Six stories of my own come to mind about major fails when trying to get from point A to point B.
● Missed a flight because I showed up at the wrong airport
● Missed a flight because I showed up at the wrong time
● Made a flight even though when I got to the gate I learned I never hit the final “confirm” button for my reservation
● Missed a flight because I got distracted, it was delayed, and didn't hear the announcement
● Spent hours in tears looking for my car after I arrived home from a trip
● Made a flight only because it was delayed as I got there 30 minutes AFTER it was scheduled to take off
What is it about navigating the airport that is such a struggle for us Smart Girls? Planning and executing your trip takes coordination, organization, time management, and blocking out distractions, all of which are a challenge for us with brains that have ADHD characteristics.
As I was preparing for a business trip to New Orleans, I decided to ask my fellow Smart Girls to share some of their own airport stories. And (this is why I love this group) minutes later the anecdotes started pouring in. How refreshing to be reassured that I am not in this alone! Here are some tips to avoid these flying fails interspersed with some stories that are sure to make you feel that you are not alone!
“I go through my mental to do list in my head over and over as I wait in the security line. This gets especially complicated with 2 ADHD kids in tow. I pack everything but my husband's carry-ons to be as efficient as possible because I cannot handle my own shit as it is.
It never fails - when they split us up for different lines, like for our Disney trip this past spring, I'm left with both kids to handle on my own. I'm a sweaty and disheveled mess by the time we get through. Meanwhile, my mom and husband have a smooth trip through and are sitting on a bench waiting for us.
Then they have no clue why I'm completely stressed out and overthinking logistics for everything afterwards. I left it up to them to figure out what gate we needed to be at, and they had our family sitting on the opposite end of the concourse until close to boarding time, when I decided to double-check. - Erin
1. PACK LIGHT
The more stuff you have to manage, the more challenging it will be to navigate the airport.
“I showed up at the airport on Sunday morning with my husband for our flight home from a weekend getaway only to discover that I made our reservations for our return on Saturday. There were no open seats and we ended up flying home on stand by and not sitting together. Thankfully, he was a good sport about it.” - Angela
2. CHECK AND DOUBLE CHECK YOUR RESERVATIONS AND ITINERARIES
Make sure they exist and you didn't just think that you made them. I once got to the gate to check in and realized I had never hit that final “accept” button when planning my business travel and those reservations were never actually made.
Don't let this happen to you.
Check and double-check those reservations. Revisit the times and the dates and validate that they are correct.
“As a PhD student, travelling back alone from a conference a few years ago, I arrived at the airport in Germany to check in for my flight home. After the check-in machine rejected my ticket several times, I discovered that I had booked my return flight for a month later... I had to buy another ticket and pay about €100 extra for the earlier of two flights that night so that I could get a dissertation polished for hand-in and spend time with my son, who had his very first day of school the next day.
Cue huge electrical storm, malfunctioning plane and cancellation of both of that evening's flights and I ended up on a different plane, arrived in the wrong part of the country at 2am, on the earliest train at 6am and got home just in time to drop him off at school.” - Catriona
3. GATHER YOUR DOCUMENTS TOGETHER THE NIGHT BEFORE YOU NEED TO GET TO THE AIRPORT
Organize all your confirmations together either electronically, in paper form, or in both.
“At the time I was living in Japan and had flown back to the US for a business conference. I was leaving to head back to Japan when poor time management caused me to miss my flight out of NC. Later that evening I finally made it to ATL (although the plane was late!) but I decided to stop for snacks and got distracted by deciding which ones to buy. When I finally realize the time, I mixed up the gate numbers and hauled butt to the wrong gate -- causing me to then miss my flight from ATL to Tokyo. By the time I got back to Japan, it was 2 days later than expected! All over some dang poor time management and deciding over which chips to buy.” - Julia
4. MAKE YOURSELF A TIMELINE
AND WRITE IT DOWN
Since we often believe that the laws of space and time don't apply to us, it is good to write these things down and make sure they are realistic. When should you start getting out of the house? How long will it take you to get there? To park? To check bags? To get through security? When is boarding time (hint… it is not the time of your flight).
5. PREPARE YOUR ELECTRONIC DEVICES
The night before, make sure you have everything you want charged. Do you need to download a book or a movie for the flight? Do it the day before you go.
“I was particularly proud of myself one morning when I managed to remember to pick up my meds on the way to the airport, but when I got to the airport an hour later (it's 67 miles from my house) I discovered I had completely forgotten my luggage! Then I did what any self-respecting adult would do: I called my mother to bring it to me.
Fortunately, I was able to book a flight on a different airline for that day and disaster was averted. (The idea of waiting for the parking lot van, driving home an hour, picking up my bags and returning again was way too overwhelming for me. So glad I have a wonderful, understanding Mom!)” - Jill
6. MAKE A CHECKLIST OF WHAT TO REMEMBER WHEN YOU WALK OUT THE DOOR...POST IT ON THE DOOR
Think luggage, identification, boarding pass, reservation confirmations, phone, wallet, etc.
7. SET YOURSELF SOME REMINDER ALARMS
Use your phone to your advantage. Set yourself alarms that align with your timeline. Time to wake up. Time to leave the house. No I mean it this time, get out of the house.
“I had an outbound flight from SFO after a conference and found two other patients attending had discovered they were on the same flight a half hour before mine, so I got a ride to the airport. I'd checked in online for my connection to MSP, but since my friends were rearranging seating, I printed a ticket while waiting. Going through security I felt like I dropped my phone into the big hiking pack I was carrying, and dug through it. No phone. I realized it was probably on the kiosk.” - Kerri
“Last time I flew in October, after going through security and getting my bags back and shoes back on, I realized I dropped /misplaced my boarding ticket. I franticly looked for it and it was on the floor under the luggage belt. Just a normal day.” - Cindy
8. DRESS FOR GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
The more gymnastics you have to do to get through security, the more overwhelming the whole experience becomes. Minimize the metal you are wearing. Have easy on/off shoes. Make sure you don't have any restricted items in your purse.
9. RECORD YOUR PARKING LOCATION (IF APPLICABLE)
If you are parking your car, try writing your parking location on the ticket or take a picture of your parking section. I recently learned it may also be good to record in your phone where you put that parking ticket!
“Last year I worked at a summer camp several states away from where I live. After 7 weeks of 7am-12am days I was exhausted. I had been sitting at the gate my flight was supposed to leave from. Thinking I was right where I needed to be, I didn't even pay attention to the time.
Next thing I know I hear my name over the loudspeaker. Turns out my flight had been moved to a different gate. Thankfully I made my flight and when I got home my best friends were there to surprise me." - Margaret
10. GO RIGHT TO YOUR GATE
You may be walking towards your gate and see the little airport convenience store and think “maybe I should get myself a book/pack of gum/cute stuffed animal. Don't do it. At least not yet. Get yourself to your gate. You never know what barriers are there between you and that gate. Once you get there and see it, you may decide you have an hour free for some impulse buys. Just don't stray far so you can make sure you know if there are any changes and you don't lose track of the boarding time.
11. TRAVEL WITH SOME CASH
There's always a scenario you might need cash. May as well have a safety net in hand.
“One time traveling for work I made my flight reservations from Washington DC to Seattle. So, I left from work (which is right next to the metro stop) and took the metro to Washington National Airport.
When I got there, I could not for the life of me find the terminal. The letters just didn't exist. Come to find out I made my reservation for Dulles International Airport, not National. I had no car with me to get there nor could I get there in time if I did. Luckily, the Airline served both airports and with a large fee, I could switch my flight. But, having to explain why I was late to my client was no fun!” - Carmen
Okay, now it is time to sit back and enjoy the trip. And if a crisis does come up, good thing you have experience navigating crisis and can use your ADHD super power to get out of it!
“I once got on the wrong airplane and accidentally went to Billings, Montana!” - Peggy
Oh… and make sure you get on the right plane!
Now I will summarize these in the form of a checklist because if you are anything like me (and I think you may be), a checklist is a tool you are VERY comfortable with.
BEFORE DAY OF TRAVEL
● Pack light
● Check and double check your reservations and itineraries
● Gather your documents together the night BEFORE you need to get to the airport
● Make yourself a timeline and write it down
● Prepare your electronic devices
BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE HOUSE
● Make sure you have cash
● Dress yourself to speed through security screenings
● Review your checklist of items you need to bring
○ Reservation Confirmation/Boarding Pass, etc
○ Devices & Charger
AT THE AIRPORT
● Record your parking location
● Go right to gate
● Go to the right gate ;)
● Relax and enjoy!
Feel free to make the rest of us feel better and share some more of your stories in the comments!
Carmen is a wife, a mother of 3 tween boys with ADHD, and an IT Program Manager with a Masters in Software Engineering. You can read her blog at cre8andrecre8.blogspot.com