There was a time when travel was manageable, and it was possible to arrive at one’s destination without looking like you’d slept under a bridge. I know it seems like that must have been way back when men wore hats and women wore gloves, but it wasn’t really that long ago. Of course, now that a chapstick is viewed as a potentially lethal weapon it is harder to do, but with the proper attitude it is still possible to get from Point A to Point B with élan.
Most people who travel a lot travel for work, and most people who travel for work are delighted to tell you about what a chore it is. You’d think they were chained to oars to hear them tell it. This mindset may be why some people show up at their out of town meetings disheveled and disagreeable. I can understand this. Since I’m personally already inclined to believe that the world exists to inconvenience me, the existence of the Transportation Safety Administration seems perfectly rational: a governmental agency which specializes in making me miserable in airports: what could make more sense? The Department of Motor Vehicles is a nightmare vision of hell, but how often do you have to go there? The TSA there for you every time you have to go out of town. I am thankful that this degree of specialized, personalized hassle hasn’t been adopted by more governmental offices. Imagine buying broccoli if the Department of Agriculture started running things like this.
Even though the airport experience feels like you should be dressed in an orange jumpsuit, the best way to get past this is to channel your inner Cary Grant. It is tempting to dress for travel in loose fitting attire, and shoes that slip off easily, but this is a mistake. At a minimum, wear a sports coat. Even if you plan on changing at the hotel, dressing like you are going somewhere important will mean that you’ll be treated with a modicum of respect. Wearing a tie with my jacket has gotten me bumped up to first class more than once—and that will make anybody’s trip more agreeable, even if it just means that you’ll be having your coffee in a porcelain cup instead of a foam one.
As a recovering New Yorker it pains me to admit it, but attitude makes a difference. Saying “good morning” and smiling as I hand over my photo ID usually gets me a better seat selection, and keeps me out of the line where they wand you. The funny thing about attitude is that once you learn to fake it you even fool yourself, a little, and then you are in a positive feedback loop. It’s too much hassle to bring this technique to my every day life, but I can handle it for short stretches a couple of times a week at the airport—and it means that I typically arrive in a better mood than I would after my ordinary commute.
Little efficiencies help, and so do treats. For example, standing on lines at airports has taught me that a jacket is a good place for change, and your keys, and your cell phone, and all the other metal things that are likely to set off the metal detector and get you the pat-down. Someday I will have my own airline, where babies and pokey tourists with cumbersome luggage that doesn’t quite fit in the overhead bin are banned. Until the formation of Crabby Bastard Air, however, if you want to get through the lines quickly, consider standing behind the guy in the suit. Chances are he’s going to slip out of his jacket, pull his shoes off, and be past the checkpoint long before that guy in the Bills hoodie. Be a guy in a suit yourself, and be right behind him. This works even better on weekends, so leave the sweatpants home when you travel.
They say of Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates that he’s so rich he buys his toothpaste at airports. I’m not even sure they sell toothpaste anymore, but I’m seeing more and more mini-spas in airports, and I like this idea. Airport bars are depressing and expensive, but in the JetBlue terminal at JFK I can get a $30 buck facial. Think about it—arrive dehydrated and a little hungover, or moisturized and looking a little younger. I’ve been the only guy in the spa when I’ve tried this, but that’s just another upside the way I think about it.
One thing you can always do at an airport that is hard to find in other places is to get a shoeshine. There is nothing that costs less than ten bucks—including an airport beer—that will make you feel better about your appearance than a fresh shine on your shoes.