Waterski Travel Part 3: Airlines and Airport Logistics

Which Airline do I Prefer for waterski travel?

We fly Southwest Airlines* whenever we can. Here’s why:

  1. Their points system is almost impossible to beat. We use the Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa for nearly every expense in the household. As such we travel for free, with no blackout dates or limitations, as much as we possibly can. This is critical particularly as your kids get old enough to need their own seats. Booking 4 round-trip seats for every trip is one eye-opener expense-wise the first couple times you have to do it. Yowza.
  2. They are super flexible. You can change or cancel flights any time with no penalty.
  3. You’re usually flying into and out of smaller airports that have less taxiway congestion (shorter times to takeoff and back to the gate), cheaper/closer parking, and less crowded terminals. Many of these airports are close to great ski spots (e.g. FLL)
  4. I’m a big Boeing 737 fan in general
  5. They have a perfect safety record (for hull-loss incidents)
  6. They have family boarding so our family boards between the A and B group no matter what
  7. Open seating policy is great for getting seats together
  8. TWO FREE BAGS per passenger and they do not not mind waterskis, never been hassled about it since they are sporting equipment
  9. We generally have great service gate to gate with them, great company culture

Logistics: Bags from car to gate and gate to car.

Schlepping all the standard family suitcases and bags throughout the airport while at the same time having to deal with a giant waterski bag is rough. We learned far too late in life that the best way to deal with this is to avoid it completely.

How? Simply drop your family and bags off at the Departures area and get all of your boarding passes curbside at that time from the Skycaps. Just let the car idle there at the curb, it’ll be fine. The concept here is not just using Skycaps, that’s old news. It’s doing this before parking your own car or returning your own rental car, then doing that.

Tip the Skycaps well (they will most likely have to drag your ski bag to a large-item screening area which sucks for them). If they ask what the is bag is, tell them it’s water skis. That’s what they are.

THEN get back in the car (whether it’s your car at your home airport OR your rental car) and drive it back to the parking lot or rental car return. Meet back up with the family in the terminal with no bags. Easy peasy.

Same with picking up the bags when you arrive. Just move them out to the curb from the bag return area (usually a very short distance) then go grab the car (again yours or the rental) while the family hangs out there comfortably. No schlepping bags to or from cars or check-in.

This is especially key if you’re traveling with car seats. Get those damn things off your hands as soon as possible. Don’t be the folks dragging their car seat(s) through a gate check, that’s amateur-hour stuff (and if you must, get the little wheels for the car seat so it also functions as a stroller. Because a stroller is another thing you don’t want to drag around if you don’t have to).

The Rental Car

I can’t stand waiting in line at discount car rental places. Can’t do it, particularly with kids running around, bored, after just sitting in a plane. I take whatever car rental service gives me the least human interaction, the least waiting, and the least friction. To me this is worth every dime of additional cost over a more discount rental agency. Time is money.

Right now I’m loving National Rental Car*.Why?

  1. I love their app. I can reserve a car and not talk to anyone at the counter when I get there.
  2. I love the Emerald Aisle concept. Instead of reserving a specific car I just pick whatever I want in the aisle. I’m a car guy so this is important to me and incredibly convenient.
  3. They almost always have their rental area on the most convenient level at the airport. This is a small detail but I like it. For example at FLL (Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, where you’ll be flying for multiple south Florida ski destinations) they are located on the same floor you’re on in the terminal. That’s one less elevator or escalator or stair trip. You’ll see more cost-oriented agencies on upper floors.

I think the best fleet/rental car out there right now is the Mazda MX-5 and it’s almost always in the Emerald Aisle. If I can’t get a small SUV, a sedan with fold-down seats works if I’m not with the family.

On big trips where the vehicle is key, I rent a minivan specifically vs. doing the Emerald aisle thing.

*I’m not affiliated with them in any way