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
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
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
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
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
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 seats.
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 lot fewer.
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 be sorry.
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
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 or snowing, too bad.
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 ways!
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 card. Right?
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
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 a game.
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 shines.
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 simple.
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.