Travel Tips

How to Win at the Airport

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Art is an economist who blogs for us from time to time.  We like to think of him as having a PhD in maximizing “win”.  After our trip to Omaha this weekend and getting stuck in the airport, we need as much of a reminder of this as anyone!  For more information on Art, check out this intro post.

dreamstime_xs_13127140With every passing day, I come to believe more and more that we create a lot of our own unhappiness and then blame other people for it. I’m terrible about this, as you can imagine, and I won’t get into detail. However, here are a few things I try to do to fend off frustration when it approaches.

1.     Ask “can I change this?”

If not, then accept it as quickly as possible, adapt to it, and move on. It’s easy to dwell on this, but Biblical wisdom is pretty clear here: which one of us, by worrying, can add a minute to our lives? We can’t add any minutes, but we can subtract a lot of them. Indeed, we can recapture lots and lots of minutes we would otherwise lose to worry by taking a bit of perspective. If it was the result of a series of accumulated mistakes, you can review those mistakes later, when you’re debriefing the situation.

2.     Don’t start an indignant conversation

Don’t start an indignant conversation with a fellow traveler about how the airline, car rental company, or hotel done ya wrong. First, people make mistakes. Second, when firms do things you don’t understand, there’s a decent chance they have a good reason for it.

3.     When You Feel Mean, Do Something Nice

I just did this before I started writing this post: when you start to get frustrated with someone, do something nice for him or her. Helping someone with her luggage when she wasn’t moving at the pace I would’ve liked really helped improve my mood.

Have you seen that Louis CK clip on Conan O’Brien where he talks about enjoying the miracle of flight? Change your perspective just a bit: you’re doing something your ancestors thought was impossible. You’re also not the only person in the world. And when you’re tempted to blow your top at someone, remember when others showed you grace when you screwed up, or just when you were the bearer of bad news. Pay that forward. The world will be a better place for it.


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  1. MingoV

    October 9, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    This advice is not specific for airports, so why the headline? The advice reads like a Pollyanna diary entry.

    The reality is that one cannot win at an airport in the USA. One can only lose with varying amounts of anger or grace. Arriving at the airport 60-90 minutes early to deal with security theater is not a win. Having to present ID and hoping that someone with the same name as you isn’t on the “No Fly” list is not a win. Waiting while a TSA agent tests your baggage for explosive residues and rummages through your clothes and other items is not a win. Standing in line for 40 minutes waiting for security theater is not a win. Having the contents of your carry-on bag shown on monitors is not a win. Having nail files and 3 oz tubes of toothpaste confiscated is not a win. Having to prove that your laptop is not a bomb or a gun container is not a win. Having to choose between the nudie-scan or public groping is not a win, especially when you choose the former and have to get publicly groped anyway.

    You might be able to win by getting a requested seat change or earlier flight. You might be able to win if the restrooms were clean. These ‘wins’ are trivial compared with the non-wins above.

  2. Cynthia

    October 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I agree about the headline, but your rant on the rest of the article is not appropriate. It’s not Pollyanna – it’s a survival guide. For any of the items you complain about in 2nd paragraph, were your complaints effective in curing them? Or did it just cause you stress and aggravation? And that, my friend, just cost you precious minutes of life. Minutes that may now see you hooked up to a heart monitor and oxygen mask after a lifetime of seething. Relax a bit, cut others some slack, and watch for the unexpected joyful memories that appear out of miserable beginnings.

  3. LarsErikNYC

    October 15, 2013 at 5:13 am

    I enjoyed reading the three items… was not what I expected. I have other strategies — far different from these — but when a real win isn’t possible, I sure do agree that this is helpful advice.

    By the way, I disagree quite emphatically with what MingoV had to say.

  4. H. G.

    November 24, 2013 at 3:38 am

    What moron wrote this article? A whopping 3 points? All of which were weak and irrelevant?

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