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United Airlines’ most frequent flier shares holiday travel tips

Navigate the airport with advice from the star of Spike TV’s Car Lot Cowboy.
By Jake Malooley |

On the Spike TV reality show Car Lot Cowboy, a sort of Hell’s Kitchen for the auto-sales industry premiering in early 2012, Tom Stuker moseys up in his ten-gallon hat, chunky belt buckle and shit-kickers to struggling car dealerships around the country and whips the management and staff like rodeo steer into successful salesmen. “When I get to a dealership that I’m consulting on,” he says, “it’s like, ‘There’s a new sheriff in town.’ ” (Cue the Sergio Leone score.) A former dealer himself, the folksy 58-year-old Chicago native has been jetting around the world to play dealership doctor since 1984. Along the way, he’s racked up close to 12 million miles, 10.2 million on United Airlines alone, making him the carrier’s most frequent flier. We asked the buckaroo to share his blunt, campfire brand of holiday-travel advice.

Fly early.
“The first flight is usually the best price, has the best seat selection and will be the most dependable. It’s the first one out of the airport before bad weather or whatever makes the airport constipated and backed up.”

Anticipate problems.
“That doesn’t mean spending hours worrying about stuff—I’m a real big person against what I call ‘pre-bitching’—bitching before shit comes up. But always have a plan B. Make sure you have a carry-on bag that can get you through at least one day. Pack enough for the possibility that your luggage is going to be delayed or you might miss a connection.”

Can’t fly? Take it to the streets.
“Sometimes flights are canceled due to high winds. Well, that doesn’t affect your ability to drive! If at the last second your flight gets screwed up, and you’re looking for a rental car but other people beat you to the punch, you’re screwed. Rental-car places are gonna be pissed off at me for saying this, but you can make a reservation for a car in advance and cancel at the last minute.”

Stay charged.
“A lot of people bring their iPod and iPad and shit with them, but the batteries aren’t charged! Before I leave my house, I make sure everything has a full charge, so if I’m stranded on a plane that’s sitting at the gate for an hour, I’m not bored outta my skull. Most of the hotels next to airports have workout centers that you can pay a day rate for entry. For, like, $15, you get total access to the gym, the pool, the sauna—everything!”

Money opens doors.
“Those members-only airline club lounges aren’t as exclusive as they look. Almost every club lets you pay a daily charge to come into the lounge. You get free Internet, you get free booze, free wine and a relaxing environment to sit and watch TV. Trust me, the airline will take your $49, or whatever it is, all day long.”

Remember: Check your booze.
“People want to transport wine and Champagne home for the holidays. Well, when you get up to security, you’ve waited in the long holiday lines, and you finally get up there and you get nervous you might miss your flight, and all of a sudden the security guard says, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t carry this on. Do you want me to throw it away or do you want go back and check it?’ Well, you’re held hostage because you’re gonna miss your flight, so you go, ‘Damn, there goes an $80 bottle of Champagne down the drain!’ ”

If you’re late, admit it.
“I take more than 300 flights a year. To about ten of those, I’m late. I literally go right to the front of the security line. It might look rude, but if you show people your boarding pass, they’ll usually oblige. You might get one of these people who feel it’s not right and they want to punish you with some territorial bullshit. That happens. You just have to let that shit roll off your back.”

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