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Travel Tips: All ground staff please leave the aircraft

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By Irfan Ahmad
May 16 2010

“My bags are packed. I am ready to go. … I am leaving on a jet plane….” The strains of the John Denver song are permanently etched in my mind. It takes me about 10 minutes to put together my stuff for a trip that could keep me on the road for ten days. I have several hundred thousand air miles under my belt and I do not recall a single month in the last ten years when I have been in one city for over 30 days. No. I am not George Clooney and this is not about the million air miles movie, “Up in the Air.”

My spare toiletry bag is permanently stored in my suitcase. I unzip my suitcase and throw in a daily change of underwear. The shirts that are hanging in my closet are selected – a couple of my favorite blue striped ones and some solid color ones. All are button down. All are 100% cotton. They stay wrinkle free if I keep them in the hanger with the clear plastic sleeves they came in from the laundry. I add a jacket if I know the weather will be cold where I am going. A polo shirt for casual wear and PJs for the night come in the end. A couple of trousers and a pair of jeans round up my travel wardrobe. An extra pair of shoes if there is a formal party I will be attending. No socks because I don’t wear them. They are stifling. No ties ‘coz they are stifling too. My bags are packed and I am ready to go.


Pix2What about carry on cabin luggage? Always use a pull along bag with wheels. Airports have a tendency to make you walk. A shoulder bag with a laptop inside gets heavier with every step you take. It also gains weight after a long, sleepless flight. If you have a laptop in a shoulder bag and place it in the overhead bin, you can be certain that one of your insensitive fellow passengers will place a heavy bag on top of it - leaving you to ruminate throughout your flight if your laptop will survive the trip. Even if you only want to use a shoulder bag, place it in a pull-along bag. It will be safer inside.


The drama of every flight begins when I settle into my aisle seat in the aircraft. Yes, I always insist on an aisle seat. Actually there is little insistence; I reserve an aisle seat for myself every time I book my flight.  If you catch my drift, I am not a front of the bus passenger who travels on an expense account.


The aisle seat has many advantages. You can go to the loo without climbing over others. You can stretch your legs in the aisle. You can access the overhead bins and take your laptop out during long flights and stow it back after you are done. You can make a quick exit and beat others to the front of the immigration queues.


But if you stick your knee out too far, the stewardess may ram the food trolley on it. Pix4Rather painful - says the voice of  experience. Passengers heading to the back of the plane with multiple bags will swing one of their bags in front of your face and you have to be ready to duck. People walking past could bump into your shoulders if you have a full body frame. Besides, in an aisle seat you have one free armrest but you will have both if you are quick to place your hand on the armrest that you are supposed to share with your adjacent passenger.


But most of all, the aisle seat comes in handy when you hear the announcement asking all ground staff to leave the aircraft. This is a signal to say that everyone is on board. If you have passengers sitting next to you and you want to change your seat, this is the time. It is best to do a reconnaissance trip down the aisle just before the announcement is made so that you are aware of your options.


If you have a well endowed neighbor whose body spills over the armrest or if you have a couple sitting next to you with a baby on their lap, you need to make a quick move. Identify the nearest seat where you would like to relocate and make a run for it the instant the announcement is made. Don’t worry about what you have stowed in the overhead bin – just don’t leave behind any personal items such as your passport (duh!) in the seat pocket.


The worst situation is when your neighbor requests you to trade your seat with that of a friend or family member with whom they wish to sit together. Always be very polite and say that you are willing to trade if the other person is also sitting in an aisle seat. Being a gentleman could result in being sandwiched for seven hours on a long haul flight with no free armrests.  Remember, you are not being evil. You are educating them. They will learn to reserve their seats in advance.


Pix5If you love Russian roulette and want to take a chance on the standard meal provided by the airline, it doesn’t matter where you move. However, if you have had the same slimy chicken with rice and spinach on the side – all cooked in an overdose of multicolored spices – you will have discovered the fun of “special meals.” These come in a variety of formats. On a short trip try the fruit platter. You will be the envy of other passengers. But this meal is not recommended on long flights – you will feel hungry! A seafood meal is also a good option for those who have a penchant for fish – but don’t push your luck as sushi is unlikely to be on the menu unless you are traveling to Japan. If you are flying an airline of a non-muslim country, it is best to request a Muslim meal at the time of booking your flight. Low calorie and low cholesterol meals as well as vegetarian meals are also offered by most airlines. And more often than not, you will be served the special meal before others get to eat. Remember to inform the cabin crew of your seat change if you have ordered that special meal and have decided against sitting next to a wailing baby or a protruding midriff.


The crackling voice of the cabin staff is requesting all ground staff to leave the aircraft and I have to make my move….


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