Quick Notes From the Sky

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Today I am off for the night for a quick visit to the Pacific Northwest. It had been way too long since I visited that part of the country, and when a good United fare presented itself a couple months ago, I jumped. While I’m not 100% sure it will happen, I am going to make an attempt to hit 1K (top tier status) with United this year, so expect more short little quasi-mileage runs throughout the year. For me, the perfect timing is mid-week while my kiddo is in school when I can leave after she goes to school in the morning, and get back the following day by about the time she gets out of school. That seems to result in minimal family life disruption and yet still allows for some time to explore a different city. This trip met those criteria perfectly, and I can’t wait to report back about my brief jaunt to the Northwest. Here are a few things that this trip has reminded me so far:

Pre-Check is Amazing:

I have written about the wonders of Pre-Check before, but then hit a dry spell where I wasn’t hearing the magical three beeps for a while. That spell was broken this morning where a beep-beep-beep signaled me into a security line that was totally empty. I got to keep on my boots and jacket, leave my computer in my purse, and my liquids in my bag. I didn’t have to either go through the nude-o-scope or opt out for my complimentary TSA massage. I got to just go through the regular metal detector and completed my entire security process in under 60 seconds from start to finish. Frankly, this is the way security should be for low risk individuals, and I strongly encourage anyone who is eligible to pursue getting Pre-Check.

I got it by virtue of having Global Entry and then applying with United to have Pre-Check, but some elite flyers within the various programs also have it without Global Entry. If you fly frequently and don’t have Global Entry yet, I would recommend getting it to expedite your international returns and then you also will have the added benefit of Pre-Check on your domestic trips. Global Entry costs $100 and lasts five years, but you get it reimbursed if you have the Amex Platinum card.

The only downside of Pre-Check is you grow to dislike the regular security process that much more when you don’t get Pre-Check. Children 12 and younger can go through the Pre-Check line with their parent, so imagine how magical it would be to skip the regular security process with your young kids!

Check out my previous post on Pre-Check if you want more details. I can’t emphasize enough how great it is.

Always be Prepared for Turbulence:

We had some pretty nasty turbulence today out of Houston, and it was a good reminder to always be prepared for that reality of flying. For example, the flight attendants couldn’t start their service for at least an hour into the flight due to needing to remain in their seats, so if you boarded relying on the for a snack or drink for your kid you would be SOL for quite a while. The same is true for boarding with a child that may need to use the restroom. Always do that as the very last thing before boarding, and use a pull-up when traveling with any kids that may not be able to hold it if turbulence requires the seatbelt sign to remain on longer than normal. Of course, this sort of turbulence also reinforces that it is so much safer (and easier) for children of all ages to be in a carseat or harness as it would have been really stressful to hold an infant in my lap during those big bumps we experienced this morning.

Yep, Early Boarding Still Matters:

When I posted about United’s new boarding procedure, there were some comments wondering why it matters when you get on the plane, and some even said they like to be the very last one on the plane. Well if you don’t have any carry-on bags that need to go in the overhead bins then I see some logic in that, but otherwise you are setting yourself for a situation where you almost certainly have to check your bag. That not only absolutely increases the amount of time you have to hang around your arrival airport, but it also increases the chances that your bag will take a separate trip from you altogether.

Thanks to having some friends who are United elite flyers that had upgrades that were going to expire at the end of this month, my trip was in first class today. Even in first class, the last one to board up-front still had a bunch of trouble finding overhead bin space, and had to get the crew involved to make a place for their bag.  So, when you board does matter, and this is even more true if you have a bunch of stuff for your kids to schlep on board.

Speaking of United’s new boarding procedure, I saw this boarding arrangement at gate C-40 in Houston. It indeed feels very Southwest to me. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, but I’m not sure it is the best solution for a carrier like United either. I guess time will tell.

20130109-134329.jpgOh and the secret to eating red soup during turbulence is to do it quickly, use a napkin as a shield/cover, and say a prayer.

20130109-134340.jpgTime to go explore the city!

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  1. I am assuming you went to Seattle, but if you are in Portland, let me know and I can give you some suggestions for the day!

  2. If you are in Seattle, we could get together for drinks tonight. I fully understand if you want a coveted night to yourself away from Little C! 🙂

  3. Busy, busy, busy! Now I can see why you didn’t have time to get those seat assignments squared away for your ski trip.

  4. Rick Steves always brags about being the last one on the plane on purpose which makes sense but he also likes to pack light and carry on. Seems to go against the grain on this issue.

  5. I too can’t say enough about Global Entry and Pre-Check. I was flying out of Ft. Lauderdale the other day at 7:05AM. I arrived at the Airport at 5:45AM and the line, literally, had about 200 people in it. It was snaked around all the barriers, was extended to a satellite barrier area and then curved around a corner and down a corridor. I was using a mobile boarding pass and didn’t get the 3 beeps (is it possible using MBP?) so I was perturbed when I saw the security line. I simply walked up to the separate line that had a total of 3 people, flashed my Global Entry and was at my gate in 3 minutes; it was glorious, and that one trip made it worth the 5 year GE fee.

  6. I had the same question as Tom above. Also, mind sharing why you are shooting for 1K? There arent huge benefits in going from Platinum to 1K (except for the upgrades), and if you are not a regular international traveler, or travel abroad on award tickets (both of which seem fairly true in your case), I dont get the incentive to go for 1K, especially if you are doing crazy mileage runs like this one just to get status.

  7. Laura, it was Seattle, but I hope to visit Portland in the near future as well and would love tips when that happens!
    Tommy, it is from the Amex Platinum, not Ink and it is automatic when you pay for Global Entry using that card.
    Merrily, just saw comments for this post (the next morning), but thanks so much for the offer!!
    Rebel, I do bring on a certain level of busy for myself. Fatal flaw perhaps. 😉
    Diana, cold, but snow free in SEA. 😉
    Dan, yeah, that strategy doesn’t work for me and my family.
    Tom, yes for these short trips it is easier to keep her on her normal routine at home than to haul her across the country.
    SB, wow! So you weren’t actually selected, but flashing your GE card worked. Good for you!
    JettyBoy, that is partly why I’m not 100% sure if I will hit 1K. I am going to hope I do and see where I end up toward the end of the year, but my heart won’t shatter if it doesn’t happen because you are right that Plat comes with many of the same benefits. However, I would love to get my hands on those extra upgrades that come with 1K. I get two regionals as Plat, but as 1K would get 4 regionals and 6 globals (which is clearly a huge jump from just 2 regionals). I would use a couple globals on international flights, but would mostly treat the as regionals, which would be very valuable to my family. I also wouldn’t mind the 100% mileage bonus and higher upgrade priority.

    I also happen to like these “crazy mileage runs” every now and then, so that is part of the fun in my case.

  8. Why do you only visit these places for one night? It seems like a huge effort and out of pocket cost for just an afternoon and evening in a new city

    • Cogswell, I’m sure this style of travel isn’t for everyone, but I do it for a few reasons. 1. That’s all the time I have without really starting to have an impact on family. 2. I can cram a bunch in a short amount of time by myself, so I actually get to do alot. 3. It’s fun for me and I have a relatively short attention span. 4. I only do it when there are good fares, so the cost impact is minimized. 5. I think the more I travel, and the more places/hotels I experience, the more I have to offer back to the travel community, so hopefully it is a win for more than just me.

  9. Since you have a decent following, it would be fun to be able to visit with you on these short trips.

    Maybe you could have a designated Mommypoints roadie in some of the major cities you might visit (or plan to visit) on the quasi-mileage runs, which can reserve an area of a local restaurant, hotel, etc and get the word out for dinner and a small lecture/Q&A. It is very rare when such an opportunity presents itself in our home towns, and you’d get to see your fan base. Just a thought.

    As for Global Entry, I thought the game was to get into the short line, and if you don’t get the beeps, you get to cut directly into the queue instead of lining up at the very back.

  10. I thought that was you on the flight on wed.

    We always pack our own snacks and buy a water because you never know what will happen. Also chewing/sucking something can help with the pressure change.

  11. Chris, that would be fun to meet up with others in some places sometimes! I’ve never saved time when I didn’t get the three beeps, but maybe I a doing it wrong!
    omatravel, you were on the AM IAH-SEA, too? Wish you would have said something. I was likely the one who looked like they were mostly still asleep. Ha ha. Totally agree with packing your own snacks and water. Hope you had a good trip!

  12. Yes, I moved from 4E to 1A so that a couple could sit together.

    Still in SEA, I’m flying back Sat. So far the trip has been ok.

    • I remember that! Very nice of you. I was in the last row of first for that flight…and bummed channel 9 wasn’t on to listen to the info about the choppy air! On time flight though so can’t complain too much!

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