12 flying tips to ease the troubled traveller

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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.

Carry on

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.Carry-on suitcase

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 Airport cafeflying 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. Airport lounge

Bring watermelon

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.

Be Flightaware

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.

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About Author

Paul Marshman is a retired journalist who spent 30 years as a writer and editor on Canadian newspapers, while travelling to the ends of the earth. Now he continues to travel while passing on his travel experiences to you.

8 Comments

  1. Great set of practical recommendations, Paul! “Cela sent le vécu”, as we would say in French.
    Learned a few new useful tricks today. Thanks.
    I was just wondering if I really had to erase the tags of my luggage in the future… It remains the only way to identify the owner (without forcing the locks) if the company tag has been torn apart, doesn’t it? Do you really believe someone would decide to rob your house because he found an address on a suitcase? Of course, potential burglars know you left for a few days, but how would they know if you live alone in the place? Plus the fact that such an address is only useful when you live in the same country…
    Gery
    Gery de Pierpont recently posted…Searching for a historic hotel in Europe?My Profile

    • I don’t mean to recommend taking your name off the tags, Gery, just to replace your home address with an e-mail address — but I see now that I inadvertently left that part out. It’s fixed now: thanks for noticing.

      That tip is meant to defend against thieves in your home airport when you fly out — though if they want to target your house, they can easily see if anyone is home. And of course, these are just suggestions, so judge them as you wish.
      PJM92 recently posted…12 flying tips to ease the troubled travellerMy Profile

  2. A question for you too: would you recommend not to lock your suitcase with a key when traveling by plane? Actually, I always did, to prevent someone to open it on the way, until recently. I had a very bad experience transiting through the US on my way to South America: the customs had forced both of my locks, totally damaging my luggage. I was lucky I could recognize it after landing in Sao Paolo, fully rolled up in a plastic foil. How was I supposed to pack everything again and come back home with a suitcase impossible to close any more? Any advice on that? Thx, Gery
    Gery de Pierpont recently posted…Searching for a historic hotel in Europe?My Profile

  3. Good question, Gery. I don’t lock my suitcase any more when I check a bag because I know security can open it anyway if they want to — for that matter, so can any baggage handler who wants to steal your stuff. In both cases, they can damage your suitcase, as you found. My advice is not to put anything of real value in a checked bag — if it’s worth a lot of money, it goes in your carry-on. Just another of the many perils of flying these days. If you can avoid flying through the U.S.. that helps, too.
    PJM92 recently posted…12 flying tips to ease the troubled travellerMy Profile

  4. As to your address tag. I always use my business address on luggage tags AND my business address.

    An for seating on the planes. . Nowadays exit rows are considered “premium” seats and ate either reserved for elite frequent fliers or are available for an additional cost. What most people do no realize is the rows of seats a few rows in front of the exits have about an inch more legroom than those behind the exit rows. So when booking your seats try to get seats forward of the exit rows.

    • Great tips, Charles. I like using an e-mail address because you can retrieve a message on the road, but a business address is a good strategy. And great to know about the legroom — I’ll remember that when I’m booking next time. Somehow I imagine they’ll still find a way to charge me extra …

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