We’ve all had those notorious, less than adequate, airline traveling experiences, that seem to never end—you know, the kind where you’d like to push the ejection button of the person’s seat sitting next to you. Remember the feeling of being squished between a screaming baby and a person that ceaselessly sneezes or continually needs to get up to use the bathroom? Or how about when you think that you have a window seat, only to find that when you get on the plane, the airline has played musical chairs with passengers, and you’re now facing a 13 hour plane ride to Europe, in the middle seat of the middle row!?! Better yet, as you become acquainted with the three neighbors to your right, and three neighbors to your left, you reach to turn on your IPod or computer, and the screen pops up with a the familiar message saying “10% battery remaining." No biggie, you’ll just plug them in at your seat…but wait…where are they...under your seat, below your seat, beside your seat, in front of your seat…what, no outlets to charge your devices for 13 hours? Didn’t the airline agent at the gate say that their international flights had on-board, charging, outlets?!? Sound familiar?
Recently, on a trip from Kansas to the West Indies, I was reminded of how important it is, to implement a few “Flying 101” tips; prior to ever stepping foot on an airplane, in order to both prepare and drastically improve, one’s overall flying experience. Now, these aren’t tips that you use to navigate your airport experience…that’s an entirely different animal…but these are 5 simple suggestions/tips “for the plane” that I have deemed life-boat worthy; even for seasoned travelers like myself. Neglecting these simple tips, often leaves me in a state of frustration, annoyance, and regret, 2 hours into my middle row journey.
1. Know Your Aircraft and Know your Seat
When making your airline reservation, take a few extra minutes to investigate the aircraft in terms of amenities and seating. Not all aircraft are created equal. You can search sites like www.seatguru.com and www.routehappy.com, that both feature flight-search functions that enable you to see seat location, legroom, electric outlets, Wi-Fi connectivity, overhead room, seatback entertainment, etc.
Importantly, 24 hours prior to your departure time, ask for a new seat. The 24-hr mark is when airlines start upgrading their elite fliers, opening up the “preferred” seats in economy that had been previously taken. Be willing to pay a small fee to upgrade to Premium Economy for the extra four to five inches of leg room and earlier boarding time; especially on international flights.
2. Stay Warm and Comfortable Layer, Layer, Layer!!!
Layers are a traveler’s best friend to battle the sweaty 20 minutes on the tarmac and the in-fight, arctic chill, that airline blankets don’t touch. Also, the more clothes you layer, the fewer items you have to stuff in your suitcase…and you never know when you might need to use that extra hoodie as a pillow. Avoid airline blankets and pillows as they are rarely washed, and instead, opt to bring your own, light, but warm, blanket. Choose clothing that is loose fitting, breathable, and wrinkle-free like: twill, lycra, cashmere wraps, or sweaters that are light, but warm. Also wearing comfortable shoes with socks is a good idea, so that your feet don’t turn into popsicles when the artic chill sweeps through the plane at 32,000 feet!
3. Stay Hydrated and Healthy
Because the majority of airplane cabin air isn’t humidified, most of us end up with all of the symptoms of dehydration like: chapped lips, dry nasal passages, dry skin, and feeling overly parched. But fear not, water will be your cheap, accessible, best friend. Start properly hydrating yourself with water a day before your trip, drink water on the way to the airport, and continue drinking water while you sit at your airport gate. If you want to save money and are environmentally conscious, bring an empty water bottle from home and fill it after you go through security. Once on the plane, keep drinking water, about 8 ounces (0.2 liters) every hour or two, while you're in the air. Don't try to substitute coffee, soda, or a tiny bottle of booze for water either. Caffeine and alcohol will dehydrate you—the opposite of what you're trying to achieve. Don’t be afraid to ask for the entire bottle of water, instead of the small cup they often offer you on the plane.
Also, carry a moisturizing chap stick with you, and hydrating eye drops to use as needed. Airplanes are notorious “petri dishes” of various germs that cause a variety of illnesses. A week prior to my travel, I always boost my vitamin intake by 1.5x, and as well increase my intake of food rich in Vitamin C. SOAP is your number one weapon against germs on the ground and in the air, so make good use of the soap provided in the airplane bathroom. Also, ALWAYS travel with hand sanitizer, and apply liberally, for the duration of your travel. If you are stuck in a window seat, isle seat, or are on a particularly bumpy flight, where the seatbelt sign is always “ON”, hand sanitizer is a convenient, effective, alternative, to soap. And be generous; offer your neighbors some too! Be cognizant of airplane surfaces that everyone touches like arm-rests, tray tables, overhead bins, seat entertainment items, bathroom handles, etc.
4. Charge Electronics Before-hand
Never, ever, trust that you will be able to charge your electronics on the airplane. Even if the airplane is equipped with outlets, they may not work. There is nothing worse than planning to get six hours of work in, watch a movie, listen to music, read on a tablet, etc. on a long flight, only to find that your electronics are not properly charged. Charge them before you go to the airport and check them again at the gate, to see that they are charged.
5. Keep your Carry-on Bag Close
Many passengers reserve their carry-on bag for expensive items, meaningful items, electronics, or the like. And how many times have we boarded our airplane and we are kindly told that “there is no more carry-on space in the main cabin, so they will kindly gate check your bag”. WRONG!!! NO!!! STOP!!! DON’T!!!! Never, ever, separate with your sacred carry-on bag. This is a prime opportunity for airline personnel transferring luggage, to remove those cherished items from your carry-on bag before placing it in the cargo hold. They know that most carry-on bags have these types of items, so when you gate check your bag, it becomes a prime target for airline theft. I unfortunately, learned this lesson the hard way on the way to the West Indies, as six, infant Heart-Doppler’s; numerous, donated, pediatric, medications; and other medical instruments, were stolen from my “gate-checked” carry-on bag. Over $10,000.00 of medical supplies were stolen while my bag was in the hands of the airline.
So, my suggestion, if asked to gate-check your bag, refuse and make the airline create space for it; they can and they have to by law. If you happen to ever fall victim to luggage theft or damage, make sure that you file a report with the airline BEFORE you leave the airport and make sure you take a copy of the report with you. Also, don’t shy away from asking for reimbursement for emergency costs. Each airline has their own policy regarding permanently lost or “stolen” luggage or luggage items, so inquire with the airline as soon as possible, and unfortunately, expect a lengthy process with a lot of paperwork.
While there are many “tips and tricks” to flying, these five, are the most important tools that I keep in my travel toolbox, to help ensure a comfortable, healthy, low-stress, low-hassle, environment for my, and hopefully now, your, flight. Not only will your in-flight experience be improved, but you’ll feel better once you’re on the ground too—ready to hit the ground running for that much deserved vacation, business meeting, mission trip, or friend/family reunion!
Illustrations by Bella Pilar
Have you ever encountered frustrations while flying? What are some of your “Essential Flying 101’s” that you follow? Any disastrous or funny travel experiences that could have been avoided? Share your experiences with us on Facebook!