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Practical travel advice
|Lani Teshima, editor|
Traveling in a Changed World
The world turned upside down on the morning of September 11, and American air travel has not been the same since. While the phrase, "we cannot let the terrorists win" runs through our minds, things are definitely not business as usual in the travel industry.
Stringent procedures are set in place in airports, with government standardization not far behind as Congress tries to come up with new policies for air travel safety. In the meantime, airlines and travel-related businesses are pleading for business, leaving job and service cuts in their wake. With the cost of travel falling and travel companies asking for your patriotic patronage, should you travel in this changed world?
You are not alone if you are afraid to fly. It is difficult to think of flying after having the images of the World Trade Center burned in your memory. At the same time, stories abound of post- 9/11 air travelers talking to each other and supporting the pilots' calls for assistance should anything go awry. Pity the fool who tries to hijack an airplane in today's charged environment; I suspect he would have to face a mass of passengers before he can even make it near a cockpit door.
The single most visible change in air travel has been in security. While not yet federalized, security after the four-day airport lockdown in the aftermath of September 11 is far more stringent than before, to some extent mimicking security at European airports. No longer are travelers asked those three simple questions about luggage and whether they have had their eye on it the whole time. Everybody is expected to possess and show government-issued photo ID cards at numerous points. Bags are screened and may be opened before travelers complete their check-in process. Even carry-on bags are inspected with scrutiny.
Airlines are recommending that passengers show up three hours before a flight. The lines can snake down the lobby while travelers wait to check in, before they even get to the next line at the security check. Some airports, such as Boston's Logan Airport-the departure airport for both American flight 11, which hit the World Trade Center North Tower, and United flight 175, which hit the South Tower-have multiple security layers that require repeated checks of persons and their carry-ons before they are allowed on their aircrafts.
How long does it take to get processed? It depends not only on the airport, but also on a number of other factors that seem incalculable. Depending on one's timing, it may take five minutes or two hours. A best bet is to bring a book or something else to remain occupied. Travelers are advised to avoid bringing knitting needles, however; these, as well as any other sharp object besides knives, such as screwdrivers or scissors, may be confiscated at the airport. For this reason, travelers should not carry anything that they do not want to have confiscated, especially since airport security personnel are not knowledgeable enough to know what to do to get the confiscated contraband returned to you properly.
The air travel industry has changed its carry-on policies as well. For example, United Airlines states on its Web site, "[P]assengers on domestic flights are allowed to bring on a maximum ONE carry-on, not to exceed 45 linear inches, plus one personal item such as a purse, laptop or briefcase." Truth be told, this carry-on policy is not necessarily new. Many carriers had this same limit, if not for domestic, then for overseas travel. The difference is that airlines are now actually enforcing this rule. This means that travelers must pack lighter than ever before.
Warning: Many travelers warn that they have been ordered to check in their rolling uprights. If you plan on traveling with just a carry-on, make sure it has no wheels. Backpacks count as a separate carry-on, not a personal item. And some airports simply say "one carry-on only," with no exceptions.
One big difference from before is that travelers should expect to have their carry-ons visually inspected. Avoid embarrassing episodes by making it easy for the security officers to see what you have. Instead of the popular zippered cloth and toiletry bags, consider packing underwear, soiled laundry and toiletries in transparent, plastic Ziploc-type bags. These bags come in handy for keeping small things in one place, such as pens and combs. Consider toting a small lock and luggage tags, in case of an order to check in your carry-on bag.
If you carry any electronics with you, make sure they are charged and ready to start when you are asked to turn them on. This is particularly true for larger items, such as laptop computers, although you may be asked to turn on your handheld PDA or your cell phone as well. Be warned however, that some overseas airlines are extremely stringent about any portable electronics, going so far as to require that travelers remove the batteries from all electronics and place them in check-in luggage.
These rules however, seem to be changing with the tides. Some airports may still ban carry-ons altogether, while some have started allowing nail clippers in carry-ons.
Perhaps instead of staying put out of fear, you are avoiding traveling out of respect? That is, how can anyone go on vacation and have a good time when the country is in crisis? This sentiment was very strong during Desert Storm... in Japan, where they felt they would be disrespecting the Americans by vacationing here. Although well meaning, this sudden curbing of vacation travel inadvertently helped to kick off a decade-long recession in Hawaii, where much of the almighty tourism dollar was coming from Japanese visitors.
So if this is your primary concern, remember that the money you spend on your vacation impacts a lot of American businesses. It is not just the airlines that are hurting. Hotels, restaurants, and amusement parks are all suffering.
You may want to avoid going overboard and taking a vacation of a lifetime just for the sake of helping the travel economy. There may still be a number of ways you can help, however: patronize small businesses in your community that are easily affected by shifts in the economy, or if you are fortunate enough to live in an area that others travel great distances to visit, play tourist for a day and enjoy those places you normally avoid for being too touristy. If you are still too jittery about the thought of flying or wish to avoid dealing with airport security, consider a road trip instead, making "getting there" part of your vacation.
If you were considering taking a trip anyway but have yet to purchase tickets, you are in luck. Many travel- related businesses are slashing prices left and right to entice visitors. Many off-property resorts in the Orlando area are currently offering room rates that are 50% off what they would charge during this time of year. Spend time finding some cheap airfare, and two will easily be able to travel for the price of one.
Other popular vacation spots are screaming for customers as well. MousePlanet staff Tony Phoenix says he has been seeing TV commercials by a prominent Las Vegas Strip hotel advertising rates of $39 per night for a weekend night. While this kind of rate is not unheard for off-season weeknights, they are almost impossible to secure for weekends. If you want to vacation in Las Vegas, just make sure to avoid the Comdex convention from November 10 to 16, and you should be in good shape. Regardless of where you live, pick up a copy of the Sunday Los Angeles Times to find some great bargains, as L.A. is considered one of the primary targets for Las Vegas marketing. If Vegas business is as slow as it was when I visited in late September, the place can definitely use your help.
Some vacation spots however, are not having trouble finding visitors. These are places such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, far away from the hustle of big cities and their skyscrapers. Avoid adding to the high traffic at these nature-oriented destinations unless you are in the mood to rub elbows with lots of people.
If you do decide to travel, make sure to leave your complete itinerary with a trusted friend or family member. You are, after all, traveling in a changed world.
Contact Lani Teshima if you have any travel tips or questions about trip planning.
A Hawaii ex-patriate, Lani is a technical writer for a San Francisco Bay Area software company.
When Lani is not managing the copy editing tasks here, you can usually find her at the gym, slogging away those slow miles on the treadmill as she trains for the WDW Marathon (held in January). She also maintains her internationally recognized Travelite FAQ.
In the occasional spare moment, Lani and her husband, Alexour MousePlanet CEO and MouseAdventure event coordinatorattend baseball games, and drive down to Disneyland in their 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid (which gets 50mpg).
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