De-Stressing the Airline Shuffle

Sometimes it feels like girding for battle, this process of preparing for a commercial airline flight. Whether you're an experienced "road warrior" appropriately equipped with the requisite roll-on bag and laptop case/purse/briefcase (your "personal" item), or a first-time flyer somewhat bewildered by the obstacle course that airline travel has become, our common denominator is the stuff heart attacks are made of: stress.

The list of stressors is very long: how to make sure you aren't paying too much for your ticket, which airline to fly, what schedule to select, whether to check a bag and which bag to bring, whether to trust web-based services or the airline for your ticketing, and whether to give up the security of a traditional paper ticket bought in person -- and all these worries and decisions are encountered before arriving at the airport.

Once there, the process requires understanding how to conform to all the requirements of check-in, having the right identification documents, packing bags and carry-ons correctly, dealing with parking, timing, and planning ahead to avoid starvation, as well as simply knowing how to find the gate.

Reprogram Yourself

In some ways it's surprising we don't require people to be licensed before granting them the privilege of becoming passengers, so sophisticated is the degree of detailed knowledge required to smoothly use the system and not hold up everyone else.

And sometimes it would probably be appropriate for the airlines to hand out Valium with your bag of peanuts.

Ever slump in your airline seat and buckle up only to find yourself lightheaded and extremely sleepy even in midmorning? That's PTBS, Post-Traumatic Boarding Stress Syndrome. OK, no licensed psychologists have signed off on PTBS as a recognized malady, but the effects are very real and very fatiguing. In short, it's not just the time zone shuffle that renders you somnambulant and exhausted at your destination, it's the stress of the entire process.

So how do you turn down that stress? By rethinking and reprogramming the way you handle airline travel.

Much of the stress that affects airline travelers today comes from tradition: expecting that even now, years after the utter destruction of the smoothly running system we once had, airline flying will somehow magically return to those thrilling days of yesteryear when customer service was the rule and the process was -- dare I say -- fun?

I won't tantalize you with the incredible differences, but think about your own expectations and how off-base they keep turning out to be.

For instance, you try to stay relaxed by not thinking much about the process until showing up at the ticket counter -- only to find a line half-an-airport long and ticket agents who seem ready to issue you a failing grade for failing to use their ticket machines. Or, you pack your bag like you have since adulthood only to be told that it's now too heavy (over 50 pounds) and you'll have to either repack your underwear on the spot in front of everyone or pay a stiff penalty. And with every misstep you're made to feel like you're taking a trip to the principal's office.

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