Labor Day air travel: how to survive

by James Wysong on August 28, 2007

The end-of-summer travel season sits on the horizon, wiping the last sweaty drips of frustration from its brow. It’s the time of year that airline workers hope will pass quickly. Indeed, they look forward to Labor Day almost as much as beach-weary parents look forward to the first day of school.

It’s August, and everywhere you go it’s too hot and too crowded. The airport is especially bad. In fact, here are 10 sure signs that the dog days of summer are upon us.

1. Travelers spend more time in the security line than they do in the air.

2. Toupee-wearing gentlemen take off their rugs and use them to fan themselves.

3. Employees of classy international airlines openly covet the casual uniforms of the low-cost carriers. How nice to wear shorts and tennis shoes to work!

4. You see more of some people’s bodies than you want to see.

5. Condensation from the air conditioning drips onto passengers in first class, and they don’t mind.

6. Organized groups of camp children stroll from gate to gate singing “Kumbaya.” You smile at them but secretly pray they are not on your flight.

7. Airline employees try to hide their ID badges as they walk past the long lines at the customer service desk.

8. There is a distinct odor of dirty gym bags hovering over the gates.

9. Business travelers change the screensavers on their laptops from Caribbean beaches to gritty urban streetscapes.

10. Walking through the airport causes you to worry about overpopulation.

More oppressive than the heat and the crowds is the passengers’ general mind-set. No longer optimistic and eager for adventure, as they were at the start of summer, travelers are now coming back to reality. Their summer sojourn is nearly over. They have spent too much money, gained too much weight and have missed needed sleep. Soon they will have to return to work. The smallest provocation could set them off.

And yet, there is one last hurdle to conquer: Labor Day weekend. Add sky-high fuel prices to the heat, the crowds and the travelers’ general grouchiness, and you get one potentially very frustrating weekend for both passengers and crews.

So here are some tips for surviving the end-of-summer air travel season.

Expect long lines. Whether it is at check-in, security or at the gate, you can’t avoid long lines at the airport these days. Visualize them before you go and brush up on your yoga breathing; you’re going to need that inner peace.

Entertain yourself. “Hurry up and wait” is the rule at this time of year, so bring along some diversions that can entertain you and your kids, like sudoku, hand-held computer games or a video iPod. Hey, here’s a novel idea: How about reading a book?

Reach out and touch someone. Call the airline before you leave for the airport to make sure your flight is on time. Sign up for e-check, a service many airlines provide; it will call your cell phone to notify you of any delays. If you are being picked up at your destination, make sure your driver has a number to call to check on your arrival time, too.

Keep your cool. When you are frustrated beyond reason, remember that throwing a temper tantrum will only spoil all the good memories you have made on your trip. Instead, count to 10, or go to the Starbucks in the airport, stand in a ridiculously long line and pay $10 for a Frappuccino — and then laugh about it.

Practice kindness. Be considerate of your fellow travelers and the airline’s employees. It is a rough journey home for everyone, and a little common courtesy goes a long way.

As this travel season comes to an end, keep in mind that the snowy delays of winter will soon be upon us, and then we will all look back fondly on the bright days of summer. Selective memory is a wonderful thing.

Happy Labor Day to all of you. Fly safe, and remember: “He who laughs, lasts!”

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