Business travelers have a lot to remember when flying. Things like: Don't wear lace-up shoes; don't forget to pack a snack; and don't blather incessantly to the stranger seated next to you (particularly if that stranger is me).
So please forgive me for adding five more things to remember to your list. But if you keep the following tips in mind, your next trip--with laptop, cell phone, or other portable devices in tow--should be safer, more comfortable, and less stressful.
1. Don't Pack a Laptop in Your Checked Baggage
A checked suitcase is more vulnerable to theft, damage, and loss than a carry-on bag that stays within your control. Most importantly, airlines routinely exclude computer equipment from their liability. If something happens to your laptop, the airlines don't you owe a cent. So whenever possible, keep your laptop with you on the plane.
2. Carefully Pack Spare Lithium Ion Batteries
Lithium ion batteries frequently made headlines last year, as many laptop makers announced recalls of potentially faulty batteries that can catch fire. In fact, the recalls continue; Toshiba recently announced another one.
Reports of fire or other mishaps caused by lithium ion batteries on board aircraft are extremely rare. But there have been a few incidents, including one on a UPS cargo plane.
Placing lithium ion batteries together in a bag, without covering their contact points, can cause the batteries to spark if their contact points rub together. To be safe, always wrap spare lithium ion batteries in bubble wrap or some other protective material.
3. Don't Use an External Hard Drive on the Plane
Portable hard drives have shrunk in size and grown in capacity. These days, you can easily tuck 200GB of storage (or more) into your laptop bag.
But be forewarned: Some airlines, such as Delta, don't allow the use of external hard drives at any point during a flight. The external drives might cause electromagnetic interference with cockpit communications and navigation, according to a Delta spokesperson. Granted, banning external hard drives on planes is erring on the side of caution. Still, if you back up your files while in flight, use your laptop's built-in flash memory card reader or burn a CD or DVD instead.
4. Don't Forget the Headphones
From garrulous seatmates to bawling babies, a long flight can be an ordeal--particularly in coach. Always pack ear buds or headphones so you can escape the noise with tunes on your laptop or MP3 player, video on your laptop, or the airplane's in-flight entertainment.
Noise-canceling headphones, such as JVC's HA-NC250s (about $200), are more expensive than standard models but help keep outside sound from infiltrating your cocoon. You may need an airline adapter, about $10, to connect your headphones to the audio-out jack on your seat's armrest.
Consider packing a pair of silicone ear plugs, too, for those times when the plane is noisy and you just want a snooze. I use Mack's Pillow Soft Earplugs, available from most drug stores.
5. Clam Up During Beverage Service
Before a flight attendant reaches across your seatback tray to serve a drink to you or your neighbor, remove your laptop, close the lid, and hug the computer upright against your stomach. This sounds silly, I know. But about a year ago, an attendant was serving orange juice to the person next to me when someone trying to pass through the aisle bumped the attendant. Had I not already removed my laptop from my seatback tray, my computer would have been sloshed with OJ.
Read "In-Flight Entertainment Update" for some ideas on how to pass the time.
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