The Time for Travel is Now!

Life post-pandemic has returned to its new normal, and that includes travel. Highways, train stations, and airports are crowded again. The upside is that during COVID, many cities were able to continue — and even accelerate — airport expansion plans. This has resulted in huge new sparkling clean terminals, some of which even serve as gallery space for gorgeous art installations. These skylight-filled venues include new food vendors with health choices, as well as accommodations for nursing mothers. It’s a great time to grab your road warrior gear and see the world.

Some Things Never Change

Despite the terminal upgrades, some things still make travel a hassle. Security areas at airports are now intentional, permanent, roped-off areas that are confusing: Which line do I join? What’s the length of the line? How long will it take to move through?

To further complicate the process, we have TSA Pre-Check, run through the Transportation Service Administration (TSA) and Clear Plus, run by a private company — two programs that allow those that pay a fee to get through security faster. But users often find this edgy class system as one in which the sneers and smug looks among the “haves” and “have nots” to be a fatiguing experience before they even get to their gate.

Add to all that the distance between the front door and your gate, and the whole process can be exhausting. I recently clocked in just over 2,500 steps door-to-gate at LaGuardia! Good luck if you aren’t wearing your sneakers, or are running late and need to hustle to make your flight!

Get By With a Little From Your Friends … Travel Needn’t Be a Hassle

There are many travel tools that can alleviate the long lines, depleting wait times, and stress. The key is to take the time to plan a little ahead. If you do, the arrival and departure experiences can be pleasant and laced with pleasant human connections. Here are a few tips.

Free Services

  1. Curbside Check In — This is the best-kept secret of airport check-ins. Stationed outside, these free check-in locations allow you to dump your suitcase(s), receive your luggage tags and printed boarding pass (a free service at most airports — who knew?), allowing you to proceed more quickly to the concourse security line. Tipping the Skycap providing the service is expected, as most make minimum wage. Most travel websites recommend $2 per bag or more, depending on size, weight, and number of pieces, plus an additional amount if walkers, wheelchairs, rollators, or other large or awkward items are involved.
  • Wheelchairs — There aren’t as many little trams running through airports carrying three or four people to their gates these days. Rather, for people who are unable to walk the lengthy concourses, attendants pushing passengers in wheelchairs wherever they need to go in the terminal seem to be the trend. The key is to order ahead. In most airports, wheelchairs are given priority through security (moving the passenger to the front of the line), and the person will be deposited either at the gate or the airplane door. This free service is no longer just for the visibly frail or handicapped person. If walking a mile on hard sidewalks while pulling a wagon filled with a couple of bags of potatoes seems unimaginable or undoable, try the wheelchair accommodation next time you book a plane trip. Tipping the person providing the service is polite. An appropriate tip is $10-$20 — they are working hard!
  • Red Caps – Most major Amtrak stations have gentlemen actually wearing red caps who are available to assist. Find their stand, give them your bags and follow them to your seat on the train. This free service allows you to board before the general public with less hassle and a greater selection of seats. Tipping the person providing the service is expected — around $10-20 depending on number and size of your luggage. Red Caps often are older men, and I find that, if asked, they are a proud lot, eager to share their insights (best seat for views, proximity to the club car, for example).

Fee-Based Services

  1. TSA PreCheck TSA PreCheck expedites both the identity and physical screening process on flights. TSA PreCheck members are expedited through a special security line and complete airport security without going through the hassle of removing shoes, belt or light jacket. The service also allows you to leave laptops and TSA-approved liquids and gels in your carry-on. TSA claims that about 99 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers enjoy wait times of less than 10 minutes. The registration cost can be up to $85, but it lasts for five years; and many travel-focused credit cards and loyalty programs offer credits for TSA PreCheck registration costs.
  • Clear Plus Offered through a private company, Clear Plus offers similar benefits to TSA PreCheck but currently isn’t offered in as many airline terminals. Some 55 terminals have Clear Plus biometric screening kiosks that use your eyes as identity verification for checking in. Another benefit is that the program also promises short wait times for entrance to sports and entertainment venues. The cost is $189 per person, renewed annually.

In all your travel experiences, engage these travel assistants in conversation. You will be richer for the experience, and fresher to start the on-the-ground portion of your trip. Don’t forget cash! Have a stash of small bills ($5 and $10) in a handy place for tips when traveling. Planning well, engaging helpers in conversation, and tipping in appreciation of services rendered will allow you to get back on the road to with style, grace and joy.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Check out our website to learn more about our work on aging-in-place options. The author, Reese Fayde, is a dedicated problem solver and skills development coach. She’s passionate about working with change-makers — individuals committed to transforming the status quo, whether it’s in their industry, community, or organization.

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