"Ready for dinner"
The scourges of modern-day air travel.
I can think of a few: TSA, delayed flights, garbage in your seat pocket. Screaming kids and misdirected luggage. “CNN Airport News.”
Or, how about the blizzard of cardboard placards that hotel chains insist on littering their rooms with? I spend a quarter of my life in hotel rooms, and I resent having to spend the first five minutes of every stay gathering up an armful of this diabolical detritus and heaving it into a corner where it belongs. Attention, innkeepers: This is fundamentally bad business. One’s first moments in a hotel room should be relaxing. The room itself should impart a sense of welcome. It shouldn’t put you to work.
And here’s another one: the ever-expanding collection of electronic cords, adapters, chargers and gadgets I’m obliged to haul around with me. You know what I’m talking about. Anybody who travels regularly knows what I’m talking about. All of this, supposedly, to keep us “connected.” To make our lives easier and more productive.
Don’t get me wrong. Riding the subway out to Logan, I love being able to pop in my earbuds and catch a few cuts from the Wedding Present, the Jazz Butcher or the Velvet Underground. And my MacBook Air is as essential for travel as a change of socks. But there is, or was, something to be said for that unplugged, disconnected age of not so long ago. If nothing else, our carry-ons were lighter, with more room for clothes.
The photo above shows the assortment of electronic gadget and gizmos I take with me pretty much every time I hit the road, be it for work or pleasure. As recently as a decade ago I owned none of this. I didn’t even have a cellphone until 2006.
Clockwise-ish, from upper left:
– That black case contains the camera that I used to take this picture. I currently use a Panasonic DMC-LX3. It’s a decent point-and-shoot with a Leica lens and super-long battery life. (The more recent pictures in my Flickr archives were taken with this camera.) I bring it with me on most, though not all, of my layovers and holidays.
– Earbuds. I recently upgraded to a pair of Klipsch and retired this Apple set.
– 32GB flash drive. For my backup files, and for transferring to and from my “master” computer at home.
– USB connector for camera (optional).
– Ethernet cord. Useful in those (too many) hotels where Wi-Fi is weak and a wired connection runs more robustly. Hotel-supplied Ethernet cords are often broken.
– Power adapter for laptop.
– AC adapter set. Essential when traveling overseas. One problem is, if I’m assigned to reserve status I often don’t know if I’ll be heading overseas until the last minute, so I’ve always got this with me.
– iPhone 4. Product unplug: Am I the only person who despises — and I mean really despises — the iPhone’s messaging keypad? Because the special function keys — caps, space bar, backspace and return — are so close to the normal character keys, I’m constantly capitalizing, spacing and backspacing when I don’t mean to. This happens in either the vertical or horizontal layout, and it’s especially annoying for those of us with fat fingers. It takes me five attempts to complete the simplest sentence.
– USB charger for iPhone.
– USB-to-AC connector thing for iPhone (optional, but a good thing to have).
– USB-to-Ethernet adapter (see Ethernet cord above).
And, in the middle of it all, my beloved MacBook Air.
All together, we’re looking at roughly five pounds of technology that, for all intents and purposes, is mandatory carry-on. Sometimes it’s slightly less, other times slightly more. Not shown, for instance, is my Flip video camera, which I bring on longer trips. ( Flip brought you this, among other works of directorial art.)
Thus the real must-have gadget is a decent case or container in which to consolidate all of this crap. For me, most of the more wiry components above fit nicely into an old business class amenities kit, which keeps them out of the way and avoids tangles. (How frustrating is it, meanwhile, that so many electronic devices require their own proprietary charging cord or adapter? Imagine if every lamp took a different kind of light bulb.)
The amenities case, together with the laptop, camera and phone, fit snugly into either of my larger carry-ons. Now that my flight case has been retired — a milestone previously detailed here — I typically go to work with two pieces of luggage:
The first is a custom crew roll-aboard from Luggage Works. At the moment I use the 26-inch LW with the plastic frame, which is much lighter than the more popular metal frame version. To make it even lighter, I’ve retrofitted the stainless steel retractable handle with an aluminum one.
I don’t know what “custom crew” means. I just thought it sounded cool. Over 95 percent of LW users are airline crew members, but anybody can order one.
A number of my colleagues use Travelpro bags (I’ve owned a couple of Travelpros over the years), but on the whole that brand is more popular with flight attendants than with pilots.
For a long time pilots resisted using roll-aboards at all. The thinking was that rolling your belongings was, like, too effeminate for the macho pilot (take me, for example). And so pilots would hand-haul their 40-odd pounds of personal luggage and pilot gear through the airport, toning their tough-guy biceps and making many a chiropractor happy.
By the way, have you ever heard somebody refer to roll-aboard bags as “roller board” bags? I was on a plane a few weeks ago and the flight attendant made an announcement reminding people to stow their “roller boards” handle-first into the bins.
My smaller bag, hung from my roller board using a hook that I designed myself, is a $300 Tumi briefcase that I bought about six months ago and quickly learned to hate, with its useless, miniature exterior pockets that I can barely squeeze my fingers into.
I’m something of a pro when it comes to short-notice, multi-climate packing. Here’s a tip: Go with lightweight clothing. What a concept, I know, but I’m amazed by how many people travel with heavy cotton jeans — even to hot climates. I own a lot of fast-dry synthetics. They’re not stylish, but when have I ever been? On the other hand I can launder a pair of pants in the hotel room bathtub and they’re dry before morning.
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Several readers emailed demanding that I immediately scan and post copies of the 1988 “Guide to Harvard University Dining Services” booklet that I wrote about last week. A great idea, but the thing is 38 double-sided pages long. Tell you what: I’ll do it, but not for free. My price is $5, sent to my PayPal account. I figure if 20 people are interested, that’s $100, which makes it worth my trouble. Once I hit a hundred bucks I’ll send scans of every page to anybody who wants to see them, or else I’ll post them somewhere on my home site. If I don’t hit the $100 mark within the next 10 days I’ll refund your donations. (I really don’t expect to bring in much beyond that, as people will be waiting for the early birds to cover the cost.)
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Patrick Smith's Ask the Pilot, a long-running feature on Salon, is the Web's most trenchant and insightful source for all things air travel, from safety and technology to airline culture and airport security. Send questions to email@example.com and look for answers in a future column.