While most of us prefer to drive our vehicle across continents rather than to fly over them, the reality is that most journeys usually include some airplane travel as well.
In my case, because of my working “lifestyle,” I fly almost every week so I have had plenty of opportunities to appreciate the ups and downs of airplane travel.
I am actually writing this article sitting in a plane right now.
Here are some tricks I have learned over the years to make traveling a little bit more enjoyable:
1 – Never check in your luggage.
Besides avoiding the ridiculous fees that every airline is now charging, there are other significant advantages to not checking your luggage.
Confidence. One certainty: you will arrive with your luggage. Or vice-versa. I can’t count the number of times that my luggage got lost or delayed. Looking at the carousel spinning empty and seeing everyone walking away with his or her luggage while you have to go to the airline’s lost/found office instead is preferably not how you want to begin your vacation. And showing up at a wedding with a t-shirt you just bought at WalMart is not always the best way to make a first impression – ask me how I know.
Flexibility. You have a tight connection in Zurich and your departure is delayed… now you missed your connection and you are rerouted through Timbuktu. No problem, your luggage is all with you!
Opportunity. You are waiting for your flight then the counter agent asks for volunteers to get on the next one tomorrow morning in exchange for a free ticket and hotel. Wow, now you just got yourself a night out in Miami and an extra free ticket to come to Overland Expo later this year. Aren’t you glad you have everything with you?
Many of you may think that a carry-on is too small, but with a bit of practice and some help (I use these meshed bags you can get online or at an outdoor store such as REI), you will be amazed at how much you can pack in it.
2 – Never leave electronics in your checked baggage.
If you do have to check luggage (see rule 1) never leave any electronic items in it. You would think that by now, with all the screening and security in place, all of your stuff would arrive safely, right? Well think again. Just a few months ago I was on my way to SEMA and I had no choice but to carry some liquid of sorts so I had to check in my carry-on at the last minute. This was a direct flight with Spirit from OAK to LAS. When I opened my luggage in Las Vegas, my Canon G10 and my hard drive were gone and had been replaced by a note from TSA that my luggage has been searched.
Where are my items by now? Probably for sale in some pawn shop in Oakland.
3 – Always take an aisle seat.
Sitting on the aisle side you have full control. You can decide to go to the bathroom whenever you want, stretch your legs walking up and down the alley, and exit quicker. This is a no-brainer. Window seats are also a good option, but avoid middle seats at all cost. Also, try to get a seat towards the front of the plane as much as possible – you want to be in front of the line to cross the customs.
4 – Get on the plane early.
Ever heard of “Zone 1”? That’s the one you need to aim for. I used to prefer to stay outside the plane until the last passenger had walked in, usually making the staff a bit impatient. But nowadays, because of Rule 1, you are taking a risk if you don’t board early.
Because everyone is now trying to bring everything with them on the plane, agents routinely have to ask passengers to check their carry-on. They do it upfront in the waiting area and they do it to the last passengers in line before boarding.
This happened to me once on my way to London for a meeting with a new business client. My suit, tie, and shiny shoes were in my carry-on, as I did not want to get anything dirty on the plane overnight. A driver was waiting to pick me up at the airport in the morning and take me straight to the new clients office.
Despite the airline guaranteeing that my carry-on was 100% safe and would get to me at the airport… it arrived 2 days later at my hotel. I had to go to my business meeting in running shoes, jeans and t-shirt. It was a great conversation starter, to say the least.
5 – Always look around for the best airport spot.
You never know when your flight will be canceled, delayed, rerouted, or any of combination of these. When you walk down the hallway anxiously heading to your gate, look around and spot where the electric outlets and empty seats are just in case you need to spend a few hours waiting around. This is particularly true for busy airports like CDG or JFK. Or remember Heathrow a couple years ago when the whole airport was shutdown for days… you just never know.
6 – When exiting the plane, keep walking until you reach the next bathroom.
After a long flight, most people head straight to the nearest bathroom, often just a few feet away after you exit the plane. My experience is that there is almost always a second bathroom about 100 feet further, which will receive about 80% less visitors than the first one.
7 – Make sure all your electronics are fully charged before getting to the airport.
As mentioned before, you never know what may happen but chances are, something will. My mother got stuck for 7 hours on the runway once before even taking off for a flight from CDG (Paris) to YUL (Montreal). That’s a long time to wait if your iPad battery is dead.
8 – Always bring reading material with you.
I have been on flights where they began the “we are starting our descent, turn off your electronics” routine an hour before we actually got to the gate. That’s a long time if all you have to look at are the ridiculous duty free items from the airline magazine. So bring something good to read…. Overland Journal is a great choice.
9 – Carry a little snack and ignore the soft drink convoy.
Airplane food is overpriced or non-existent. Don’t rely on it.
Especially on red-eye flights, I wish they would just stop offering the free soda cans all together and offer another alternative. Want a drink? Check the spreadsheet as you enter or call the attendant.
Between the cart pushing, the frequent questions, and gathering the garbage after, this whole thing is a huge distraction when you could be accumulating some precious hours of sleep.
10 – Learn about your airline company and its routes.
Every airline has a hub somewhere – AA is in Dallas, Frontier in Denver, United in Houston, Spirit in Fort Lauderdale, and so on. Connecting through this hub usually means 2 things – more people, but also more choices for routes in case your flight is cancelled. It also means you have more options with the customer service agent if they attempt to send you on a mad goose chase while trying to re-route you.
Do you have other tricks you know and would like to share?
Please feel free to add your comments below!