Top 10 Air Travel Tips
It’s no big secret that most people dread air travel. I’ve also never been a big secret that I have never been one of those people. I love flying. I think airports are great, from the people watching to the small thrill that comes from scores of cities being a departure gate away. It still gives me pause every time I step foot in an airport and consider that I’m part of a well-oiled machine that sends scores of people across the planet every single day. Ever since I was a young boy, I get a big old grin on my face every time the plane takes off, I still do. I enjoy air travel, and I lament that I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I would like. That said, for those of you who dread it, I’m here to share some of my air travel tips that I’ve put together from my years of experience.
Some of these air travel tips may seem pretty basic, but I’ve included them anyway because I’ve found they’re that critical, and so many people don’t follow what seems like common sense anyway. Others are some of the more off the wall lessons and tricks I’ve learned over the years, and I pass them on to you, my dear reader, in hopes they serve you as well as they have me traveling the skies. All in all, these ten air travel tips I’ve put together have served me well over the years, as I hope they serve you, whether you’re a veteran of air travel, or getting on an airplane for the first time.
Without further adieu, here are my Top 10 Air Travel Tips:
10) Loyalty Programs – join them!
Look, if you’re going to fly, you owe it to yourself to if nothing else, get some frequent flyer miles out of the experience. But the benefits extend far beyond the possibility of free air travel at some point in the future.
While there are some issues with many of these programs in how they’re set up – and there’s a reason many airlines are in the process of overhauling them – frequent flier programs are indeed a boon for frequent fliers. They can play into everything from rental car programs to hotels, as well as discounts through the carrier. If you travel a lot for business or pleasure, it can be worth booking your tickets through only certain airlines due to how the three main program alliances – Star Alliance, OneWorld, and SkyTeam – are set up.
If you’re not a frequent flier, there are still a few tangible benefits you get in the near term. A lot of airlines let the people who are part of their membership programs board before other passengers, even if you’re flying coach. When checking in, members have a dedicated line for most airlines, meaning you don’t wait in line with most other travelers, saving you time when you travel. Likewise, you’re often first in line to get bumped up to first class or granted some other boom should the circumstances arise. On the ground, you get access to travel lounges – more on that in a minute though.
Just don’t forget to use those miles before they expire.
9) Dress for Success (as well as comfort)
This will come into play with several of the next tips, but with so many other things in life, how you dress is important, and when traveling by air, can have an impact on everything from how you pack, how swiftly you move through airport security, to how comfortably you’re tucked in on the airplane.
Air travel tips on how to dress? Here are the basics. Got a nice suit or dress you’re worried might get wrinkled in your carry on bag? Wear that. Don’t have a suit, but you have a bulky sweatshirt that takes up half your carry on bag? Wear that instead. Make sure your shoes slip on and off easy. Make sure you have anything you might need within reach, from your wallet to your boarding passes, either on hand or in your pockets. Ideally, wear something with lots of pockets. And whatever you wear, remember you’re going to be wearing it on a flying tin tube for several hours, so make sure its comfortable, and please, make sure its clean.
8) Pack Lightly
I could do an entire list about how to pack and what not to pack alone, but above all else, pack as little as possible, and stick to what you know you’ll need. In a world where airlines can bleed you dry for every checked bag, and where lost luggage is enough to derail an entire trip, I cannot emphasize enough how critical it is that you only bring enough with you to fit on a carry on bag, preferably in the form of a backpack or a rolling suitcase, and maybe a smaller bag like a laptop case you can fit under your seat.
There are some basic rules to packing that follow. Roll your clothing so they’re compressed in your luggage, and don’t wrinkle. Travel-size hygiene kits may not do anything to prevent terrorism, but they sure fit easier in your luggage. The age of the smartphone and tablet has been a boon for tech savvy travelers – you can make due with two or three small devices where you once needed more. This is especially true if you have a Kindle or the Kindle app – I love hardcover books as much as the next bibliophile, but not having to pack them is a godsend.
7) Some odd things to pack
While I do recommend packing as lightly as possible, there are some odds and ends I’ve found that over the years, are well worth finding room for:
-A power strip. In the land where people fight over the one outlet in the terminal to charge their phones, the man who can turn that one outlet into ten is king. It’s also useful to have at hotels or events after you’ve reached their destination, especially for networking. Everyone wants to be friends with the guy who can give their iPhone some juice.
-A sleeping mask. So when you want to sleep, but the guy next to you on the plane wants to read the in-flight magazine, the air marshals don’t need to get involved.
-A small, unopened bag of your favorite snacks. Mostly to avoid paying 6 bucks for a small bag of pretzels in the airport if you end up feeling peckish.
-My multitool and pocket survival kit. I never leave home without them. Oddly enough, not only are they TSA compliant – how my Leatherman is okay, but my energy drink is a threat to national security, I don’t know – but I bring them everywhere for a reason. You never know when a corkscrew, needle and thread or some duct tape might come in handy.
-Disinfecting wipes. Because germs.
-A towel. Because who am I to argue with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?
6) Arrive Early
Let me repeat that: ARRIVE EARLY! Arrive early at the airport, arrive early to security, arrive early to your terminal, as early as possible, as many places as possible.
This isn’t just so that you don’t have to scramble to do anything at the last minute, or so that you have time to react should something go wrong. You’re arriving early so that all the shmucks who DIDN’T, who are now scrambling to do everything at the last minute, don’t end up making you late in the process. Mark my words, even when you do everything by the book, if you end up late, its because some fool in front of you spent ten minutes trying to collapse a stroller, or some lazy TSA agent is chatting up someone on the phone rather than getting people through security.
Speaking of which…
5) Dealing with the TSA
Look, I’m no fan of the TSA, waste of money that does nothing to prevent terrorism that they are, but until politicians are willing to admit this is all for show, we’re stuck dealing with it. Though it was almost worth it just to see the look on their faces when they see the boxers I’m wearing have the 4th Amendment on them.
Remember where I said to make sure the shoes you wear slip on and off easy? And that everything you need is within grabbing distance? This is one of the places where all of that pays off in dividends, and can make the difference between the TSA being a brief annoyance, or an ordeal. There are some simple tips that I feel were best stated by George Clooney in Up in the Air, which I’ll paraphrase here: Never get behind people with kids, same rule applies to the elderly, always get behind business travelers in suits, and pass through as fast as they will let you.
Seriously though, they don’t actually do anything to prevent terrorism though. Have fun remembering that next time they’re feeling you up!
4) Make use of Travel Clubs
Remember when I said to make sure you had a frequent flier membership? Airport club lounges almost make the memberships worth their weight in, if not gold, free food and clean, uncrowded bathrooms. Lacking that, you can usually pay for access, and if you’ve got a layover in an airport for a few hours, its almost always worth it.
My personal favorites are the USO, which has USO Centers in several airports. As a soldier, they were invaluable for everything from a place to grab a bite to eat or rest for a little, and as a veteran, they’re a large part of why I make a point to donate to the USO.
Lots of water, and if you’re of age, booze.
Staying hydrated while you fly plays a big part in how comfortable you are as you fly, so please drink lots of water while you’re in the airport. Using an airplane lavatory is a hell of a lot more comfortable than altitude sickness.
As for alchohol, while it may just be personal preference, but I find drinking while you travel can take the edge off even the most stressful of flights. I imagine this is why airports are sutffed with bars and duty free stores, and why they serve booze on the plane too. If you’re feeling daring, you could try to mix your own drinks on the plane and bring your own booze, but I don’t mind paying a little bit to have the barkeep or stewardess take care of all of that for me. My go to choice is the bloody mary – something about tomato juice really stands out at 20,000 feet.
If you do drink while flying though, please do so in moderation. Nobody likes the one guy who gets plastered on a long haul flight.
2) Plan to sleep on the airplane
This is one of the biggest tips to make sure your flight goes by as painlessly as possible – by spending the majority of it asleep.
While I’ve never had any issues sleeping on planes myself, there are any number of things you can do to make things easier if you feel you might. Dress warmly. Have a few drinks. Pop some Ambien if you have it, and if not, some cold medicine. Whatever you feel you need to do, few expiriences can match going to sleep and waking up in a different city as the plane lands.
1) Don’t stress, go with the flow, and try to have fun
If not fun, at least try to relax. Like so many other things in life, stressing about it only makes things worse. For all the air travel tips I can give you, the biggest one is not to stress about it. Like I said, while traveling, you are part of an industry that, day after day, gets millions of people to their destinations without incident. So long as you keep a cool head, and perhaps take a few of my air travel tips to heart, you will too.
Enjoy yourself, and happy travels.