No one likes flying on a commercial airline in coach. Am I right? The legroom sucks, as does the food, if you get any. And the airlines charge us for every…little…thing; I’m surprised we can still use the bathroom for free. But flying coach doesn’t have to be horrible. There are things you can do to make the experience much more tolerable for you—and your bank account.
BEFORE YOU BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
CONSIDER BOOKING AN EARLY MORNING FLIGHT
Only insomniacs and masochists want to get up at 5 a.m. for an 8 a.m. flight, right? Be one of them. Those early morning flights are typically the cheapest. So if you can suck it up, you’ll save yourself some cash. And as an added enticement, those early morning flights tend to leave on time and have the least amount of turbulence. The best time to leave is on or before 8 a.m.
Compare Prices And Flight Routes
Use Momondo.com to compare the cheapest, quickest, and best flights on all major carriers, or if you prefer, you can choose a specific airline. Frommer’s found Momondo to be “hands-down the best place to find cheap airfares every single time.”
Compare Airlines And Routes & Get Pictures Of Airplane Seats
ThePointsGuy.com reviews flights throughout the world on various airlines and rates the experience such as, Feel the LUV: Southwest 737-800 from Oakland, California to Newark. The site also provides all kinds of information about flying, including pictures of seats. And, as the name suggests, they’ll give tips about how to use mileage points effectively.
Know The Configuration Of The Plane Before You Choose Your Seat
Once you have your flight information, go to SeatGuru.com to see a map of the inside of the airplane. SeatGuru provides very specific seating information you may not get from your airline. For example: Seat 11 A is a standard Economy Plus seat; however, this row has a misaligned window.
Choose Your Seat Carefully
If you’re uncomfortable during turbulence (I’m petrified. Read my previous post 17 Was to Cope When Turbulence Scares The Sh*t Out Of You), get a seat over the wing, where it’s the smoothest. The back of the plane is the bumpiest. Seats by the window are the loudest. And the seats by the bathrooms are the stinkiest and the most crowded. According to Aviation Safety Network, the rear of the plane is the safest.
If Safety Is Important
If you’re concerned about safety, the Aviation Safety Network provides safety information for every airline flying today. There were 44 “airline accident fatalities” in 2017. Costa Rica had 12 and Tanzania had 11. Guess where I won’t be flying next year?
The 10 Safest Airlines According to SyTrax
ANA All Nippon Airways (Japan)
Emirates (United Arab Emirates)
EVA Air (Taiwan)
Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong)
Hainan Airlines (China)
The 10 Safest Cheap Airlines According to Business Insider (in alphabetical order):
Aer Lingus (Ireland)
Flybe (UK, England)
Frontier (US, Denver, Colorado)
HK Express (Hong Kong)
JetBlue (US, Delaware)
Thomas Cook (UK, England)
Virgin America (UK, London)
Vueling (Barcelona, Spain)
West Jet (Canada)
If You Have A Layover, Compare Airport Amenities
Airports are evolving fast and they all seem to have one goal in mind: pamper the weary traveler. Airports across the globe are spending millions on wellness centers, swimming pools, gyms, gardens, and soundproofed childcare areas (wish they could put one of those on the plane).
In the United Airlines Terminal C at Newark Liberty International Airport, this year OTG called on master pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres (aka “Mr. Chocolate”) to help it create and open a 24-hour bakery and chocolate shop. In addition to the Mélange Bakery Café, that terminal now also boasts an invitation-only “secret” restaurant (called Classified) and a sushi restaurant, Tsukiji Fishroom, which now receives super-fresh fish flown in directly from Tokyo’s iconic Tsjukiji Fish Market. — USA Today
If you’re headed to Asia, Singapore’s Changi International Airport was awarded the 2018 “World’s Top Airport” by Skytrax, a UK-based airport review and ranking site. The list of amenities at the airport is pretty impressive. It has:
A free 24-hour movie theater
A free 2.5-hour bus tour of Singapore, if you have 5.5 hours before your next flight
A swimming pool with a jacuzzi
A cactus, water lily, orchid, sunflower, and butterfly garden and koi pond
An entertainment deck
Clinics and pharmacies
The world’s tallest slide in an airport.
But the best perk in this airport is the Ambassador Transit Lounge at Terminals 2 & 3.
Ambassador Transit Lounge offers reasonably priced massage services, mani pedis, and a shower. They also have a hotel in the terminal that rents rooms by the hour (no, not for that), with a three-hour minimum. If your travel plans take you through Singapore, reserve your private room in advance because chances are they’ll be sold out once you arrive.
I recently had a five-hour layover at the Singapore airport and I wasn’t as impressed as I wanted to be. There were so many shops, I felt like I was in a mall and the lighting reminded me of a casino. But the biggest mark against them was they didn’t have one healthy restaurant, not even a juice bar. My biggest priority after a 17-hour flight is a decent meal, not a butterfly garden.
And no one should ever eat at the House of Beans before a 17-hour flight. Whoever thought this was a good idea should have to clean airplane bathrooms for a living.
Wait For Your Flight Like A Celeb In LA
If you’re flying out of Los Angeles International Airport and you have loads of cash, you can wait for your flight in your own private suite stocked with food while you get a complimentary mani pedi on your two-person daybed. When it’s time to board, a BMW 7-series sedan will drive you to the tarmac. It’s $2,700 for domestic flights and there’s a $7,500 annual fee. Of course, that doesn’t include the flight.
THINGS TO DO BEFORE YOU FLY
Apply For Global Entry
If you find long security lines stressful, apply for Global Entry, which is managed by the Department of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It allows you to pass quickly through security checkpoints. To get one, fill out an application, pay $100, and go to a TSA office for a short interview where you’ll tell them every bad thing you’ve ever done in your life. No, not really. But you do have to do a short and painless interview. Read more about it here.
Update Your Luggage
The nightmares I could tell about broken handles, luggage not fitting in the overhead compartment or under my seat, dragging heavy and awkward suitcases up and down stairs, escalators, cobblestone streets, and running through crowded airports to catch a connecting flight. And let’s not even get into having to open my suitcase on the ground in the middle of a crowded airport because I overpacked and had to remove items. I’ve learned my lesson (more than once) and now, I want to follow the lead of the flight crew. They always look so at ease with their luggage. If you want luggage like theirs, here are the brands they are most likely to use:
Briggs & Riley (expensive but it will last the rest of your life)
United Airlines provides some of its crew members with designer Tumi luggage (that’s where all those fees go).
If you want practical luggage for the outdoors, try Eagle Creek.
If you need help figuring out which luggage brand is right for you, check out Business Insider’s The Best Checked Luggage You Can Buy or SuccessStory’s Top Ten Luxury Luggage Brands.
Under The Seat & Overhead Carry-on Luggage
The two pieces of luggage to bring on the plane are “under the seat” and “overhead” carry-on luggage. Ideally, they’d be made by the same manufacturer so they function as a set (see Travelpro image above). This is how you glide effortless through the airport like the flight attendants. Organize what you want under the seat and what you need in the overhead compartment before you get to the airport. No one wants to wait while you riffle through your bags (like they’ve done for me many times).
Safety tip: don’t put your home address on your luggage tag. Provide just your cell phone number and email address. Here are few luggage tag suggestions from Travel + Leisure.
A TSA-approved luggage lock helps keep the contents of your bag safe while you’re traveling. It also gives you the added bonus of being able to lock valuable items in your bag rather than the hotel safe. TripSavy put together a few luggage lock options. If you don’t have a luggage lock, you can loop the paper ID tag the airlines provide around your luggage handle and double knot it through your bag.
If you have black luggage, like everyone else in the world, luggage straps help you quickly identify your bag on the luggage carousel, while also providing additional security. Here are a few ideas from Travel and Leisure.
A handheld luggage scale is really easy to use and lets you know exactly how much your bag weighs before you get to the airport. Here are 7 luggage scale ideas from Tripsavvy.com.
Try not to overpack
You may think you want all that stuff until you have to drag it all over tarnation. I can guarantee you that your driver, bellman, flight attendant, and travel companion don’t want to lift your heavy bag. Just remember, they’ll never have enough hangers at your hotel. And don’t bring anything you aren’t willing to lose, on the off chance your luggage gets lost or stolen.
WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOU LEAVE
- Buy travel insurance. Forbes put a list of the best together for you.
- Make sure your passport isn’t going to expire within 6 months.
- Get a Real ID, the new higher security ID issued by the DMV that will be required to board domestic flights beginning October 1, 2020.
- Call your doctor to get any medication you need for the flight or trip.
- Take a picture of your passport, ID, flight itinerary, hotel, and car reservation information and email all of it to yourself (this way you have the info in two places, your camera and your email).
- Get an International Driver’s License (go to an AAA office and they’ll hand you one in 15 minutes or less).
- Download movies, books, and/or games (half of the time this turns into a nightmare for one reason or another, so don’t wait until the night before you leave).
- Buy a power bank or two, especially if you’re out taking pictures all day. Store it in a small bag with a USB and charging cable. Techradar put together a few options.
- Pack extra USB cables and chargers and charge all your electronics.
- Buy a waterproof phone case that floats, if you’re going to be taking pictures in or near water.
- Back up your phone and remove any unnecessary pictures or videos to make space for the new ones you’re going to take.
- Make sure you have a way to track your phone, wipe your data, and change your passwords, if it gets lost or stolen. SmarterTraveler tells you how to do all that and get insurance that will replace your phone within 24 hours. Consumer Reports offers some good tips, too.
Want to tune everyone out? Noise-cancelling headphones are the answer to your prayers. These are some of the best, according to CNET.
I always put together a new playlist for the flight, or at least add a few new songs for take off and landing and turbulence—the times when I’m the most nervous. If you want to sleep and don’t have noise-cancelling headphones, include nature sounds or some kind of white noise to help tune out the noise while you try to sleep.
First Aid Kit
Accidents can happen anywhere. Make or buy a generic first aid kit and add to it based on where you’re going. LL Bean sells this basic one for $24.95, but you can get them anywhere.
If you have or had an injury, bring some supplies in case it flares up. KT Tape can be really helpful for muscle support. If you have a neck issue, bring a cervical collar and a pillow. If you have back issues, pack a back brace. Check out Free Your Spine’s Best Back Braces for Lower Back Pain (2019) and The 7 Best Posture Correctors to Buy in 2019. If you aren’t sure what to pack, ask your doctor or PT what they recommend.
WHAT TO BRING ON THE PLANE
Antimicrobial wipes/hand sanitizing wipes
I’m not a germophobe, but planes can be filthy. Use anti microbial wipes to clean the food tray and the area around your seat, especially the lever that moves your seat up and down. A three-year-old with sticky hands sat in the seat before you, enough said? I like these because they’re alcohol free and unscented (it’s best not to expose other passengers to strong scents).
Reusable water bottle
Avoid drinking airplane water or water from the plastic water bottles they serve—neither is healthy (read why here). I love the Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle. The wrist strap makes it really easy to carry and I love how lightweight it is. Once I make it through security, I find a place to get filtered water (a restaurant or water fountain). Sometimes, I bring organic lemon or orange slices, mint, or lemon verbena to pop in the bottle and flavor the water.
Flying is dehydrating and dehydration can bring on headaches and make us feel hung over. This is why nutrition experts recommend drinking water and nothing else during a flight. Alcohol is dehydrating and drinks high in sugar and caffeine act as diuretics. Not fun on a plane.
Contact your doctor and make sure you have the medication you need for a flight. I always pack fresh ginger for nausea, anti-anxiety medication, and a sleeping pill, in case we encounter turbulence that makes me want to go nighty night in a hurry. As soon as someone invents a pill that will safely render me unconscious in 10 seconds or less, I’ll pack that, too. If you’re prone to motion sickness, pack Dramamine and/or Sea-band wristbands.
I like this Sea to Summit pouch for packing meds and electronics. One side is clear, so you don’t have to open it to see what’s inside.
I always bring snacks on a plane. Airplane food is not even remotely healthy, even in business class. So I go to the grocery store the day before my flight and buy or make food/snacks to put in my carry-on. Sometimes, I’ll pick up something from my favorite restaurant, too. “Please don’t bring anything smelly on the plane, like egg salad or Chinese food,” says everyone sitting around you. Bring fruits and snacks that have a lot of protein. Sometimes, I fast on a flight, if I’m too nervous to eat. Studies have shown that fasting can help stave off jet lag. Don’t forget napkins, salt and pepper, and utensils. Buy the TravelPro FlightCrew5 Cooler, or this one sold at REI, if you’re bringing food on board.
A neck pillow
It’s a must. Tie it to the outside of your carry-on so it doesn’t take up space in your bag. I have this one by Cabeau ($39.99) but this one by Everlasting Comfort ($24.95) is another option. I haven’t tried the BCOZZY pillow ($54.97 for two), but it looks pretty good, too. Check Business Insider for a few more ideas.
An anxiety blanket
Some weighted blankets can actually quell anxiety, as well as keep you warm on a plane. It will take up space in your bag, so keep that in mind. Here are few choices.
A toiletry bag
Bring a small travel bag with toothpaste, a bamboo travel toothbrush (not plastic), Q-tips, Kleenex, lip balm, and whatever else you need. I recommend taking a travel size bottle of Poo-Pourri Before-You-Go toilet spray for the unfortunate people who have to enter the bathroom after you.
A foot rest
I like this one.
A change of clothes
Bring a change of clothes just in case your luggage gets lost.
If you’re going somewhere where those little flying irritants from hell live, you’ll need to wipe yourself down with a mosquito wipe as soon as you step off the plane, and maybe before, depending on the airport. Just in case they’re waiting to welcome you as soon as you walk outside the terminal. The wipes are a million times easier to use than the spray. If you’re concerned about DEET, I feel you, but read this from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
WHAT TO PUT IN YOUR CHECKED BAG(S)
How to pack for a hot and humid climate
If you’re traveling to a hot and humid climate, a friend gave me great advice. Ask yourself what you would want to wear in the bathroom with a hot shower running.
Pack a bottle of reef-safe sunscreen
Read my previous post, 8 Organic Reef-Friendly Sunscreens.
Bring empty packing cubes for wet and/or dirty clothes and swimsuits. I own these by Shacke Park(they have a 5-star rating on Amazon with 7,205 reviews) and these because they are completely see-through. They come in difference colors.
They’re essential if you’re going hiking and want to keep all that dirt off your clothes. I like these.
A portable bluetooth speaker
A portable bluetooth speaker enables you to listen to music anywhere. CNET put together a list of the best.
A travel adapter
If you’re traveling out of the country, it’s a necessity. Here are a few options.
WHEN YOU’RE AT THE AIRPORT
Take a picture
Take a picture of your boarding pass as soon as you get it. I like to have the information at my fingertips so I don’t have to fuss with my actual ticket (I am prone to losing things, especially if I take medication). It’s also really helpful if you need your eticket number later to add miles to your account.
Once you’re through security, find water to fill up your reusable water bottle.
Take medication or natural remedies 30 minutes to an hour before your flight. Set your timer if you think you’ll forget.
Have Anything In The Airport Delivered To Your Gate
Two apps, Airport Sherpa and At Your Gate, will deliver anything sold at the airport, including food, to your gate. It’s not offered at every airport, so check to see if you can use it at the airport on your route.
WHAT NOT TO WEAR ON A FLIGHT
Personally, I love flip-flops, but I’d never wear them on a plane. They don’t offer much support as you traverse through the airport with your luggage and everyone else’s (and you know someone will roll over your toe). Plus, you never know when you might have to run to a gate. Most importantly, I want to be prepared in an emergency. If you’re going to a hot place, pack your flip-flops in your carry-on or in the front pocket of your checked luggage and put them on once you arrive at your destination.
A FEW THINGS FLIGHTS ATTENDANTS WISH YOU WOULDN’T DO
This section falls under the, “I can’t believe anyone has to say this,” category, but…here’s a list of things flight attendants wish you wouldn’t do:
Lose your temper
Put your hands where they don’t belong
Ignore safety instructions
Take your seatbelt off
Hog the overhead bin for yourself
Take someone’s luggage out of the overhead bin to make room for yours
Leave a mess
Kick the seat in front of you or put your legs up on the headrest or the window
Expect flight attendants to watch your children for you
Hang out in the galley too long
Linger in the plane once it’s landed (flight attendants only get paid when the doors of the airplane are locked)
Ask for things during take off and landing
Leave your earphones on when a flight attendant is talking to you
Give flight attendants trash when they are distributing food.
I wish people wouldn’t talk loudly on their cell phones.
WHEN YOU ARRIVE
Unless it’s a really long flight and I’m exhausted, I usually go to a grocery store and buy a case of water in glass bottles (I don’t want to contribute to the plastic crisis) and snacks. This way, I’m not tempted to pay the high prices at the hotel.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you fly with a little less stress. Safe travels.
WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT FLYING FROM PILOTS?
Take a look at Reader’s Digest’s 40 Things Your Airplane Pilot Won’t Tell You and/or Flight Deck Friend.com’s Ask a Pilot.
Feature image of plane in the clouds by Guvendemir at iStock