We’re entering what some refer to as the worst time of the year to travel. Bad weather, full flights and crowded airports can indeed make for a challenging trip, but there are definitely ways to be prepared for the worst. We’ve collected some of our best tips on how to deal with the unexpected, and some of the travel tools you can use to keep your sanity, and stay one step ahead of a bad travel experience. Welcome to our 2014 holiday travel survival guide!
Keep things powered
There is no denying that the latest generation of gadgets have helped make travel more enjoyable – whether it is an e-reader with some good books, or an iPad loaded with movies, these gadgets are a definite improvement over playing “I Spy” at 30,000 feet. Sadly, as technology has evolved, battery life has not managed to keep up with us. Keeping your gadgets powered when you are traveling isn’t too hard when everything runs like clockwork, but a delay of a couple of hours at the airport could mean getting on the plane with a dead tablet. Thankfully, some airlines understand these challenges and have invested in power ports, but there are still plenty of planes out there without it.
If your airline does offer power, make sure you are carrying the right plug. Many airlines still use DC/car style charging ports, which means you’ll need to carry a car charger cord. With a laptop, this could mean an additional investment of up to $100 for a compatible charger cord. If you are flying on an international airline, you might also find that your US plug does not fit, so always check with the airline to confirm the type of plug you’ll need, or invest in a universal international power adapter like this 4-in-1 version for under $7.
Perhaps one of the best ways to stay powered is to carry your own power source. There are a variety of portable battery packs on the market nowadays, all with enough capacity to more than double the battery life of smaller devices. Our personal favorite is this Anker battery, featuring 2 USB ports and a 13,000mAh capacity. At under $30, the Anker power pack has enough juice to recharge an iPad almost twice, or add about 3 days to the life of your iPhone. Keep in mind that most of these packs do not come with a charger or USB cable, so you will need to use an existing power source to charge it.
Finding power at the airport
Finding an open outlet at the airport can be a real hassle. Thankfully, a lot of airports understand this, and have invested in easy to find power sources. A good example of this is San Francisco International airport where outlets are everywhere – including dedicated work spaces for you to plug in and catch up on work. Other airports definitely have power, but make them hard to find. There are several online/app resources for finding airport power – Gateguru is an app (for iOS and Android) with a wealth of airport information, including dining, shopping and power port locations. Another resource is the “Airport Power Locator” site. The content here is a little outdated, but still contains relevant information on power port locations all around the globe.
Once you have tracked down an outlet, there is always the risk that someone beat you to it, so we always recommend carrying something like this $5 3-outlet power block. From experience, we can tell you that being the prepared passenger who can help share an outlet with two others will make you a hero. Since the airport can be a busy public space, always keep a close eye on your device to make sure it doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
Entertainment on the road is now easier than ever – we’re long past the days where the entertainment consisted of a sticker book, and even portable DVD players are quickly becoming obsolete. If you are flying on a Gogo equipped flight, chances are you’ll have access to our in-flight entertainment service. To use this, you’ll need a supported device, and we recommend installing the Gogo Video Player before your trip starts. Because of bandwidth requirements, Gogo does not support in-flight streaming from services on the ground (like Netflix), so if you need something to stay entertained, we recommend these simple tips:
- Use a video service with content that can be stored ON your device. Examples include iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. Load these movies before you leave, and don’t rely on airport or hotel Wi-Fi to download content.
- Like video, we recommend using streaming music services that can store music on your device (usually referred to as offline playlists). Spotify is a good example of a service with offline playlist support.
- Many home DVR’s offer portable movies and TV shows – search for “on the go” on your DVR support site.
Watching a lot of movies on your flight will be taxing on battery life, so make sure to follow our tips on power posted above. Of course, the most important thing to remember when traveling with a portable device is to bring your headphones! If you need to share a single device with more than one person, invest in a cheap headphone splitter.
Know your way around the airport
If your travels take you to (or through) an airport you have never been to, the experience can be quite daunting. Airlines try their best to assist with connecting gate information, but sometimes the surprise of a terminal change or a short connection time can royally mess up otherwise uneventful trips. Here are some tips to help prevent nasty surprises:
Always check your itinerary for arrival and departure terminal information. At some airports, a terminal change is only required if you change airline, but others (like Dallas Fort Worth) have airlines split between multiple terminals. Before settling down or grabbing a bite to eat, make sure you are in the right terminal. Try to get as close to your connecting gate as possible before taking time to relax.
Apps and websites can keep you informed – a simple online search for your airport name will usually bring up their site. Most airports provide a wealth of information about their terminal(s), including layouts, shops, dining and more. If you prefer to get your information from an app, you can use GateGuru (mentioned above) or this New York Times article featuring some other airport apps.
Educate yourself on the current TSA rules – if you haven’t flown in several years, chances are you are not up to speed on the current state of airport security. Thankfully, the TSA site has all the resources you need to prepare your luggage for screening, along with information on how to pack toiletries. Especially during the holiday season, it is important to remember that it is not recommended to wrap presents being transported in your carry-on luggage as the screening officer may need you to unwrap them for inspection. Other things to remember during the holidays is that many foods are considered a liquid – which means carrying leftover turkey dinner might result in you having to dump your lunch in a trash bin. When in doubt, either ship the items to your destination, or pack them securely in your checked luggage. Oh, and the TSA also likes to remind travelers that snow globes usually contain too much liquid to be transported in carry-on luggage.
Always be one step ahead of mishaps
Even the most seasoned traveler will eventually find him or herself faced with some kind of travel mishap – bad weather, mechanical issues or even a broken rental car can royally mess up the best prepared plans. Thankfully in this connected day and age, there are some tools you can use to your advantage to stay one step ahead of upcoming calamities:
Keep an eye on your inbound flight: one of our favorite roadwarrior tools is FlightAware. We’ve featured this powerful tool on our site in the past. In that article, we explain that article why inbound flight information can help you get a reliable information on true timing behind a delay.
Gather all of your plans in a single place: One mobile travel service we can never get enough of is TripIt. TripIt is a brilliant app designed to present all of your travel plans in a single app or site. The smartest part of TripIt is how it imports all of this information – after you create an account with them, you simply forward all emails from your hotel, rental car, airline reservation and other services to email@example.com. Seconds later, all of the information in your email will be imported into your online itinerary. TripIt even offers the ability to auto-import from many email services, which means you’ll never have to think twice about creating a powerful online itinerary. For a modest fee, TripIt also adds real-time alerts, mileage account tracking and more.
Know what to do when things go wrong : If things go wrong, those passengers with the best skills will be the first to have alternate plans in place. Simple things can make the difference between getting on the next flight out, or having to spend the night at the airport. First of all, pre-program the phone numbers of your airline, hotel chain and rental car company in your phone. Gate agents are often overwhelmed when confronted with 100 passengers all trying to get rebooked, and by the time you make it to the desk, it may be too late to get one of the few remaining seats. Take advantage of new technology by using your airline app to rebook your flight, or check to see whether your airline offers real-time support in social media. You’ll be surprised how efficient a simple Tweet can be when you need to get your trip back on track.
Worst case scenario – get a hotel for the night: If you find yourself stuck at the airport after the last flight of the day has departed, you won’t always be eligible for a free hotel from your airline. Especially when cancellations are out of their control, you will be responsible for finding somewhere to spend the night. If the thought of sleeping in the terminal scares you, then you’ll need to get yourself a hotel. Many airports offer a reservation board with local hotels, but when you are one of hundreds of passengers trying to find a room, speed is of the essence. Again, this is where apps can help. A very affordable way to get a last minute room is through HotelTonight – which offers just what its name implies. We do recommend (speaking from experience) that you make sure the hotel is close to the airport, or at least offers a shuttle service.
Free Gogo services on the plane
We live in amazing times – Gogo in-flight Internet is featured on over 2000 aircraft across 9 airlines. If you are flying one of our airline partners, chances are you’ll be on a connected plane. Of course, we love getting you online when you travel, but totally understand if you just want to read a book or catch up on some sleep. We also offer several complimentary services to assist during your flight:
You can access the airline site for free when connected to Gogo – simply connect to our service (search for the Gogo Inflight SSID), then either click the airline banner on our in-air portal, or manually type in the airline URL. Once on their site, you’ll have access to tools like flight status, flight change options and other helpful services.
T-Mobile customers can text for free – when you are traveling with a supported T-Mobile smartphone, you currently have access to free texting, picture messaging and visual voicemails. To learn more about this service, and how to access it, check out this recent Concourse post.
Keep friends and family informed with a free Glympse location share – Imagine being able to open an app, and share your airborne location for free when you are at 36,000 feet. This is the concept behind Glympse – a free location sharing app, that is “Gogo aware”. Once installed on your iOS or Android device, this app lets your friends and family track you in real-time, perfect if you are running late, or if you want to make sure the honey glazed ham goes into the oven to line up with your travel plans!
Free weather information from the Weather Channel site and apps – When connected to Gogo, you have unlimited free access to the Weather Channel through their site and mobile apps. With this information, you’ll either have something good to look forward to if you are heading somewhere warm, or get yourself ready for the worst if you are heading somewhere with bad winter weather.
If you prefer full Internet access, we’re currently offering several holiday deals, which can save you up to 67% on your Gogo purchase. You can find these deals on our 2014 holiday site.
Take care of yourself – and have some fun
This tip may seem a little too simple – but when traveling this time of year, it is important to make sure you find some time to enjoy the trip. Not all airports are a chaotic mess, and plenty of airports offer spectacular dining and shopping options. If you build enough time into your itinerary (or are forced to spend some extra time in the terminal) make the best of your time and explore what the airport has to offer. Some recent Concourse articles list the best kept airport secrets and some great tips on how to make the most of a Holiday layover.
Many airports have pretty decent airline lounges, which offer access to both members and non-members. When faced with a long delay, spending $50 to relax in the comfort of a lounge can be a welcome treat, especially since most lounges offer complimentary snacks, beverages and Wi-Fi. Finding the best airport lounge, along with a list of their amenities is easy with an app like LoungeBuddy. Be sure to check the guest access rules of a lounge before purchasing a day pass or membership as these rules differ between brands.
On behalf of everyone at Gogo, please have a wonderful holiday season filled with safe and uneventful travels! Be sure to send us a shoutout from 36,000 feet on our Twitter handle @Gogo or our Facebook page at Facebook.com/Gogo.