Flying has never been much fun for most of us. But in the past few years, it’s gotten to be an ordeal, from the extra fees to the long security lines, smaller seats, luggage weight restrictions and stingy food rations. So anything you can do to make it an easier and less traumatic experience is always appreciated.
Using my own years of travel experience, along with the collective wisdom of flight attendants and other travel experts across the web, I’ve put together a collection of flying tips that can help you deal with all these airborne inconveniences. These tips focus on how to survive your flight: how to live with all the fees and other trickery is fodder for another post.
So here are my 12 flying tips for trouble-free travel. I’m sure you can use at least one of them.
With airlines charging for even the first checked bag these days, the last defence of the money-conscious traveller is to fly with a carry-on. As I demonstrated here, you can get an amazing amount of stuff in a 20-inch “spinner” suitcase — and as a bonus, you never have to stand at the luggage carousel again.
Make an airport suit
Does running the airport security gauntlet get you down? Minimize the stress by devising an outfit that lets you breeze right through. Wear slip-on shoes that come off easily, and pants that don’t require a belt. Leave your jewellery in your day bag. And when you’re in the security line, put your wallet, watch and pocket contents in plastic bags and drop them in your carry-on bag. You’re good to go.
Don’t tag your address
Most people put their address on their luggage tags. But experts say that’s a bad idea: anyone looking to steal things from your bag is unscrupulous enough to rob your home, too. And since you’re getting on a plane, he knows you’re not going to be home. Experts recommend putting your name on the tag along with an e-mail address where you can be reached if the bag is found.
Wear the extra weight
Airlines can be picky about weight restrictions these days. If you’re in danger of getting charged for extra weight, wear your heaviest clothes onto the plane, and hang your camera over your shoulder. They haven’t started weighing passengers yet (though if they do, some people will be paying double). Once on the plane, you can put the clothes and camera back in your bag — who’s to know?
Use the opposite bin
Put your luggage in the overhead bin across the aisle, not the one right above you. That way, you can see if anyone is tampering with it. I’ve had people move my bag when I wasn’t looking — luckily, nothing was taken, but there’s always the chance.
Cancel the noise
For a better chance of getting some sleep on a noisy plane, invest in some noise-cancelling headphones. The veteran travellers I know swear by theirs, for flying and for other noisy environments like long-distance buses. If that’s not an option, bring along some ear plugs — and don’t sit next to a family with small children.
Prevent economy class syndrome
Sitting in an airplane seat for a long flight can cause deep vein thrombosis, sometimes called economy class syndrome. That occurs when blood clots form in your legs and then circulate, and it can be serious. Some people wear compression socks to prevent it, but failing that, at least get up and walk the aisles now and then to get your blood circulating. Even lifting and flexing your legs in your seat can help.
Bring an extra top
Flight attendants say they’re amazed at people who board the plane in shorts and a t-shirt, then sit shivering when the air conditioning shifts into high gear. These days, you may have to pay for even a blanket — and airline blankets are thin. So wear something warm, or bring a sweater or jacket on board.
And an emergency kit
If you check your luggage, always bring an emergency kit in your carry-on bag with enough clothes, medications and other essentials for a day or two. Luggage is lost every day, and even though airlines will reimburse you, it’s no fun rushing around to buy what you need after you land — if you can find it.
Sit in the exit row
If you’re tall and need leg room, try to book the exit row seats, which usually have more room — though you may have to pay extra for them. (One reader says the seats in front of the exit rows have good leg room, so that may be an option.) If you do get the exit row, heed the advice above about packing a sweater — it can be cold near the exit doors. Another tip: while the front rows, facing the bulkhead, have extra leg room, choose them at your own risk. That’s where they tend to seat families with small children, so you may get a screaming toddler for a seat mate.
The dry, recycled air in airplanes tends to dehydrate you, and drinking alcohol during the flight dehydrates you even more. You can drink water, but your body tends to retain it, resulting in swollen ankles. According to one prominent anti-aging doctor, the best remedy is to eat fruits like watermelon and strawberries instead of the airplane snacks. They’re full of water but not loaded with salt and added sugar. Put them in a plastic bag and you’ll pass through security just fine. Cucumbers also work — they can even help your brain function.
Finally, if you’re in the airport and your plane is delayed, pull out your laptop or smart phone and pull up Flightaware website. It’ll show you exactly where your plane is on the map — you can even watch its progress in real time. And you’ll know if the airline is telling you fibs when they say it’s almost here.
Those are my 12 flying tips for troubled travellers. I hope at least one or two of them will make your flying experience a little easier (if not, there’s always alcohol). And if you have some good tips of your own, leave a comment and share them with all of us — we need all the help we can get.