Prepare yourself for high flying
AT THIS time of year when Australians traditionally desert our shores for foreign climes, it's easy to be bewildered by the rapidly changing rules and regulations that now dominate travel to other countries.
I ventured to Western Australia and the United States this year and received a crash course in what to do and, more importantly, what not to do when one enters the murky waters of air travel these days (so to speak).
The dilemma of what to pack and what to leave out, a problem for many unwary tourists, has become more difficult now we have to wrap our thinking gear around not just the amount of clothing to take and the pitfalls of excess baggage charges, but what will be confiscated if we try to board a plane without checking the rules.
Domestic travel is not quite so strict, and depending on your port of embarkation the rules have been relaxed greatly in recent years.
A friend recently flew to stay with me and, security staff having found a pair of nail scissors and a very expensive Swiss Army knife in her carry-on, quietly gave her the nod to whip upstairs, buy a padded post bag from the terminal newsagent and mail the implements to her home address.
I, on the other hand, was prevented from boarding a flight with an IKEA towel rail in my carry on. When I asked the security guard, a woman of little humour, if she thought I might break in to the flight deck and carry out a renovation, she fixed me with a steely glare and said, "We can stand here and argue until you miss your flight, or you can stop the smart mouth and go back and check in your carry-on." Right, then.
International travel is another kettle of fish all together. There are still strict regulations on the amounts of liquids, creams and gels you can take in your carry-on. Any such substances in containers larger than 120millilitres will be confiscated or you will be forced to do the Walk of Shame as I was and return to the check-in counter and hand your carry-on over at great cost.
All liquids, creams and gels in the correct containers must be enclosed in a Ziploc clear plastic bag (one per passenger) and placed in the trays at the inspection points, along with shoes, belts, pocket change, watches, mobile phones, and laptops.
Anything likely to set off the alarms going through the x-ray machines will result in further investigation, further delays and the wrathful glares of those in the queue behind you.
Full body scans are now employed in US airports.
You will be required to remove belts and shoes and enter a large glass cylindrical chamber, placing your feet on the appropriate markings. Arms must be above your head and the scan is completed quickly.
You don't get to see the results, so I have no idea what they can and cannot see, but I made sure to wear my best undies just in case.
These security measures are undeniably tedious but there really is no point trying to buck the system unless you want more grief than compliance will bring you. Bite the (non-existent) bullet, do as you are told and try to smile at the poor buggers who constantly have to deal with idiot travellers. You'll make their day and possibly your own.
Another little hint I picked up on my most recent trip to the United States was, at the increasingly common self-check-in kiosks, do not be tempted to employ a shortcut and type in your name. Dig deep into your bag and retrieve one of the seemingly endless sheets of A4 you have printed at home, the one that has the actual booking reference number on it. Enter that into the kiosk when prompted.
My recent attempt to speed up the process saw my booking, along with every subsequent one with the same airline, disappear as a woman with my exact name had checked in several minutes earlier, causing my reservation to disappear.
When I refused to leave the flight on which I no longer had an assigned seat, the ticketing agent maintained a cool, calm smile for the benefit of other passengers but grasped my elbow quite firmly and muttered "You can leave without a fuss, or you can be escorted by an air marshal.
The choice is yours." But of course, it wasn't really.
Always travel with a pen in your carry-on luggage. You will be required to fill in a customs and immigration form before disembarkation and it's a colossal pain to have to borrow one from a fellow traveller, particularly if you have been giving them the Death Stare for 12 hours for hogging the armrest.
Also travel with all prescribed medications in your carry-on, and as a precaution obtain a letter from the prescribing doctor on letterhead explaining why you are carrying that particular medication. Names of drugs change between countries and one man's aspirin may well look like another's party pills. You might never be asked to produce it but who wants their beta blockers pocketed by a grumpy customs official?
If you are travelling with one of the new generation money passports, the debit card you can preload with different currencies and top up via the internet while away, make sure you top up at least once before you go so the account appears in your internet banking address book.
I didn't on my most recent trip and as my bank sends an SMS to my mobile to confirm it is I adding a new account and I wasn't travelling with my regular SIM in my mobile, it became a task of epic proportions to get the money into the account.
Finally, keep in mind through the endless queues, holdups and hassles that the rules are there to keep you safe - and they do.
Smile… you're on holidays!
MAGGIE'S TRAVEL TIPS
- Be careful with your carry on. The rules about what you can and cannot take on board have canged in recent times so be sure to check with your airline to avoid delays and having to throw things out at the gate.
- Be patient with the security measures. They are there for everyone's benefit.
- Always have a pen handy for the seemingly endless times you are going to have to write out your passport number.
- Organise finances with your bank before you go. Check your debit or credit card will work in the country you are visiting.
- Have fun; you're on holiday!