Do you hate flying? I don’t mean being scared of heights. I can’t help you with that. But if you hate the discomfort and tackiness of flying, then there’s still hope.
There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. Its knack lies not in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss, as a certain overrated sci-fi writer would have you believe (no offense Douglas Adams fans), but in making a lot of small smart decisions that improve the overall experience. This article examines some of those small but powerful decisions. If you’re already an experienced frequent flyer, you may still find some gems. If you’re just starting out your frequent traveler career, you might want to take some notes.
1. Join Frequent Flyer Schemes
Yes, nobody likes filling forms and getting spam, but the best way to regular upgrades is to join frequent flyer schemes. Even if you have one or two airlines you are particularly loyal to, it doesn’t hurt to cheat on them if a deal comes up. Membership gives you a clear edge over other travelers who just couldn’t be bothered when the coach cabin is overbooked and clerks have to decide who gets the first class upgrade. Even the most basic membership level will give you perks like preferential seating and putting you at the front of the line.
2. Use an Airline of Travel Credit Card
If you generally fly the same routes with the same airline, get their credit card and start racking miles. If your travel routes are more erratic and you use several airlines, get a high-end travel card, such as Barclaycard’s Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Chase’s Sapphire Preferred, which work with just about any airline. The key is to buy everything you can with you travel or airline credit card and paying your balance in full every month. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can earn enough to get free upgrades, extra luggage or even complimentary trips. This article will help you find the best travel credit card for your lifestyle.
3. Use Miles to Upgrade Not to Buy
If you’re going to get a business or first class seat, buy an inexpensive seat and use your frequent flyer miles to upgrade instead of using your miles to buy the seat outright. This will save your frequent miles and you will earn qualified miles for the paid coach ticket. Flights are usually posted up to 330 days before departure and airlines generally open up at least a couple seats for mileage upgrades early on.
4. Travel with Hand Luggage Only
Travel without checked luggage and you’ll avoid the stress and expense of losing your luggage. You’ll also save time and cash on checked baggage fees, which can really add up. Once you get to your destination, it will be much easier to zip around the airport and get in and out of taxis. In fact, if you travel to a country where smaller cars are the norm, you may find your maxi-suitcase doesn’t even fit in the trunk.
5. Be Late and Don’t Reserve a Seat
This may seem counter-intuitive and admittedly it doesn’t always work, but not reserving a seat on a popular flight during busy times and checking in late can be a great way to get bumped to business or first class. If the flight is overbooked, the clerks may have to resort to unused first class seats and you may get the premium ticket. Of course, only try this if you’re traveling alone or don’t care whether you sit with your traveling partner. Don’t be too late or you may miss the check-in time and be out of the game completely.
6. Look for the Smallest Cabin
When hunting for a seat online, first check out the smallest cabins. Larger airplanes will often have smaller cabins tucked away, especially in business and first class, which can be great hideouts for a quiet and productive flight.
7. Keep Checking for a Better Seat
Airlines will often hold back some of their best seats for frequent flyers who may book a flight last minute. If you already have frequent flyer status, good for you. If you don’t, check seven, three and one day before departure, as those are the times airlines usually add new openings to the general pool of seats.
8. Find the Best Seat on Your Aircraft
Before booking your seat, find out what type of aircraft you will be using and check where the best seats are. Websites like SeatExpert.com and SeatPlans.com will automatically find your aircraft and give you the skinny on the best seats available, if you have a departure date and flight number.
9. Choose a Window Seat
Ideally, you upgraded to first class and this isn’t an issue, but if you’re stuck in coach class, choose a window seat. That way you can lean up against the window panel and sleep the whole way. Even if you can’t or don’t like to sleep on flights, it will give you a few extra square inches of personal space; and you won’t have to get up every time someone wants to go to the bathroom.
10. Avoid the Front or Back of the Cabin
Choosing the bulkhead of a cabin may provide you with extra room but it will also increase your chances of sitting next to a crying baby, where infants are preferentially seated. The front and back of cabins are also the place where passengers congregate to stretch their legs or to queue for the bathroom. Proximity to the bathroom has other obvious drawbacks to consider.
11. Sit Next to the Fat Guy
If you’re flying on an open seating airline, such as Southwest, look for the fattest guy you can find in a window seat. Sit on the aisle seat in his row. The chances are nobody will choose to sit between you. This works particularly well if you’re also on the large side.
12. Carry an Emergency Charger
Don’t risk running out of juice for your phone, tablet or laptop. This is particularly important if you were planning to do some work or hoping to arrange your travel pictures. You know you’ll never get round to it once you’re back home. For just a few bucks you can get a high-capacity battery pack that can fit in your pocket or purse and give you two or three additional charges.
13. Order Your Meal Ahead of Time
Notice how the steward runs out of the best menu items halfway down the aisle? Airlines under-stock on food items to decrease waste and weight. Ensure you get your meal choice by ordering it ahead when you book your seat.
14. Go Kosher
To really hack the airplane food system, order a special meal when booking your flight. Ask for the kosher choice, (it can also work with the vegetarian or gluten-free choices) and you will get two sweet perks. First your meal will be off the main food cart, which means it will be served first. Second, the food will probably be fresher.
15. Tip the Flight Attendant
This is a controversial topic but tipping your flight attendant may be the cheapest upgrade you ever get. Some airlines train their staff not to accept tips or to only take them if clients insist. Be ready for a polite “initial refusal” and politely insist. I’ve heard stories of couples been squirreled to first class after “tipping” a flight attendant a $20 bill. This will rarely happen, but it’s possible, especially on empty flights. A tip may also get you some extra booze, stronger coffee or simply a sincere smile of gratitude. The flip side to tipping is that the occasional flight attendant may be insulted by the gesture.
16. Carry Your Own Water
Dehydration worsens the symptoms of jet lag. So drink plenty of water before, during and after your flight. This is particularly important if you don’t stop raiding the wine and spirits cart. The size of airline water cups are a joke and you may sleep through the beverage service, so always fly with your own bottle of water. Just make sure you buy it once you’ve gone through security.
17. Learn the Seat Numbering System
Boarding is not the time to waste time trying to work out where your seat is. If you do, those suckers with over-sized baggage will take all the overhead luggage bins and you won’t have room for yours. Trying to find your seat when first boarding the airplane can be one of the most stressful times of your flight. Especially if you failed to get a priority pass (shame on your) or your efforts at charming yourself to a first class upgrade didn’t work
Regardless of the plane and airline the numbering system is always the same, numbers go from front to back of the airplane and letters go from right to left when facing the back of the plane. 1A is the right window-seat of the first row.
18. Dress for Cold
Plan what you’ll wear on your airplane trip. Even if you do look hot in your short shorts and tank top, you probably won’t care when you’re diagnosed with hypothermia five hours into your flight. Planes usually have only two or three automatic thermostat zones and the temperature is generally set at around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Carry a soft-lined jacket you can put on if you’re cold or use as a pillow if you aren’t.
19. Dress to Impress
It’s not fair but, all things being equal, people who dress the part are more likely to get bumped to business or first class. After all, business and wealthy travelers, which are more likely to dress well, are prime customers for airlines; and they will work extra hard to impress them. Wearing a suit or dress will also mean you’re wearing some of your bulkiest clothing items, which means more space in your carry-on.
An added bonus is you’re less likely to crease your suit. Clothes with a 50-50 percent cotton-polyester blend are the best for travelers. Just be careful not to spill any ketchup or Chardonnay on your Brioni Vanquish.
20. Carry Some Doggy Dope
If you travel with a pet, ask your vet about using a light medication. Flight attendants will love you for it, they call it “doggy dope.” A mild sedative will reduce the stress on your pet and for everybody else on the flight.
21. To Sedate or Not Sedate Your Three-Year-Old, that is the Question
Although there is not medical data on the matter, most pediatric travel medicine specialists don’t recommend the use of sedatives for traveling children. We don’t give medical advice, but over-the-counter diphenhydramine is commonly used by some parents. If you do choose to use a mild sedative, make sure you do a test dose at home. A small percentage of children react to sedatives by becoming hyperactive and agitated.
22. Exit Rows Trump Bulkheads
If you’re stuck in coach and looking for extra leg room, you have two main choices: bulkheads and exit rows. Bulkheads are usually priced at a premium and you’re more likely to share a row with baby or toddler. Exit rows provide the extra leg room at no extra cost, but you may have to deal with an armrest that doesn’t move and a smaller tray table. Life is full of trade-offs.
23. Be Polite and Helpful
Smile, be polite, treat the clerks and cabin crew as the trained professionals they are. If a flight attendant asks you whether you would be willing to move so a family can sit together or to accommodate a larger passenger, always agree and do it with a smile. Not only is this the decent thing to do, the flight attendant may upgrade you to a better cabin.
24. Pack Like a Pro
Pack as light as possible. Pick wrinkle-free clothes that mix and match well. For example, a long-sleeve button-down shirt, two tank tops, a cardigan, and a couple of camisoles can be combined in many ways but don’t take up much space. Always pack a compact umbrella, it’s worth the space. Save space by stuffing your socks and underwear in your shoes and roll your t-shirts and pants. Rolling instead of folding also helps reduce wrinkles.
These tips are just a brief primer. Interested in more travel tips? For more great tips, check out this article that has 60+ more travel hacks you will want to know about before your next trip.