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Beat the travel blues

It around thattime of the year again. Summer is here, its time to travel  around with the kids on summer vacation. So yahoo has some tip sto help you beat the huge summer travel blues…….

This season promises to be a doozy for airline passengers. How to prepare for the worst.

How do you want your bad summer-flying news, statistically or anecdotally?

If you’re a number-crunching type, chew on this: More people are flying now than before 9/11. More than three out of four airplane seats are filled on average, and there are 40 percent fewer airline employees to serve those passengers. Almost three in 10 flights now run late. Reports of mishandled checked baggage have jumped by 28 percent in just one year.

Want the anecdotal view? I’ve been traveling on business for more than 30 years, and I’ve never seen it this bad. Passengers are unhappy, airline rank-and-filers are overworked, and the chief executives are busy giving themselves lavish bonuses rather than improving their companies’ operations.

Regardless of the routes you fly or the class in which you travel, it’s going to be ugly out there this summer, and you need to protect yourself. I don’t have a magic bullet, but I do have some practical tips to make your life on the road a little less bumpy.

Know Before You Fly
Knowledge really is power in business travel: With the right information, you can make more-intelligent decisions about what carrier to fly and when. The Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report is a good place to start. It has a wealth of information about on-time performance, lost-luggage rates, and even hour-by-hour operations at the nation’s leading airports. Also, you can get more-specific information at FlightStats, where you can check the recent performance of a particular flight, assess an airport’s operations, and find all sorts of practical details about routes, facilities, and other travel variables.

Have a Plan B
Since even the shortest flight can degenerate into a multiday nightmare, you need to have a plan B and even a plan C. Before you leave for the airport, spend a minute or two making sure that you know which other carriers fly your route and what alternative itineraries can be arranged if your chosen flights are cancelled. Airline agents may not know this information even in the best of times, and in a chaotic situation, they’ll be unwilling or unable to look for it. You have a better chance of making another connection if you have the data at your fingertips.

Use Your Cell Phone
You can skirt some of the turmoil during an airport or airline meltdown by having the right numbers programmed into your cell phone. At a minimum, carry the numbers for reservations at the airlines you use most frequently, the hotel chains you prefer, and the major car-rental firms. Ditto for your travel agent and any special numbers you have access to because of your frequent-flier status.

With those numbers handy, you can quickly snare a decent hotel room near the airport if you need one, or you can rent a car and drive to your final destination. And having an airline’s reservation or special frequent-flier phone number may help you get priority treatment while the huddled masses tough it out at the ticket counters.

Lose the Luggage
When there’s a crisis, fliers break down into two types: the hopeless ones who have to worry about checked luggage and the smart ones who travel only with carry-ons.

Traveling with just carry-on bags changes everything. You can alter your itinerary instantly without worrying about where your things are headed. You always have access to your clothing and supplies no matter how long the delay. And you don’t have to beg the airlines in vain for your luggage if you’re stuck overnight in an unexpected place.

Of course, carrying on comes with its own challenges: You must pack less, cut frills, and edit your wardrobe. (One  trick: Restrict your wardrobe palette to one color and make sure each accessory you pack works with multiple outfits.) And you can bring only very small amounts of liquids or gels. If you can’t trim down what you need to carry that much, ship your excess bags. FedEx and U.P.S. are more reliable than the airlines anyway. (A growing cadre of specialists will ship your bags from your office to your hotel, but they rely on FedEx and U.P.S. too.)

Pack Emergency Rations
Not to take the “road warrior” sobriquet too literally, but you should carry a supply of food and water when you fly. Find room in your carry-on for a few protein or granola bars or some bags of nuts, raisins, or trail mix. Anything that is low in sugar, high in nutrients, and requires no refrigeration will do. And bottled water is crucial. Always take a moment to stop at a shop beyond the security checkpoint and pick up a bottle or two.

Head for the Club
Nothing ameliorates the wait through a long delay for a flight better than a perch at a quiet, comfortable airport club. I mentioned Priority Pass a few columns back. But you can also buy a day pass to most clubs. Simply find the nearest lounge and ask for admission. Unless the club is overflowing with members, you’ll get in for a onetime fee of about $50.

The Fine Print
A lot of people think the worst part of a business trip is clearing security. One way to minimize that hassle is to know the rules and then dress for success. I dispense with my belt (I pack it in my carry-on), wear slip-on shoes, and always travel with zip-top plastic bags in my pocket. While I’m waiting in line, I dump my keys, change, watch, pen, and phone into a bag and then throw it into my briefcase. That means less fumbling with plastic bins and no problems with fishing my stuff out on the other side of the screening machines.

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