puts the weight squarely on my back, rather than one shoulder.

Leave the good jewelry at home, for more than one reason. Consider using a plastic watch on trips. With the advent of cell phones, I’ve quit wearing a watch altogether when traveling. And remember, your shoes are going to be coming off, so wear a pair that can easily be slipped back on.

It’s a matter of personal preference but, in view of the TSA’s stance on liquids, I’ve concluded that simultaneously managing a boarding pass, photo ID, backpack, laptop, shoes, jacket, suitcase, and quart sized Ziploc bag with carry-on liquids at the screening site is, well… nuts. Hence, my default position is to check luggage, unless the trip calls for an interline connection. In my case, luggage amounts to an olive colored Hartmann roll-aboard because, A. It’s well made, and B. The color stands out on the baggage carousel. We all like to whine about airline miscues with checked luggage, but in actuality, they do a reasonably good job. Correction, Delta does a reasonably good job. BTW, though it seems counter-intuitive, if your luggage is checked through a hub city, as mine often is, your chances of having a bag go awry are actually greater when you have a long connection, rather than a tight one. So, keep your connection times under 90 minutes and you’ll improve your odds.

Alternatively, with a couple days notice , you can bypass the baggage carousel altogether by FedEx’ing your stuff directly to your hotel. Trust me, it’s a luxury you can really get used to. While we’re on the subject of shipping, do everyone a favor and resist the urge to attempt to board a commercial aircraft bearing all your worldly possessions stuffed into a Hefty garbage bag. That goes for holiday presents, as well as the front end parts for your daughter’s ‘93 Buick. The less stuff you can travel with these days, the better. Be especially judicious about looking for ways to mix and match with your wardrobe. This sounds (and is) unstylish, but I’ve reached the point where, but for one pair of jeans which are worn on the trip, if it isn’t black, white, or gray, it stays home. As for those jeans, I wear them, together with a long sleeved cotton shirt because they are more comfortable to travel in, and though we don’t like to think about it, less flammable in the event of uh… let’s just call it a very rough landing.

Use one external pocket of your carry-on bag to stow any loose items (coins, jewelry, money clip, cell phone, etc.) that will cause you to have more intimate contact than desired with TSA screeners and their adult toy collection.


While we can’t control the weather, airline scheduling, or the Neanderthals who set policy at the TSA, there are a lot of things each of us can do to eliminate further delays, and make the experience a little less burdensome. The first has to do with your interaction with the gate agent. Two words of advice here – be nice! These folks don’t make the schedules, fix (or break) the planes, or screw up the weather. They do, however, have the final say about who actually gets on the plane and where they sit, so don’t give them a hard time, ever.

Failing to orient yourself before boarding an aircraft winds up inconveniencing a lot of other people, as you stand in the aisle fumbling with your ticket or carry-on luggage. Know your seat number, and be prepared to stow your belongings quickly. Upon reaching your seat, get out of the aisle as quickly as possible.

Unless this is a well-practiced routine for you, please don’t attempt boarding the aircraft while carrying on a cell phone conversation, or any conversation for that matter. It’s going to slow you down, and really piss off the rest of us who want to see the plane leave on time.

Please remove any briefcase, backpack, or purse from your shoulder before entering the aircraft, and carry it in front of you as you proceed down the aisle. The people who are already seated don’t appreciate getting smacked in the head with it as you pass. While in the process of getting seated (and throughout the flight), try to avoid grabbing the seat back of the seat in front of you, because it jostles the occupant of that seat.

Be respectful of other people’s stuff when stowing items in the overhead bin, and when closing the bin, please don’t slam it. The noise hurts some people’s ears. Note to flight attendants: This goes for you, too.

Note to rookies and road warriors alike: Please check to see that your assigned seat number and the one you’re about to plant your derriere into are one and the same before settling in. This should be a complete no-brainer, but with the aforementioned cell phone distractions, coupled with some goofy seat numbering by the airlines, it’s not. If you can quickly and readily resolve any seating issues without the need to summon a referee, do so. Flight attendants really do have better things to do.

Simple Human Courtesies

Please try to bear in mind that you are entering an environment where you are in very close proximity with about a hundred other people. Indeed, as travel guru, Joe Brancatelli puts it, “sitting any closer might constitute marriage in some states.”

Aside from the seemingly obvious Andrew Speaker-type consideration, your presence will be enjoyed a great deal more if you are conscious of other people’s senses of sight, smell, and hearing, not to mention their personal space. As but one case in point, bear in mind that a little perfume or cologne goes a long way – a really long way on an aircraft. Ditto for some ethnic foods, or, for that matter, greasy cheeseburgers smothered in onions, especially at 8AM. Come on, folks, that stuff really doesn’t belong on the plane. And, if you’ve been drinking prodigious quantities of beer or eating burritos, YOU don’t belong on the plane, got it?

Be respectful of other folks’ space. Unless you are seated in 1st class or have a coach seat with a small child in the seat immediately behind you, do not, repeat, do NOT recline your seat back, as doing so really cramps the passenger behind you.

Consider the fact that just because you can call everyone you know from the plane, doesn’t mean that you should. While the person on the other end of the phone conversation may be interested in knowing that “you’ve just boarded your flight”, the rest of us are not. If you really must, as my son and daughter-in-law admonish their grandson to do, please use your “inside voice.” That also goes for those who simply must regale their seatmates with their latest conquests, troubles, or solutions for the planet. Those who want to avoid such entertainment should get (and use) a pair of the aforementioned earbuds.

Yet, let’s keep our sense of humor about us, too. If you are bothered, as a Southwest flight attendant was, that a “scantily clad” 23 year old happens to be sitting next to you, just reach above your head, push the “ding” button, and you’ll be able to quickly auction your seat to someone with different sensibilities.

Finally, if you can extend a courtesy to a fellow traveler, do it. When you encounter a desert combat uniform clad soldier in your travels, pay their breakfast or bar tab, offer to let them use your cell phone, or just tell them “thank you.” Give the older folks a break, too. Don’t crowd them, and offer a helping hand when you are able. With any luck, you’ll get there someday, too.


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their website at, or follow him on Twitter at



- who has written 228 posts on Contented Cows.

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1 comment

  1. Jen says:

    Bill – what wonderful timing your article has! I’m about to embark on a 2 month long wander for my holidays beginning with a 24 hour ‘hop’ from Sydney to Bangkok to London. How I wish your article could be compulsory reading for all my fellow travellers. Imagine what a wonderful travel experience we’d ALL have.

    *I’d only add one more consideration – if you know you need frequent bathroom visits or leg-stretching breaks don’t request a window seat. From 35,000ft the ocean’s the ocean and your fellow seat mates won’t miss the bruised shins and trodden on feet!

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

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