Air Travel Advice

Hi Robotics Community,

This season Team 2386 will be travelling by airplane to attend Alamo Regional in Texas. We have traveled many times before across the border by coach bus but this is a first by air. As a Canadian team we will be crossing the border and flying out of Buffalo. I am looking for advice for what we need to expect traveling by air. Any tips to keep a large group together would be great!

We are really looking forward to attending a regional in the South and looking forward to the Southern hospitality! :slight_smile:

This NEMO paper (pdf link) is a few years old but it’s still fairly relevant.

Thanks Nate, I was just about to check the NEMO website! :slight_smile:

Get team hats of the same color…orange, limegreen…some bright color so everyone can see and pick out everyone else in the crowded airports.

Establish a “counting order” with each person aware of and responsible for their neighboring numbers so it takes almost no time to determine if everyone is present. Plan ahead to be able to split up quickly into smaller groups when necessary. Make sure everyone has a list of cell phone numbers.

Designate someone who isn’t traveling as an emergency contact. Having a resource at “home base” can make it a lot easier to keep people at home informed as things happen.

FRC 2468 will be competing at Alamo as well. We are located just north of San Antonio in Austin. Let me know if we can help in anyway on trip plans or local suggestions.

Have all students use carry on luggage rather checking luggage if possible.

If you check luggage, issue a team item to put on each piece of luggage (team bandanna, easy to ID card, etc.) to expedite ID of luggage in baggage claim.

Find a hotel with breakfast and within walking distance of the Convention Center.

We create a Google Document with Student name, student cell, parent name, parent cell and parent email. We share with all team members on the trip.

Be early to security check in case of lines. Better to be thru early than feel rushed and panicked.

Travel in team t-shirt, gear or easy to ID item (hats in post above).

Snacks for lay overs.

Be sure and use online check in possible the day before flying.

Wow… weird… I was in Burlington just Wed. Not weird that anyone would be in Burlington of course, but because I mentor 2468 in Austin TX for Coach Norm.

All of the above advice is great.

When we travelled by air in the past from Austin to Orlando, our travel coordinator selected Southwest and did a group booking with them. For some reason, we were issued paper tickets rather than etickets (something to do with the group purchase aspect). Anyhow, we found that a small group of our students just didn’t get the message that they weren’t etickets and therefore must be retained. Our lesson learned was always get etickets, or, only provide the students one ticket at a time. Fixing lost tickets for 2-3 students in a group of 35 still takes a long time.

I’d also spend as much time at the destination that you can reasonably afford, both in terms of cost (hotel) and time off school. Arriving Wed night and leaving early Sunday morning makes for a very tired group. To that end, I’d try to fly out Tuesday so that you can use Wednesday as a cultural day. San Antonio has many attractions very much worth seeing (the Alamo comes to mind and is a short 5-10 minute walk from the competition venue). If you want to wander further afield, traveling across TX is not different than driving across ON; major cities are spread far apart. San Antonio to Austin is like driving from London to the west-end of Toronto. San Antonio to Houston (e.g. Johnson Space Center) is like driving from west-end Toronto to Kingston.

Food wise… while in TX I recommend you get at least one sample each of Tex-Mex and BBQ.

If I can be of help to you, drop me a PM. I grew up in the GTA (Brampton) but moved to Austin shortly after graduating from University… and have been here since. And as Coach Norm said we plan to attend the Alamo too when the second regional selection period begins. We love that place and the great teams who will be there. Patrick, Jess, and the regional planning committee do a fabulous job… we’re very fortunate.


A few years back, several teams that went to the Hawaii Regional got burned when their airline went bust without warning. Other airlines tried to help them rebook, but they couldn’t take the entire team on one leg. At the same time, the school district wouldn’t let them split up to take the seats that were available.

I forget the resolution (they’re all home, obviously), but planning for how to handle cancelled flights is a worthy contingency regardless.

We have a different way to verify that “we have everyone”.

a. Students are assigned to “rooms” - this is generally who they will be sharing their hotel room with.
b. One student in a room is designated as “leader”.
c. Each mentor is assigned a few Leaders (depends on the student/mentor ratio)

When we need to take a count (and we do this often, more than a dozen times in the airport) we announce it.

  1. Each leader must find their ‘roomies’, and when they do, they put a thumb up in the air.
  2. Each mentor must find their ‘leaders’ and when they see they have thumbs up, they put their thumbs up.
  3. The head coach sees all the mentors with their thumbs up, we know all are accounted for.

This can easily be done in 10 seconds.

Of course. full roll call at each major junction:Airport arrival, just before boarding, at baggage claim, etc.

The advice to get everyone in the same color (hat, short, whatever) is good, we do this.

Also make it abundantly clear: STAY TOGETHER or ELSE! Most kids get this.

It seems like its alot harder to keep track of alot of students I guess there is a good side to only have 10 members

So as to offer a counterpoint to everyone’s really great suggestions, I will talk about what we do. :slight_smile:

We are a big team with a lot of students and a lot of mentors and accommodating everyone’s schedule means that we almost never fly as a single group. Instead, we split up into 6 or 8 or 10 smaller groups and grab as many different flights as we need – different times, different days, etc. We often have one or more mentors with each group, but we’ve had students fly on their own, too – with the permission of their parents, of course.

It’s much easier for me to manage a small number of kids than it would be to move through the airport as a swarm of people. I miss a bit of the fun we had when I worked with other teams that traveled together, but the flexibility it affords my schedule is also really awesome.

We’ve only lost one kid so far and we got him back after not too long. :slight_smile: He fell asleep and missed a connection, so we rebooked him and met him at the airport in, incidentally, San Antonio.

One thing we decided to do if we flew (or even traveled) as a team again was to make ID cards or name tags that had emergency numbers on the back. We ran into an issue at Championships in Atlanta where a miss communication between parents and mentors led to a student wandering from the Finale until he found our hotel. He did not know the name of our hotel or anyone’s phone number to contact to find out.

Instead of checking luggage or doing carry on luggage we chose to have a parent drive a trailer with all the luggage to Atlanta. This made air travel much easier as we have about 40 people with us. One downfall was a student left their id in the trailer and we had to jump through hoops to get him on the plane to come home.

Team 4063 will also be attending Alamo, I cannot offer any more travel advice than has been given, but we will offer you Texas style southern hospitality. Our team is based 150 miles from San Antonio, but we will have several people traveling to and from the event. If we can be of any service to you, please let us know what we can do to help.

WOW!!! Thank you to everyone who gave some input for air travel! I think we have a few ideas of what to expect now! When I first put this out on the forum, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I never doubted the support of the FIRST community!

To those attending the Alamo Regional, we will see you there! We will be flying out from Buffalo Sunday February 23rd and heading home Sunday March 2nd.

As always thank you again for all your advice! :slight_smile:


We had traveled from Mexico to US , 4 years and besides all the good advices that other had posted, another important is the battery handle , we had been requested to ship the robot without batteries to be able to sent it by the carrier and avoid issues at the border.

Besides of the 2 batteries that regional or championship provides us *we had contact them before to confirm it, our strategy, it is buy extra batteries by internet and send it to the hotel where we will stay, use at the regional and if we pass to the championship, we shipped it to San Louis, after the champions ends we give them away to one team in US as a gift,(Our robot can be sit at the border forever due to the batteries so we prefer give it away)

It not cheap but at least we have been able to assure some extra batteries for the game.

I do not if the same applies for the Canadian/US border, so investigate this point before to ship your robot.

Hopefully one year you decided to go further to south and come to Mexico City Regional.

To help keep the kids on top of their game, I remind them that the school board considers a grade of 97 an A+, so we can lose 3% of the kids and still be considered excellent.

We have crossed the Border before numerous times with the robot and batteries before as well as we have shipped the robot with no issues (except when we shipped it to the wrong location). How about tools? We usually have a huge toolbox and setup when we go to the State Regionals we drive too because we have room on the bus, plus a few Mentors drive down. Any advice about how this would work out? Thanks!

How about tools? We usually have a huge toolbox and setup when we go to the State Regionals we drive too because we have room on the bus, plus a few Mentors drive down. Any advice about how this would work out?

In our case normally the robot is shipped by air so probably this is reason of the battery handle.
Regarding tools, we usually bring this at airplane, we document extra binder with us without exceding the max weigth allow by airline(we pay the extra charge) , obsviously we limited the number of tools to the basic one.

some airline charge more for a 3rd box or binder than for a 2nd, so we document one extra for each mentor or team responsible instead to document it to a single person.

Besides we split mainly the manual tools in small package and ask to team members to put it their bags * this works only with tools that can pass the security point without issues.

When we need a specific tool that we do not carry, we trust on the gracious professional of the other teams and the support of the regional workshop, this helps to improve our relationship with them.:slight_smile:

As Scott said above, lots to do in and around San Antonio. Drop Brad, Scott or I a message if you need any advice on the area. Plenty of hotels within walking distance of the Convention Center.

Look forward to competing with the teams from far and wide this year: Ontario, Pakistan, Hawaii and Florida.

Before you fly, have everyone traveling review the TSA and the airline’s rules for carry on, especially for liquids (3-1-1 rule) and luggage size. Airlines have different rules for carry on size, and checking bags take extra time and can be costly. Also remember the 1 plus 1 rule, that is one carry bag and one small personal item.

Also review the type of airplane you’re flying and plan accordingly. Some planes are big enough that there is no valet tagging (you get your carry on back when you arrive and leave the plane), but overhead space is at a premium and if you’re last on the plane you may be forced to gate check (you need to get your carry on from baggage claim). Knowing this ahead of time will save headaches.

My last bit of advice is to review with your team recommended clothing and packing, to speed up security. For instance, wear comfortable shoes that slip on and off easily. Avoid wearing belts, or lots of jewelry. Keep your pockets empty before going through security - put your wallet, cell phone, and keys in your bag, but keep your identification and ticket in hand. Pack your laptops and liquids so you can quickly and easily remove them from your bag. The faster you can get your team through security, the sooner you can breathe easily.

Good luck!