I fly 75,000-100,000 miles every year (well, not this year with all of the Coronavirus travel shutdowns created by COVID-19 cases), accumulating well over 1,000,000 lifetime flight miles across two airlines. While there are literally tens of thousands of frequent flyers who fly more than 75-100k miles every year, this volume of flying is supposedly in the top 5% of all commercial airline passengers. In order to survive this volume of flying, I have had to become at expert at “frequent flyer survival skills.” Below are the three most important steps a traveler can take to set themselves up for an efficient, enjoyable and low-stress experience (I say low stress because only flying private is truly stress-free, but we’ll need to sell a few more IcePlates® before that can happen).
1. Do your homework
Read the TSA’s guidelines for what is and is not allowed in carry-on luggage before you start packing. Yes, this sounds annoying (government websites are not known for their riveting prose), but you will be glad you did! Reading through the guidelines provided by TSA will only take you about 10-20 minutes, but it will save you a lifetime of headaches. It could save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars over the course of your travels by helping you avoid the cost of last minute checked-bags or shipping prohibited items home. Click here to read the TSA’s latest guidelines for carry-on baggage. Set an annual reminder in your calendar to revisit the TSA guidelines every year to make sure you stay current on any changes that might have been put in place since your last trip.
Doing your homework also means reading and knowing the guidelines set by your airline for things like Checked Bags. Of particular importance here are the weight and dimensional limitations of your airline, fare code and elite status benefits (if any). As you do this research, you will find that the weight of your luggage itself can be a big deal. This is especially applicable for individuals flying to a training class. Pelican Cases can often take up more than 20% of your weight allowance per checked bag, so finding an ultralight hard-sided case that complies with TSA regulations for firearms transport while also allowing you to pack as much as possible inside a form factor no larger than 62 linear inches and no heavier than 50 pounds can be challenging.
Below are links to the Checked Bag Policies for the nine major US Airlines. Be sure to use the hyperlinks below to double-check the rules set by your specific airline prior to departure as airlines can change these regulations at any time, though this is rare. The airlines below are ranked according "The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines for 2019" by the Wall Street Journal:
2. Prepare as you pack
Smart travel is all about preparation and sequencing. The sequence of steps required to execute a successful trip (business or pleasure) are exactly the same every single time. This makes preparing for trips easy and the payoff exceptionally high. Below is the sequence for just about every trip you could take, with some minor nuances for international travel.
1) Pack at home
2) Get to the airport
3) Check-in for flight
4) Check bags if applicable
5) Proceed to TSA Security Checkpoint. Add Customs for international travel.
6) Proceed to gate
7) Board flight
8) Disembark from aircraft upon landing
9) Collect checked bags, if any
10) Proceed to ground transportation
For your carry-on luggage, pack in preparation for security. Put your relevant identification documents and your iPhone (with your boarding pass on it) in easy to access pants or shorts pockets since these are the only two things you will need to get through security and board the plane. Pack everything else like your Output Card Wallet, EDC Coin Purse, flashlight, pen, etc. in your carry-on bag ahead of time. This will prevent you from having to put all of these items in your carry on bag just before the security conveyor belt. You’ll be amazed how much time and hassle this little trick saves you.
Above: hiking setup
Above: international flight load-out
Personally, I like to carry all of these items in my EDC Travel Sling because it lets me keep everything in one consolidated bag that is quick and easy to remove for TSA Security Screening.
If you aren't quite comfortable carrying a fanny pack (no judgement, just saying...), the next best alternative is to keep an easy to access, dedicated, exterior pocket in your carry-on bag empty while you are packing. As soon as the TSA agent verifies your boarding pass and identification, you’ll put your ID and your iPhone in this dedicated pocket. You will be amazed at how this little step makes going through security so much easier.
3. Visualize and execute - successful athletes visualize themselves succeeding on the field before the game. Fast, efficient and stress-free travel is much the same. Visualize yourself doing all of the steps outlined above before you get to the airport. You don’t need to spend lots of time doing this, but a little visualization effort will go a long way in helping you execute smoothly because you will be prepared every step of the way.
Hopefully these tips from my own experiences will help you travel safer and smoother so you can enjoy every mile, but I’d love to hear from you about your tips and tricks! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.