Every day we see large groups of people travelling en masse through YVR. Sports teams, choirs, bands, conference members and tour groups regularly make their way to and through our airport. Travelling in a large group can be as challenging as it can be fun. More people means more bags, more documents, more opinions and, of course, more time needed to get from A to B.
But it can also be one of the most rewarding travel experiences. When I was 16, my high school basketball team travelled to Los Angeles for a tournament (go Breakers!) and the cameraderie created on the collective journey was immeasurable. Did we lose every single game of the tournament, one by a score of 116-24? Maybe, maybe not. But we grew much closer as a team, having faced the trip together.
Here are a few tips for ensuring a more enjoyable group travel experience.
1. Talk to your airline.
So much of the travel booking process is now done electronically, which is a huge bonus for for straightforward trips. No fuss, no muss. But for planning more complicated excursions, you might want to get a hold of an airline rep and ask some key questions. Do they have a group rate if everybody books together? The discount can be significant if booking large groups. Do they have a group check-in option? So much time can be saved if airline staff can process everybody at once. Do they know which check-in counters they will be using? That way, you can be dropped off as close as possible.
2. Start a Facebook group, e-mail chain or chat group with all travellers.
This is a must. You have to be able to talk to everybody on the trip in an instant if needed. Bus running late to the pick up? One message and everybody knows. Anybody seen Andrew? A simple text or electronic message, and you've instantly asked everybody to help track him down. In fact, you can even flip your group members a link to this article so they, too, can be prepared for the exciting trip ahead.
3. Have an itinerary and stick to it.
Make sure you have a clearly defined group schedule, and use your communication tool from tip #2 to distribute to the group. I think we all know somebody who is perpetually late, so give them a clear timeline for when and where they need to be. If you don't know somebody who is always late, chances are you are this person. Remember that a bunch of other people are depending on your punctuality. I'm still the type of traveller who prints everything out regardless of e-vailability, so maybe print a few copies of the itinerary (on recyclable paper of course!) for you and others. Paper doesn't run out of batteries.
4. Luggage, luggage, luggage.
This is a big one. Large groups typically travel with special equipment. A hockey team heading to Europe for a tourney has excess, overweight baggage that needs time to be properly processed. A high school band of 30 kids will mean a piece of regular luggage each, plus 30 or so fragile musical instruments requiring special labels and handling. Make sure any loose straps are tied down on bags, and know whether or not your item is overweight. On an average flight there might only be a few of these items, but a flight with 30 such special items may require additional logistical support on the ground. This is where communication with your airline (see tips #1 and #3) will come in handy. Everyone wants that plane to leave on time.
5. Be patient. And give yourself extra time.
Even if you do everything possible to prepare, the likelihood of unforeseen issues is higher when travelling en masse. To keep group travel frustration from getting you down, remember that the trip you're on is meant to be fun, educational and rewarding in some way. Building in extra time for the airport process is one way to keep things running smoothly. When check-in counters open, be ready and waiting.When boarding begins, be in the gate area. And keep an eye on Andrew. He's always wandering off.