Alright, if you wanna lose faith in humanity, travel international economy class without status. These flights are the epicenter of the leisure traveler. From arriving at the airport to check-in to walking out of customs on the other side, this is the god damn worst. Let’s not get it twisted. I’m grateful to travel the world. Not only getting paid to do so, but not having to front the costs myself. That’s the dream. But let’s go into some details of the difference of flying internationally for business and the 3 ways to cruise through airports and airplanes. Both with, and without any status (first class, with airline status, TSA Pre/Nexus, etc.), and why it’s so important.
First Case: Worst Case
First, let’s go through the worst-case scenario. This means you’re relatively new to touring, you have no airline status, you have the cheapest seat selection, and you have no money to ship anything so you have too much gear with you.
You arrive at check-in… It’s a disaster. There are people everywhere, everyone’s lost, there are endless lineups that you wait in for too long, just to find out that you’re in the wrong line altogether. You roll up to the kiosk (since everything is automated at this stage). Let’s face it… the airline doesn’t wanna talk to you. You have everything prepared. You tape 2 guitars together to only pay for 1 checked bag, you have your name on everything, you have Pelican cases to keep your stuff safe. To your understanding, you got it together.
Let me tell you a side story real quick. I was checking-in on an international flight a couple of years ago. Same situation as above, but with a little less baggage. I was flying with an airline with no privileges at a terminal that I wasn’t comfortable with and back to the bottom level. Look, I’ll admit, I’m used to doing things a certain way and I don’t like it when I have to change. Anyways, I get to the terminal and wait… continue to wait… wait a little longer… ok, fine… I get to the kiosk and you guessed it. The reader can’t read my passport. The attendant comes to assist and I give him the overview. He can tell I’m annoyed. I tell him it’s not reading my passport. He looks at the screen and says, “look, there’s your passport info right there”…
IT WAS THE FUCKING TEMPLATE. THERE WAS AN AVATAR FOR THE PICTURE. THE NAME SAID, “JOHN DOE” AND ALL THE INFORMATION WAS X’D OUT. IT SAYS, “PASSPORT NOT RECOGNIZED”. It was at that point, I knew I was fucked.
Fast forward a little. It takes 2 hours for me to get on the other side of security so I grab the fastest thing I could eat. I’m now running late. Successfully, but stressfully, I get on the plane… fine. Wouldn’t you guess it, that turkey sandwich must have been sitting out too long because I got the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had. Isn’t that lovely?
Back to it…
Anyways, back to the point. When you get your bags checked-in, it costs more than you thought it would because someone stuffed their toiletry bag into your pelican. It’s now overweight. Regardless, you keep moving. From the tale of the story above, YOU EAT NOTHING. Or, go to a restaurant and eat something safe and cooked. You roll up to the gate. It’s a disaster. Again, people everywhere, no one will wait their turn to get into the correct zone line-up so they’re in the way, not to mention that you’re in the last zone.
You start boarding. You have too much baggage, and you’re trying to get all the way to the back of the plane where your cheap seat (that you didn’t get to choose) is located. There’s nowhere for your carry-on guitar to fit in the overhead storage. The airline gate checks it and you spend the entire flight thinking about it getting broken or lost cuz it’s in a soft bag. You try to sleep, but you’re in the middle of a small bladder and a Chatty Cathy who’s visiting her kid who’s studying abroad. Did I mention you’re on a red-eye?
You get up to go to the bathroom but have to travel further up the aisle away from your seat to get in line. You wait. The person in front of you is standing there, barefoot. This is so gross. That carpet is repulsive and the worst part is, they’re about to go into a bathroom barefoot. I don’t care who you are… don’t do that. You finally get to just outside the bathroom where you inhale the not so subtle whiffs of the funk leaking out of the bathroom. The stars have aligned, your turn finally comes.
You enter. There is toilet paper covering the floor. But as you get closer, you see that the floor is soaked underneath because someone didn’t really clean up after themselves. Disgusted, you cover your nose with your shirt and try to be as fast as possible. You lift the lid to the toilet, and there is poo stuck to the side of the wall. You battle through and go to wash your hands, but there is a loogie in the sink. The sink isn’t deep so you manage to wash your hands without touching it, but you know damn well it splashed onto the back of your hand. The plane finally lands, a couple of stupid people clap. Everything stinks. As you’re de-boarding, you walk through the aisle and see the mounds of trash that these disgusting people have left behind for someone else to clean up.
You get to baggage claim to wait for an hour for your bag that inevitably got soaked, damaged, or straight up lost.
Now it’s time to go to work.
Needless to say, this situation is the worst.
But, something you need to understand: we’ve all done it. Not all bands and artists have to go through that, but you can bet your ass that every crew guy has. For those of you currently going through it: IT GETS BETTER, I PROMISE.
Second Case: Civilization
Second, I’ll go over the way I generally travel: economy plus (which is the section between first class and economy). They have more legroom, sometimes a closer bathroom, and are first to get snacks and drinks from the cart. For the most part, you’re surrounded by either professional travelers or people who will pay a little bit more for basic luxuries. This is generally a civilized way to travel. When I roll up to the terminal, since I have airline status, there is a separate check-in where I speak to a person. I get 3 free bags that are overweight (up to 70lbs). They take my bags there, and there is no secondary bag drop unless, of course, you have tools, gear, or anything fragile/oversized.
I have time since I skip through the line-ups with TSA-Pre. I don’t have to take my shoes off anymore. This is ideal. I recommend this for any traveller. It’s like $85 for 5 years in the US or if you do the immigration section as well, NEXUS is only $50 for 5 years and it covers you for travelling up north to Canada. Here’s a link to apply for TSA-Pre.
I go to the airline lounge. From here, I use the free internet, grab snacks and coffee, you can get a draaank, and depending on the lounge/airline, sometimes you can get a meal. On the way to the gate, I stop and grab big bottle of water. I know, I should be more eco-friendly and bring my own bottle, I’m working on it. But this is the most important part about flying – you need to stay hydrated. I’m not a scientist, but if you want to beat jet lag, it’s mandatory. I get to the gate and I’m in one of the first 2 zones, so I get on the plane before others.
There are still people everywhere and it’s pretty chaotic, but I’m not rattled since everything else has been easy so far. I get situated in my seat with extra leg room, there is still overhead storage cuz I’m on the plane so early, and I’m in the aisle seat that my travel agent selected for me with the more expensive fare. I put in my headphones immediately. Sunglasses on, hood up. I don’t wanna look anyone in the eye during this boarding process.
Ready to relax…
You see people walk onto the plane and try and put their bags up immediately. This pisses me off. Take your bag with you to your seat. I don’t want you stuffing your too many carry-ons on top of my laptop bag and have you, mid-flight, reaching over me to get into it, spilling shit all over me.
At this stage, you need to watch out for the people that have entry-level status. They’re already annoyed because they don’t really get any privileges. They don’t get to skip lines, they don’t get the lounge. Outside of getting an extra checked bag for free, they don’t get anything. Butttt, these people are generally the most entitled. They think they deserve something. They’re easy to spot cuz they usually have their airline-branded bag tag on their carry-on and are looking around trying to feel special. Watch out for these folks. And if you’re one of these folks, try to be less annoying.
Anyways, I take a pill and wake up when we land ready to get to work. My bags come up relatively fast with an airline priority tag. The alternative to this is using your upgrades to first class.
Last Case: Ideal Situation
Which brings me to the last section.
This is the ideal way to travel. First-class/Super Status/TSA Pre. You arrive at the airport and for a fee, an airline concierge will meet you and walk you through to the gate. But if you don’t wanna spend the $150 you can plan it correctly. You can email ahead of time and have your bag tag/boarding pass already printed and roll up to a side door to get sorted. Just bring a signed poster from the artist you work for cuz you know the value in this.
So you breeze through security much like I mentioned before. Cruise into the lounge for some food and drinks, you get to board first (generally through a separate door, or sometimes floor) and get escorted to your seat. You are greeted with a drink in a glass, hot towel, and sometimes a robe or slippers. Depending on the plane and airline, you might have a small room, a full bed etc, etc. Either way, you generally get to sleep horizontally like a normal human being. This is ideal.
When you’re travelling international business class, you’ve made it. The difference in fare is likely thousands of dollars. But… if you’re not paying for it, it’s worth every penny.
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