Nowadays, flying with any airline is often met with the same enthusiasm reserved for such special occasions as getting a root canal or figuring out your taxes. With fewer flights and more surcharges, it almost seems worth it to stay home, or at least find another method of transportation. But for those of you who can’t avoid the airports, here are a few quick tips to help get you through the often mundane routine of flying.

Check in early

Whenever possible, check in online the previous day, or as soon as the airline will let you. This will usually give you a better selection of seats and will keep you from ending up in a middle seat or at the back. And if you have a connecting flight, make sure you get a seat close to the front of the previous flight, just in case you have a tight connection. If you can’t check in online, try to get to the airport early to check in on the day of your flight.

Pack light

Easier said than done, to be sure. But nowadays, it’s worth it to pack less, and to pack early. Now that airlines are charging $15 or more for the first bag (and even more for the second), it’s best to figure out what you need well in advance. Why? Because the more time you have to think about it, the more likely you’ll realize what items you can exclude.

If you can avoid checking in luggage, you can save a pretty penny (euro, pound, peso, etc.). Consider leaving items behind that you can get once you reach your destination (especially toiletries that can’t be put in your carry-on luggage). Or consider shipping items, such as books (media mail is generally cheaper) or light items like clothing. Don’t just focus on your checked baggage. Make sure you’re aware of what’s in your carry-on. And remember the old adage: Lay everything you want to take on your trip out on the floor. Then get rid of half of it and bring twice as much money as originally planned.

Pack light.
Pack light.

Get a sense of security

Most complaints I hear revolve around the horrible security checkpoints. Rude agents, long lines, and a lack of anywhere to sit while you put your shoes on. While most of these complaints are justified, keep in mind that part of the problem lies with the passengers. Make sure well in advance there are no items in your carry-on luggage that are going to set off alarms or cranky agents such as weapons or large quantities of fluids (you will have done this thoroughly since you didn’t pack at the last minute). Stash any sensor-offending metallic items (cell phones, belts, etc.) in your carry-on bag before you get into line. If you have the space, bring along a pair of easy-on, easy-off slippers or sandals, and tuck your shoes in your bag long before you get in line.

Pack a little extra

Don’t feel like coughing up a bundle for lousy overpriced airplane or airport food? Pack a little something in your bag. A sandwich, bag of chips, pizza (thin crust in foil will slip in and out of any bag easily), anything. I find this critical when I have a connecting flight because it’s not only a longer trip than flying direct, but it also increases the chances of dealing with delays, missed connections, and cancelled flights. Why be cranky on an empty stomach? And pack an EMPTY water bottle so you can fill up at a fountain after the security checkpoint.

And a little more

Bring a book, mp3 player, videogame, laptop, or whatever you use to entertain yourself. And a pair of headphones brought from home will save you the airline headphone fee. If you plan to sleep, consider earplugs, an eye mask, or a soft pillow. Leave the down comforter at home, unless you’re willing to share with the passenger next to you. And even then, be willing to cuddle.

E-readers are a great option for travel.
E-readers are a great option for travel.

Smile

Above all, walk in with a good attitude. Say hello, be friendly, and be cooperative. Most airline employees and fellow passengers have been on the giving or receiving end of bad treatment more often than they care to admit. Approach an agent in a foul mood, and they’ll be less likely to be helpful, especially when they don’t need to be. I was once relieved of a $100 charge for luggage in London for checking in two bags simply because I smiled at the agent when I approached him.

Say “thank you” and “please” whenever you can.

Don’t complain unless there’s an issue, and say “thank you” and “please” whenever you can (some would argue that’s good advice in general). A little positive behavior can go a long way, and it can work in your favor when you need something. If nothing else, it could be contagious. I can’t think of a better place for that to happen than an airport.

Your thoughts on "Six ways to help make flying easier"

  • I agree 110% with the carry less, double your budget - its so true! Nice article!

    on February 11, 2009 at 7:13 pm Reply
    • Yes, nice when you can manage it! The best investment I made for making transits more comfortable is a pair of good in-ear headphones. They cancel a lot of airplane, train or traffic noise and don't get too sore after several hours of listening.

      on February 11, 2009 at 9:11 pm Reply
  • I'm always as nice as possible to airline staff. If only they could return the favor by erecting a soundproof wall and placing small children behind it, or building a playroom in the luggage hold. Good headphones are a must. Is there an adapter to turn regular headphones into something airline compatible?

    on February 16, 2009 at 3:41 am Reply
    • A portable soundproof wall would be an interesting travel accessory :) Yes, adapters exist to make a standard 3.5mm plug into one of the several airline standards. In fact, some airlines will even lend you one on request. If you're lucky.

      on February 18, 2009 at 2:01 pm Reply

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