|Ok, so your client wants you to shoot some interviews and b-roll at their factory in another part of the country. In my case it is likely a medical procedure, but not always. It doesn't matter - getting there and back is the fun part.|
This is of course not always possible due to last minute confirmations of participants. But let's say you have 2 weeks or 1 week at a minimum to plan. This is really only an issue as far as booking flights. If possible, book a refundable ticket, meaning you can get your money back or at least a credit with no service charge if plans change. Southwest and Jetblue tickets are almost always refundable, though neither of those airlines flies everywhere in the US. I'm focusing on US travel because that is what I do - feel free to chime in with international travel tips.
I usually use Yahoo Travel to search for flights, because I have always used it and I can actually remember my password! But a handy app is Kayak, in which you enter your destination and you can filter pretty dynamically to find the right combination of times, costs and stops.
For Southwest or Jetblue use their own websites.
For hotels, I have started using Hotels.com, as they have a pretty user friendly interface and some good deals. When booking hotels beware the pre-paid rate. Often the rate is $20+ cheaper than the rack rate, but you pay in advance and the cancellation penalty is the full price of the room, and in some cases more than one night's rate. If your plans have the possibility of changing at the last minute, it is best to pay a bit more for a rate you can cancel.
If traveling with a lot of gear, and the hotel has ground level rooms, see if you can get one. Maneuvering a hand truck on and off hotel sized elevators is one more thing to deal with.
Transportation on the Ground
I usually rent a car or mini-van depending upon the amount of gear and the number of people. However in places like Chicago, DC and Dallas where there is mega traffic, a taxi fits the bill. You may be tempted to say that multiple taxi rides are more expensive than a car rental, but it depends. And convenience can weigh in either direction.
Know your local airports. When I fly out of Hartford, although it is a smallish air[port about the size of Raleigh Durham or San Diego, the security line is super slow. So I plan to get to the airport well in advance of my departure time. Bigger airport, though they have more people and flights also have more efficient security lines.
When you check-in for your flight you'll have to pay for your extra bags. An average trip for me has 3-4 pieces of checked luggage (hand truck, light kit, monitor case, tripod tube) but sometimes more if it is a multiple camera shoot. Southwest gives you 2 free bags. Most other airlines give you 1 or zero free bags. (Delta charged me nearly $800 each way for 5 pieces of luggage last year. On another trip I upgraded to first class for less than the price of the baggage fees, and got my extra bags included in the price. This option was offered by the Delta agent, but these nice people are usually kept away from the public). The check-in clerks always seem to change the tone of their voices when they ask for this kind of money, thinking you are going to flip out. I just say "Ok, no problem" and hand over the card for payment. Back in the pre-2001 days you could convince them to give you a media discount, and the old mainframe computers had a series of keystrokes to get those lower rates. But nowadays you pay or you drive.
Going Through Security (no pictures here)
Always carry your camera on the plane, whether it is a full size, camcorder, DSLR or all of these. A soft sided camera bag, or a generic roll-aboard that does not look like a camera bag are both good choices. If using a traditional roll-aboard, put some padding inside and this helps you look like a regular business traveler, and it saves your shoulder. Now when you have a couple of carry on pieces (camera bag, laptop bag or backpack) you need 2-4 of those slimy plastic bins.
Before I get in line, I place my wallet, phone and other contents of pockets into my backpack. About 2 people before you get to the bins, take off your shoes and belt. The belt, liquids in a zip lock if you have not checked this, and shoes into a bin. Laptop in its own bin. Suit jacket, turned inside out, in a bin (or sweatshirt, hoodie, jacket or whatever). Cameras in a bin. Some airports want you to put your shoes on the belt and they'll get snooty about it. Look for signs to that effect.
Other side of the scanner I expect a pat down, since cargo pants and travel shirts have extra zippers. I actually had a TSA guy tell me to wear different clothes when I travel. As if. Then repack bags, check for laptop, wallet, license, keys, cameras, phone. It is amazing how many announcements I hear that go "will the traveler leaving a 17" Mac Book Pro and a titanium Rolex watch at security please return to claim your items." Not good.
Airport food is traditionally the worst food money can buy. This is changing but slowly. Unless you have a 1 hour wait for a flight, the sit down restaurants are a bad idea. More on these later. For most flights less than 2 hours I'll pack some energy bars and maybe get a coffee and a muffin at the airport. In smaller airports beware of limited food options and long lines. You can buy a 1L bottle of water for roughly $14.95 at the news stand. For long haul flights hydration is vital.
For a cross country flight I know that I am going to be starving somewhere over the Rockies and the salted free snacks just make you thirsty. I'll get a bottle of water, a baked good, and either a prepared salad or sandwich. In any case be prepared to pay through the nose for all of this stuff.
If you have a layover or simply a longish wait for a flight, you can try a sit down restaurant, but be warned, they can be slowish and not very goodish. Recently at ORD I tried the Wolfgang Puck's. I assume they guy licenses his name because the food was just awful and the service worse. Granted the pay is probably pretty bad.
One diamond in the rough is at Midway in Chicago. In the passage between the newer and older terminals is a walk-up diner counter.
At Manny's, you can get meatloaf and mashed potatoes, turkey and gravy and other traditional diner dishes. The food is hot, tastes like your grandma made it and you won't be hungry for a while. Add a cream soda and life is good. You will almost forget you are in an airport.
Hanging out in Airports
If you have eaten your requisite meal but you still have some time before your flight (ie a red-eye or just a late night connection) you can take a walking tour of the airport. Depending upon the age of the facility you can find some historical points of interest or simply some artistic discoveries.
Midway has a nice historical display about the USS Midway Aircraft Carrier in WWII, including a vintage fighter plane hanging from the ceiling.
If you walk over to the old American Terminal, you will feel like you have gone back in time to the late 1970's.
In O'Hare, the airport is massive. Walk over to the original sections and there are some 1960's architectural elements that you just have to experience for yourself. Same goes for LAX and the old Pan Am terminal now used by Jet Blue at JFK.
Another unique place is the Marine Air Terminal at Laguardia. Originally built in the 1930's as the Pan Am Clipper terminal,
complete with WPA-like murals in the art deco styled terminal,
you feel like you have stepped through time (if you go in the old entrance that is)
this building is now home to the Delta Shuttle, with hourly flights to Boston and Washington. Again, you have to experience it for yourself. The great part is it is separate from the rest of the airport. They have one security line that is never more than 4 people deep. The waiting area for flights has lots of soft leather chairs, power points for devices and a pretty hopping bar and cafe.
Other unique spots include one of the last remaining observation decks at Cleveland airport, an elevated seating area/observation deck at BWI,
and at Denver's massive terminal there is an upper seating area that is devoid of people and seemingly devoid of purpose, and is a nice place to chill out if you have a long wait.
The Flight Itself
When booking I try to choose the type of airplane and the seat location. If possible I go with a 737-800 or an Airbus 320. I like the aisle seat on the right side about 3 rows back from the exit row. But that's just me. Another reason to know your aircraft is because of carry on limitations. The smaller 50 passenger mini jets sometimes will not accommodate full sized roller bags and you may be asked to check these at the jetway. If using a roller bag as a camera bag, be prepared to quickly extract your camera at the last moment and place it under your seat.
Some airlines like to announce that the flight is completely full and you will have to check your bag, but then you get on the plane and there is plenty of space. Not sure what this is about.
If flying in and out of LGA, I will try to get a left side window for the return flight so I can get a good look at the Manhattan skyline on the final approach.
Once airborne, your work is done and you leave it to the professionals to get you to your destination.
Working on a plane depends upon the type of work you want to do, the size of your laptop, battery power, size of your neighbor and your ability to concentrate when dehydrated, tired, unable to move your legs and up since 5am.
Once on the ground, your job is the same as it is at home base. you go to the location, get your shots or make your meeting, then reverse the process and get back home.
Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel. But getting to the actual airplane can be a challenge unless you plan ahead.
Good luck in your own travels.
Thanks for reading.