Top 11 Tips for a Pleasant Flight

How to maximize comfort and minimize hassle when flying.

1) Frequent flyer/loyalty programs

Two seemingly contradictory rules of thumb: a) sign up for multiple; & b) try to stick with one. International airline alliances (e.g. SkyTeam, Star Alliance, etc.) will allow you to rack up miles while flying with different airlines, but it’s also worthwhile to sign up with a few smaller, localized ones (e.g. VIPorter). Keep those e-mail notifications turned on too — you just might get a conveniently-timed exclusive discount code.

2) Choose a good seat (that fits your needs)

SeatGuru by TripAdvisor is your best friend when it comes to picking a seat. They have seat maps for purportedly over 800 aircraft. You can even search by airline, by flight, or by aircraft type. Hover over a seat for additional details on the qualities of that seat.

2.1 Aisle or Window?

As a child, the window seat was the greatest. Getting to spend the flight pressed up against the window watching the clouds roll by? Yes, please!

As a (tall) adult, not so much. The additional leg room and ability to get up and stretch without having to bother your seatmate, especially on longer flights, is so much more valuable now.

Caveat: If you want to take a load of photos or Hyperlapses for your Instagram, take the window. Don’t be one of those people leaning over the other person if they’re a stranger.

3) Pre-load reading material

While waiting in the airport lounge, open all the tabs! and load up all those Pocket/Medium/etc. articles you’ve been meaning to read.

Something to occupy you while waiting to board and knowledge that will better you as a person at 35,000 feet and deposit you back on the ground as a smarter person? Double whammy.

4) Avoid checked baggage (if possible)

Close cousin to “don’t overpack.” Eliminating the need to check in luggage prior to departure and then wait for it after arrival, as well as the possibility of delayed or lost luggage, significantly decreases door-to-door travel time. Chances are you won’t need half of what you pack anyway.

4.1 Chargers in the carry-on — always

If you must check bags, whatever you do, don’t put your chargers in the checked ones. Just in case — because the one time that you do will be the one time that the bag gets lost. True story.

5) Check & double-check where customs is happening

Booking a flight from Toronto-Detroit-Amsterdam-Cologne, I called the airline to confirm whether customs would happen in Amsterdam or Cologne (because Schengen zone). The airline rep assured me that customs would take place in Cologne, and that the hour-and-twenty-minutes stopover at Schiphol would be adequate to transfer.

Ended up in the very last row for the Detroit-Amsterdam segment and the flight landed late, so timing was tight as it was. Then it turned out customs was in Amsterdam. Yeah.

Also check departure city vs. arrival city customs re: US-Canada and international flights with third country stopovers.

6) H2O

The benefits of drinking plenty of water have been heralded enough. Staying hydrated becomes especially important in dry environments and will help your immune system fend off those pesky sickness germs that are bound to be in the enclosed space.

Added bonus? Working your jaw/swallowing helps reset the pressure in your ears.

7) Dress comfortably, but look presentable

It’s tempting to do the sweatpants/sweatshirt combo, but resist! Dressing too comfortably might leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic after landing. Looking presentable may sometimes result in unexpected perks like getting shuttled through the business class security line too.

8) Scarves are super versatile

And reduce the number of items you’ll have to carry on. Cabin gets cold? Bam, makeshift blanket. Want to take a nap? Bam, converts into a neck pillow. Lower back pain? Bam, extra cushioning. Outfit too bland? Yeah, scarves help with that too.

9) Sleep before the flight

There are definitely contradictory schools of thought on this. One convention holds that you shouldn’t sleep prior to flying, so that you’re more likely to fall asleep in the air and thus adjust better to jetlag.

Too often though this plan can go awry. Whether it’s especially bad turbulence, noisy cabin mates, or straight-up insomnia, there are so many risk factors involved. Airplane sleep doesn’t tend to be quality sleep anyway. So really, the sleep cycle preparation should start in the 24 hours prior to the flight. Although obviously you know your own propensity for sleep better than anyone else.

10) Eat beforehand + bring snacks

Airplane food tends to be not particularly appetizing, and airport food tends to be hit-or-miss. On the one hand, I had one of the best sandwiches ever at Earl of Sandwich at Boston Logan (yeah, it lives up to its lofty claim). On the other, that overpriced Dutch B.L.T.C. at Amsterdam Schiphol was one of the worst. At London Heathrow, I dropped the last of my British pounds into a vending machine only to have the food get stuck. Of course. Basically, granola bars are an essential item now.

11) Also don’t forget to bring:

  • Headphones/ear plugs — to cancel out noise
  • Gum — continually works the jaw to keep the ears from popping
  • Pen & paper — perfect time to reflect and jot down some thoughts/notes/ideas. Tactilely, because old school is the best tool

Agree? Disagree? Have tips of your own to contribute? Tweet me @DaisyQin, annotate a comment or drop a response below! Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. ☺

Flight Facilities at The Hoxton, October 19th, 2012.
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