Arriving in the USA

Arriving in the USA

26/02/2013 0 By Chris Parnell

By Shane Boocock

Part of the essence of travel is to experience people and places and to enjoy the fruits of your hard earned vacation without any hassles or mishaps. Yet every year many people run into trouble and make some basic errors when travelling, especially now that security as well as customs and immigration at airports is tougher than breaking out of jail. We thought it would be a good idea to lay out some ground rules about travelling on the road, in the air and how to make your journey a little more seamless and a little less costly.

I know we all say we never go anyplace without insurance, but if there is one place you really need that little piece of paper it is in the United States of America. A good friend of mine took his children and wife to Lake Tahoe for Christmas and New Year to escape the heat of a long Australian summer and they had a great 3 weeks in Nevada’s Incline Village and the Diamond Head ski resort. On the last day before they were due to return home, their 17 year old son had a face-to-face, body-to-body encounter at high speed with a much bigger skier. With a lacerated spleen, broken ribs and bruised left kidney, the lad spent ten days in an ICU and another ten days in a hospital ward. 

However, the insurance paid for his father to stay in a local motel and took care of all the rescue costs, medical bills and flight rescheduling – all US$53,000 worth of it!

Lost baggage:

Besides having insurance, it’s worth reading the small print to figure out before you fly how much the airline you are flying with will reimburse you if your bags are lost, stolen or damaged en-route. It takes a bit of time, but it is worth finding out what the airline policies are and how quickly you will get cash to buy toiletries, clothing and emergency requirements. Nowadays I always carry my laptop and cameras in my hand luggage so that expensive items are close at hand. On a longer flight, I pack a change of clothing and a small business class size toiletry bag to tide me over until my bag is finally delivered. Another good idea is to always double check the seat pockets before you disembark as digital cameras, phones and laptops are easily left behind – it happens on virtually every flight.

Missed Flights:

Through no fault of my own, I recently experienced a missed flight. An itinerary had indicated I needed to leave for the airport in Hawaii at about 6pm for my evening flight from Kawai to Hawaii and onto Los Angeles. My arrangements showed I had the whole day to drive and hike a beautiful canyon. As it happens, 12.25pm – when I was eight miles into my hike – was the time I really should have been sipping cocktails on my flight. I have to say the delightfully lovely United Airlines check-in staff in Kawai sorted out the unfolding mess by not only getting me on a different route and flight but also upgraded me First Class, too. In this instance I made my connecting flight to Denver and onto Orlando. 

Remember to stay calm and not get frustrated with airline personnel. It will do you no good to shout, scream or cry. Smile and use your accent and add a little humility and they will always take care of you.

Excess baggage:

It can cost you a fortune in excess baggage charges in the USA, especially for unsuspecting Down Under travellers with e-tickets. Arriving off an international flight is probably easy enough, but once you head to the automated domestic ticketing machines you’re liable to get hit with a US$25 excess baggage claim. Always check-in the old-fashioned way and explain you came off an international flight as you have up to 30 days to keep the excess baggage charge fees from being swiped off your credit card! Baggage weight is 50lb maximum per bag domestic.

Gels liquids, water and fruit:

We have probably all done it, but getting caught and paying a huge fine for bringing in fruit or, as I saw recently in Thailand, two well-heeled Aussies having their special bottles of 20-year old rare whiskey confiscated, isn’t fun. It is all part of travelling in today’s unstable environment. The secret is to pre-pack your hand luggage and main suitcase in plenty of time so that simple mistakes don’t creep into your travel schedule. Websites are great ways to do some research on what you can and cannot carry through customs and immigration. 

Make the mistake once and you’ll certainly learn for next time.

Mobile Phone and Email Costs:

Global roaming is a term I would rather refer to as “global robbery.” Just recently I needed to change my airline ticket to a different date. Using the USA 1-800 free telephone service to call United Airlines stripped $85 off my account in less than 10 minutes. A trick many savvy travellers are now cottoning onto is to buy a local phone card or another SIM card and switch it over once you arrive in the States. Email is another way that hotels capitalise on travellers’ needs. The average hotel now charges between US$12-$15 for 24 hours on the internet, although this can still be cheaper than roaming data charges on your Blackberry or iPhone. Do some homework before you go to inquire if the hotels you’re staying at charge for the service. It can save you hundreds of dollars over an average three week vacation.

In closing, remember to use common sense, stay calm, smile and don’t get flustered – there is little you can do to alter the circumstances once fate has grasped your hand. However, the job to rectify the problem is the responsibility of the people you are facing. Airlines and hotels are service industry providers – it is their job to sort out your problems and make things good again.

You’re on vacation, remember, so enjoy it.

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