Expecting to Fly:
7 Tips to Get Ready
THURSDAY, JUNE 4, 2020 -- You know what they say: Is the glass one-eighth full or seven-eighths empty?

Flying, after all, has "boomed" since it hit the floor of 88,000 people on April 14. According to the TSA, about 304,000 people passed through airport checkpoints on Wednesday. That's an increase of nearly 350 percent in just seven weeks.

But 304,000 travelers are a drip in the 2019 glass. In fact, it's just 12.8 percent of the nation's airport volume on a similar day in June last year.

So I say again: Is the glass one-eighth full or seven-eighths empty? And what'cha gonna do about it?

If you're not flying anytime soon--and I spoke to a globetrotting former airline executive this week who said he wouldn't travel until next year--I get your pain and support your judgment. You shouldn't fly or travel until you're comfortable. You must weigh the evidence and the risk and make your best call.

But if you are planning to travel--this weekend, next week, next month--you need to be careful out there. Things have changed. What worked in January or February won't work in June or July.

If you're expecting to fly, follow these seven tips. And maybe listen to Expecting to Fly because it is always edifying to listen to Neil Young.

The travel industry buzzword of the moment is "clean." Airlines and hotels can't wait to tell you about their new cleanliness protocols. And, of course, whatever they're doing is branded "Clean Something or Other."

I'm about bald enough to be Mr. Clean, so allow me to call bullshit. The hotel chains peddling "clean" branding can't and won't police the implementation. They can lead their franchises to a pool of Purell, but they can't make owners and managers use it. Ditto for airlines. They can show you pictures and video of employees spraying and wiping, but they can't guarantee that it makes a bit of difference even if done consistently. Besides, this is an industry that can't even agree to keep middle seats empty to ensure even a modicum of social distancing.

Your response to the hype? Do it yourself. Repurpose one of your airline amenity bags into a clean kit. Stock it with masks, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes and disposable gloves. Add some quart-sized storage bags. (In a pinch, you can use them to hold remote controls or grasp things like door handles and tray tables.) A supply of white vinegar to use as ad hoc cleaner might be useful, too. Plus, of course, cotton swabs and pads. By the way, the TSA now permits as much as 12 ounces of sanitizer in carry-on bags. But a 12-ounce container almost guarantees separate screening, so continue packing liquids in 3-ounce bottles and work to keep your kit at carry-on size.

If it's been months since you last flew, so do yourself a favor and clean out your toiletries kit. Make sure your toothpaste hasn't dried out and your makeup hasn't expired. Check to make sure nothing's leaking. In fact, empty the bag and start fresh. It never hurts to start again, lose the detritus and rework contents.

No, technology hasn't changed since you last flew. Your cables and connectors probably haven't dried out or broken since you last used them. But, hey, you've been meaning to do this anyway. After all, your tech bag is full or garbage, dried-out highlighters and balled-up Post-It notes. And do you really need 15 unbent paper clips to get to your phone's SIM card? Get in there and clean out. Toss anything that has outlived its usefulness. Replace anything that needs refreshing. And, honest, alligator clips won't come back. Toss 'em ...

Sure, airlines and hotels extended your elite status. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't do a checkup on your programs, some or all of which you've ignored in recent months. Check to make sure any status you have has, in fact, been extended. Check to make sure you don't have expiring miles or awards. It is okay to admit: This is as long as you've gone without checking your balance. Make amends now.

If clean is the buzzword of the moment, uncertainty is certainly a close second. Don't assume your preferred airline is flying the same routes and schedules they operated in February. Trust me, they aren't. You may have to construct a new routing to get where you're going. And if your destination is international, be doubly wary. You may not be allowed to enter or may be required to self-quarantine. One example: Britain's 14-day quarantine goes into effect on Monday. A domestic example: Hawaii's 14-day lockdown policy is still in effect. As for lodging, don't assume your favored place is open or that it's operating with full service. Don't trust what you read on a lodging chain's Web site. Call directly to the property and investigate the reality.

Do you want to keep piling up miles and points with credit card spend? Do you trust the travel industry not to devalue either actively by pricing changes or passively by dropping routes or properties? After all, a free business class ticket to a destination that the carrier no longer serves or free nights from a chain that has deflagged your favorite resort is also a devaluation. So maybe emulate Fred Abatemarco and make the switch to cashback cards. Meanwhile, it's also a good time to check expiration dates on your cards. I let my American Express Platinum expire in April after 35 years when Amex refused to offer a concession to the fact that Centurion Lounge access, Priority Pass membership and hotel elite status aren't worth the same annual fee ($550 a year) as they were in 2019.

It's impossible to predict what airline fares and hotel rooms will cost going forward. But one thing is sure: Airlines and hotels aren't likely to match award prices to cash prices in our favor. So check the current cash value of any award you want to claim. It's always wise to mark awards to market and it'll be an especially useful practice in the months ahead. There'll be plenty of volatility in both cash and award prices. Make sure you're on the right side of the equation. Don't overpay in points or miles when there's a bargain available at the cash price.