August 30, 2012

Wingwoman Tracy: Kiss Summer Goodbye With These Fall-tastic Travel Ideas

While most end of summer vacations focus on soaking up the last rays of August sun, my favorite Labor Day trip embraced the fall and took me straight into the great outdoors smack-dab in the center of the city that never sleeps — New York City’s Central Park.

I arrived in the city early Friday morning, just as it was emptying out for the long weekend and headed directly to Central Park. I rented a bicycle and covered the entire park. Of course I made sure to visit my favorite spots, Bow Bridge and Belvedere Castle. I lounged in the green fields, soaking up the sun as the urban oasis with its crisp air and blue skies eased me into the changing season.

Autumn is my favorite time for short weekend or day escapes. So many towns have seasonal celebrations from craft and farmer’s markets to state fairs and sprawling corn mazes. These day- or weekend-long festivals are such a lovely way to take in the sights, sounds and tastes of fall from snacking on locally grown veggies to activities like pumpkin and apple picking to music and petting zoos. These autumnal celebrations are great for the whole family, but they aren’t just children’s play! Night hayrides with bonfires and drinks are a great way to get outdoors and celebrate the season grown-up style!

If you are looking for an easy weekend-long retreat, cities along the East Coast are wonderful fall destinations. If you have children in college, why not take an extra day or two for yourselves during parents’ weekend? Massachusetts, Washington, D.C. and Virginia have so many universities and such important histories. Education, travel and history are perfect pairings. Exploring historic sites and learning more about a location’s past really heightens your appreciation of a place and its culture, and creates lasting memories.

Even if you are not visiting a college town, the East Coast offers great fall destinations, especially in early September. The travel crowds disperse after Labor Day, and hotel prices and airfares drop significantly. Plus, the summer hustle and bustle has quieted, cities are less crowded, flights are less packed and you can take a plane ride to a little slice of heaven and have New England beaches almost all to yourself. It’s a great time to travel with children as well, since it is so much easier to keep sight of them in smaller crowds.

Short fall jaunts come with yet another travel perk: packing light! No need to worry about fitting multiple outfits and shoes in your carry-on for a weekend escape. Just remember to bring layers since that brisk fall air may require a jacket or sweater.

Great historical sites and activities to check out this fall:

Virginia:

DC:

Massachusetts

While many travelers use Labor Day weekend as their last summer getaway, a final fling with sand and sea, you can opt to skip the crowded beaches and high-priced hotels. Instead, I sometimes visit cities, friends and family or even stay home and entertain. Firing up the grill for a backyard BBQ or hosting potluck supper with family and friends, saves travel time and travel-induced stress and money. Enjoying local sights and visiting with family and friends is a great, relaxing way to spend time together before schedules shift and the school year begins.

Don’t be fooled, though. I’m not a homebody by any means. Obviously, I love to travel — crisscrossing the country, I love boarding the plane each time — and the fall is a perfect time for an escape with the entire family or a smaller getaway, whether it is romantic or with friends.

Embrace the new season, get outdoors, travel light and enjoy all that fall has to offer! Follow me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy) for more fall travel tips or to share your favorite fall activities!

Read Tracy’s previous columns: The Wind Beneath Your Wings: Giving Lift To Your Perfect Summer Trip, Snorkeling, Rum Punch and Beyond: Top Spring Break Spots and How A Kiwi Led To My Biggest Airport Snafu

Learn more about our Wingwoman Tracy

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July 30, 2012

Wingwoman Tracy: How Mosquito Netting, Cement Floors and No Electricity Led to My Favorite Travel Memory

Vacations are a time to take a break from your daily routine and all its stresses. It’s a time to reconnect with your friends and family; to explore new places and meet new people; to relax, recharge and re-enter your life more patient, calm and hopefully more sun-kissed. Many associate this type of rejuvenation with spa treatments, shopping trips or lounging by a pool. While these activities are certainly fun, there is another way, a personal favorite of mine, to recharge and reboot: voluntourism!

When you go on vacation your flight often takes you to a land of luxury, but when you volunteer, you land in a place of compassion, sacrifice and hope. With volunteering I discovered vacation experiences and memories that are more satisfying and longer-lasting. Tans fade, new beach memories blur together with old ones, but each volunteer experience is memorable, and every face you meet and story you hear is unique and unforgettable.

I first volunteered on vacation last June with Orphanage Outreach, an all-boys’ orphanage in Jaibon, Dominican Republic. In a cement building with just a floor and roof and mosquito netting instead of walls, we read to the children, played games together, prepared meals and met other volunteers and organizers. I was worried about how a Type A personality like mine—so accustomed to the everyday niceties that I often take for granted—would react to being so far out of my element. But my normal clean-freak self quickly disappeared. I was instantly bitten by the volunteer bug. Looking into the children’s eyes and feeling the warmth of their smiles was all my daughter and I needed to feel comfortable and at home. We swiftly adapted to our surroundings and, while they were not luxurious, they were certainly filled with love, laughter and support.

All of the amenities that I thought were important were soon forgotten. We enjoyed the outdoors, experienced new sights and sounds in the community and met extraordinary new people. Best yet, my daughter and I spent time together that neither one of us will soon forget. All in all, our voluntourism amounted to a vacation of a lifetime.

Where to Volunteer?

Check with your hotel and resort:
Many resorts, especially abroad, offer volunteer programs to their guests. Sandals resorts have a wonderful  foundation where guests can explore volunteer opportunities. One of Sandals’ most popular volunteer programs involves reading to local school children. I have heard wonderful things about the program from both the volunteers and the organizers, and I look forward to checking it out soon!

Seek out volunteer opportunities through your employer:
Many companies are getting more involved with volunteering. Your human resource department can serve as a wonderful source of information for different programs and charities. Some employers even offer incentives to help motivate their employees to take time to volunteer. With JetBlue, for every 25 hours an employee volunteers, JetBlue gives a free roundtrip ticket to the employee’s charitable organization of choice. Check with your company to see what information and incentives they offer.

Community organizations and schools offer many volunteer opportunities as well:
Community organizations like your local religious center and school programs are a great source to learn about volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad. From building houses to medical mission trips to volunteering in a local classroom, your hometown is a great place to start your research.

Every little bit DOES help:
Don’t feel overwhelmed by a huge time commitment. Just a few hours during your vacation or your life throughout the year can make a difference. A few weeks ago, on a recent family trip to Turks & Caicos, I dedicated a few hours of our trip to building a community playground. We were out in the sun, enjoying the fresh air and each other’s company. It ended up being one of our favorite vacation moments!

Bring your kids!
Inject the volunteer bug into your children’s lives by participating together as a family. Not only does it provide a great family bonding experience and memories to share, it is also a wonderful way to lead by example. Your shared service and sacrifice will teach your child an important life lesson and open his or her eyes to new experiences and places at a young age.

Don’t worry about the amenities that you think you need!
Never been without electricity or running water? No worries! You will become a chameleon and quickly adapt to a new setting as long as you are willing to sacrifice a few creature comforts. I promise you. The compassion, hope and love you will gain during your experience will be more valuable to you in the end than a fluffy pillow.

Focus on what you can bring and don’t worry about what you don’t have.
Volunteering is one of the few things in life where you don’t need a lot of resources or special skills to be a success. It’s not about showing up with something; it’s about showing up with the right attitude! Arrive with an openness and willingness to work hard, share love and joy and give of your time.

Most of us in the travel industry say that flying gets into your blood. Now, volunteering has worked its way into my blood too. Once you try it, you will find yourself wanting to do more. Want to give it a try or have more questions – I am now tweeting! Follow me on Twitter @Wingwoman_Tracy to find out more. Can’t wait to hear about your experiences and memories!

Read Tracy’s previous columns: The Wind Beneath Your Wings: Giving Lift To Your Perfect Summer Trip, Snorkeling, Rum Punch and Beyond: Top Spring Break Spots and How A Kiwi Led To My Biggest Airport Snafu

Learn more about our Wingwoman Tracy

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May 24, 2012

Wingwoman Tracy: The Wind Beneath Your Wings: Giving Lift To Your Perfect Summer Trip

Heaps of seafood steam on the stove while family members gather in the open kitchen to mix drinks, play card games and dance. Music and laughter spill out of the open windows as the sun sets over the Outer Banks. My vacations on the beaches off the coast of North Carolina are among my favorite summer travel memories. Large, extended families or a big group of friends can rent one big house and all stay together, a great way to save money and recreate a homelike setting at a vacation destination. The Outer Banks offers the ocean and history like Kitty Hawk, where the Wright brothers first took flight; one of my favorite sites. You can bike and horseback ride, and the entire family can be together, while allowing everyone to explore his or her own interests and gather together for dinner and evening fun. It’s like packing three vacations into one!

Summertime stirs up all kinds of nostalgia: memories of backyard BBQs, family vacations, long days packed with fun and freedom. I love that thrilling feeling of school letting out and conjuring the endless possibilities for summer fun. Even as an adult, I get that itch for summer freedom: taking a break from chores, stress, and work. As the days turn warmer and stretch longer, and we feel like escaping our day-to-day routine and heading out into the sun, these summer travel tips and tricks will help make this summer’s vacation a memory of a lifetime (and an affordable one at that).

How to choose your sizzlin’ summer destination

Whether you’re vacationing with kids or not, summer travel can come with a lot of pressure to pick the perfect spot. Even though beaches may be the ultimate summer hot spot to many, don’t limit yourself! The perfect destination is not the same for every traveler. Think about what change or break you are craving. If you live by the beach, maybe you want to jet off to a city. Chicago is a great vacation spot, with lakeshore beaches coupled with city offerings. Or maybe the mountains are beckoning! The Tennessee Mountains are a great July destination. I enjoy summer travel most when it means taking a break from your norm. Focus on finding a destination and activities that deviate from your everyday schedule and let that guide you to your perfect vacation.

If you are planning a family trip, summers are a great time to bring history to life. If your child’s interest was piqued by a particular subject area in school, why not explore that on your summer travels? Historical sites, museums and national parks are all great vacation destinations.

The U.S. National Parks offer great budget-friendly options. We sometimes forget that some of the most beautiful landscape and natural wonders are right in our own country’s backyard! You can snag an annual pass for just $80 – which includes everyone in your car – or a lifetime senior pass for only $10; plus, military members get in for free. Many of the parks include activities and amenities, such as camping or boat launching, for a reasonable, additional fee.

Another budget-conscious option for family travel or getaways with the pals is all-inclusive packages.  Whether you are traveling abroad, particularly to the Caribbean, or looking to cruise on the open seas, check-out all-inclusive packages, since they can offer great deals and a smart way to save. Plus, booking a trip that includes airfare, hotel, meals and drinks is a great way to stick to your budget and free yourself to worry about having fun rather than dipping into the wallet while you’re away.

My favorite places to scout great travel deals are JetBlue Getaways, Priceline and Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor ranks hotels by price and location and includes lots of tips from other travelers, a great way to get a sense for the products and service you’re considering. And remember, staying a short block or two away from the beach rather than right on it helps to score an even better price.

How to pack for happy trails

Once you decide on your perfect summer spot, what do you pack to make the most of your trip? I always recommend packing light! Have a plan. Don’t pack assuming that you need to cover every possible activity or situation. Bring items that you can use more than once. You can match your favorite pair of pants with different shirts. No need to pack four pairs of pants when one can last you a couple of wears.

For your flight, wear the same outfit traveling to and from your destination to cut down on extra items and time. I always recommend dressing for the plane like you would dress for a movie theater in the middle of summer. It may be hot outside, but it can sometimes get chilly on the airplane, so layers are a must! And, even though I love flip flops when I’m on the beach, I wear slip-on, closed-toe shoes on airplanes for maximum comfort. Pack your flip flops in your carryon bag so you can break them out and slip them on when you arrive at your destination and officially kick off your summer trip!

Also pack your bathing suit in your carry-on so you can make the most of your first day of vacation, and in case you arrive before hotel check-in time. I apply my sunscreen in the morning before I leave home, roll up my bathing suit and store an inexpensive pair of rubber flip-flops in my carry-on. Then, when I arrive at my destination, I head straight to the pool or beach.

Be a traveler, not a tourist

Everyone loves visiting far-off reaches of the globe, but no one wants to be spotted as a tourist. I’m a big fan of dressing in solid-colored clothing for easier blending. Leave those Hawaiian colored shirts at home so you don’t stick out while away (unless you’re in Hawaii, of course!). Khaki pants or black jeans are great travel options too, since denim jeans do not necessarily fit in at every setting. Comfortable walking shoes are a must, so you can focus on the beautiful sights and sounds rather than your aching heels.

With all this preparation, you and your family and friends are destined for a trip of a lifetime. Enjoy, and remember to apply that sunscreen and your sense of adventure!

Read Tracy’s previous columns: Snorkeling, Rum Punch and Beyond: Top Spring Break Spots and How A Kiwi Led To My Biggest Airport Snafu

Learn more about our Wingwoman Tracy

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April 20, 2012

Wingwoman Tracy: How A Kiwi Led To My Biggest Airport Snafu

“If you look closely, you’ll see kiwi fuzz,” I tried to explain and apologize to the TSA official all at once.

It was a hot summer weekend and my family and I had ventured to a water park to cool off for a bit and have some fun.  We had a wonderful day full of sun, waves and snacks.  The next morning, as I was rushing off to work, I forgot to check my purse before heading to the airport.  Thinking I would breeze through the employee security line, I was surprised when I was suddenly stopped by TSA.  The official politely looked through my purse and at the bottom he found the small knife that I had used to cut kiwi fruit during the previous day’s outing.  I was completely mortified!

No matter how often you travel, even if you are a professional like me, it’s important to cover your bases before heading to the airport.  Preparedness is truly your best friend when you travel, and the key to a stress-free trip.  Here are some of the best practices and travel etiquette tips that I’ve learned from my 20 years in the airline industry.

Before you leave home:

Bypassing the ticketing counter saves time, so check in online and print your boarding pass at home if possible, especially if you aren’t checking bags.  Some airlines even reward customers for checking-in in advance (with JetBlue, you can earn 100 TrueBlue points for checking-in on Facebook.) Remember not to pack any bottles of liquid larger than 3.4 ounces in your carry-on.

Gather all of your important travel documents in one convenient place.  I love my travel wallet, which has slots for my family’s passports, tickets and itinerary information.  It fits nicely in my purse and I’m not sifting through my bag looking for stray papers.

Plan to arrive at the airport early!  It seems so simple, but it is my number-one rule for stress-free travel.

Speeding through the security line, hassle free:

It’s all about saving time.  Ladies, limit the jewelry you wear.  If you are leaving your house at 4 a.m. to make an early flight, put that beautiful necklace and belt in your purse.  If you wear them through security, you’ll just have to take them off and you’ll slow yourself down (and everyone in line behind you).  Once you sail through the lines, you can put all your accessories on at the gate.  Also, be mindful of laptops.  Make sure they’re easily accessible, since you’ll have to take them out of your bag in the security line.  Slip-on shoes save time too!  Who wants to deal with laces anyway when there’s a line of people piling up behind you?

For those looking to breeze right through, JetBlue’s Even More Speed offers expedited security at selected airports, allowing for faster travel during the busy summer months.

Just before boarding:

Water!  It’s so important to stay hydrated while flying.  Airlines provide water, and with JetBlue you have unlimited drinks and snacks, but it’s always good to keep some extra on you regardless.

Before boarding the plane, retrieve all items out of your carry-on bag that you’ll want to have handy during the flight.  This may seem like a no-brainer, but I always see people scrambling at the last minute with the overhead compartment, trying to take out books or snacks.

Speaking of snacks, nuts and animal crackers are great travel foods (and remember snacks are unlimited on JetBlue flights). You want to find things that are light and high in protein.  Stay away from sodium and carbohydrates because they will zap your energy.  A piece of fruit is a great treat to bring along as well.

Now that you’re on the plane, remember the Golden Rule:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Travelers often ask me about some seemingly simple aspects of airplane etiquette.  These may seem like small points, but they can make a difference in the comfort and ease of your travel experience:

Who gets the armrest? Everyone has access to at least one armrest.  But how do you determine which one is yours?  On JetBlue and some other airlines, the armrest that controls your personal television is for your arm. If there’s an armrest in questions, I always err on the side of letting my seat partner get first dibs.

Window shade up or down? If you’re not in the window seat, you can’t control the shade without asking your seatmate.  Someone may want to sleep and keep it lowered for shade, or if they are awake, they may want to keep it up to watch the takeoff and landing.  If you really don’t have a preference, respect someone else’s wishes. If you’re in the middle seat, though, and the sun is in your eyes, it’s OK to ask the person in the window seat if they wouldn’t mind lowering the shade. You can even ask your flight attendant to help facilitate if you’re too shy.

Which overhead bin should I use? Try to stow your luggage in the overhead space directly above your seat.  If there’s no room, check the one directly behind or in front.  If the front one is available, take advantage!  If you can grab your bag as you walk off the plane, rather than having to walk back and hold up the line, it will help speed up the deplaning process.

What do you do about a chatty seatmate? While it is certainly nice to have a pleasant, engaging seatmate, sometimes you just want to rest or get some work done while on a flight.  My biggest tip: “show and tell.”  If your neighbor has started up a conversation, but you really want to read, just take out a book or headphones—he or she will get the hint.

I was recently traveling and my seatmate was a very kind, chatty fellow.  He definitely wanted to talk, but I was just exhausted!  I had been up since 3 a.m., and I wanted to fit in some sleep and get some school work done (I’m currently studying at the University of Richmond).  As soon as the flight took off, I pulled out my laptop and didn’t have to cut him off—he could see that I was busy.

In the end, the best thing I’ve learned from my time in the air, both professionally and leisurely, is remembering that a trip is temporary.  Make the most of your 35,000 foot journey!  A polite question or request will always get you far; and who knows, you might even make a new friend or more!

Read Tracy’s first column: Wingwoman Tracy, Snorkeling, Rum Punch and Beyond: Top Spring Break Spots

Learn more about our Wingwoman Tracy

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March 6, 2012

Travel Advice Flying Your Way: Introducing Wingman and Wingwoman!

Drumroll, please! Welcome to the first installment of our new monthly column brought to you by our very own inflight crewmember Wingwoman Tracy, and pilot Wingman Quinton, who will dig deeply into their extensive expert experiences in the airline industry to deliver you fresh travel tips and tricks. The first topic is spring break travel.

Meet Tracy

“Vacations do not begin when you arrive at your destination, they begin the moment you board the plane.” With nearly 20 years of experience in the airline industry, Tracy Christoph is a knowledgeable, effervescent JetBlue flight attendant with a passion for travel, culture and customer service.   Tracy attended the Wilma Boyd Travel/Business School in Pittsburgh, PA but her education extends far beyond classroom borders; her extensive career in the airline industry has taken her around the world, a learning experience she considers unparalleled.   Prior to her eight years as an inflight crewmember for JetBlue, Tracy worked as an initial operating experience instructor, ticket counter supervisor and initial training instructor, on both domestic and international flights. Tracy has been with JetBlue since 2004, based out of New York and Florida, and currently out of Boston, MA.

The recipient of JetBlue’s “Excellence in Customer Service” award, Tracy is committed to providing flyers with an enjoyable experience every time she steps onto a plane. Though she’s a world traveler, Tracy’s heart remains in Virginia, where she was born and raised.  No stranger to the spotlight, Tracy has appeared as an extra in movies and on television, and is also a former beauty pageant participant with a few titles under her belt.

In her spare time, Tracy enjoys coupling her travel with volunteer opportunities, most recently with her daughter at an orphanage in Jaibon, Dominican Republic.  In addition to her role at JetBlue, she attends the University of Richmond in in Virginia, and is on track to earn her Bachelor’s degree this year.

Read Wingwoman Tracy’s spring break travel tips


Meet Quinton

JetBlue First Officer Quinton has clocked more than 7,000 hours airborne, not counting the countless hours he’s spent out of the driver’s seat traveling the globe for fun. As comfortable in the air as on the ground, Quinton received his B.S. in Professional Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University before joining JetBlue in May 2011.  Flying to JetBlue’s 70 domestic and international destinations from his base at New York’s JFK airport, Quinton is committed to providing superior service in every aspect of the air travel experience.

When he is not jet-setting for work, Quinton is an adventure-seeker keeps active in all areas of his life.  He prefers connecting with people face-to-face and exploring new sights and sounds with all the excitement they have to offer.  His hobbies include scuba diving, surfing, backpacking, rock climbing, cycling, triathlons, skiing and, of course, anything that involves air travel.

As an avid photographer and talented videography instructor, Quinton loves to share his passions and experiences with others.  In addition, Quinton is a wealth of knowledge for travel tips and tricks, which he generously imparts to customers flying JetBlue to create adventures of their own.

Read Wingman Quinton’s spring break travel tips

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March 6, 2012

Wingwoman Tracy, Snorkeling, Rum Punch and Beyond: Top Spring Break Spots

Scene: Daytona Beach 1992, back when it was THE hot spot for spring breakers. I was playing volleyball on the beach when a man approached me and asked me out. I met up with him at a restaurant later that evening and we ended up talking all through the night. We dated for four months before we got engaged, a short marriage that might qualify me for a dinner invite with the Kardashians. Lesson learned: Don’t accept a marriage proposal from someone you met on spring break!

A lot has changed since then, including me! Spring break can be a lot more than just snorkeling and rum punch. In recent years, I’ve spent my spring breaks with my daughter volunteering for those less fortunate. Not only are you making a difference in a community, but you’re also learning about new places and people, and scratching that travel itch at the same time! Helping others has been a life-altering experience for me and sharing your spring break for a greater good is the most fulfilling vacation you can have.

Whether you’re more like Tracy circa 1992 or 2012, there are plenty of affordable adventures for those taking to the skies this spring break.

Coed Crazy

Panama City, Florida, located in the Northwest handle on the Gulf Coast is a very welcoming town that turns into party central for spring break. With an official spring break website that offers tips for your stay, including where the party’s at, you don’t have to miss a beat!

South Padre Island, Texas is two miles off the southernmost tip of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. Start your spring break out right – with a full belly – at The Salt Lick for the best Texas BBQ in Austin and drive down to the beautiful island to get your party on. Dance your flip flops off with DJs spinning on the beach all week, and enjoy free pancakes for breakfast or dinner at Beach Reach!

Las Vegas, Nevada is not the first place you might think of for spring break travel, but with MTV hosting its big spring break party at the Palms Casino Resort, sin city is sure to be a guaranteed 24-hour party scene!

Cancun, Mexico is still all the rage for spring breakers looking for that fantastic fiesta. Enjoy dance parties at the pool and the beach all day, and venture out to some of the hoppin’ spots around town like Señor Frogs and Dadyo at night. With thousands of other coeds and miles of beach, Cancun is sure to rock your party.

Family Fun

Atlantis Resort, Paradise Island has everything and then some to keep your family entertained for your entire spring break. Enjoy the spas, casinos, and top-notch restaurants while your kids splash around in the water park, marine habitat. The whole family can enjoy the soft sands and crystal clear Caribbean!

San Diego, California offers diverse options for having fun as a family, with the fabulous San Diego Zoo, Be Wild Animal Park, beaches, museums, lots of shopping and restaurants. Whether you visit during spring break or any time of year, you can’t beat the idyllic Southern California weather!

Denver, Colorado is a great spring break destination for those less tropically included. With longer days and warmer temperatures, ski resorts as winter gives way to spring are optimal for family winter sporting. Crested Butte and Winter Park near Denver, Colorado are two of my favorites.

Generous Giving

St. Jude’s children’s research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee offers spring break volunteer opportunities for groups of two or more.  Visit with the children at the hospital, reading to them or playing with them, helping to alleviate the pressure they and their families feel with all that they’re going through.  In your downtime, Memphis offers a lot of attractions including museums, art collections and, of course, Graceland, Elvis Presley’s famous home.

Food & Friends in Washington D.C. offers volunteers options for helping to feed the hungry. You can help prepare food in the kitchens, work with the organization staff on planning and scheduling, or deliver food to those in need. Plus, spring break is also cherry blossom festival time, when our nation’s capital is looking handsomest.

OutReach 360 connects you with orphaned and disadvantaged youth around the world to offer support in the way of education, and the one thing they need the most: love! I’ve volunteered with the organization in the Dominican Republic and found that it’s more than just volunteering; my work helped transform the lives of the kids in the orphanages as well as my own.

Grab a bottle of water at the airport instead of another cocktail; you don’t want an unwanted sobering extension to your trip if you’re denied boarding. No matter where you’re headed this spring break (and hopefully it’s on JetBlue!), remember to pack light, pack right, and make safety your number one priority!

Learn more about Wingwoman Tracy, check out Wingman Quinton’s column and stay tuned for next month’s travel advice!

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September 9, 2014

From the Runway to the Airway

Published on Huffington Post on 9/8/2014

From security checkpoint convenience to in-air comfort and climate adaptability, style when traveling tends to take a backseat to more practical matters. While most of my travel time is spent in uniform, I have a keen eye for the fashions that I see in the airport and in the air. With New York Fashion Week in full swing, I find myself reflecting on the state of style and its implications on travel. Fliers often opt for comfort and function over couture and fashion. Inspired by the most chic week of the season, I’d like to share my fashion dos and don’ts, when the tarmac is your runway.

A lot of planning can and should go into your ensemble before you leave for the airport. Not only do you want to be comfortable for the travel ahead, you need to take into account your destination and what you’ll be doing when you need to hit the ground running. My two major don’ts when getting dressed for travel are white and linen. White clothing isn’t easy to clean should you spill or rub up against something, and linen will wrinkle and leave you looking disheveled. Stick to lightweight materials in neutral-to-dark solids or patterns. For women, nothing is wrong with a little black dress that is comfortable, durable and a perfect base for layering and accessorizing.

When accessorizing, do so responsibly. I encourage spicing up your ensemble basics with jewelry, scarves, hats and eyewear but keep security checkpoints in mind. To that end, always pack a small pouch in your carry-on for easy storage should items need to be removed and placed on the X-ray belt. And that reminds me — a belt with a pop of color or bold pattern can brighten your outfit in a cinch.

When traveling south, for example, you may start your day in boots and end it in flip-flops. So how do you travel between climates in one outfit? My answer is simple: layers. For women and men, a casual sweater or blazer over a T-shirt or tank-top makes for a stylish trip from start to finish. Don’t be afraid to get fun and adventurous with the base layer. Your carry-on should serve as a functional extension of your outfit and my favorite kind is a backpack — they’re not just for kids anymore. Perfect for packing up a change of shoes, clothes and even swim trunks, backpacks can be easily stowed in an overhead cabin during the flight and carried to your destination without occupying your free arms.

Once you have the basics down, incorporating on-trend styles and colors via accessories and layers is the best way to ensure your look lasts through your travels. Speaking of trends and colors, the new JetBlue uniforms, which were unveiled in June, speak to this by incorporating an orange colorway into our standard style. Have you seen it yet? Orange really is the new black.

Do you have any travel style dos and don’ts to share? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy).

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November 12, 2013

The Family that Flies Together…

Published on Huffington Post on 11/7/13

Family travel is often a launch pad for creating lifelong memories. And with JetBlue’s recent addition of Family Pooling to its TrueBlue loyalty program, traveling with the full clan has more perks than ever before! Still, flying with children – especially the youngest ones – can seem like too much of a hassle to bear. So, as a seasoned traveler who’s vacationed plenty with my own kids and meets new families flying every day, I pulled together some tips that all parents should keep in mind so they can spend less time stressing at the airport and more time relaxing with loved ones.

Packing for your entire flock
A family’s air travel experience should be well planned out, well before heading to the airport. Packing is the first, and most important, step in preparing for a trip. Here are some tips on packing efficiently when traveling as a group:

• Each traveler should have one roll-aboard suitcase and one carry-on that can easily fit underneath a seat (backpacks are ideal and fit Mom’s purse nicely).

• Don’t pack more than you need! We all know that it’s easier said than done, but one great way to cut back is to remember not to duplicate any items that may be provided at your destination. Hotels often have blow dryers, toiletries, beach towels and other items that would otherwise take up space in your suitcase.

• Roll every article of clothing that’s being packed. Make use of all space available to tuck your belongings into (even the insides of sneakers and boots for some of your smallest items).

• Pack baby wipes to go — they aren’t just for the little ones! In fact, they’re perfect for wiping public areas clean of germs, cleaning hands before eating and (little-known fact!) getting stains out of clothing.

Navigating the airport and TSA with a crew
With people buzzing around and lots of protocol to follow, navigating an airport as a family can be stressful. So, do your best to keep cool, calm and collected as you make your way through security and to your departure gate. Use these tips to make the experience a little smoother:

• Get to the airport early! For domestic flights, arrive at the airport two hours before departure, and arrive three hours early if flying internationally. Consider any extra time you have in the terminal before boarding as a bonus – food, shopping and play areas can help parents relax and allow kids to release any excess energy.

• Be familiar with TSA guidelines and restrictions; every time an agent needs to search a bag, the entire line slows. If you’re questioning whether you’re able to bring an item in your carry-on, your safest bet is to simply pack it in your checked luggage. If you’re carrying on any necessary liquids over the TSA 3.4oz maximum, like medicine or breast milk, alert a TSA agent immediately so those items can be screened individually and carried onto the aircraft.

• Be prepared before you enter the airport and the airplane with proper paperwork for all travelers. Have everyone’s ID and boarding passes ready to be scanned at both security and gate entrances.

• Make navigating preflight security checks a breeze by wearing slip-on shoes (or untying sneakers before getting in line) and packing jewelry and belts in your carry-on, to be worn only after you go through screening. Remember, kids under 12 can wear their shoes through security.

Traveling with tots
Air travel can be a little startling and even scary for children who haven’t flown before. So, remember to offer your tiny travelers some TLC if they start feeling overwhelmed, and always be patient with them so they’re comfortable. Keep these family travel tips from JetBlue in mind, as well as some of my own handy advice collected during my many years in the sky:

• Take advantage of family preboarding opportunities so you can get everyone settled onto the aircraft early.

• Anticipate the needs of your children, including entertainment and food.

o A bored traveler is an unhappy traveler, so keeping young passengers entertained is a must. Fortunately, airlines like JetBlue have your bases covered. JetBlue, for one, offers free in-flight DIRECTV and new movies each month on every flight. But for the occasions that you’re flying without seatback TVs, be sure to pack travel-friendly activities in your carry-on. Another perk of getting to the terminal early is having time to browse through stores and purchase books, puzzles and toys to keep kids occupied in-flight.

o No one likes to travel on an empty stomach, especially the littlest fliers. JetBlue offers a variety of kid-satisfying snacks, such as low-fat animal crackers, chips, and chocolate chip cookies, with juice and Kosher options, too. You’re invited to pack snacks, but avoid bringing refrigerated or spillable items onboard.

• If you’re traveling with a car seat, ensure that it is approved for aircraft travel. This will be clearly marked on the seat and flight attendants are aware of what is, and is not, approved onboard.

• If your child starts throwing a tantrum or becoming disgruntled during the flight, excuse yourself from your row (when the seatbelt sign is off) and take a walk together to the rear or front of the aircraft. Knowing that you as a parent, as well as other passengers, are sensitive to traveling with upset children, flight attendants will do virtually anything to resolve a young flier’s woes – just ask!

One thing to always keep in mind is that when traveling, all fliers have the same goal in mind: to get to their destination. And all airline and TSA employees want travelers to get there in the safest and most efficient manner possible. So don’t forget to pack your smile and a little patience. It can go a long way!

Keep these tips in mind whenever traveling as a family, especially during the upcoming holiday season! Share your tried-and-true tricks for flying with children in the comments below and follow me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy) to learn more.

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October 1, 2013

Wingwomen Tracy: Great Moments in the Sky

Published on Huffington Post on 9/30/13

There are plenty of things I love about being a flight attendant: I love being up in the air, soaring through the clouds, and spending time exploring new cities. But the best part of my job is meeting so many new and interesting people on each flight. So, in this month’s post I’d like to share some of my favorite on-the-job stories.

As a flight attendant, it’s my job to help ensure that customers have an enjoyable travel experience. I find this begins with my giving them a warm, welcoming smile when they board. I try to wear an expression on my face that communicates, “We’re going to have a great trip today.” Throughout the flight, I and the rest of the inflight crew continue to assist passengers and do our best to anticipate their needs. There are seemingly little things we do that make passengers feel particularly comfortable, whether it’s offering a complimentary beverage to celebrate a special occasion, helping a mother with her baby so she can go to the bathroom, or something as simple as having a conversation with someone who is traveling alone and seems nervous. There’s no better feeling than the pride that comes when customers deplane and tell us they had a wonderful flight.

Although I always try to go out of my way to help travelers, there are a few particularly special instances that I will never forget:

Going above (well, below, really) and beyond
During my first year as a flight attendant — let’s just say, many years ago — I had my most interesting customer-service experience while waiting to board a commuter plane home from Pittsburgh. I was still in my uniform from a flight I’d worked earlier that day, but I was off the clock at this point and really just wanted to get home. It was a hot summer day and there were only 19 passengers lined up to board the plane, including me. The plane was far too small to even have a flight attendant working it; in fact, while the commuters lined up on the tarmac to board, one pilot was in the cockpit while the other pilot was loading our bags.

To board the plane, passengers needed to walk up a steep flight of stairs that folded out from the side of the aircraft. I stood at the back of line, seeing everyone else climb up and onboard. They all passed right by an elderly woman who stood off to the side, unable to reach the first step, which was very high up from the ground. Finally it was just the two of us left waiting to board. Not knowing any other solution, I got down on my knees on the hot pavement and interlocked my fingers to make a step to boost her up. I can honestly say I’ve never had to turn myself into a “human stair” before or since that day, but it’s definitely a moment that remains fresh in my mind.

The crew that flies together . . .
About five years ago there was a huge snowstorm in Boston, where I was scheduled to depart on a red-eye turn, a trip that flies from the East Coast to the West Coast and turns right around after spending only 40 minutes on the ground. In New England, about two inches of snow were falling every hour, and a trip to the airport that would usually only take 30 minutes took about four hours that day. Airlines were canceling flights left and right, but wouldn’t you know it, I was on the only flight that was still scheduled to depart.

After a five-hour delay the inflight crew was informed we had been cleared to depart, although the flight manager told us we didn’t need to make the grueling trip if we weren’t up for it after the day’s events. While we appreciated the offer — and trust me, conditions like that are not the most fun to fly in — my colleagues and I said we couldn’t accept it. Without a full crew we couldn’t fly, and we were all in this together. We knew that 60 people had risked their lives getting to the airport that day and had waited five hours to get on a flight to Seattle, so we wanted to make sure we brought them there. Our crew came together and discussed how we could accomplish our task safely, and then we boarded the plane and took off for the West Coast. It was a tremendous feeling knowing we had made a great impact on these travelers, and all by simply being dedicated to our jobs.

Brotherly love
About eight years ago I was working a flight out of New York when I saw two little boys on board, unaccompanied minors crying their eyes out. The boys, brothers, were shoving each other out of the way to see out of the window. I sat down beside them to try to see what they were looking at, but I couldn’t spot anything. The older boy whimpered and told me he was trying to see his mom because they were leaving her. The boys told me she was being deployed to Iraq and they were traveling to stay with family while she was gone. While checking in with the pilots I saw a woman in the terminal, clearly their mother, who was trying to wave to her sons, but neither had a clear view of the other. I explained the situation to the captain and asked if the boys could come into the cockpit while the plane was still boarding so they could see their mother before takeoff. With his permission, I brought the boys to the front of the aircraft and watched them wave and blow kisses to their mom, who did the same back.

I can promise you there was not a dry eye among the crew. What we did had such an impact on these two young boys and their mother, and it was equally moving for all of us.

The greatest part of my job is being able to help customers. Whether my gesture is big or small, I’m always happy to know I helped make someone’s flight better, and whenever I do, I feel better, too.

Have you ever gone above and beyond to help a fellow traveler during a flight? Share your stories in the comment section and follow me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy) for more.

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July 30, 2013

Wingwomen Tracy: Tips and Tricks for Surviving Wedding Season and Maintaining Nuptial Bliss

 

Published on Huffington Post on 7/29/13

It’s the middle of the summer, a.k.a. wedding season, with plenty of wedding-related travel in full swing. As a flight attendant, I get to meet plenty of people caught up in different stages of nuptial bliss: fiancés heading off to their destination weddings, newlyweds traveling on their honeymoons and even guys and gals ready to celebrate their friends’ last nights of single life at bachelor and bachelorette parties.

My advice:
• Begin your celebration by selecting a destination that everyone attending will enjoy.
• Choose the right venue for your celebration.
• Be sure to consider a destination that offers as much — or as little — excitement as everyone would like, with an array of food choices, activities, etc.

If you’ve got a wedding celebration to plan, but you’re not quite sure where to start, here are a few helpful hints to get you inspired:

Where to go for one last hurrah
I can spot a group that’s headed off to a bachelor or bachelorette party from a mile away. I have a great time when particularly high-spirited groups, usually dressed from head to toe in wedding paraphernalia, are on my flights. And more times than not, these groups are on their way to – you guessed it – Las Vegas.

It’s no surprise that Vegas is a popular place for bachelors and bachelorettes to celebrate their final days of being single. Describing Sin City as “extravagant” hardly does it justice. Every experience is over the top, from what you eat to where you stay. Vegas offers something for everybody. Take in a show, play some blackjack, indulge in a great meal, go for swim, get pampered at a spa, dance the night away. And if you’re with a large group of fellow partygoers, you’ll likely be rewarded at these different venues and get better seating and other free perks. But even without any preferential treatment it’s hard not to enjoy yourself during a Vegas vacation.

While Las Vegas is a popular bachelor/bachelorette party destination, it’s definitely not for everyone. For those who would prefer a more low-key affair, Arizona has plenty to offer. Like Las Vegas, Arizona has a dry heat, so taking frequent dips in a pool is a must. But unlike Las Vegas, a vacation in Arizona may actually feel like well a vacation, instead of an experience that requires time to recuperate and recover.

If you’re planning a getaway for a bachelor or bachelorette who’s in need of a little R&R, then look no further than the many resorts located in Scottsdale, Arizona. After spending your day outside hiking, playing golf or sipping a cocktail by the pool, pamper yourself indoors with massages, facials and other spa treatments. One of the best-known resorts in the area is The Phoenician, which offers fantastic amenities, great golfing and, perhaps most importantly, an amazing spa. It’s the perfect place to relax with friends and family and spend quality time together before becoming a husband or wife.

Where to go to tie the knot
A wedding is a wonderful time to bring friends and family together to celebrate one of the most special moments in their loved ones’ lives. What’s nice about having a destination wedding, specifically, is the intimacy of the whole affair. It’s not always easy for guests to take time off from work to attend a weeklong celebration, so you can be sure that those who are with you on your special day truly want to be a part of the occasion.

An island provides the perfect backdrop for a wedding. Who wouldn’t want to exchange vows under blue skies, beside clear water? Don’t wait until your honeymoon to enjoy the beaches of Hawaii or Turks and Caicos; soak up the sun with your future spouse as well as the other important people in your life before tying the knot.

Finding an all-inclusive resort to host your big day is one of the greatest perks of a destination wedding. Friends and family can enjoy their own “mini-vacations” before the couple’s big day, taking advantage of meals, drinks and activity plans without having to worry about carrying cash and going over a budget.

Getting ready for your wedding shouldn’t keep you from spending time with attendees, which is why I suggest taking advantage of one of the custom packages offered by most island resorts to make the event truly memorable and alleviate the inevitable headaches and stress of planning the occasion on your own. Event planners on the grounds handle all the details involved in planning and executing the perfect ceremony and reception. I know firsthand how valuable these services can be. While my own experience was with Sandals Resorts – I will forever sing their praises for making my day extraordinary – I’m sure that whichever venue you travel to will also make your wedding a truly unforgettable event.

Where to go after saying “I Do”
And if you have a destination wedding, the honeymoon can pick up right where the wedding left off. Once all your guests leave, enjoy the even more intimate, couple-focused features that your resort has to offer. Or switch hotels to experience a new part of the island alone together.

Whether you plan to travel for your wedding or get married closer to home, make an effort to take a trip together right after saying your “I do’s” and enjoy your transition into marriage. Choose a destination where you can spend quality time with each other and focus on the future. Islands with isolated beaches, fine white sand that sneaks between your toes and exquisite ocean views make for an ideal romantic getaway. If this sounds like your idea of a perfect honeymoon experience, then consider spending time on some of the most beautiful islands in the world: Maui and Fiji, where you can snorkel and dive with fish and dolphins, or, for an even more intimate experience, the Maldives, where you can stay in a private bungalow atop calm waters.

If you think you would enjoy a honeymoon with a little more action, I recommend heading to the breathtaking Napa Valley to tour vineyards, taste wines, relax at spas and hike the beautiful California hills. And for an even more adventurous experience, I suggest staying at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. This resort offers its guests a long list of activities, including hiking, biking, horseback riding and more. Enjoy fantastic food in any of The Greenbrier’s 14 restaurants, or choose to dine privately in your room.

Whatever honeymoon destination you choose, make sure that it offers activities that are focused on just the two of you so you can celebrate the beginning of your new life together.

How to travel to a wedding-related celebration

If you’re traveling with a big group, book everything together. Airlines (including JetBlue) and hotels offer great rates for groups, so do your research – search the Internet and make a few phone calls – to make sure you get the best pricing options.

Don’t bring large wedding gifts with you on the plane; instead, mail them to the couple’s future home. Fragile items may not always be handled with care, and you don’t want to risk the gift getting lost in transit.

Be prepared to fold your delicate attire and lay it on top of your carry-on luggage when flying. Keep your clothes in plastic or a garment bag to prevent wrinkling. And one tip every traveler should live by is to leave clothing in the plastic garment bags from the drycleaners – it’s a lifesaver! As for traveling with a wedding dress, I advise against it. There is simply no good way to pack it. Shipping your dress to your wedding location is your best bet to prevent damaging the garment. Or negotiate ahead of time with your wedding coordinator to have garment steaming included as part of your package.

And my biggest and most important wedding season tip for brides- and grooms-to-be: Remember to enjoy your celebration and appreciate your friends and family who are sharing your most special day with you!

Follow me on Twitter (@Wingwoman_Tracy) for more wedding-related travel tips and share your own advice in the comment section.

 

Whatever honeymoon destination you choose, make sure that it offers activities that are focused on just the two of you so you can celebrate the beginning of your new life together.

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