What I learned about air travel by globetrotting back and forth to Baltimore and D.C.

In 2011-2012, I flew to Baltimore or Washington D.C. a lot–probably eight times, if not more. Internet pal Rob O’Hara wrote about his recent flight to Seattle this weekend; predictably, they lost his bags.

Here’s what I learned by getting to know the Baltimore area by plane.

Fly in business casual. United lost my bags on a trip in July 2011; I flew in shorts and a t-shirt. I had to attend the first morning of my meeting in the same shorts and t-shirt. My counterparts from the UK got a nice laugh; at least they had a sense of humor–er, humour–about it. Had I flown in khakis and a button-up shirt, I would have been only slightly less comfortable on the plane and considerably more comfortable at the meeting talking to people who’d made it from across the Big Pond in better shape than me. Unlike Rob, it took a couple of days for my bag to show up. I don’t know why Delta had it, and Delta was a heck of a lot nicer to me about United’s mistake than United was, but that’s another story.

Another reason to fly in business casual. I get less trouble from the TSA when I look semi-professional. I don’t know exactly what the criteria for the “random” “enhanced” inspections are, but they aren’t random.

Minimize the metal. If I think to do it, I try to put my belt in my carry-on before going to the airport. I leave my change in the car, and I don’t wear jewelry aside from my wedding ring. It saves a few seconds, which makes the people behind you happier, which reduces everyone’s stress.

Wear slip-on shoes if you think of it. It saves precious seconds, making everyone happier.

Don’t put your watch in the bin with your shoes. And whatever you do, don’t put your watch in your shoe. It makes the TSA nervous.

Give yourself plenty of time. It’s been fairly rare that I’ve needed two hours at the airport, but I try to give myself that much. Sometimes I get through the TSA in 10 minutes and sometimes it takes an hour-plus. Flying in late morning helps to cut down the wait time, if that’s an option. I’ve seen people try to get through the TSA and onto a plane in 20 minutes; that’s a really bad idea. The TSA isn’t sympathetic, and neither are most other travelers. So arrive early, and bring a tablet or an e-reader or a book or something to pass the time. My biggest accomplishment of 2012 happened at the Baltimore airport with my laptop. On some trips, I was able to complete all of my action items from my meeting at the airport prior to flight time.

Why you have to turn off your electronic devices. Computers do emit electromagnetic fields. In government and military installations, they have to keep classified and unclassified systems some distance apart–I think it’s 1.5 meters, but don’t quote me on it–in order to keep one from bleeding over to the other. It’s exceptionally rare for signals to bleed that way without specialized equipment, but since the U.S. government has been able to exploit that characteristic, they have that regulation for themselves. So, should someone playing Angry Birds in the back of the plane interfere with the plane’s fly-by-wire system? No, it shouldn’t, but the probability is something greater than zero percent. How great is the risk? Well, I understand the FAA is looking into that right now.

In conclusion, I haven’t flown since June, but my travel-free contract was awarded to another company last week and I’m a free agent. (The less I say about that, the better.) My next gig will almost assuredly include some travel, so I’m dusting off those memories, because I’m likely to have to use them again.

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