On Travel: How to keep your distance on a plane

No one likes to wait to check into a hotel. But now, with COVID-19 ravaging the world, your life may depend on it.

Travelers are resorting to some unusual strategies to speed through the check-in line. Aristide Tofani uses a trick favored by frequent business travelers: He dresses the part.

“When I’m wearing a suit and tie, the receptionists think I’m there for business and that I must be busy,” he says. So he gets waved to the elite check-in line. “Often, they give me free room upgrades.”

Tofani has a small advantage: He’s the co-owner of a family tailoring shop in Naples, so his suits are always a perfect fit.

Check into a hotel faster. Here’s how

As the world continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, there are also obvious health reasons for checking in faster. Expedited and touchless check-ins can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hotel chains have developed options that can get you to your room faster by using their apps. Independent properties are finding ways to skip the check-in line entirely. And some tried-and-true methods will help any traveler avoid a line. (Here are some strategies for shortening your airport transit.)

Large hotels are using technology to accelerate the check-in process. For example, Marriott’s Bonvoy mobile app has a feature that allows guests to check in from anywhere and also alerts them when their room is ready. The app also offers “Mobile Key” which lets guests use their smartphone as the room key in more than 3,000 properties worldwide, eliminating the need for a plastic key card.

Hilton also has a “digital key” on its Hilton Honors app. It allows Hilton Honors members to select a room before arriving, skip the check-in line, and access the room and other parts of the hotel with the app. Hilton uses the digital key in more than 4,700 properties in 44 countries.

“The technology not only speeds up the process but ensures that guests feel their time is valued,” says Mark Bunney, a director at Ingenico Group. Ingenico develops secure payment systems, including technology that makes early check-ins possible, commonly called mobile property management systems.

While these apps are promising, they are reserved for members of the hotels’ frequent-guest programs. And not everyone wants to participate in a loyalty program.

So what else can help you check into a hotel faster?

The most forward-looking hotels have used mobile property management systems to help all of their guests skip the line. For example, at the Fairmont Banff Springs in the Canadian Rockies, a hotel representative contacts guests before check-in to help them avoid any delay.

“This process prompts the guest to let us know the time and method of their arrival, allowing our housekeeping and guest services teams to prioritize room preparation,” says David Roberts, a regional vice president at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. “Once the room is ready, guests receive a notice to advise their room is ready, and they will be provided their keys on arrival at the property.”

Follow veteran travelers

“Veteran travelers know there are airport flows into most cities,” says Mike Heflin, president at Andrew Harper Travel, a luxury travel agency. “Avoiding peak check-in times is a great way to save some time.”

For example, if you land in Europe, you’ll find long lines in the morning because of all the other red-eye passengers. On the West Coast, 10 a.m. to noon is busy. If you’re staying at a hotel on the East Coast, try not to check in during the early evening.

If you find a long line at a full-service hotel, head straight to the bell captain and ask an employee to store your luggage. That’s a particularly useful strategy if you’re flying to Europe and want to have breakfast before heading upstairs for a nap. You can eat first, instead of waiting, and check in later. As a bonus, the staff will probably deliver your luggage to your room while you’re having breakfast.

Christopher Elliott is the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post.

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