SPRING CLEANING FOR ROAD WARRIORS
By Joe Brancatelli
March 27, 2014 --The unfortunately brief interregnum between the awful winter and the impending season of thunderstorms, hailstorms and tornadoes is an opportunity for business travelers to undertake a physical and emotional spring cleaning.
The pace of business travel clutters the mind and the luggage with all sorts of detritus that should never be carried into the next season. So let's take a few minutes to empty our metaphoric junk drawers so we can face spring in fighting form and be ready for whatever the airlines, hotels and car-rental firms throw at us next.
Carrying on about carry-ons If you believe the hype, United Airlines has embarked on another of its periodic clampdowns on carry-on bags. There are new "bag sizers" at many gates and a crew of hired pettyfoggers to intimidate flyers into checking bags and paying a fee for the privilege. At least that's how the mainstream media—which loves a carry-on crackdown story almost as much as they love a missing-plane mystery—tell it.
The truth, of course, is less draconian. United hasn't changed its carry-on rules, but has simply rattled its sizer cages to remind folks about the size restrictions. Besides, few if any United gate and ticket-counter agents want anything to do with policing carry-on bags. They find fighting over an angry inch as demeaning as we do.
But the publicity reminds us that maybe it's time to examine our carry-on companions, check their weights and sizes and maybe invest in something newer, smaller and lighter.
At least officially, airline rules are clear about the bags we wedge into overhead bins and slide under the seats in front of us. Although they vary slightly by carrier, regulations restrict us to pieces that don't exceed a total of 45 inches (the combination of length plus width plus depth). If your carry-on exceeds the limit — and, yes, bulging outer pockets and big, fat wheels count — you may be hassled.
I'm sticking with the Glazer Designs bag I purchased years ago. It fits and it still looks great. But if time and airline temperament lead you to change, why not join the flood of travelers switching to lightweight, hard-sided bags crafted from space-age composites? The Salsa Air from Germany's Rimowa is frequently imitated by other bag makers and is so popular that some airlines have made their premium-class amenity kits look like it. Other brands costs much less and come in a dizzying array of colors and designs. But make sure to bring a tape measure and size before you buy. Don't rely on a bag maker's claim that any particular case meets "all" carry-on restrictions.
Trim the technology Our predilection for taking every piece of technology we own with us on the road is causing major headaches for hotels, clogging our carry-ons and slowing us down.
Why do we need to schlep a phone, a laptop, a tablet, a book reader, a music player and who knows what else with us everywhere? It's unnecessary and, in the long run, counterproductive. The simple, logical solution is to slim down to two devices. I suggest a smartphone and either a tablet or a laptop. Those two devices do everything we need to do and will cut down on clutter, cables and our constant search for power and Wi-Fi.
Render to Caesar ...
Still, you'd be crazy not to be in PreCheck because, when it's working right, it's lightning fast and means you don't have to take off or take out a laundry list of items at security checkpoints. But here's the other rub: If you get PreCheck credentials free thanks to your elite status in an airline frequent flyer program, then you're not getting chosen to use PreCheck as frequently as folks who pay the TSA or are members of Global Entry.
As you can see by the TSA's handy-dandy newgraphic, having a "known traveler" number--bureaucratic jargon for $100 Global Entry membership or paying the TSA $85 for PreCheck--offers the best chance of getting chosen for security bypass. In fact, TSA insiders claim flyers who have their paperwork in order and have "known traveler" credentials get selected for a security bypass line "almost 100 percent of the time."
You may have constitutional, political or Biblical objections to rendering to Caesar, but if you want to travel better this spring, pay the metaphoric $2 and be done with it. Besides, some credit cards will rebate your fee, so you won't even be out of pocket.
Leave some stuff behind
Now there's one more place to look when you need something in a pinch. Hotels are filling the gap with lending plans that do a laudable job when you're in need. The Hyatt Has It program focuses on personal amenities and things like power adapters and phone cords. Candlewood Suites, an extended-stay brand from the InterContinental Hotels chain, has a Lending Locker that allows you to borrow everything from board games to a crockpot. WestinWorkout from Westin Hotels rents out fitness equipment and workout clothes. And Kimpton Hotels' Forgot It? We've Got It! plan stocks night lights, super glue, stain removers and all sorts of personal-care products.
Ironically, one thing I always carry with me—back to the days of Walkman cassette—is a copy of Billie Holiday's Travelin' Light. These days it resides in my smartphone, of course, but you get the idea...
ABOUT JOE BRANCATELLI Joe Brancatelli is a publication consultant, which means that he helps media companies start, fix and reposition newspapers, magazines and Web sites. He's also the former executive editor of Frequent Flyer and has been a consultant to or columnist for more business-travel and leisure-travel publishing operations than he can remember. He started his career as a business journalist and created JoeSentMe in the dark days after 9/11 while he was stranded in a hotel room in San Francisco. He lives on the Hudson River in the tourist town of Cold Spring.
THE FINE PRINT This column is Copyright © 2014 American City Business Journals. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright © 2014 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.