Airports: An interpreter’s other environment.

August 3, 2012 § 1 Comment

Dear Colleagues,

Unlike other professions where a person works in an office, a hospital, or a school, we as interpreters work wherever there are people in need to communicate.  Our “job description” includes work in many courtrooms and law offices for the court interpreter, services in many hospitals and doctor’s offices for medical interpreters, participation in many events that take place at schools, community centers, and churches for the community interpreter, and so on.

Sometimes court interpreters and interpretation instructors have to travel out of town to do their job, and most of the time conference interpreters work hundreds of miles from their home.

Last year I was on the road for work 240 days, and when you travel so much, it is a fact that you will spend countless hours at the airport.  Because we spend a significant part of our lives in these facilities, we have no choice but to learn how to “live a life” as comfortable and normal as possible in a place designed for a few hours’ stay.  My tips for a good experience at the airport are as follows:

(1)    Always check in on line. Get boarding passes, and if needed, pay for your luggage ahead of time. This will allow more time away from the airport as you can arrive later and get the job done.  In my case, I do this so I can spend more time with friends or enjoy a few more minutes of sleep in the hotel room before I head to the airport.

(2)    Become a member of a frequent flyer club, and always pay with a credit card that gives you miles.  If possible, get a credit card that gets you priority airport security lines and priority boarding, even when traveling economy.  I have discovered that to me, the biggest benefit of being a frequent flyer is the possibility to upgrade a seat when the client only paid for economy.

(3)    Get a membership to an airline club. This will let you relax at the airport and enjoy a drink at a less crowded bar, workout at the club’s gym, grab a bite to eat, and most importantly: You will have a place to shower and change after a long trip or before a long overnight flight after a long day of interpreting. Not all clubs offer this service so it would be a good idea to do your homework before booking a reservation.  What a difference it makes to shower in Honolulu after a flight from the Midwest before going straight from the airport to a booth at the convention center!  A shower at Tokyo Narita airport helps me to sleep better during the long flight to Chicago.

(4)    If there is no time to go to the airline club, or there is none, find a bar with a friendly bartender and an internet connection.  Sioux Falls South Dakota’s airport has no airline clubs, but has a friendly bar. La Guardia has a bar next to the Southwest Airlines gates that serves the best Bloody Mary. The Albuquerque New Mexico Sunport has excellent free Wi-Fi all over the airport.

(5)    When you take food on the plane, do not take chain restaurant food. Find the good local restaurant at the airport and take that meal with you.  To me it is essential to get Rick Bayless at O’Hare in Chicago, sushi to go when flying from San Francisco, or Texas BBQ at Houston Bush Intercontinental. Yum!

(6)    If you are a smoker (like I used to be) you will enjoy a long flight a lot more if you take nicotine gum with you. You will get your fix and your airplane neighbors will appreciate it.

(7)    If the client is willing to pay for it, or if you can upgrade with miles, always go for business class or at least extra leg room seats.  The best economy seats are window seats.  Nobody will ask you to move during the flight whether you are going to work or sleep.  If you are flying a regional jet, then get the “lonely” seat on the left row (unless your briefcase is too big as the space under the seat in front of you is smaller than across the hallway) If you have a tight connection (and I advise against it if possible) get your seat towards the front of the plane or near the gate on those big planes where you board at the middle.

(8)    When available, always pick the newer and larger plane as they are more comfortable. A Boeing 777 is always better than a Boeing 757 and many times they both serve the same route. Do your research.  Also, if possible, get the flight that goes to the airport closer to your event.  There are many cities with two or more airports, and a closer airport means less time on the airport shuttle or taxi and more time at the hotel.  Usually older airports are closer to the city. Many of them are serviced by low-budget air carriers only.

(9)    Unless your schedule is very tight, always do check in luggage.  Only take your computer and overnight essentials in a carry on bag.

(10)  Finally, read the airline magazine! Many times you will find a good referral to a restaurant or local attraction, and yes, they have some good sales every once in a while. I even “practice” my Spanish with the Spanish magazine on board of United or American.

I hope you found some of these tips useful. I encourage you to use them on your next interpretation assignment, and if your interpreter career does not take you out of town that often, try them on your next vacation.  Finally, as a constant traveler, I am always open to new suggestions. I would greatly appreciate your tips to make my travels more enjoyable and stress-free.

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§ One Response to Airports: An interpreter’s other environment.

  • Great pointers, Tony. A friend took me to one of the airline club lounges in LAX and I was impressed with the ambiance, quality of food and service. Since I am not a member of an airline club, I have the hot-spot on my cell and do my work that way, when needed.

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