You may see them cruising fast through the airport’s corridors or may have a friend who flies out every Monday morning, off to some obscure destination. If you’ve seen an ultra-frequent traveler before, you will recognize him or her based on these brutally efficient habits. I was once one so I can testify: this was me.
1. Call cities by their airport code
After a few years I realized destinations were usually referred to by their airport code. This was because the people I would interact with were, more than proportionately, ultra-frequent travelers too and would quickly understand my abbreviation. Los Angeles is LAX, Manila MNL and Dubai DXB. Here’s a list of airport codes.
Tip for beginners: We do not speak the abbreviations, these are only for writing so don’t try to pronounce JHB when next referring to Joburg
2. The fight for the 1st row, aisle seat
An ultra-frequent traveler will always sit on the first row, even if that carries a higher risk of ending up next to a crying baby (first row in economy is usually the bassinet seat row). That’s right, and he or she will fight for it, bribe check-in staff with compliments, call the airline in advance and insist repeatedly.
Tips for beginners: To avoid ending up next to a dangerous baby or kid who spills a drink on you always cover yourself with the airline’s blanket. And for the pros, always carry a noise canceling headset so no child scream can disturb your ride.
3. Run Forest, run!
Ultra-frequent travelers know that the worst nightmare is getting stuck at a) Passport control b) Luggage belt c) Taxi queue so they run, fast, overtaking everyone from the moment they get off the plane.
Remember I told you they always get on the first row? This is so that they can get out of the plane first. And aisle seat of course. So when the curtains or plane door opens they rush out and, if they are in Economy, they will make it a race to the front overtaking everyone in Business, until they get to the passport control and taxi queues. You may have seen them in airports across the world, an ultra-frequent traveler will know how to run through the corridors, zig-zag and roll the carry-on as if it was an extension of his or her arm.
Tip for beginners: If you followed point 2 getting out of the plane fast should be easy. If not, remember to wear flats and don’t be afraid to yell “Excuse me!” to get through the slow-walking airport strollers – those who seem to have gone to the airport to have a walk rather than to get from point A to B. They occupy the entire width of the corridor, walk incredibly slowly and are oblivious to the fact that there are others who are looking to get out of there as quick as possible. For the real pros, the running and juggling of a carry-on happens at unison with the frantic typing and checking of emails with the other hand. You ain’t no true ultra-frequent traveler if you have to look back to check that your carry on makes it through the narrow spaces!
4. Special meal request, baby
Have you noticed there is a disproportionate amount of ultra-frequent travelers pre-ordering low calorie, bland, fruit-only or vegetarian options onboard?
This is not because they are picky eaters (although that could also be a reason) but because these meals get served first. So here is the trick.
You order a special meal because it is usually delivered before the meal service starts. By the time the meal service gets to you, you will have already eaten your meal at which point you can easily give back the empty meal tray to the hostess and empty your seat tray to get back to work or fun. Ultra-frequent travelers have a deep aversion to clutter and to waiting around with food trays. Completely inefficient!
Tip for beginners: If the air hostesses are not too keen to take your tray as part of their meal service (if you were seated on the 1st row the meal service trolleys may actually be full and not able to take a tray) you can always leave the tray on the floor which will make it more obvious to the staff that you want to get rid of it. Airline staff tend to be trained to clear clutter, win-win
5. Could you please stamp here?
Passport pages are a scarce resource and, particularly if you come from a hard-to-get to country or live in an unrepresented place, replacing a full passport may require a trip back home and a two week wait. Even in the best of cases, you will have to go to the embassy twice and may even have to surrender your passport so empty pages are precious.
An ultra-frequent traveler will always ask the immigration officer to stamp on a used page. Empty pages are reserved for visas or for countries which require full pages to accept you in. This is a very common requirement.
Tips for beginners: If you don’t ask you don’t get but be nice and sprinkle a dash of sweetness and a smile. To make sure the officer understood your request it is always better to hand in the passport with the desired page open and point at where you want the stamp. Be careful though, too pushy and you may be set aside or annoy the officer so much that he will stamp you in the middle of an empty page.
6. Passport stapling
When you travel every week often to more than one country you run out of pages quickly but your visas may last longer than it takes you to burn through a passport. I used to get visa for the hardest to get to countries that would last me a year with multiple entries but then I would have to replace my passport every 6-8 months. So I ended up having to carry more than one passport: one with each valid visa and a current one. You could have them separate but it is easier not to misplace them if you simply staple them all together. At my peak, I carried 4 passports. One had my residency in Dubai, the other my South African inter-company transfer visa, a third one had my Sudan visa and the last one was the only one with free pages to stamp.
Tip for beginners: If you come from a country which needs visas for pretty much every destination stapling is the order of the day so get used to it.
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