Vacations can be wonderful experiences, but all too often they start out at an airport, which can be one of the most frustrating, uncomfortable, and stressful places on earth. Here’s the top ten ways to make your airline travel a good experience. Or at least not a nightmare.
10. Pack a small refreshment bag for the end of the flight.
Purchase the wisp toothbrushes that come with toothpaste already installed. Buy a packet of facial wipes. Take a last visit to the bathroom before landing to wash up, brush your teeth, comb your hair and prepare for your day. No matter how tired you are or how long the flight, the refreshment of a small amount of grooming helps energize you and get you ready to face your journey’s destination. Just avoid changing clothes. It never turns out well unless you’re David Spade in Tommy Boy…
9. Treat security as a necessary evil.
The Transportation Security Administration is trying to keep bad guys off the plane. No matter how frustrating and inept the TSA can be, that’s their entire purpose. A small attitude of gratitude for these folks transforms the experience from a police state invasion of privacy to an acceptable annoyance. Have I been patted down and swabbed for gunpowder residue? Yes, I have, and I’ve had a TSA agent feel my bra to check the underwire. She didn’t want to do it any more than I did, but that’s her job. So shrug it off. Every time you go through a full-body scanner pretend you’re Korben Dallas in The Fifth Element.
8. Stand up on the plane if you can.
The perfect place for a bit of stretching is right outside the bathroom, where the attendant’s seats are flipped up and a tiny bit of space is available. I do small yoga stretches there while waiting for the bathroom. Standing in the aisle will bring you stares but it feels great. Just don’t take the wrong kind of muscle relaxant, like Kristen Wiig did in Bridesmaids…
7. Full flight? Check your bag at the gate for free.
We fly economy so we’re already back in the ’20s when it comes to seats. So we wait until the flight is almost done boarding and ask the attendants at the gate if the overhead bins are full. If they are, the attendants will happily “gate check” your bag and send it to your destination, for free. We did this both times on our latest trip and fetched our luggage at baggage claim with no problems. This is much easier than carrying your luggage around the airport and you avoid the extra baggage charge. Then it’s on to your vacation, with no worries. Unless you’re Kevin’s mom in Home Alone…
6. Bring earplugs.
A plane is a surprisingly noisy place. The back of the plane is noisier than the front, which is another reason first class is at the front of the plane. Earplugs (or noise-canceling headphones) can take a restless nap and turn it into a sound sleep. Earplugs don’t work as well as the sleep system on board the plane in The Fifth Element, but they help. (Note: This is a mildly racy clip.)
5. Book at least two hours between connecting flights.
Give yourself time to get to your next flight and you won’t find yourself in screaming anxiety while the plane takes its sweet time getting to the gate. Give yourself two hours and if you have to wait, at least you won’t be stressed. Being early to the gate allows you to relax. Unless you’re Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents…
4. Take aspirin before your flight.
Most medical professionals agree that taking aspirin as a blood thinner can prevent clots caused by sitting in a cramped position for many hours. The added bonus is fewer aches and pains during the flight. We take an aspirin before our flights, although if you are on blood thinners or other medications you should avoid this. Refraining from excessive alcohol consumption is another good choice for airline travel. Save your fine wine choices for your destination. Unlike what Lloyd Bridges says in Airplane!, it really is a good time to stop drinking…
3. Walk. Stand. Don’t sit in the airport!
While you’re at the airport don’t sit down. You’re going to be seated in a cramped little space for hours — you should fall into that chair grateful to sit down instead of already cramped up from sitting in the waiting area. If you have an hour or so to kill, walk briskly up and down the concourse and eyeball the latest stores and shops. Buy a bottle of water and drink the whole thing (planes are a flying dehydrator). When waiting for the flight to be called for boarding, put your luggage on the seat in the waiting area and stand over it. Don’t sit down. But don’t be a Mr. Bean and get your exercise running from airport security.
2. Layers, layers, layers.
Dress properly for airline travel and you’ll feel better during every part of your journey. Make sure you have layers to add and take off. Jetways can be stifling hot and the terminal building can be air-conditioned to near-freezing. Airplanes are often warm and stuffy and then chilly at altitude. Wear a thin t-shirt as a base layer, an open shirt as an outer layer and bring a light jacket in your carry-on bag and you can stay comfortable and unruffled. Check your weather at your destination so you won’t be shocked, like the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings.
1. Bring your own food.
The teeny tiny airline meals are something of a miracle. Imagine how much effort it takes to create a hot meal for two hundred people on a freezing cold tube hurtling through space at 40,000 feet. Admire that itty bitty lasagna, and then eat the food you’ve brought on board. I pack unsalted mixed nuts and power bars. I buy a sandwich and a big bottle of water after going through security. The idea of food on a plane is to entertain, hydrate and nourish, so bring lots of small items that aren’t too high in salt. Just remember to consume or get rid of everything before you land in a foreign country since most have restrictions on bringing food items in. Finally, remember your Airplane! scene and alway, always avoid the fish.