In the 1960’s, air travel was glamorous and filled with luxury. Today, it’s as far from glamorous as it can possibly get. When we travel, we give up control and enter a world filled with unpredictable variables and ever changing rules and regulations. Our work has us traveling a healthy amount, in fact, I’ve been on more than a dozen flights over the last 4 months. As with anything in life, repetition breeds proficiency, and along the way, I have picked up some best practices to make traveling for media production more efficient, easier, and enjoyable.
1. Know Your Numbers
Before you step up to the airline check-in counter, you should know your total bag count and overweight count. Don’t waste time trying to figure that out when you get to the counter. When we check-in, we have one person walk up to the counter carrying the IDs and media passes for everyone on the crew and a credit card and begin by saying “Hi, we’re checking in for 4 passengers going to Chicago with 9 bags total – 3 over 50 pounds. We’ll pay for all the baggage on this credit card.” That gives them all the info they need to get going and saves them a lot of time. Then be patient and polite as they check you in. You will be amazed at how much goodwill (and sometimes, upgrades or discounts) being prepared and kind gets you.
2. Discover Media Rate
Almost every major US-based airline offers discounted rates for checked baggage to media professionals. In most cases, you pay a flat rate for every bag regardless of weight. Overweight fees can be anywhere from $50 to $100 per bag over 50 pounds, so this savings adds up fast! If you read their definition of “media professional” closely, they don’t just mean accredited press, they mean “representatives from network television, broadcasting and commercial filmmaking companies…” This includes professional corporate video agencies. You need to have some type of “official” ID saying that you are a media professional and meet these requirements. In order to get the Media Rate, you must talk to a human. Skip the self-check line and go straight to the Full Service check in. We have one person wait in line while the rest of the crew waits on the side with all the gear and then joins them at the counter. The policies are different for every airline and change periodically, so I’m not going to list them here, but take a few minutes to research the media rate with the airline you are flying next and make an ID card for yourself. It doesn’t have to be fancy!
3. Register for TSA Pre-check
TSA Pre Check costs $85 and is valid for five years. If you haven’t already registered, stop reading right now, click this link, and sign up! There is very little to say other than if you don’t have TSA Pre Check, you are wasting enormous amounts of time. In most US airports (list of US airports with TSA Pre Check), having TSA Pre Check gets you a significantly shorter security line and you don’t have to remove your shoes, small belts, take your laptop out of your bag, and only walk through a metal detector and not a backscatter X-ray scanner. If you travel internationally, register for Global Entry. It’s only $100 and streamlines the customs process when entering the US and includes TSA Pre Check at the same time. The only downside is that there are a few more hoops to jump through and the process takes a bit longer than TSA Pre Check. As a final note – some credit cards will cover the cost for TSA Pre Check or Global Entry, so look into your perks!
4. Fly Non-stop
If you have a connecting flight to get to your final destination and your first flight gets delayed, there is a risk that your checked bags won’t make it to your final destination with you. If you’re traveling with equipment, this is a major problem. At best, you spend time dealing with the hassle and it still gets to you in time, but your focus has been distracted – or worst case scenario – you don’t get your equipment in time and you have to scramble to find local rental options to source what you need. Don’t risk your bags missing a connecting flight. Fly non-stop, even if it means having to drive a bit further when you land.
5. Travel with Wheels
As media professionals, we take carts very seriously and rely on them to move our equipment from location to location safely and as efficiently as possible. You still need to do this when you travel, so put some thought to this. You need to get your equipment from your car to check-in, baggage claim to your ground transportation, and all the normal on-set needs. We travel with a Rock-N-Roller R16RT “Max Wide,” which can easily carry 8-10 large Pelican cases. The cart itself gets packed in a custom case from Vera-Flex and is checked as a piece of luggage. They don’t have the bag on their website, but contact them directly for more info. Depending on the shoot, we also travel with an Inovativ Voyager 36 Evo, which serves as our camera cart and mobile Dana Dolly platform.
6. Book Airbnb’s with Self Check-in and On-site Parking
We prefer to stay at Airbnb’s when we travel and forego traditional hotels. They give us a lot of creature comforts and conveniences compared to hotels, like close parking, easier ability to load equipment in from our rental car, space to prep gear, and are generally less expensive. If you decide to stay in Airbnb’s when you travel, I highly recommend you look for places with self-check-in and on-site parking. Self check-in means you can get into the house when you arrive without having to meet the host – usually using a smart lock or accessing a hidden key. And on-site parking makes life much easier if you need to bring in gear to charge batteries, prep kits, or just to keep safe overnight. There are filters for both of these options when you search available listings on Airbnb. “Self check-in” is an option in the Amenities filter section and “Free parking on premises” is an option under the Facilities filter section.
7. Know What Goes Where
People in our line of work carry things that have specific travel restrictions…multiple knives and blades of varying sizes, lots of batteries, etc. Don’t forget to remove your knives and blades before you get to security and put them in a checked bag. Lithium Ion batteries have the opposite rule. They cannot be checked and must be carried on with you and all contacts have to be taped to prevent contact shorting, which can cause a fire. There are also restrictions on the size of batteries (generally 98wh). We really like the Hypercore PRIME 190wh batteries from Core SWX that split in half so they comply with TSA and airline regulations. We typically travel with a mix of these and the N98S NANO batteries.
8. The Golden Rule
Last, but certainly not least…be kind! Traveling is stressful. Most people don’t do it very often so it’s a departure from the expected. The people you encounter deal with hundreds (or thousands!) of people every day, many of whom are frustrated, tired, and rude. A little kindness goes a long way and immediately disarms people. Aside from the fact that being kind is just a decent thing to do for your fellow humans, it also makes the people assisting you more inclined to want to help you, or at a minimum, reciprocate your kindness with a smile.