It’s June, airports are busy, and with the Transportation Security Administration’s projected 4.5% increase in passengers and only a 2.5% increase in staffing, security lines will likely be long this summer. That’s bad news for travelers of all stripes at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which processes almost 170,000 travelers during its busiest summer travel days, according to the airport’s estimates. And it can be especially frustrating if your job is what takes you out of town. Here are our tried-and-true tips for surviving peak summer flying season as a business traveler — and making your journey as pleasant as possible once you land.
Early flight? Stay at the airport. There’s no worse feeling than sitting in traffic when you know that your 6:30 a.m. flight is already boarding — and the only thing waiting when you finally pull up to the terminal is a harried day-of rebooking. If you live far away from the airport, spare yourself the aggravation by making a practice of staying at an airport hotel the night before an early flight.
You can either build this into your travel itinerary when you book your flight, or search sites like TripAdvisor or apps like Hotel Tonight for last-minute deals on the go. Narrow your results by searching only for hotels with complimentary airport shuttles, make a reservation, check in and get some rest. In the morning, a five-minute ride to the terminal is painless compared to the stress of a rush-hour airport run, making that 4:45 a.m. wake-up call just a little more tolerable. — Megan Burbank
Don’t drive. There are plenty of good reasons for this: Unless you’re only going to be away for a day or two, airport parking is astronomical (although if you must go with this option, save your dollars by parking at one of the lots outside the airport rather than Sea-Tac proper). If you’re leaving after a day at the office, rush-hour traffic can tangle your route to the airport. So take the Link light rail to Sea-Tac. It’ll spare you Seattle’s agonizing traffic patterns on I-5, it’s faster than driving during rush hour, and you can even park near a station while you’re away or plan to hop in an Uber or Lyft from your transit stop if you want to simplify your return trip. As an added bonus, you’ll avoid Sea-Tac’s chaotic rideshare pickup zone and save money with a shorter trip. — M.B.
TSA Precheck is worth it. Security lines can get long — this summer, they’ll likely be worse than usual due to the grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX jets — and if you’re running even a little behind, an expedited screening process can be key to getting to your gate on time. For $85, you get Precheck status for five years, making it a no-brainer for frequent travelers. — M.B.
Prepare for changing ID needs. Beginning in October 2020, Washington state driver’s licenses will no longer be valid identification for air travel, which means you’ll need an enhanced license or passport so you won’t be turned away at the gate. That may seem like it’s a long way away, but getting your passport renewed can take six to eight weeks, and your travel needs may arrive sooner than you think, so don’t dillydally. — M.B.
Anticipate your tech needs. Yeah, yeah, some planes have power outlets at each seat, but unless you obsessively pay attention to the aircraft type listed on your reservation, you don’t always know what technology you can rely on in-flight. So charge your phone and anything else you’ll need on your flight before you get to the airport. And consider supplemental power, like a portable charger, in case you end up needing an emergency recharge and can’t get to an outlet. — M.B.
Pack light — but strategically. For maximum ease of use, you’ll want a capsule collection of meeting-appropriate basics that look good straight out of a suitcase (all hail jersey knits!) in a color scheme that allows for mixing and matching. Avoid the frustration of rooting around for your pj’s when you arrive at your hotel by keeping your suitcase organized with packing cubes. (Some even have separate compartments for clean and dirty clothes, making end-of-trip laundry day a breeze.)
To avoid looking rumpled, hang up your clothes as soon as you arrive, and pack a small spray bottle to bust out any transit-induced wrinkles at your final destination. And while you can get all manner of fancy-pants travel tech — noise-canceling headphones! rollaboard cases with built-in phone chargers! — consider the things you’ll require to look and feel human once you land. Face wipes, nail clippers, ear plugs, dry shampoo and a user-friendly stain remover like a small Tide pen are all critical in a pinch — keep your favorite versions on hand in an easy-to-find zip-lock or toiletry bag. — M.B.
I was VERY skeptical of packing cubes, until I bought a set (because former Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large told me to, and he knows what’s what). Now I think they are God’s gift. I am in love with them. You just take them out of your suitcase and toss them into a drawer and boom, you’re unpacked. At the end of the trip, you can use them to separate dirty/clean laundry. — Moira Macdonald
If you’re going to get in early or late, call your hotel ahead of time and let them know. You might be able to get an earlier check-in time or at the very least make sure your room is still available if you get in after midnight. In a pinch, you can also look into day-use rates at hotels, which allow you access to a room for resting, working and showering if you arrive at an unexpected time or find yourself stuck with a long layover. — M.B.
Tip the hotel housekeeper every day. This is not so much a hack as just decent human behavior, but a while ago when I was working in travel I did a poll asking readers about this, and MANY people do not do it or think that you should do just one big tip at the end of the trip (which is silly as you won’t have the same housekeeper every day).
Hotel housekeepers work incredibly hard and don’t get paid much and for god’s sake, you’re not paying for your room yourself because you’re ON A BUSINESS TRIP so just leave five bucks every day. With a note that says “thank you” or “for housekeeping” or something like that, as they’re not supposed to collect loose money unless it’s indicated that they should. It’s good karma. It will make your trip go better. — M.M.
Ask nicely for a better room, and you’ll probably get one. Years ago I realized that the cost to the hotel is the same whether they put me in a teeny room with a view of an air shaft or a big corner room over the park (making the bed and cleaning the bathroom is the same no matter the room, right? So it shouldn’t matter to the hotel which bed goes empty). So it doesn’t hurt to ask for what you want! I was given a teeny room at the New York hotel I stayed at this spring , and I went back downstairs and asked very nicely if it was possible to get something bigger, as I was staying for a whole week and my husband would be joining me in a few days and it would be so nice to have a little more room. And just like that, they gave me a beautiful new room, nearly twice the size. This has happened to me many times. It never hurts to ask (unless you are asking rudely, which will only end in tears). — M.M.
Comparison-shop your room rate. Something I started doing a few years ago, on both business and personal travel, and it has saved me (and, sometimes, The Times) a LOT of money: a week or two before a long-booked trip, go online and check the rates for your hotel room. Often it’s much lower than what you booked months earlier. (Or maybe it’s higher and then you’ll get a nice feeling of superiority because you got a good deal.) If it’s lower, you can then either cancel/rebook online (I did this for the N.Y. trip), or call the hotel and ask for the lower rate. Worth taking the time! — M.M.
Lighten your lodging bill. Lots of business hotels now charge a “facility fee,” which is $25 or more per day and includes things that should be free, like Wi-Fi. My N.Y. hotel did — but, if you book directly with the hotel and join their loyalty program (I did; they just ask for your email), you don’t have to pay it. — M.M.
Maximize your travel. You’re already on a trip, so why not extend it? Find out what your company’s travel policies are, and if it’s allowed, lengthen your stay or even add on a visit elsewhere once your work obligations are over. If the cost of two one-way tickets into your work destination and out of a secondary city of your choosing is less than or equal to the coast of a round-trip ticket to the former, you may be able to finagle that second trip. — M.B.
What other business travel hacks do you have? Share them with other readers in the comments below.