Sunday, May 08, 2011

Business traveller tip - arriving at and leaving from new airports

The professional road warrior is a champion of routine. As highlighted in the great montage of Clooney's character's obsessions in Up in the Air, the routines of a business traveller are designed and honed around saving time. Every minute saved on every step of a trip adds up to hours of time at home rather than stuck behind a family of four, in front of a humourless immigration agent or in an intimate embrace with a TSA agent who did not even have the decency to buy you a drink first.

But the routines can get shattered by change. Especially when a new destination is added to the mix. For example I have been doing 200,000 miles a year for the last 10 years yet guaranteed that once a year I go to a place I've never been to before. This year it was Manila. Last year Taipei. Year before Seoul. The road warrior routine is shattered by the ins and outs of arriving and departing from and unknown airport. Hence this next in my series of BOOT business traveller tips - rules for arriving to and departing from a strange (read new) airport.


  1. Hotel name in local language: Bring with you the name, address and phone number of the hotel (in local language). Immigration forms often want to know where you are staying. For taxi drivers it helps to have the full name and address (see tip below for more). If you use a travel itinerary aggregation service (I recommend TripIt) make sure you have the details stored locally (ie in an app that does not need a network connection to work) or have a hard copy;
  2. Choose your driver: if you are getting a taxi to your hotel take a moment to confirm with the driver that he knows where he is going. This can be a challenge if you do not have a common language but it is worthwhile making an assessment of the likelihood of the taxi driver getting you to your hotel. If you are not convinced then get your hotel on the phone before the trips starts and get them talking to the driver. Or - pick another taxi. Much better to do the work before you leave the airport rather than on the side of free-way in a country with no speed limits or seat belts (I speak from experience). Bonus points - if a hot country check the air con works in the taxi before getting in;
  3. Don’t go with spruikers: In lots of airports around the world "helpful" guides with come up to you with promises of limousine rides and cheap taxis. Ignore them all. Not worth it
  4. Steer clear of shared shuttles: As I mentioned in a previous traveller tip on surviving economy class flying "Last thing you need after 14 + hours in a plane is the impromptu 2 hour tour of whatever town it is that you are staying in that will result from using a Super Shuttle or equivalent. A share bus/van arrangement like a Super Shuttle is a definite money saver but you pay for it with a long and winding trip to the hotel";
  5. Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but: Don’t mess around with immigration and customs forms. If you are on business don’t tick the "holiday/leisure box". If they ask for a hotel then put in the place you are staying. The consequences of half truths and lies on a custom/immigration form are not worth the risk; and
  6. Know the airport to hotel commute time and plan for it: airport to downtown trips vary in length across the world. Seoul Incheon and Narita are examples of trips that can take longer than an hour. Do the quick bit of research needed to get an estimate of how long your post flight trip will take. If it is a long trip then I have two tips for preparing for it. Firstly go to the bathroom on the plane before they hit the fasten seatbelt sign and begin to the descent. That way you will be "all clear" to get through customs/immigration, get bags and commute to the hotel. Second, take a bottle of water with you off the plane so you have something to drink during the commute.
  1. Find out if you need cash: There are still places (Manilla for example) where all travellers need to pay a departure tax/airport fee in cash before departing. In the case of Manilla, the only cash machine is outside the airport and the min amount to withdraw is more than you need to pay the tax. If you do not know this in advance it means a second trip through airport security to get to the ATM and a pocket for of pesos that need to be spent on chocolate once you have paid the tax. Before you go, research if you need to pay a tax and whether or not it needs to be paid in cash. Then prepare accordingly;
  2. Know your terminal: Simple but critical tip with some twists. The basic tip is to know which terminal your flight is leaving from. Travel between terminals can be tricky and cumbersome. There are two twists on this tip. Do not let the taxi driver leave until you have taken a second to confirm that you are at the right terminal. I do this by getting out of the cab first without my bag and taking (literally) 1 second to look around and see that I am at that right terminal. I am not saving leaving the bag in the car and walking off. Rather stand there with the door open pausing to check the surrounds before letting the taxi driver go. Then I grab my bag(s) and move on. By leaving the bag(s) in the taxi, the driver cannot drive off and leave me stranded if I'm in the wrong place. The second part of the tip is know (research if you have to) whether or not you are on a code share flight. Sometimes with code shares the terminal for the operating carrier is different to the terminal of marketing carrier. If you are on a code share flight make sure you know who the actual carrier is and confirm which terminal they go from;
  3. Scope out your lounge options: If you are in biz class or above and are a top tier frequent flyer you may have more than one option as to which lounge to go to. For example at Tokyo's Narita a top tier Qantas customer flying Qantas can go to the Qantas Business Class lounge or the JAL first class lounge. The JAL first class lounge is clearly the better choice but I have come across many QF customers that assumed they had to go to the Qantas lounge. Same too in Hong Kong between the Qantas and Cathay Lounges. Take a moment when looking for a lounge to see what options you may have; and
  4. Check out the train: When planning your trip back to the airport check out if there are options to go by train. Especially if you have a flight leaving with a peak hour departure time. A taxi/car service is easy to hail/catch from a hotel but in some cities you can be committing to a longer ride - especially at peak hour - than the express train. Take a moment to discuss fast train options with the concierge.
Any other tips?

For more business traveller tips check out this post.

Thanks to Myrrien on Flickr for the photo of a cart from Edinburgh airport found some 60 miles away from the airport

1 comment:

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