A necessary evil of being a venerable youth on the run is the time spent in transit. The hopscotch between your destinations. It can be exciting, but mostly it is a pain. But it should not be time wasted. Because with a little guidance, these stopovers in purgatory can actually become some of the most memorable moments of your traveling. So with this in mind, let’s begin. —Alexei Obolensky
Check-in is everything. EVERYTHING.
If you’re flying long haul, never, ever, ever check-in online. Always at the desk and always with a smile. Conjure up a delicate mix of coy sympathy and proud admiration.“How’s your day going?” Act sophisticated and worldly but with a lackadaisical, un-rushed ease. But don’t overdue it. Be unlike everyone else they’ve seen that day. A difficult act to balance but one that juggled well can open a world of possibilities and comfort.
A check in agent is your first point of contact and may set the tone for your whole trip. They may look downtrodden and frustrated beyond belief, but they hold your life and perhaps even death-by-middle-seat, in their hands. Upgrades, seat choice, board charges, meals, lounge access and more. They are the holder to many keys of many doors you want to open and first impressions count. Before you even arrive at the desk, preparation is key.
How to Dress:
A collared shirt is integral. Plain sweaters worn cleanly. Navy is a nice color. If somewhere warm, white linen is timeless, but logo-less will do. Chinos. Shoes with no holes. Look like you belong, and do something of value. If you surf, look like you surf well. If you skate, for this moment only, don’t be sweaty and wear a pair of shoes out of the box. This will be the only time we ever tell a skater how to dress. Channel your inner Rieder just right, for this moment, and you may have Champagne in your hand before your friends are even asked to board the bird.
The ultimate best possible outcome of check in is an upgrade, and your whole demeanour whilst airport-ing should reflect this. Getting overweight boards on is OK and a feat worth celebration, but will leave you feeling empty inside as you follow in the more beautiful (or just more prepared) people boarding and turning left into a world of Champagne, oysters, succulent leather and organic fruit.
I need not go on about the benefits of upgrades. But there really are copious amounts of Champagne involved at all stages, with all the fringe benefits that usually accompany Champagne — think models, and buttery BOSE headphones. It is a throwback to the glory days of travel. It is glamour. It is to travel with Sienna Miller on one arm. It is the height of sophistication. Upgrades to Premium Economy kind of count, but let’s just call that training. Set your sites on Business. And First.
To achieve this level of heady self-esteem, choice of check in agent is paramount. For the young male voyager, avoid the faded older ladies, they have seen it all before and sadly 20 years of foundation and fake eyelashes have made them immune to your charm. Equally, don’t be fooled by the younger prettier girls, although they are recently initiated into the world of heavy foundation and fake lashes, they have been hit on by a previous 100 guys this morning, so don’t waste your time. Aim for down the line, 35 to 45 years old and life is golden. Think librarian, think favorite aunt. Do no think Sharon Osbourne or spawn. It is of note that all check in agents at LAX are uncharmable, they have hearts of stone and know not to love, they are eternally damned, a 21st century Sisyphus (1). Avoid.
Become a Frequent Flyer (even if you aren’t one):
Sign up to a frequent flyer program. Sign up to all of them. They are free. One World. Star Alliance. AAdvantage. The top trumps are AMEX miles. Book all your travels on Amex and watch points roll in. But then enjoy the nauseating panic that sets in on the 50th day of your 56 day credit terms on the money you spanked (that wasn’t yours to start with) on a Mentawais boat trip with da boiz trip via a “stopover” gentleman’s weekend in Hong Kong. Who cares, this is living! You are a drop in the Ocean of a $1 trillion dollar deficit! Long live capitalism! And debt!
The Airline Lounge:
With an upgrade will come a lounge. Lounges vary in prestige across the world but all are good. Most feature free domestic beer and coffee. But remember, how you act in a lounge is of the upmost importance. I live in fear of being turned in by other lounge dwellers to the powers that be. “He’s an imposter and he’s ruining my experience” they will cry over their metal Samsonite cases adorned with gold tags. I will then be dragged away, kicking and screaming back to departures and have my ticket torn up and be shown to seat 72F.
Seasoned lounge lizards will recognise a lounge rookie at 100 paces. This is easily avoided. Never look over excited, nonchalance is the name is the game. Do not giggle excitedly. Do nod politely at other lounge members. Do not take too many photos. Do not Snapchat. Most definitely do over indulgence at the free bar, but do so in the way an investment banker would during a divorce. Subtly. More Casablanca, less Withnail & I. Hazy, unperturbed drunkenness is the aim and Bloody Marys and Champagne are de rigeur to achieve this. All being well you should then float aloof on a booze induced cloud to the gate, turn left on the plane, enjoy more booze, then sleep peacefully until your well-rested and triumphantly romantic arrival in a new foreign land.
A layover can be the best of times or the worst of times. Bad it can be 36 hours on the floor on Qatar airport’s floor (it’s made of cold marble). Best of times it can be better than your actual trip. I recently had a layover in Hong Kong for 48 hours and it was quite possibly the greatest 48 hours of my modest existence, culminating with a collection of Danish models spraying Laurent Perrier and being paid to do so. The general rule of thumb, if you are somewhere fun, stopover for at least 24 hours. Fun includes. New York, Hong Kong (the most fun), Reykjavík, Sydney, LA, London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam.
Fun layovers do not include Dubai, Qatar, Shannon, Pudong, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit.
I am writing this from LAX, which contrary to popular belief is not an airport. LAX is the last days of Rome. The check-in area is a 21st century remake of the opening scene of Gladiator, and if you do make it past and into security, there are people who have been in the line since 2009. For those inbound to LAX, your arrival is oddly reminiscent of the first scene in Saving Private Ryan. With an average wait time of 36 hours — 35.5 of which are spent being shouted at and corralled into pens. A Centri pass will never look so good as it does at that moment. When you do finally get outside, gasping for air, the traffic flow in pick up area is a similar to negotiating the inside track of the Indy 500 with luggage.
So no, we have very few recommendations for LAX as it is not an airport, it is a shit show.
So yes, LAX is the worst, though sadly it is often unavoidable. Most other major international hubs are sweet though. LHR, CDG, ORD, TYO, JFK, SFO and so on and so forth are all fine fine fine but not the king. The El Dorado of airports is undoubtedly Singapore Changi International Airport. Untold riches and comfort await, there are fish that will nibble your toes for free, there are parrots in the smoking area, there is a butterfly garden, there is a spa and there is a swimming pool and a movie theater. There are hourly beds to rent. There are cocktail bars full of lush and storied humanity. They play music. Good conversation is always close by. And when you combine this with the multiple beautiful people who pass through daily, a simple 8 to 10 hour layover can be dangerous amounts of fun. On your way home from Indonesia, always install the 12 hour layover in Singapore to shower, recharge, reboot and prepare for your return to the first world. There is no cleaner place than Changi.
The right airline will trump all airport experiences. A good airline will take boards not only for free, but with a smile and a lenient eye on those extra kilos, seats will be sumptuous, there will be a choice of fine wines and cake and you shall arrive at your destination in a timely manner feeling fresh to death, class regardless. A bad airline will charge $250 per board, with no meal and replace your legs with a fold out tray.
What Youth Recommends the following airlines: American, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Singapore, Qatar, Emirates, Virgin Atlantic (those uniforms!), Air France (sometimes, sometimes not), Lufthansa, Qantas, Air Canada, KLM.
What Youth does not recommend the following airlines: Ryanair, Iberia, Continental (Yuck!) United (Double Yuck!) Delta, Easyjet, JAL, Virgin Blue, Jetstar, Lion Air, Aeroflot, China Southern, China East.
(1) In Greek Mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra. He deceitfully promised his citizens and those of neighboring kingdoms navigation and commerce but took great pleasure in killing travelers. He was punished by Zeus by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating this action for eternity.