Frequent travelers are accustomed to getting tripped up by the simplest things: foreign currency, power adapters or unexpected cellphone charges.
So it’s delightful when a solution appears.
Last year I was on a flight from Hanoi to Hong Kong on Cathay Dragon, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific Airlines. The flight attendant came down the aisle, passing out snack packs. It was nothing special: a biscuit of some sort. But tucked inside the napkin was a surprise. It was a clear plastic sleeve that included slots for SIM cards, along with an iPhone-compatible SIM card remover (a paper clip will work, too).
When you’re traveling in foreign countries and you don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars in extra cellphone fees, it pays to get a SIM card from a local carrier. Traveling around the world, I came back with four SIM cards. But the cards themselves are tiny — and it’s easy to lose them. You don’t want to lose your U.S. SIM card, or your phone becomes a brick once you land.
This little plastic sleeve solved a travel problem, and it was low-profile. I still keep it in my wallet. In fact, I used it this week to swap out a SIM card.
Jin Chen is a problem solver. Long before she got into the travel business (she’s the COO of Alaska Skylar Travel in Anchorage), she was an auditor and a consultant for a local CPA firm. “I would go into a business, analyze their process and offer recommendations on how to make improvements,” she said.
And even though the airlines did not ask her how to make improvements, her problem-solving skills were working overtime on the flight.
“I just got frustrated,” she said. “There several small things that could make everything more seamless. I knew I could make these changes — it’s not complicated.”
Next week, Jin is rolling out the end product of her problem-solving skills. Her solution is called the Planeket. It’s a combination of a blanket, a pillow, a viewing stand for your phone to watch a movie — and there’s even a secret compartment for some business cards.
The components in the Planeket are common enough. But it’s how the package goes together that is something of a “secret sauce" based on several problems Jin wanted to solve for travelers.
1. “I couldn’t take up any more carry-on space,” Jin said, “because of the airline restrictions.” So the Planeket slips over your suitcase, or clips on to your backpack.
2. Blankets are bulky and take up quite a bit of space in your carry-on bag. Jin’s blanket is super soft and crams into its zippered pouch nicely.
3. “Airline blankets (when you can find them) always find their way to the floor after a nap,” said Jin. “And those floors are disgusting.” The Planeket features several loops on one side of the blanket, along with a fastener, to clip it loosely around your neck.
4. There’s a card slot for several business cards. “I was always hunting around for a business card when I was talking to someone on a flight,” Jin said.
To keep everything together, Jin wraps it in synthetic leather, which is waterproof and easy to clean, along with a big zipper that won’t get caught in the blanket.
The Planeket is available to pre-order at $32.99. There are four colors available, including “Glacier Mint” and “Alpenglow.”
Initially, parts of the Planeket are imported, but the finishing is done in Anchorage. “Our goal is to do 100% of the manufacturing in Anchorage,” Jin said, “but we want to see the initial sales results. After all, commercial sewing machines are very expensive."
If you’re loaded up with your travel gear and you’re ready to fly Outside, remember: The rules are changing once again for travelers returning to Alaska. Here are a few highlights from the state’s revised heath mandate for travelers coming into Alaska from out of state:
1. Travelers to Alaska still are advised to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arrival. If you’re an Alaska resident, you can get tested at the airport on arrival with no additional charge. For non-residents, there is a $250 charge.
2. A second test, taken between five and 14 days after arrival, is recommended but not required.
3. Between the first and second COVID tests (or 14 days after arrival, travelers should practice “strict social distancing.” That means you can be in an outdoor public place, but remain six feet away from those not in your household. You cannot go inside to restaurants, bars, office buildings or sporting facilities. Do not attend any weddings, funerals or sporting events.
While some of the specific rules for travelers have changed, the basics have not: wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain social distancing. Cases in Alaska are on the rise. For more information, visit the state’s COVID-19 website for travelers.