Air Travel Tips

We picked up where we left off last time and shared tips on boarding and seating, international travel and customs, and bringing aboard a guide dog or cane. We also reviewed passengers' rights when traveling.

October 8, 2019

Don't miss the next episode

Audio Transcript



Hadley

Travel Talk – Air Travel Tips

Presented by Debbie Good and Pam Winters

October 8, 2019

Debbie G: Welcome everyone to Travel Talk. I am Debbie Good, one of your hosts. I've been a learning expert at Hadley for over 26 years, primarily teaching Spanish and French. And I also lead the Spanish Chat discussion group. So I'm very much excited about traveling all over the world and teaching people about other cultures and how to speak Spanish and French. Come to my Spanish chat, 10:30, Thursday mornings, every Thursday if you're interested. 10:30 Central Time. And also with us is Pam. Take it away Pam.

Pam W: Hi everybody. My name is Pam Winters, and this is my first time joining Travel Talk as a cohost. If any of you have listened to the What's Cooking discussion group, I cohost that with Elyse. The last Wednesday of every month at 4:30 central time. I've been a Hadley Learning Expert for 17 years. And primarily up until this point I've been teaching the Nemeth Code braille courses. And way back when I used to also teach some early childhood courses when I first started at Hadley. Now I'm working on mobility workshops and some other recreation type workshops that will be available in the future.

Debbie G: So we are your regular hosts for Travel Talk. Last Travel Talk was just a little over two weeks ago. September 25th. I was on a plane returning from Paris, so I was not able to host. So we very kindly had two other learning experts host, which were another Debbie, that was Debbie Worman, and Jennifer Ottowitz. And they talked you all through all the steps required until you got on the plane and then we'll pick it up from there. But just as a quick summary of what was talked about before, we talked all about preparation even before you step into the airport. What you can do to get ready. One of the useful tips was to go online and find a layout of your airport so you know where your terminal is, where the gates are located, restaurants, restrooms, security, et cetera. And there are a couple of websites that you can find in the show notes from the last Travel Talk. One of them is ifly.com. And there are many other useful websites in the show notes.

Pam W: Okay. I am going to be giving some tips for boarding the plane as well as how things run once you're on the plane. So again, please, we want to hear from you. We want you to all be discussing things with each other and sharing your experiences. So please don't hesitate even if I'm talking to raise your hand because we would love to call on you. We want this to be a collaboration between all of us in terms of getting the best information about air travel. So once you get to the gate the first thing that you should do is get familiar with how the area is laid out. And the two questions that are the most important to ask are, where the podium is located, where the gate people are working, and then also where is the door to get to the plane? So, oftentimes the passenger assist person will let the gate know that you've arrived. Let the gate agent know that you have arrived. And will tell them that you may need some assistance with boarding.

Sometimes that passenger assist person will go up and take care of your check-in up at the gate agent and not necessarily include you. One of the things that is important to evaluate is whether or not it's a good idea for you to go up there yourself and figure that out. Make sure that the person sees you because then they're putting a face to a name or a seat by going up and talking to the gate agent yourself. Plus then once the passenger assistant person leaves, if your flight is delayed or it gets canceled, the gate agent gets very busy and your needs may get lost in the shuffle and you want to be able to advocate for yourself by going up to the counter and asking for information. So it's always a good idea to sit as close as possible to that podium once you've figured out where it is.

So you do have the option to pre-board a plane as a person with a disability, but you are not required to do so. And there's pros and cons to both. And again, I would love to open this up for discussion on what most of you have opted to do and your reasons for doing that. One thing is, is that if you do have some vision, or even if you don't, when everybody kind of files onto the plane down that ramp, you're kind of in a single file line and it's pretty easy to navigate because you've got the person's suitcase in front of you and you've got people to follow if you have some vision. So, going with people actually, you get auditory cues. You're also demonstrating that people with visual impairments or disabilities are able to independently travel and board the plane to those of you around you. But it is also your option to pre-board and get on without all the hubbub of everybody else getting on at the same time and not feeling as rushed and everything. So it's really a personal choice when it comes down to pre-boarding. It's not anything that anybody can or should dictate to you.

So I'm just going to pause there for a second and see if there's anybody who would like to share what their experiences are or what they've done in terms of that choice of pre-boarding the plane or not. Does anybody have anything they'd like to share?

Debbie G: Okay we have Caroline. So I'm un-muting. Go ahead Caroline.

Caroline: Whenever I'm traveling with my family and stuff like that, I will always pre-board, which definitely makes it a lot easier for me. And actually on my last trip when I was coming home from California, the airline actually already had a wheelchair there waiting for me. Even though I didn't need a wheelchair, it definitely made it faster. Because this way I didn't have to walk. And the people taking me actually took me through a little shortcut, which made it easier. Especially going through one of the airports in New York. You know what I mean?

Pam W: Sure. Oh definitely. And that makes a lot of sense in terms of the shortcuts that the assistants will have that you're not aware of. So that's a great point. Thanks for bringing that up.

Caroline: You're welcome.

Pam W: I also see that we have someone with the area code 310. I'm going to un-mute you and if you could tell us your name and where you're from.

Alexa: Hello, I'm Alexa from Springfield, Missouri. I do a lot of traveling. I have some vision. Actually I usually ... Most of the time I pre-board. And I have a little trick I do. When I pre-board, and let's say a seat ... I already know A is on what side of the plane and F, because I typically get the window. So I've already learned that. But I usually count the seats, which interesting. Let's say if I'm in row 14 or row seven or row 22, something like that, I usually count. And if I'm off I'll ask somebody that's around me, what row number is this. You know, another passenger. And they'll say, "Oh, this is ..." Whatever. And sometimes I may have over counted. And it all works out fine.

Another thing, I don't know if anybody is aware. I wanted to go back to where you were talking about ... or was it Debbie that was talking about before you go the airport. One of the other things you can do is make sure that you know when there's a gate change. And the airline that you're traveling on will email you. I had that experience back in June where they kept changing the gate. I'm not kidding. I was in one airport and they changed the gate, from the time I arrived to the airport to the time I finally board the plane, about three times. Three separate times. And I had to go all over the airport. Thankfully I had some vision. But all over the airport each time. It was like musical gates or something.

Pam W: Right, right.

Alexa: So that email helped because, as you mentioned about being close to the podium, and true you can get lost in the shuffle. I typically go to the podium myself, even if I have assistance to get to the gate. But I usually find out where the podium is, and I make sure that they know who I am. So that's important to make sure you have notification when there's update of gate change. That's so important.

Pam W: Right. Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing.

Debbie G: I would like to add that in addition to getting email notifications, you can get text notifications, too. So I always do that because I can hear the ding go off on my phone that I have a text. And that's how I found out about gate changes too, because you're right, they can happen at any time. So thank you for sharing that. And we have Rhonda Lee, who would also like to say something. Go ahead, Rhonda.

Rhonda Lee: Yes. I also prefer to pre-board for several reasons. I like to fasten my cane under my ... I'm sorry. Under my backpack. And put it under the seat in front of me. And you have to kind of put your head in the aisle to get down under the seat in front of you. So I like there not to be people walking through when I'm doing that. And then I also like when they come by with the complementary beverage, to be able to know really clearly when they're talking to me because that can be confusing if you're way over on the window, who they're talking to.

Pam W: Sure.

Rhonda Lee: I like the airline apps because they do the same thing. They tell you when your bag has been loaded, which is comforting to know. They tell you if the gate has changed three times, which also happened to me last winter. And if it's, you know, go today because tomorrow's going to be a snow emergency or something like that.

Pam W: Right, right. I didn't actually realize that they told you on the apps when your bag's been loaded. That's very reassuring.

Rhonda Lee: I'm not sure about the Turkish airlines because a lot of the buttons don't work with VoiceOver. They just say button, button, button.

Pam W: Oh, yeah. That's frustrating.

Rhonda Lee: I've been instructed just to pick the menu and then swipe down and it'll read me what's on the screen at least.

Pam W: Right. Rhonda do you mind me asking, do you use a rigid cane or a folding cane?

Rhonda Lee: It folds. It folds three times. It's not the one that's real small, but it still fits.

Pam W: Okay.

Rhonda Lee: It still aligns with my backpack so it's not a tripping hazard. Yeah, I noticed how those really light canes that are solid don't work so well for me for travel.

Pam W: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Usually people will store those, if they do have a rigid cane then, along that window side of the wall.

Rhonda Lee: Oh okay. So that's a good reason to sit by the window.

Pam W: Right. But I think your point is very well taken about that distance. When you're by the window, you are further away from the attendant, and it is hard to know who they're asking, what would you like to drink, or do you want a snack, and that kind of thing. It seems like that's a great choice that you're making to sit on the aisle, I like that. So thank you for sharing.

Rhonda Lee: Oh, thank you.

Pam W: All right so I'll get back to my notes here and see what else we have.

Debbie G: Pam, can you talk more about, if you have a folding cane, where to put it?

Pam W: So usually just under your seat, so you have it right there with you, is the best place for it. I think it's great that Rhonda has the little thing to attach it to her backpack or put it in a little pocket in your backpack. I think that's great.

Debbie G: Here's something interesting. I do remember reading, if you have a rigid cane, you're not allowed to store it in the overhead bin because in turbulence or something or if it popped open, it could become like a weapon or it could become dangerous. So that's kind of interesting trivia. So like you said, storing it underneath the window is where it's supposed to go if you have a rigid cane.

Pam W: Right, right.

Debbie G: It says federal law permits blind customers to keep their rigid canes next to them during taxi, flight, take off, and landing. They're canes... Called mobility devices, if you go like on a website. Can be stored against the fuselage between the window and the chair, much like in cars. Using a folding cane allows you to fold the cane and store it directly under your seat.

Pam W: Okay. Well thank you so much.

Debbie G: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pam W: All right. So let's see. You are not required... The airline cannot deny you travel if you have not told them about your disability ahead of time. So even though you don't have to, it might still be a good idea to let the airline know or at least upon your arrival. And if you need any special accommodations, it would probably be a good idea. But you're not required by law to tell them ahead of time. Just the fact that ... Anyone with a disability is not a reason for the airline to ask you for a medical certificate.

It's a good idea to have a letter in case. It's one of those things. But you're not required to provide it. So it's just a matter of whether or not it's something you want to carry with you to avoid any conflict that would possibly arise. But you're not required to include that. So there must be properly trained staff available to help you board and exit the plane. And, those people who help you board and exit the plane are not allowed to carry passengers actually. So if somebody is in need of help transferring to a seat, like from a wheelchair or that kind of thing, they're just not allowed to actually carry that person and lift them up to put them into the seat.

Debbie G: And of course if someone really needed the wheelchair, they do have small ones that can go in the row, in the aisle.

Pam W: Right.

Debbie G: So a person would have a regular sized wheelchair to get them to the gate, and then once they're on the plane they transfer to this really skinny one that will get you through the aisle.

Pam W: Right.

Debbie G: And by the way, Pam you were talking about how no one is allowed to discriminate against people because of their disability and this is due to the Air Carrier Access Act, so that's the ACAA. So it's a law that makes it illegal for airlines to discriminate against passengers because of their disability. And it's the Department of Transportation that's responsible for enforcing that. And later on Pam will talk about what to do if you have any kind of complaint in violation of that ACAA. But go ahead, Pam.

Pam W: Yeah. And following up with that, the airline personnel is not allowed to ask a person's specific disability. That's up to you to share if you choose. They can ask you questions about your ability to perform certain tasks like boarding the plane, getting off the plane, walking through the airport. But they can't ask you specific information about your disability. That's only yours to share if you choose to.

So pretty much then I think we're up to the point where we're going to talk about what happens when we're on the plane. And I know this came up a little bit in the last discussion group. Talking about the rule or the tendency for flight attendants to want to sit people in the bulkhead seats. And that this is not a requirement. You can sit anywhere that you want to on the plane unless it goes against the FAA safety rules for the exit row seating rule. Which is basically that those exit rows where you have to provide assistance, the emergency exits, they need to make sure that the people who are sitting in those have the most potential to operate that equipment and to help other passengers get out safely.

So other than that, you're allowed to sit wherever you want to and it's your choice to make that decision with the bulkhead. And so, that's another one that I kind of like to open up to everybody because I know last time, in part one, there was some talk about the preference for sitting in that front seat at the bulkhead or sitting in a seat somewhere else. I know Rhonda shared with us; she likes to be on the aisle. Is there anybody else who has some experiences that they want to share out there regarding where they like to sit? Bulkhead, no bulkhead, aisle, window. We'd love to hear from you.

Debbie G: Yes, Caroline. Go ahead.

Caroline: Well my preference is usually the window, but I also like the middle seat as well. I think I've only sat in the aisle maybe once. But other than that, I will usually go for the window or the middle seat.

Pam W: And do you have a specific reason for those preferences?

Caroline: Well, I am very petite so for me it's just easier.

Pam W: Well thank you for sharing. I see that we have a couple other hands raised, so let's go to Alexa. I will un-mute you.

Alexa: Yeah. I do have to admit, I do like the window seat. I like the window seat because I like looking out the window, being that I have some vision. And I usually know when the attendant is actually speaking to me because I can tell. When she's facing in my direction, I usually can tell. But I see what others mean also. If you can't tell it is a little confusing. Sometimes I don't mind the aisle seat. I don't like the middle. For me, personally, I don't like the middle. Another thing too, when I book my own... Because I usually make my own reservation online. I usually find out where the exit rows are, and I make sure that I definitely avoid those. However, if I didn't have a chance to make my seat arrangements, when I go into the airport, I'll just point it out right away. I just say, "Oh just don't seat me in the emergency exits or any of those." I make sure that that's abundantly clear. No thank you.

Pam W: Thanks so much. All right I see we have someone with the area code, 603. I'm going to go ahead and ... Oh, I think you're un-muted. Are you un-muted? I think you are.

Debbie G: I'm on it. Yeah.

Jodie: Yeah, I'm un-muted.

Pam W: All right.

Jodie: Hi, this is Jodie in New Hampshire. Well I love flying Southwest Airlines because their customer service is awesome. But they have open seating, which I really like because you can pick your own seat. And I usually pre-board and I love the bulkhead seat with my seeing eye dog because we've got lots of space. And the nice thing about Southwest is I know that whoever sits down next to me is sitting there because they want to sit near a dog and they don't object.

Pam W: Great point.

Jodie: Where if you had assigned seat, that a lot of people get stuck sitting next to a dog, they might not like that idea. I love Southwest Airlines for that reason. And they usually offer my dog ice cubes and crackers.

Pam W: Awesome. Thank you so much. I think that's a great point. Have you ever run into trouble with your dog taking up other people's leg room? Because I know that that came up last meeting. I was going to say last week. But the last discussion group. Talking about that issue. Actually we were going to get to service dogs or service animals next. So what have your-

Jodie: My present dog is 60 pounds, so I don't think I'd have a problem. My previous dog who I flew with quite a bit was 90 pounds. I just made sure... I usually took the window seat. You know the front seat. And I just made sure that he was tucked over as far as I could get him. And I'd ask the people sitting next to me ... Oh the airline will usually leave the middle seat free. If they have the space, they'll put a sign on the middle seat saying that they want to leave that seat empty. So that gives us additional space. But then I'll also ask the person sitting nearest to me, is he in your way? Is he bothering you? So, I'm usually kind of considerate. But the present dog I have now, he's little. He's a little peanut so.

Pam W: Well that's a great point about the pre-boarding then too. That goes back to the pre-boarding like you were saying, if you're already there seated, those people can make their own decisions about whether or not they want to sit there and next to you and your dog. Now I'm curious though, with the sign, you know, putting the sign on there, have you notified them usually ahead of time that you're going to be traveling with a service animal?

Jodie: Yes.

Pam W: Or is that something that they do kind of on the spur of the moment? Okay.

Jodie: Well both. I let them know ahead of time, but they also did that on the spur of the moment. They had enough empty seats for the flight that they just put that there and gave us both extra room. Yeah, I usually do. There's usually a box when you're making reservations as to whether or not you have a service dog or not.

Pam W: Okay. Great. Thank you so much for sharing. That's really great information.

Jodie: Sure.

Pam W: I just was curious if there is anybody else who uses a service animal at all when they're traveling. And if so, if they could share any of their experiences with us?

Okay. So Jodie gave us a lot of great information that the dogs or service animals are obviously allowed on planes. There are some different guidelines for dogs or service animals that are being used as emotional support. And those people have to carry documentation. It is always a good idea to have your dog or your service animal identified by a harness, so it avoids some questioning if that comes up. You are still, as Jodie pointed out to us, able to choose your own seats. They just have to make sure that they keep the aisles clear for emergencies and for people coming through.

And let's see. If an airline employee claims that your dog guide is an emotional support or therapy dog and denies you services or accommodations, you can provide certain documentation to prove otherwise. Airlines must accept identification cards, other written documentation, the presence of a harness, tags, or, and this is the important part, the credible verbal assurances from the person with the disability using the animal. So, basically if you're telling them that your dog is not an emotional support dog, but it is in fact a service dog, they have to accept that from you. So if not, and they deny you travel on the plane, they have to provide a reason in writing within 10 calendar days from when the incident took place.

Debbie G: And Pam, this would probably be a good time to mention about the CRO, that's the Complaints Resolution Official. So if there is ever any problem with a dog guide, you could ask immediately to speak to the CRO and if they aren't there on site, they have to give you the phone number of that and then they will resolve it. And you can ask the CRO to report the decision to the pilot so there's no question whatsoever. So of course you wouldn't want to be denied boarding because you have a dog guide, so you would ask to speak to the CRO and then it would get solved right away.

Pam W: Right. Thank you for bringing that up. That's a good place to put that in. So then once you're on the plane, the airline personnel must provide you with a safety briefing that is one that will make sense to you. So sometimes the airline personnel will offer to do that individually with you, so that's, again, I would think probably another pro for pre-boarding, is they might be able to do that with you during that time when other people are boarding. Make sure that you know where the masks are going to drop down in the case of an emergency, where your call buttons are.

That was something that I wasn't able to find a whole lot of information about. If call buttons are standardized with different types of planes. So, I open it up again to see, does anybody have experience with that? I was trying to look for information on that and I will admittedly say that as a person who is a visual learner, I just take it kind of for granted that the buttons are up there and that I'm going to be able to reach up and push them without any trouble. But can anybody who's traveled a lot speak to whether or not they're pretty standardized? Or do you find that they are in different locations when you're traveling or maybe a different order? Is there anybody who can share anything about that with the group? I see Rhonda's hand is up.

Rhonda Lee: My experience is that they are not standard across different kinds of airplanes, but that they are tactile. So when the flight attendant does show you where it is, it's easy to find. It's maybe a little oval or maybe raised or maybe has like a dip in the middle of it or there's something about it that once you know where it is, it's easy to ... And some of them also are audible. So you know that ... So it goes beep beep or something.

Pam W: Right. Okay great. Thank you so much for sharing that.

Debbie G: I have something to add. On my flight from Paris a few weeks ago, since it was a long flight, they had the free movies on the seat back in front of me. And then they also had a remote that was attached to that. On the remote there was also a call button for the flight attendant. So, there was more than one option rather than reaching up.

Pam W: Oh great.

Debbie G: Yeah, it would be on the remote also.

Pam W: Okay great. All right. So another thing too... In terms of talking about the safety briefing and having that take place perhaps individually, during a pre-board. It's important to know that the airline personnel is not allowed to quiz you on whether or not you understand the information that they're providing. Just like they don't give quizzes to the rest of us who are on the plane. Anybody with a disability should not be subject to that. I thought that was a good one to note just because I know in my experience ... I don't think I said this earlier, but I'm a part-time Learning Expert for Hadley, but I am also a teacher full-time in the public schools and I have a resource room for students who are blind and visually impaired and one of the things that I have to instruct my staff members on even within the building, is to not quiz the students when they're walking down the hallway about who they are and that kind of thing. And so it just kind of reminded me of that. I thought that was a good point to make.

On the plane the airline personnel must assist people who have disabilities with a bunch of different things. And I'm going to go through and read through them. The list that I have made here. It's to move to and from your seats as part of your boarding and exiting process. That if anyone who needs help opening their packages of peanuts. Or maybe they're not doing peanuts so much on planes anymore, I don't think because of allergies.

Debbie G: Pretzels.

Pam W: Pretzels. To identify those items for you, so that you know what you're opening and eating. And to use, as Debbie mentioned earlier, the onboard wheelchair if anybody needs to move to or from the bathrooms. To just assist anybody in general as long as it doesn't require carrying the person to or from the bathroom. To load and retrieve the carryon items or the mobility aids or other assistive devices that are stowed on the aircraft. So those are all things that you can ask for assistance with on the plane and you should be provided.

So then Debbie talked about the CRO, the Complaints Resolution Official, and mentioned that you can access those people immediately if you have an issue. You don't have to wait until the flight is over and then go complaining to somebody. You can have that taken care of immediately when you have a problem. And then I think that gets us to ... Oh, no, I have some more information here. So, one thing was when you have connecting flights. And a great idea there is to, as soon as that plane lands, people have been talking about their apps and that kind of information, is to use your phone right away, you're allowed to use it as soon as the plane lands, to find out that connecting information so you have as much time as possible.

If your plane arrives late and you're potentially going to miss your connecting flight, it's a good idea to have that customer service number in your phone or readily accessible to you so that you can make a call to start making the arrangements to get another flight.

So another thing just to mention for people who maybe don't fly very often, that a lot of times that you do find out that your flight is delayed, it doesn't mean that it won't become un-delayed for lack of a better word. So it's always good, even if your plane is delayed, to stay close to that podium so you can ask questions whenever you need to. And I can't find it here in my notes, but I did remember reading somewhere that a good time to take advantage of that, if you have a connecting flight and you have less than 30 minutes to get there, then that's super time to take advantage of the assistance at the airport to get you to where you needed to be. Somebody talked earlier about them knowing the shortcuts. To get you there to your next gate as quickly as possible. That if you have 30 minutes or less, take advantage of that. I see that we have ... Oh, 603. I think we had your name up here before didn't we? Or maybe we have two people from 603.

Jodie: Yeah. It's Jodie again. One thing you can do too is, before they even open the door of the plane, is you can ask a flight attendants to radio ahead, and they'll have somebody waiting for you when you get off the plane so you can hit the ground running to your connection. I've done that a couple of times.

Pam W: Perfect. Perfect. Thank you for sharing. That's great advice. All right. So we have about 15 minutes left, and I know that Debbie had some things she wanted to share with you about baggage and international travel, so I'm going to turn it over to her now.

Debbie G: Thank you, Pam. Especially want to address Rhonda's request for information. She's going to Turkey and she wants to know about customs and all that, right Rhonda? Okay, so you have landed at your destination. As Jodie said, if you have a connecting flight, it's probably a great idea to have them radio ahead to have the escort meet you there. But if you have arranged in advance while you're making your plane reservation for assistance, they should be meeting you on the other end too. So if you had an escort to get you to your gate, they're supposed to provide one once you arrive at your destination. So, that escort is responsible for getting you through the whole process. Getting you to baggage claim and if it's from an international flight, through customs, all the way to the curb. So first let's talk about if it's not international, if it's domestic. So you have to go retrieve your baggage. So you can go with your escort or you can just kind of follow the crowd because chances are most people from your flight will be going to the same baggage carousel to retrieve their luggage. So, how do you find where your luggage is? Well if you're with the escort, you can tell the escort, I had the gray suitcase with the pink ribbon around the handle or something. Hopefully you've placed some kind of identifier around your luggage so it's not like the typical black bag. Or you can get some kind of luggage retrieval device in advance. Some of them are Bluetooth so with your phone, you have an app and then you put the other device inside your luggage. So that when your luggage comes around the carousel, there will be a notification. Some kind of beeping or whatever.

Pam W: Yeah.

Debbie G: Yeah Pam, you were going to add something about that.

Pam W: Yeah so, I know somebody brought it up last time about using a Tile. And for those of you who are not familiar with what a Tile is, it's a little Bluetooth device that you can attach to your keys, your phone. I would love to attach mine to my glasses, but I think it would look a little strange, this tag hanging it off my glasses. But anything that you want to keep track of and then from your phone you can just hit a button on your phone and that Tile will make an audible sound. And so what someone was suggesting last month was that they ... Or was telling us that they did was to have one of those Tiles in their luggage or attached to their luggage. And that way as it was going around the carousel, they could hit that button and identify their own luggage.

Debbie G: Let's talk about customs. When you enter the US, the Customs Control wants to know if you're bringing anything illegal, which would be meat products, any kind of animal products, flowers, plants, et cetera. We don't want any foreign pests or bacteria or anything introduced to the US, so you're not supped to bring those. And there is a form that you need to fill out saying, oh no, I didn't bring any of those. And they also want to know that you're not bringing huge amounts of money, of currency into the US. I don't know what the maximum is, but you have to declare that.

So there's two ways to declare it. On some flights there's an actual paper that you need to fill out with your name, address, your flight number, where you were flying from. And on the back, you have to record anything that you are declaring. Or if you bought a lot of gifts, you have to put the approximate value of the gifts. There's a certain limit that you can achieve without any extra money. But after a certain limit then you have to pay a tax. In some airports this is an automated thing. So this last flight I didn't have to fill out the declaration customs form. It's done automated. When I went through passport control, I went through a kiosk, I put my passport on a scanner, it scanned my passport, it took a picture of me, and at the same time I could answer the questions. Did you bring any animal products, et cetera? I'm like no, no, no, no. And then it prints out a form for me to take with me into the big snake line that goes up to passport control. So in passport control you have to have your passport right there with you, and this slip of paper that either was printed out at the automated kiosk or that you filled out previously on the plane. So you bring that to passport control, they scan your passport, and usually that's all it takes.

I mean they could ask you like where you're coming from. For example, in the US if you're not a US citizen, they might ask you what the purpose of your trip is. You can just say I'm visiting relatives or I'm on vacation or whatever. It's usually not a very lengthy process.

Pam W: Debbie I have a question.

Debbie G: Yes?

Pam W: So it's been a while since I've traveled internationally and so, I'm just curious. So when you were filling out the automated checklist thing, I'm assuming it's on some kind of a screen that you're answering those questions yes or no. So was there a way to make that audible, or was it audible when you were doing it?

Debbie G: I didn't see an option for that. I could be wrong.

Pam W: Okay.

Debbie G: So you'd have to have an escort with you or some kind of helper assisting you with completing the process.

Pam W: Okay.

Debbie G: It would be nice if it was ... Next time I go through I'll know for sure. Does anyone else have any experience with that? And these automated kiosks are just at the larger airports. I was going through Chicago O'Hare airport so they're pretty far along with their automation.

Pam W: Right.

Debbie G: Okay, so you've got through passport control, now you have to get your baggage and we talked about how to do that. And then customs is the next process. So you've retrieved your baggage and you have your filled-out customs form. Either filled out by you or automated. Then you have to take your baggage and the form and get in line at customs. It's usually just walking down to another line. So there's two lines. One is for travelers with goods to declare, the other line is for nothing to declare. So you go in the appropriate line. And if you have nothing to declare, you just hand them your sheet and then you're on your way. Then you can go to the curbside and get your rideshare or your taxi or meet the person picking you up. If you have something to declare, then they look through there and see if what you're declaring is legal or not. And if it's not, then they will confiscate it from you and you might have to pay a fine. So it's probably a good idea before you travel to go onto the website of customs. And I'll have it listed in the show notes. And make sure what you're bringing back is legal.

All right, so you've got through customs, you're good to go. Now let me quickly tell you about shortcuts for this. We have something called in the US, a Trusted Traveler Program. And one of them is TSA PreCheck. The other one is Global Entry. So for global entry, it's $100, US dollars. It's good for five years. And if you're Global Entry you get to skip the whole customs declaration line. You would go to the special Global Entry kiosk and put your passport there. And you've already been checked. There's a long process before you get global entry. And then you're good to go. You don't have to go through customs. You just hand them this form that the kiosk prints out for you and you don't have to go through passport control either. So it's a really nice system. It's not easy to get. I applied May 28th, filled out the whole online application, submitted my $100, and I'm still waiting to get an interview.

Pam W: Wow.

Debbie G: So to get an interview... so I'm still waiting. I just checked it yesterday. Pending review. And once you get your interview, you have to physically go to a place. They take your fingerprints, they interview you, and then they issue you a special number where in the future if I fly, I can enter this known traveler number and I also get TSA PreCheck. So if you get Global Entry, $100, you automatically get TSA PreCheck. If you just want TSA PreCheck, that's $85. It's only $15 less. And then you get expedited traveling through security. You don't have to take off your shoes. You don't have to take out your food or your toiletries, which is sometimes required. You don't have to take off your jacket. So TSA PreCheck is a nice thing too.

And one last thing I want to say, this is like my public service announcement. On October 1, 2020, if you fly within the United States you either have to have a passport or something called a REAL ID. A REAL ID is a special driver’s license or state issued ID card. It will have a little star in the upper right-hand corner. And to get this, you have to supply extra information like your birth certificate or show your passport and they're very strict on the documents that show your residency. For example, I had a bill from my car insurance, and they wouldn't accept that as an id. I had to have a utility or bank statement within the last three months to show my residency. So this is required for everyone in the US if you want to fly starting October 1, 2020. You have to have a passport or this REAL ID. So right now they're publicizing that more and more.

Pam W: But I'm pretty sure ... And maybe I'm mistaken. My understanding was that for your state ID, when you get your state ID that ... In most states now, I know it's not that way in every state, but it automatically is a REAL ID. Is that not accurate?

Debbie G: No, it depends on the state.

Pam W: Okay.

Debbie G: For example, in Illinois, it's an extra process.

Pam W: Okay.

Debbie G: So some states have already put that into effect, but others are not, so you need to check that out.

Pam W: Right.

Debbie G: That's a totally new thing. The law was passed in 2005, but it's taken this long for states to get on board and start implementing it.

Pam W: Right. And I think Illinois is the last one to get on board actually.

Debbie G: Oh okay, there we go.

Pam W: If I remember correctly.

Debbie G: Well we're getting towards the end of Travel Talk. I want to say thank you very much for participating either by listening or sharing your comments or questions.

Thanks again to everyone and I hope you can join us the next time. Happy travels.