Lee Carroll travel hints and opinions
This page is really a blog from me to you, based on my decade or so of travel,
both international and domestic. Perhaps you don’t travel much and
you would like some tips, or just would like to see some of my suggestions
and ideas? Well, this is the place! These are just opinions. They are mine,
and not channelled material (smile). So if you don’t agree, you can
let me know. But it probably won’t change anything.
I do it all the time. Sometimes I’m on as many as seven individual
flights per weekend of travel when I have to go between two cities to present.
So I’ve not only gotten used to everything that happens – the
bad and the good – but also have some opinions that might help you
if you don’t travel much. How much do I fly? Well, let's put it this
way – I'm in the million mile flyer niche of United Airlines and working
on my second million. I fly about 150,000 miles a year.
BIGGEST PEEVE: People who really don’t think about what they are doing
before they do it. Travel these days is all about security. Sometimes you
are checked several times before you can board. There is main screening,
surprise secondary screening, and if you are flying international, there
are always multi-screenings since the USA doesn’t trust the quasi-security
methods of other countries. Sometimes, coming from another country, you will
go through their security then walk a mile to your aircraft, only to be interviewed
personally and walked through another, more stringent security. Therefore,
1. Women: Please, please resist the big, hard-to-get-off jewelry thing. How
can it be a shock to you that they want you to remove it? They will make
you take it all off. Multiple rings, bracelets, necklaces, and big earrings
all take time to remove, put back on, remove, put back on. Instead, just
put them in your purse, go through security, then excuse yourself to the
restroom and put them all on so you look stellar for the airplane ride and
beyond. And the great big belt buckles? Geesh! This is not a time to be a
fashion plate. It’s an airplane ride! How about boots with lots of
snaps and stuff? Remember, you have to take them off, and put them on again.
Frequent flyers just roll their eyes when a woman presents herself to the
security line wearing all these things. It really slows down everybody behind
them. Be aware of where you are (a security-sensitive place).
I will often "scope" the security lines before entering them,
looking for women with this attribute. It's bound to slow the line down.
Oh, and another hint. If you have an option, don't get in the security line
with folks with strollers. They take longer. Just go to another line.
2. Keep your boarding pass in your pocket, not in your purse or briefcase!
You WILL be asked for it while the other items are going through the X-ray
machine. Don’t let it be a surprise that they need it. Just keep it
with you. Again, it's incredible to us flyers when someone’s boarding
pass is making its way through the X-ray machine when TSA has made the announcement
several times to have it out and ready. Everything stops while this person
looks silly, having ignored the instructions (probably talking and talking).
Just know it in advance and plan for it.
And then (unbelievable as it seems) when you keep your boarding pass, don't
put it in a non-accessible place! HOLD IT IN YOUR HAND! I can't tell you
the times when a person is asked for it by the TSA as you go through the
metal detector, and the person CAN'T FIND IT! What pocket? Where do you put
a boarding pass when you have no purse because it's going through the X-ray?
I don't want to tell you where women often put it. (Sigh)
Speaking of talking, don't do it on the phone! Cell phones are ILLEGAL during
security, and the quickest way to really get attention is to try to take
a photo with your phone! Just put it away. This is not the time to be a tourist
with your cell phone camera.
Again, Speaking of talking, just suspend the conversation and pay attention
to what is happening during security. Otherwise you may miss the announcements
that are often specific to a certain airport. Shoes off or not? Belt or not?
Don't listen and they may actually put you through the "puff" machine.
HINT: Put your name on your cell phone, and also your computer. These are
the items most often lost in security. Cell phones fall out of the bins.
Computers simply get forgotten in the rush to catch a plane. They all have
to be removed and placed in separate bins for X-ray.
3. Don’t complain – ever! Ever! The security people will keep
you there! They will search you in a private screening area if you are too
vocal. If you ever mouth off to a custom’s official, no matter how
tired you are, and no matter how ridiculous you think the situation is, they
can ruin your whole day. These men and women try to be good representatives
of our country, but they process hundreds of people a day and are told to
look for the nervous or complaining ones, since this is often a ploy to escape
something a person is hiding. So if you’re mad about waiting and your
flight is boarding, just smile and shut up. You’ll get there faster.
I’ve watched an especially tired and surly US custom’s official
in one airport become so irritated at a man who complained loudly in line
that he took him aside and purposely made him miss his next flight! They
have the power to keep you from boarding for hours and hours and hours, just
sitting in a room because they want to “check you out.” It’s
totally legal. Usually these folks are fair-minded and do a good job. But
don’t tempt your fate. I’ve seen it over and over. Just don’t
say anything unless you are asked.
4. This is harder to explain, but important: Let’s say that weather
keeps you from making a connection. You are flying to point B through point
A, and the weather grounds all planes when you get to point A. There you
are, stuck in point A, and they give you a hotel for the night and schedule
another aircraft in the morning. It’s a bummer, but weather can do
that. So, what’s your first reaction? WHERE’S MY LUGGAGE?
DONT try to find it! RESIST! First, you probably can’t. It’s
in a holding area in “the system,” ready and tagged to go out
the next day with you to point B. If you insist, you might get it, but it
will take forever! A man who doesn’t want to will have to go into the
bowels of the airport and try to find it. Then, of course, there is the problem
of checking it back in the next day. You already have your boarding pass
and they will look at you cross-eyed tying to figure out how you got your
bag, and now how to re-check it when the computer tells them it’s already
checked. Get the picture?
JUST DONT TRY. Hey, but what about my sundries – toothpaste, makeup,
hairbrush, etc.? The answer? Aren’t you glad you’re a savvy traveller
and have those few basic things in your carry-on? Nice job!
AIRLINE SELECTION HINTS:
AIRLINE SELECTION: If you are going to fly occasionally, like more than three
or four times a year, select an airline that services your city and stay
with them. Even if they are a bit higher priced in certain flights or have
an additional stop, stick with them. The frequent flyer programs are designed
to penalize the occasional flyer and to reward the frequent one. It won’t
take long for you to have enough miles to get the better seats and a better
boarding scenario. This is the intent of the program.
Since I’m in that top niche of frequent flyers, I know how it all works.
See those seats in front (first class) that are sooo cool? You walk past
them on the way to your cramped seat and try to avoid looking at how nice
they are. If you have a small child, the kid will often say (very loudly), "Mommy,
why can't we sit here?" I love the answers, hearable by all those already
seated in first class. "Because, sweetheart, these seats are reserved
for the beautiful people." He he.
Well, almost nobody sitting in them has paid for them! (and fewer of us are
beautiful) They are rewards for how many miles you have with that airline,
a pecking order of how many miles flown that year, usually. Those are hard
to get, but often there is "economy plus" seating or something
like that. It's the first half of the plane and there is more leg room. If
you are a frequent flyer and have reward miles, you can get those better
Speaking of rewards, get ready for disappointment if you are thinking about
using miles for a free trip somewhere. Or prepare to go at a time you don’t
want to go, using multiple stops you didn’t want, on a schedule that
does not suit you, usually alone. There are only a few “reward seats” on
each flight, and they make it really difficult to claim a “miles for
free flight” deal. So instead, use them for upgrades and whatever else
the airline offers. The reason? Fewer airplanes are flying these days, a
Want the best seat in the plane? Get the EXIT row! Loads of leg room! The
law is different regarding these seats, so quite often they cannot be reserved
online. So when you check in using one of those automated kiosks (made to
make you feel like a techno idiot), try selecting the exit seat. You won't
BOARDING PASS: Get it online the night before you go! You can often print
your own using a computer. It's a good deal and allows you to board sooner.
About that exit row? Ask the agent when you check your luggage if you can
change seats from what it says on your boarding pass. They will try.
BEST AIRLINE HANDS DOWN: Southwest. It’s also the only one in America
that is profitable! The only reason I don’t fly them more often is
that I have a big body and they don’t feature upgrades to better seats
(the ones up front that I told you about for the beautiful people). Here
is some little-known information about why Southwest is so much better. (They
also are much more cheerful than any other airline.)
Did you ever see this: Southwest runs like a shuttle bus. You can get on
a flight to a specific city, but you will have to go through perhaps one
or two other ones before you get there. But you STAY ON THE PLANE! There
are not many airlines that can do this. Did you notice? For instance, Southwest
can land a plane, go to the gate, let the passengers out for that city, let
the others stay on, then board the new ones and take off – all faster
than United can board one flight and leave the airport! This is documented,
by the way, and not my opinion. Southwest can land a plane, refill it, and
leave again while United is filling out the paperwork just to be allowed
on the tarmac! If you have a flight on a major carrier where you are going
through an airport (as described above), you normally have to disembark,
they clean the plane, then you reboard, often with a different seat, often
with a different plane! This takes about three times as long as Southwest.
How does Southwest do it? Here is just one example: Southwest is not encumbered
by labor agreements with multiple organizations like the big carriers. Anyone
can “drive” the jet bridge who is qualified, and almost all of
them are qualified. With the larger airlines, it has to be a member of the
labor agreement organization (read: Union) to be part of it all. Ever land
at an airport using a major carrier (American, Delta, United, Continental,
etc.) and you are late? Then you all stand up in the isle and wait while
nothing happens? There you are at the gate in the airplane, yet nobody is
there to operate the jet bridge? Well, there are about eight people waiting
at that gate, including ground personnel, but none of them are in the proper
union. Therefore, you just wait. Amplify this with your imagination, and
you understand why Southwest can do what it does.
Now, a secret that nobody will tell you, and that the authorities will deny:
How do I know it? I just do. The air traffic controllers and the airport
authorities will allow Southwest to land in a pattern earlier than other
carriers. This is not supposed to be the case, but they know that Southwest
can come and go faster, therefore, creating a more efficient gate control
scenario than any of the others, and (here it comes) there are gate fees
that are assigned to an airline every time it comes and goes! Therefore (you
get the picture?), more money for the airport.
UNITED AIRLINES: I really like these folks. American is good, too, and I
haven’t had problems with many of the major carriers. Admittedly, as
a prime member of United’s elite, they treat me well. So it’s
hard to tell how it would be if I were an occasional coach flyer. But in
the few instances where my luggage didn’t make it when I did, they
delivered it to my house or hotel from the next flight. They do that for
everyone. This may be common to some of the other carriers, too, but with
United it works well and they do it efficiently with a smile. I also have
found that their computer tracking of luggage is good. They always know where
your bag is. Not all the airlines are as good at this.
HAWAIIAN AIR: What can I say? They smile, they play Hawaiian music, they
are happy, and they come and go to Lemuria! It really is a very fine experience.
LUGGAGE: Luggage handling is rough no matter what airline. Think about it:
baggage folks handle hundreds a day, lugging them on and off the airplane.
They are mostly the same from airline to airline. Think they read the fragile
stickers? Dream on. So, therefore, I have opinions for you based on what
I have seen.
Buy the cheap set! Expensive luggage looks great, as long as it is in the
store. The first flight out and it's marred, scarred, and messed up. Choose
really ugly, bright colors (honest). These bags will never get stolen, since
they are just too easy to spot when someone else lifts them from the baggage
carousel. Also, you can spot your luggage coming instantly, even if it's
on the wrong carousel. (Yep, baggage handlers are not perfect.) If you are
a foreign traveller, it will save you over and over. Try to read what baggage
carousel is yours in Russian, Japanese, Chinese – get the point?
I have this vision that if your bag is too new or too clean, there are "baggage
trolls" whose job it is to take out their bags of dirt and grease and
anoint your bag! Honestly, it seems that way. Also, be aware that sometimes
your bag stays in those tarmac carts for hours – outside! If it's raining
Try to take valuables and breakables in your hand luggage if you can. (But
remember the "three ounce in a baggie" rule through security).
At least you have control over them and won't have to have your heart skip
a beat as you casually glance out the window of your aircraft and watch your
bag being thrown many feet onto the luggage cart, then smashes to the ground
because they missed! (Think I'm kidding?)
Did you know that you are not supposed to lock your luggage? YEP. It's not
allowed. If you do, they will ruin your bag opening it if they want to look
inside. However, there is a way, and it's authorized. At a travel store in
the airport (like Brookstone), purchase an authorized TSA (Transportation
Security Administration) lock! There are several kinds, including combination
locks and luggage belts. The way they work is that there is a TSA key that
will open them, and TSA is the only one supposedly who has the key. I do
this all the time and it simply means that my bag MUST be opened using that
key, or the combination I know. It's much safer than leaving your bag unlocked.
THE WORST DOMESTIC AIRLINE: I really don’t like to bash an organization,
but here’s the deal; I fly for a living and see what is possible. So
I get to see the whole gamut of services and attitudes. When an organization
is poorly run, then everyone is unhappy. It’s not the fault of the
employees, but rather the energy of the company that is projected to them.
They just go with the energy. Soon it permeates the whole organization and
you get to see it within almost all the steps that make up an airline.
At this writing, and for some years, it has been US AIR. They really don’t
show much caring, they lose luggage more than almost anyone else, and they
are not quick to respond to your needs when you are in trouble. Problems
compound fast with this airline, and you can find yourself in a city far
from your luggage and wait days for it to show up. Then you are asked to
come get it. The stories are rampant and I hear them from many. In the few
times I had to use them, it was obvious that they were not a happy group.
There are exceptions, of course, and each city has its own specific energy.
But in general, they are not up to the level of the others.
THE WORST INTERNATIONAL AIRLINE: Iberia Airlines based in Madrid. Just don't
fly with them, ever. They are guaranteed to lose your luggage in a large,
black hole in Madrid that has no connection to any computers that are fast.
Their idea of getting luggage back to you is for you to wait a week or two,
then come get it. If you are passing through Madrid on a cruise, this could
be a disaster. It was, and we experienced it. Imagine formal night on a cruise
ship in your T-shirt and flip-flops. Get the picture? There are plenty of
European airlines who are really, really good who go to most of the places
that Iberia goes to. Lufthansa is excellent, and Swiss Air is another. These
guys even feed you! (USA air carriers stopped feeding you about two years
ago). They also speak English. Iberia barely speaks Spanish.
FINALLY: The attitude of the passenger means more than you can imagine. Do
you realize that you are part of “the system” when you fly? Without
you, there are no flights. Without the airlines, you go nowhere. Therefore,
you might say that a confluence (meld) of energy exists between the flyer
and the airline that creates a kind of partnership. If you approach flying
with an attitude, angry that you are having to fly and crabby at everyone
along the way, you are hurting everyone. The partnership falls apart, and
you also affect other passengers around you. The airlines are not there to
service you, they are there to participate in the partnership and get you
somewhere. If you make the experience horrible for them, the flight attendants
smile, but hate you (sorry, but they do). The ticket agents wish you had
stayed home and had ridden a bus, and if you are ignorant enough to give
the TSA security people a bad time, this highly underpaid group would just
love to have their way with you, exercising their newly found power (in a
legal way) with an “uncooperative flyer.” Oh, and they have their
If you can’t be a happy traveller, then either don’t travel or
take a Valium before you get out of your car at the airport (smile). Those
of us who must travel for a living will all celebrate your decision not to
be with us, or your willingness to be in a smiling state of unawareness.
You might even be fun!
Travel, and the big credit card insurance scam
Do you have a credit card that tells you that they have insurance when you
rent a car? I do! We all have to have insurance to rent a car, or instead
take that which is offered to us by the car agency. That’s a given.
But what if you have a minor scrape or something? Did you know that your
credit card offers insurance as a back up for that? Well, that’s a
really nice feature, and a good reason for selecting that specific credit
My advice, based on very recent experience, is this: Unless you are actually
paying something (exchanging money for the service) for a specific type of
rental car insurance on a credit card, you will NEVER get insurance money
from your credit card company for anything that happens, even if they say
they offer the service.
In my experience, the credit card companies have a “special services” department
to handle these things. This entire department is experienced in nothing
but CUSTOMER ABUSE. You can call the Customer Abuse department easily, and
they will willingly abuse you as long as you want.
It was winter and I was in a garage parking lot underneath the hotel I was
staying in. I was in a rental car and didn’t see that post coming!
I was in a nice Avis car, and I scraped the front bumper. Not a big deal,
but it was damaged by the very low speed collision with the post. When I
returned the car, my rental agreement showed that I had declined insurance
(because I have good insurance already), so Avis repaired the damage and
charged my credit card for it, the same card that the car rental was charged
on. It cost $1400. All is normal at this point. This is standard procedure.
I called my insurance (State Farm) and they advised me to try to see if the
credit card insurance would cover it. This was a good idea, so I called the
number on the back of the card. Sure enough, they assured me that my card
did indeed provide for that, and gave me a special number to call. (The very
special insurance customer abuse number). I did, and the process began that
has led me to give you this advice.
Special Services is the branch that specializes in making certain that no
cash is ever given to anyone who has a claim, and they did it well. They
feature frustration, delay, and then downright deception. But I didn’t
know that and proceeded with the claim. I got a letter in about two weeks
that asked me for certain information. They needed the original rental agreement
(the thing in your glove compartment in a rental car that you never take
with you when you leave it), the police report, photos, the repair bills,
and proof of the Avis charges. I contacted Avis and got a copy of what was
in the glove compartment (I don’t think the card people expected I
could do that. They were counting on the fact that I had left it in the car.)
Of course, there was no police report since there was no other moving vehicle
and, of course, I didn’t have photos. The last thing you do when you
scrape a bumper at midnight in a garage is take photos of it. Instead, I
got exhaustive repair reports from Avis (in lieu of reports and photos),
and turned it all in with an explanation.
In three weeks, I got a letter asking for the same things the first letter
had asked for, without any indication that they received the plethora of
material I had given them. So I again papered them with everything they asked
for, and this time put it in larger type, just in case they were reading
disadvantaged with a possible education gap. No. They were instead just playing
I received the requests for identical information for four more months and
each time I increased the size of the type until it took several pages to
say, “What’s wrong with you? Is anybody there?” Finally,
I called them in frustration. They were ready for me! This is where it gets
good. Now pay attention in case this ever happens to you, since this next
ploy is really hard to beat, and it’s where the customer abuse department
I called them and they immediately denied my claim! First, I asked them how
they could deny a claim when they never acknowledged the material I sent.
They dodged this one, saying that they now suddenly had it all. Interesting
that they suddenly had it after months of asking for it. The ploy? They said
that the car was “reserved” under one credit card number and
billed with another. Because it wasn’t reserved and billed under “their” card,
they wouldn’t pay it. I asked what credit card that could possibly
be (since my Avis profile only has one card). They said that they couldn’t
reveal that due to security reasons (of course not). Case closed.
When all you have is one card with Avis, and it’s the only one that
has ever been in the profile, it’s really hard to imagine when you
call them up that they would use another. Then I had a revelation: An Avis
preferred member never needs to use a card to reserve a car! Bingo! They
were caught in a lie. However, it doesn’t matter since this department
has been hired and is there to make certain there are no payouts, plain and
By the way, I turned this in to State Farm and had a check in five days!
Hopefully, this will save someone months of useless energy and time. Use
your main insurance carrier and don’t ever deal with the credit card
people. The bank is Chase, and the card was my United Airlines Chase Visa
card. Interestingly enough, when you call customer service using the number
on the back of the Visa card, you get very caring and interested people.
They have helped me a number of times and they are very security conscious.
But the bank fails when it comes to the special abuse department regarding
collision insurance, and should never be offering these services when it
has no intention of paying a claim.
If you are part of Chase Bank and want to write me a letter, go ahead. I'll
pretend I didn't get it and ask you for another one each month until you
surrender and stop. If you call me, I'll be happy to give you the same abuse
I got. Come to think of it, I can hardly wait! I'll tell you that you have
the wrong person and give you the address of the bank president. :-)
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