On the Fly: Part III

Rob Gilley's tips on getting the most out of your surf travel dollar

Airports will never be fun, but they can be a little less painful with a bit of preparation. Photo: Gilley

Chapter III: Getting There

You've got your finalized itinerary and your bags are packed. Time to hit the road.

Before leaving your house or apartment, it's always a good idea to conduct a final walk-through. You should double check that everything is turned off, and that you didn't forget any essential items. You'd be surprised how many passports, cameras, surfboard fins, and pairs of sunglasses have been left in the dust.

Because of the possibility of lessened board bag charges, some surfers swear by airport curbside check-in, but this has pretty much gone away since 9/11. In fact, a lot has changed since 9/11, and it's even more important now to get to the airport with time to spare. The general rule is to arrive an hour early for domestic flights and 2 hours early for international flights. If you think this is paranoid, be warned: Recently, we got to LAX 2 hours before our flight to Central America, but the pre-check-in computers crashed and the airline did not have enough man power to handle full manual check-ins. As a result, anybody who arrived less than about 100 minutes before the scheduled departure missed the flight.

This next part is tricky: checking your boards in. I've seen quite a few different strategies employed here. The bottom line is to be as nice as possible to the counter person, keep your board bag off to the side, and refer to it as a 'surfboard', as in the singular. If it's anything less than coffin-size, at least half the time they won't ask you to open the bag itself, and you won't be charged per board, but per board bag, regardless of what their policy is. The other thing to remember is that the less other checked-in baggage you have, the more likely they are to skip charging you for your boards altogether.

Unfortunately, there are some unavoidable chip-on-their-shoulder counter agents out there who will be bitter and mean no matter what. The key here is to smile, remain calm, and have a printout of their official board policy with you in case they try to over-charge you. If they persist, ask for a manager and politely plead your case. The key here is to expect to be charged for your boards to the 'letter', and if you are charged any less, be happy.

After check-in and security, hopefully you've got your small backpack with your fragile/essential items, your hooded sweatshirt, and a pen behind your ear. For those ultra-long Indo flights, this is when some savvy travelers start to blow-up their neck pillows (whose advantage principally is to prevent waking up due to 'head-nodding'), and take some "PM" medicine like Advil or Benedryl or Ambien to help them sleep on the plane. Personally, I can't sleep no matter what, so I don't bother with either of these.

Once you get on the plane itself, you should immediately scout for empty rows of seats. In this age of airline consolidation and code-sharing, it's very rare but every once in a while an empty row will appear (usually at the back of the plane), and as soon as you reach cruising altitude you should stake out this new territory, lay prone, and snooze the flight away. This is one way to mitigate jet lag and decrease the possibility of developing spinal kinks.

Stay tuned.

Click here to read Chapter I: The Flexible Itinerary, and click here to read Chapter II: Packing.