Don’t Sleep During Take Off or Landing

When a plane ascends into the air or descends into its destination, the air pressure in the cabin changes rapidly with the altitude — and if you’re not properly prepared to acclimatize, it can wreak havoc on your eardrums.

As British pharmacist Angela Chalmers explained to Express: “A quick change in altitude affects the air pressure in the ear. This leads to a vacuum in the Eustachian tubes which makes the ears feel blocked and sound dull.”

“Try not to sleep during takeoff and descent as you will not be swallowing as frequently and this can lead to blocked ears,” she said.

According to MedlinePlus, a health information site by the US National Library of Medicine, if your ears stay blocked, it can create a number of health issues — such as dizziness, ear infections, eardrum damage, and at worst, nosebleeds and hearing loss.

Staying awake during takeoff and landing to pop your ears helps to “equalize” the air pressure on your ear drums.

“Swallowing or yawning opens the Eustachian tube and allows air to flow into or out of the middle ear. This helps equalise pressure on either side of the ear drum,” MedlinePlus states. “If the Eustachian tube is blocked, the air pressure in the middle ear is different than the pressure on the outside of the eardrum.”

Chewing gum, drinking water, sucking on a lolly or blowing your nose are other ways to prevent your ears from blocking the next time you fly.

This article originally appeared on News.com.au

Keep That Vent Open

(published in Travel and Leisure Magazine)

The next time you go to turn off the ventilation above your seat on an airplane — whether because you’re afraid of getting sick or you’re downright chilly — you ight want to reconsider.

 Using that tiny vent can actually work to your advantage, as it can help you avoid contact with certain microorganisms that can get you sick during a flight.

Travel + Leisure spoke to Dr. Mark Gendreau — the medical director and vice chair of emergency medicine at Lahey Medical Center-Peabody, and an expert on the spread of infectious diseases associated with air travel — to learn how it works and how travelers can best utilize the that little air conditioner.

“Ventilation on airplanes has gotten a bad reputation, but it’s completely unfounded,” Gendreau told T+L.

The flow pattern of air on an aircraft doesn’t necessarily work front to back, or back to front. It’s actually compartmentalized into various sections on the aircraft,” Gendreau said.

“As a rule of thumb, the air that you’re typically breathing and exposed to is usually anywhere from two to five rows surrounding your seat,” he added.

Here’s how the ventilation systems work.

Each of these sections (known as temperature control zones), receives air from overhead distribution nozzles that flow through the length of the cabin. The air exits the plane through a grill that’s often located beneath the windows, or where the side walls meet the floor of the plane.

This air then combines with the air outside before going through a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) to clear away dust and microbes before re-entering the plane.

The number of these ventilation zones varies depending on the aircraft, but each zone typically goes through this filtration process 15 to 30 times within the hour, with 50 percent of the air getting re-circulated and 50 percent of the air coming from outside, according to Gendreau.

The systems were primarily designed during the time when smoking was permitted on flights, Gendreau said, meaning airlines had to come up with an efficient and regular filtration system for their ventilation to clear the smoke from the cabins.

For this reason, HEPA filters can remove more than 99 percent of dust and microbes in the air, Gendreau said, though there are times where you’ll want to turn to your personal vent.

“For airborne viruses, it is incredibly important to ventilate, since ventilation becomes your main means of control besides isolating the affected person,” Gendreau said.

Airborne viruses, like tuberculosis and measles, are transmitted by tiny droplet nuclei that can hang in the air for up to five hours, Gendreau said.

While viruses associated with the common cold and upper respiratory track infections tend to be larger in size and heavier (consequently falling to the floor rather quickly), these particles linger. Which is where your vent comes in.

By using the vent and turning it on medium or low, you can create an invisible air barrier around you that creates turbulence — simultaneously blocking these particles and forcing them to the ground faster.

Planes also have low humidity, which means your mucous membrane can dry out on during a flight. When this happens, you’re more susceptible to contracting a virus, which is why keeping them away becomes all the more important.

And because those heavy common cold particles can still travel up to six feet every time you cough, sneeze, or speak, it’s equally important to wipe down and avoid touching surfaces (like that tray table you were probably resting your head on).

How to Advoid Airplane Issues

(Recently posted in Travel Agent)

 

Booking a last-minute summer trip, but worried about the hassles of air travel? From time crunch and flight delays to waiting lines and cumbersome carry-on luggage, airplane travel can stress even the most seasoned traveler.

In honor of National Aviation Week, which takes place during the third week of August, Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert, author, and the founder of Access to Culture (www.protocolww.com), who is also a frequent international flyer, offers this advice on the most common air travel issues and how to resolve them:

Security Checkpoint: To minimize time spent at the security checkpoint, be prepared and travel light, minimizing obstacles to safe, smooth travel. Make the security checkpoint go by quickly by emptying pockets ahead of time, removing laptop from bags, and removing shoes and belts to not only make it faster for you, but for those behind you. Also make sure that all liquids are in the appropriately sized containers before heading to the airport.  Remember to always be kind and respectful to others because everyone has a flight to catch too- not just you.

TSA Hold Up: While TSA screenings are an important safety measure, the long lines and extra time spent during bag searches and pat-downs can be a hassle. Remember that being compliant will get you on the plane faster. Answer any questions the officer may have and be willing to have your bags searched. Any reluctance to do so could cause suspicion and may take more of your time.

Overbooked Airplanes: Airlines often compensate passengers who volunteer to give up their seat by paying for all expenses such as hotel and meals, in addition to giving them a flight voucher. If you are in absolutely no rush to get to your destination, it may be something to consider. However, if youre one of the ones chosen to give up your seat, but you have to be on that flight for other commitments, explain your situation and politely refuse, all while maintaining an amicable tone.

Overweight Baggage: If a crew member at the check-in desk tells you that your bag is overweight and you have to pay an extra fee, kindly ask if you can step aside to take some of your belongings out and place them in another bag or suitcase. Once they give you the okay, look behind you and signal to the next person in line that they can go. This proper airline etiquette will ensure youre being conscious of others time.

Passenger Clash: If you have a small disagreement with another passenger, first try to resolve it among yourselves. If the problem escalates or continues, ask the flight attendant for assistance. In matters such as putting your tray up and down, turning off you phone or any other flight procedure, you should not question the crew. However, if there is a customer service concern, you can politely speak to the head staff.

Crying Children: Crying infants should be tolerated; the mother wants them to stop crying way more than you do. Refrain from giving the parents long glares- they know their child is being loud and your stare wont stop it. In the case of older children, try blocking them out with headphones or earmuffs before talking to the parents if the problem persists.

Uncomfortable Arrangements: You have a right to be comfortable, and issues such as seat-kicking, inconsiderate neighbors, and loud media should be addressed by a flight attendant. The staff is trained on how to deal with these problems in the most inoffensive way possible. Tell a member of the crew about your problem and they will take care of it.

Delta and Jet Blue use Biometrics for Identification

(article was recently in New York Times)

Two United States air carriers, Delta Air Lines and JetBlue, recently began passenger trials in biometric identification, a technology that verifies a person’s identity through fingerprints, facial features or other physical characteristics.

In early June, JetBlue, teaming up with United States Customs and Border Protection, introduced optional self-boarding on flights from Logan International Airport in Boston to Beatrix International Airport in Aruba. The process requires no boarding pass and takes about three seconds, said Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s executive vice president for customer experience.

Fliers who choose to try it out step up to a camera at the boarding gate for a quick photo. This image is matched with passport, visa or immigration photos in the Customs and Border Protection database, and once flight details and identity are confirmed, a check mark appears on the camera and fliers can board the plane. So far, more than 90 percent of passengers are using this self-boarding process, Ms. Geraghty said, and if the trial is successful, the airline plans to expand biometric identification to more flights.

“The technology is revolutionary because your face becomes your passport and travel document,” she said. (These boarding processes, however, are not a replacement for the security screening done by the Transportation Security Administration.)

Delta is using biometric identification to allow fliers to check their own bags at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, the airline’s second-largest hub after Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The airline invested $600,000 in four self-service bag drop machines equipped with biometric technology; a passport is needed to use it.

Passengers print out their luggage stickers at a check-in kiosk and then head to one of the bag drop machines, where they scan their passports and have their picture taken by the machine. Once the images on their passports are matched with the images from the machine and their identities are confirmed, they place their bags on the belt; the machine weighs the bags and moves them on.

Gareth Joyce, the company’s senior vice president for airport customer experience, said the process took around 30 seconds.

Best Airlines In The World

Given the recent news about a United Airlines passenger being forcibly dragged off a plane, many travelers are wondering which airlines they can trust. Luckily, TripAdvisor just announced the winners of its first annual Travelers’ Choice awards for airlines, revealing travelers’ favorite carriers in the U.S. and around the globe.

Matej Kastelic / Shutterstock

TripAdvisor reveals the best airlines in the U.S and world.

The 50 award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of airline reviews and ratings submitted by travelers worldwide, over a yearlong period. Factors including outstanding service, quality and value were all taken into consideration when tabulating the list.

Top Ten Airlines in the World

1. Emirates, United Arab Emirates

2. Singapore Airlines, Singapore

3. Azul, Brazil

4. JetBlue, United States

5. Air New Zealand, New Zealand

6. Korean Air, South Korea

7. Japan Airlines, Japan

8. Thai Smile, Thailand

9. Alaska Airlines, United States

10. Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia

Class of Service Global Winners

Best First Class: Emirates, United Arab Emirates

Best Business Class: Aeroflot, Russia

Best Premium Economy Class in the World: Air New Zealand, New Zealand

Best Economy Class in the World: Emirates, United Arab Emirates

North America Awards

Top Major Airline: Delta Air Lines, United States

Top Midsize & Low-Cost Airlines:

1. JetBlue, United States

2. Alaska Airlines, United States

3. Southwest, United States

4. Virgin America, United States

5. Westjet, Canada

How to Keep From Being Bumped

A new survey by Virtuoso reveals advice from professional travel advisors on how to cope with airline disruptions, including the much reported-on bumping situation that occurred on board United Flight 3411 in April. Virtuoso advisors recommend a multifaceted approach to protecting passengers from being bumped involuntarily, and insights on what to do if passengers unexpectedly find themselves in that situation.

Respondents to the newest Virtuoso Flash Survey reveal their top tips for guarding against bumping:

  • Establish status with a specific airline and fly it or within its alliance partners whenever possible
  • Reserve seat assignments as soon as the flight is booked
  • Check-in online 24 hours before the flight to reconfirm seats
  • Avoid sitting in the very front or back rows of Economy Class as these seats may be displaced in the event of an equipment downsize on domestic U.S. flights. The last row is often reserved for families traveling with small children as well.

Virtuoso’s travel advisors say that bumping passengers against their will rarely happens, and only 30 percent of respondents said it had happened to their clients. However, should passengers find themselves in this situation, the network’s expert advisors suggest the following:

  • Insist the airline rebook the next available flight, even on another airline
  • Comply with the request but politely ask for more compensation than what the airline is offering
  • Contact their travel advisor for assistance
  • Ask for a credit card-issued gift card instead of an airline voucher, especially if not a frequent traveler

While 28 percent of respondents said that their clients have asked them to book other carriers as a direct result of the United Airlines incident, the majority have not. Reasons cited for why people will not move away from any particular airline in the wake of a publicized situation include:

  • Certain airlines dominate specific routes and airports, leaving clients to feel like they’re without other viable options
  • The airline’s schedule best suits their travel plans
  • Clients have status on the airline or its partner airlines, and do not wish to establish loyalty with another carrier or alliance
  • Clients understand involuntary passenger bumping is not limited to any one airline

What Do Piliots Do On Long Trips?

(This article was recently posted in Conde Nast Magazine.  I found it interesting about what pilots do on long trips)
When the plane takes off, the work is only just beginning.

For most people, long flights are something to be endured with the help of sleeping masks, movies, and free mini bottles of wine. But while passengers are trying to relax and mentally check out, pilots are doing just the opposite. Even after takeoff, there’s still plenty to do.

But what, exactly? In fact, they wear many hats.

Meteorologist and Communicator

“When we’re speeding over the globe, we are going well over 500 miles per hour, and we are in an incredibly hostile environment,” says Nick Anderson, a London-based captain for an international airline.

WHERE YOU SHOULD EAT IN AUSTRALIA

Specifically? The outside air temperature is -76 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is so thin that a person sitting on the wing would be dead in less than a minute. Not to mention that the plane is soaring over huge population centers, oceans that take hours to cross, and brutal terrain that would make a rapid descent impossible.

“Nature is impassive. It doesn’t care if you are there or not,” Anderson says. “So while you’re sipping your champagne, all of that is just inches away from you.”

Though flight paths are set ahead of departure, pilots determine mid-flight if a change—or slight re-routing—is needed.

“Weather is a huge problem for us on the long flights,” says Anderson, noting that on a single flight, a plane often passes through three or four weather systems, varying in type, intensity, and level of difficulty. “You can’t really sit back and relax. Going as fast as we are, you come upon these weather systems very, very quickly. We give thunderstorms a wide berth, and that requires traffic clearance.”

Most of the major airlines, too, have installed advanced weather mapping technology that gives details well beyond a red blob on a screen. This, along with weather reports from air traffic control, means turbulence is often anticipated. But pilots also rely on other pilots, flying aircraft ahead of them on their same route, for reports of clear air turbulence, which cannot be picked up by any radar, or other unexpected problems.

There are multiple radio systems for airplane pilots. One pilot is responsible for talking to air traffic control if they need to change course to avoid a thunderstorm; the other is manning the air-to-air communication between airplanes on their same flight path. Across remote areas of air space such as the Atlantic, Anderson says, there is a common air-to-air frequency that they listen on: These radio conversations offer anecdotal details about the severity and duration of any issues—and sometimes, even baseball scoresreceived from dispatchers on the ground.

Counselor and Diplomat

Once the aircraft doors close, the captain is responsible for all personnel issues that may arise, and is legally the primary authority. While the laws governing jurisdiction can get complicated, the captain’s authority is upheld by multiple international agreements, like the Tokyo Convention of 1963 and the Montreal Convention of 1999. He or she has the final word on whether or not a passenger situation requires a flight diversion for safety reasons.

Analyst and Engineer

Much of the work pilots do is strategic. Airplanes are complicated machines, and there are numerous gauges and systems to monitor, from engine oil pressure to hydraulic fluid contents to air conditioning ducts (making sure the guy in seat 32B isn’t too hot).

“We don’t really want to land with excess fuel, because you have to burn more fuel to carry more fuel,” Anderson says. Put simply? Aircraft don’t carry an abundance of extra fuel—instead, it’s up to the pilots to do calculations throughout the flight to make sure they have enough fuel to reach their destination. In the off chance they miscalculate, the pilots will divert to a closer airfield for refueling before taking off for the final destination.

Not only is it the amount of fuel important, but so is the fuel’s temperature. The outside air can be so cold that some of the fuel tanks may cool down to dangerous levels, restricting its flow. The pilot monitors these gauges and can move cold fuel into inner tanks where the temperature is warmer.

While one pilot is monitoring all the systems, the other is doing all the paperwork. The pilots are given a written flight plan before departure, and this pilot is responsible for making notes on the paper of any changes to that plan throughout the duration of the flight. These notes are so detailed, Anderson says, that an inspector should be able to recreate the aircraft’s exact flight path based on the paperwork.

Laptops May Soon Be Banned on European Flights

This article was recently posted on Wendy Perrin’s travel tip sight.

Very soon, the Department of Homeland Security is expected to expand the laptop ban to include flights coming into the U.S. from Europe. Less than two months after the first ban required that fliers arriving from several Middle East countries pack their laptops, tablets, game consoles, digital cameras, and other devices in their checked lugged, there’s now news that planes arriving from the European Union will be subject to similar rules. As Skift pointed out, this extension “would affect trans-Atlantic routes that carry as many as 65 million people a year on over 400 daily flights”—and we know that includes many of our own readers, who are planning trips to Europe right now.

Unfortunately, any ban on carrying laptops and tablets into the passenger cabin impacts not only business travelers like me, whose work productivity will be affected, but also professional photographers like my husband; families with children who use tablets, game devices, or laptops as part of their long-haul-flight toolkit; and countless other fliers who rely on their tech devices in various ways.

Apart from being inconvenient, the current ban—which affects flights from Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—is confusing, and a lot has been left undefined.  The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s wording is that nothing “larger than a smartphone” can be carried onboard, but the agency is vague about what that exact size is. A FAQ on its website says, “Smartphones are commonly available around the world and their size is well understood by most passengers who fly internationally. Please check with your airline if you are not sure whether your smartphone is impacted.”

So far, it seems that the ban is being implemented inconsistently in foreign airports. When my husband flew home from Morocco with our two boys, one son’s Nintendo DS game console was confiscate out of his backpack, while the other son got to keep his. As expected, though, in the weeks after the first ban was implemented, a few of the affected airlines started to test out solutions: Qatar is providing complimentary laptops to premium-class passengers, Emirates introduced a laptop-handling service, and Etihad is offering free Wi-Fi (which you can access with your phone).

So in the interest of helping all travelers prepare (not just those flying from airports or on airlines listed in the original ban, and not just those planning trips to Europe), we’ll keep updating this FAQ as we learn more about how airlines and airports will be handling the changes. In the meantime, here are some answers and solutions.

What devices have to be checked now?

While it’s safe to expect that laptops, tablets, game units, and digital cameras must be packed in checked luggage, it seems that you could easily be at the whim of an individual security officer or your airline’s interpretation of what devices are acceptable for carry-on. The DHS FAQ says only: “Generally, passengers will be instructed to place large electronic devices in their checked bags when traveling from one of the last point of departure airports. We provided guidance to the airlines who will determine how to implement and inform their passengers.” How the airlines are choosing to implement and inform is inconsistent. “The manner of a Security Directive/Emergency Amendment is to tell an airline the end result required (no electronic devices larger than a cell phone allowed in the cabin) and allow them the flexibility to implement within their business model.”

What airports does the ban affect?

If you are flying through or from any of the following airports, the current ban applies to you: Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH). The specifics of a European-flight ban are still being worked out.

Am I exempt if I’m part of a trusted traveler program?

No. Membership in Global Entry, TSA Precheck, Clear, or any trusted traveler program does not exempt you from the ban. You still have to comply with the new luggage rules.

Related: The Real Things You Should Be Wary Of When Traveling Abroad (Hint: It’s Not Terrorism)

What can I do to prepare for the inconveniences of the ban?

•Turn your smartphone into a laptop.
Most of us think of portable keyboards as accessories for tablets, but they can be used with smartphones too. The screen may be smaller than you’d like, but at least it’ll let you get through some emails while you’re in the air. (If you’re accustomed to using more than one electronic device in-flight, you might consider getting a second phone. After all, airlines are not limiting the number of smartphones you can bring onboard. You could use one phone as a tablet or computer while you’re listening to music on the other. Get a cheap burner phone that you need not activate with a mobile carrier; you can just use it with Wi-Fi.)

•Read offline.
E-readers are part of the ban, so if that leaves you without something to peruse on the plane, you still have options. Add the Kindle app to your phone and do your reading there; the app will maintain your library, with bookmarks and notes, across all your devices. If you’re a periodicals reader, check out an app such as Instapaper, which lets you save any article or video from the web and read it later offline. And of course, you could always go back to old-school books. Now that there aren’t any tech devices in your carry-on, you may have room for the latest bestsellers.

•Travel with an inexpensive “travel laptop.”
If you’re like me, you cannot possibly travel without your laptop, and you’re loath to check it. After all, even with TSA locks, most checked luggage is easy to open and subject to sticky fingers. That’s why I plan to buy a cheap laptop for trips on which my flights will be affected. I’ll probably buy a ChromeBook, which costs as little as $165. I’ll copy the files I need from my “real laptop” onto USB drives and carry these in my carry-on, and I’ll relegate the ChromeBook to my checked bag when necessary, leaving my “real laptop” safely at home. Should the ChromeBook get lost or stolen, it won’t be a big deal.

Related: A Pro Photographer’s Solutions to the Airline Electronics Ban

•Insure your checked luggage.
If you’re willing to entrust your laptop to your checked luggage, know that airlines reimburse very little if your baggage is lost, stolen, or damaged; and they don’t cover valuables (such as laptops) in checked luggage. A few credit cards do provide loss and damage coverage for valuables in checked bags. The American Express Platinum Card provides up to $2,000 for checked-bag losses, although it caps electronics at $250. Travel insurance company TravelGuard reimburses up to $500 for electronic devices in lost luggage.

Related: How to Buy Travel Insurance: What It Covers, When You Need It

•Take the time to install anti-theft software and features on your devices.
In case you’re forced to check your laptop, install or activate theft-protection apps on it. Apps such as Prey or Find My Mac allow you not only to track where your laptop is, but also to lock it and erase it completely—and, depending on the software, even enable you to take a photo of the thief.

For an additional bit of tracking service, consider attaching a Tile to your various devices. These little squares have GPS locators in them that speak to a master Tile you keep somewhere safe. Most commonly, they are used for helping the perpetually forgetful find their misplaced keys and wallets; use the master Tile (or your phone) to set off a sounding beacon on your lost item. This isn’t so helpful if your laptop, camera, or game unit is thousands of miles away, but the app has a cool secondary feature: Activate the “Notify when found” option, and if anyone who has a Tile comes within range of your tiled item, you’ll get a notification of its location.

Stay tuned because we expect to see a burgeoning industry of travel-specific anti-theft gadgets to fill this heightened need. For example, the new PetaPixel is a remote shutter button for digital cameras that comes with the added bonus of geotagging for theft protection.

•Choose your airlines carefully.
Some of the impacted airlines are innovating to make life easier for premium-class passengers. Qatar Airways has begun offering first- and business-class passengers a complimentary laptop loan service; passengers can download their work onto a USB before stepping onboard and collecting their loaner laptop. Etihad Airways is lending premium-class passengers iPads and free Wi-Fi. Some airlines are offering a service at its gates where they say they will collect and securely pack passengers’ electronic items, for pick-up at the destination airport.

 

Be a smarter traveler: Use Wendy’s WOW List to plan your next trip. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter @wendyperrin, and sign up for her weekly newsletter to stay in the know.

What Entry Program is Good For You

Mike Shaw doesn’t want me to write about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s new Mobile Passport app. He used it on a recent trip from Beijing to Seattle, and it worked flawlessly.

“I breezed by the line and went directly to the document-checking agent,” remembers Shaw, who works in Beijing as an operations-support supervisor for an American company. “I was through customs in 90 seconds. Amazing.”

Shaw is accustomed to three-hour waits. When he mentioned his positive experience to a customs agent recently, the officer just rolled his eyes.

“Yeah,” the agent replied, “until everybody starts using it.”

Between passports, passport cards, mobile passports and a constellation of trusted-traveler programs such as Global Entry, Sentri and Nexus, international travelers have a lot to choose from this summer. Chances are, there’s a program that will suit your itinerary and help you avoid long lines when you come home.

Passports and passport cards : If you cross the border, you’ll need either a passport book ($135 for adults) or a passport card ($55). Unless you use the Mobile Passport app, you’ll have to stand in all the usual lines. (Yes, the three-hour ones that Shaw complained about.) Which one is right for you? A passport card, while cheaper, only works when entering the United States at land-border crossings and via ports of entry from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. It can’t be used for international air travel. Get a passport book instead.

Mobile Passport app: This free smartphone app, now in use at one cruise port and 20 U.S. airports, lets you cut some of the customs lines by filling out your paperwork in advance online. Arriving passengers can head straight to the “Mobile Passport Control” line. “This is a particularly good option for those who do not travel frequently enough to justify the cost of Global Entry,” says Gina Gabbard, vice president for leisure sales at Tzell Travel Group.

Global Entry: This is the gold standard for expedited border crossing. Global Entry lets you cut the line at customs at U.S. airports and land borders when you arrive, and includes TSA PreCheck, the Transportation Security Administration’s trusted-traveler program. A five-year Global Entry membership costs $100 and requires online pre-enrollment, as well as an in-person visit to an enrollment center for an interview, where you’ll have to verify your ID and be fingerprinted. “The application process is brutal,” says Michelle Weller, a travel agent with Travel Leaders Network in Houston, “but it’s worthwhile.” Weller says the background check is thorough: One of her clients was denied because of a bar fight in college that resulted in a misdemeanor assault charge.

Nexus: If you travel between the United States and Canada, this is the program for you. Nexus lets you cut the line at airports and land borders when entering the two countries. It’s half the price of Global Entry ($50 for five years) but the requirements are similar — pre-enrollment, an interview and fingerprinting. Nathan Smith, an American who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, likes Nexus because it helps him avoid long waits at the border when he’s driving. If you’re an American, you get Global Entry benefits with your Nexus card. “Also, it automatically qualifies you for PreCheck,” he says.

Sentri: This trusted-traveler program allows expedited clearance for preapproved, low-risk travelers from southern land-border crossings. The benefits and requirements are virtually the same as for Nexus, but the cost is $122.25 for five years. If you have to cross the Mexican border in a car frequently, you should consider this program. Keith Shadle, who runs an information site called EasySentri, which helps travelers apply for trusted-traveler status, knows the benefit of Sentri well. He says it saves him hours whenever he navigates one of the world’s busiest land-border crossings at San Ysidro, Calif. But for American citizens, he says there may be a better path to the fast lanes. “Sentri benefits are included with Global Entry membership,” he says. “If you are a U.S. citizen and are thinking of using or wanting to use Sentri lanes, get Global Entry.”

By the way, if you want to figure out how much time these cards will save you, check out the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Wait Time website.

So what’s the bottom line?

If you’re an infrequent international traveler — one or two border crossings a year — get a passport and use the Mobile Passport app. If you want to avoid the intrusive questions of an in-person interview or are uneasy about a government background check, this is also the way to go. If you live near the Canadian or Mexican border and make a lot of land crossings, consider Nexus or Sentri. If you travel abroad more than a few times a year, you’ll want Global Entry. Time and again, that’s what experienced travelers recommend.

“Nothing is as time-efficient as Global Entry when returning to the United States,” says Andy Abramson, who runs a marketing firm in Los Angeles and spends almost as much time in the air as on the ground. Global Entry is even accepted in other countries, he says. He recently used it for entry to New Zealand, which saved him hours of waiting in line.

This summer, there are more ways than ever to avoid long waits at the airport or at land-border crossings. But don’t wait too long to decide. The application process can take weeks, and in some cases, months for some of these trusted-traveler programs. If you take too long to decide, you could find yourself stuck in a line.

Elliott is a consumer advocate, journalist and co-founder of the advocacy group Travelers United. Email him at chris@elliott.org.

Read more from Travel:

How to Pack for a Cruise When Flying

(This article was recently posted in Travel Plus)

Packing for a cruise is not as easy as it once was. Mostly because of airline restrictions on bags, gone are the days of bringing multiple suitcases coming or going weighing more than 50 pounds, unless of course, you are traveling from a homeport without the need to fly to embark the ship. So, for now, let’s look at packing tips requiring airfare before and after a sailing.

BAG QUANTITY AND WEIGHT

Before considering anything else, it’s most crucial to check with your airline to see what limits apply to you in regards to how many suitcases you can take, at least for free if at all, and what weight restrictions are in place for each. Some airlines are more lenient on first bag fees than others, and loyalty levels will get you the furthest with extra free luggage and even weight limits closer to 75 pounds.

Also, consider buying a small looping bag scale to ensure you’re always within the numbers. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’re over at the airport. If you do happen to have the chance to bring more than one bag, consider packing an empty duffel for any non-fragile souvenirs to bring with you on your return too.

DRESS CODES

As far as outfits are concerned, you’ll want to consider the dress codes of your specific cruise line next. Fewer expect formal wear than in the past, but some still expect it. If you’d rather not bring suits and cocktail dresses, most brands offer casual dining options on the very few evenings when formal is the designation.

OUTFITS

If you are keen to bring the greatest variety of outfits as possible to be well prepared for any event, you can wear the same base formal clothing, for instance, while changing up the accessories such as ties, scarves and jewelry the next time.

For daily casual options, my wife recommends a mix-and-match wardrobe in which all tops work with all bottoms. As far as weight distribution is concerned, also be mindful of packing heavier items such as shoes in a carry-on versus a checked bag.

LAUNDRY

It’s fairly easy to pack enough clothes for a weeklong cruise in a single suitcase. Once voyages get longer, however, laundry starts to become necessary. When cruises exceed seven days, consider still packing only a week’s worth of clothes and then plan to either self-launder or pay for full-service cleaning. Some cruise lines occasionally offer a special flat rate for stuffing a single laundry bag with clothes, which is a much better value than a la carte pricing.

PLASTIC BAGS

A helpful thing to bring that does not take up any more room or weight are plastic bags — trash or resealable ones.

For any laundry that is left upon your return home, trash bags are ideal to keep them separate from any remaining clean clothes. Also, resealable bags are great to take anything that might leak such as sunscreen as well as for to bring home any wet items such as swimwear that did not have a chance to dry before flying again.

Additionally, they can be a great way to protect delicate electronics from moisture on shoreside beach outings or in inclement weather.

FRAGILE ITEMS

If ever you have any fragile items, it’s always best to pack them in a carry-on, but if you have something such as a bottle of wine, liquid restrictions require that they are checked. The best-case scenario would be to ship such items home, but if you must have them with you, keep them as far away from the edges and sides of the suitcase as possible and pad them to the center with plenty of shock-absorbing clothes. Just be sure to also put them first in a sealable plastic bag to avoid unintended merlot colored T-shirts upon arrival.

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