Top 10 Flying Tips From An Experienced Traveler

Everyone has their own unique list of “must haves” on a flight or things they “need to do” to survive the airport and flying experience. I wanted to share mine, too, in the hopes of helping newer travelers enjoy the journey. Here are my top 10 flying tips after taking 55 flights last year alone and flying to many corners of the world over the last 25 years.

1. Fly early in the morning

I am not a morning person — I mean, not even by a stretch of the imagination. But I love to take the first flight of the day. Why? It’s generally cheaper, but more importantly, your plane is probably already at the airport, cleaned, and ready to go before you even arrive. Sure, we’ve had some early morning fog delays and late crews stuck at their hotel — but overall these flights are way more likely to be on time before the day gets underway and backups compound. Extra bonus: If you’re traveling to a vacation destination, you’ll probably arrive early enough to enjoy the whole day.

2. Bring snacks

I don’t care if I’m in business class or in the back of the plane, on a long-haul or an hour flight, I always bring snacks. Why? You just never know what’s going to be available or how long you might need to go without being able to stop for food. A few examples:

— We got stuck in a 5.5 hour holding pattern with no service on what was supposed to be a 45-minute flight.

— We had to race through the airport to make a connection when we were supposed to have time to stop for a proper meal. The next flight was on a budget airline that served only pretzels.

— Even once when we were looking forward to an international business class flight, we were served inedible food. That’s not usually the case, but it has happened.

These things happen all the time. Personally, I get haaangry. So I always add some snacks to my personal bag to grab when I need them.

3. Download your own inflight entertainment

I watch a lot of trip reviews on YouTube and many discuss the quality of the inflight entertainment (IFE). But I never rely on it — and you shouldn’t either. While I might watch a movie or two during a long haul, some airlines have dismal options, some don’t have IFE systems at all, and others require you to watch through their app, which may or may not work, on your personal device. IFE is nice to have, but I’m always prepared to supply my own entertainment. I download audiobooks and YouTube and Netflix shows in advance while I have strong WIFI. It’s risky to think the flight’s internet connection will be strong enough for streaming, so always plan in advance.

4. Pack an external charger

The theme here is to be prepared and not leave your travel experience up to the airline and airport gods. Many flights and airports have outlets and USB ports available — BUT they don’t always work, may be fully occupied or in awkward locations, can present security risks, and sometimes just aren’t available. Don’t run the risk of running out of juice when you need it most.

5. Bring your favorite noise-canceling headphones

Vodka’s on the table. Those ear buds are going in!

Weird airplane noises? Screaming babies? Loud neighbors? I don’t have to delve any deeper into why this item is so important.

6. Think about the amenities that will make your journey more enjoyable

I can’t sleep on a plane unless I wrap my neck with a pillow, cover my eyes with a mask, and put on some headphones. So these items are “musts” for me. I also tend to wear dresses but get really cold on planes, so I bring a pair of tights and an extra shrug to help me get more comfortable. Do your ears pop? Bring gum. Do you get cold? Bring a blanket. Do you get nervous? Download some calming music. You should give serious thought to what makes travel comfortable for you and be sure to bring the items to make it happen.

7. Don’t leave your seat up to fate

Adding to the entry above, airlines are making “comfortable travel” more difficult these days by forcing passengers into tiny seats and making you pay for every little bit of relief. So, if you know you need to stare out the window and tune out the world to be happy, be sure to book a window seat. If, like me, you have to pee every five minutes, purchase your aisle seat in advance. You may not want to fork over the cash to secure these items in advance but give some thought to whether it’s worth the price to upgrade or pick your seat ahead of time — and consider logging into the app obsessively during the last 24-hours to see if free seats become available (it happens more than you might think).

8. Ask the Gate Agent About Upgrades

If you’ve secured a comfortable seat in advance in economy that you can live with, you may still want to try your luck at bidding for a business class seat or paying for an upgrade at the gate. We’ve done both for as little as $59 for domestic, $99 for international short-haul flights and $499 for long-haul, lie-flat seats. Some airlines make this easier than others but it never hurts to ask a gate agent. Important note: some airlines will only let you upgrade if you purchased your ticket directly with the airline, which is a good segue into my next point.

9. (Almost) Always Purchase Airfare Directly with the Airlines

In addition to upgrade opportunities, airlines are more willing to work with you to change flights for free, give travel credits, etc., if you purchased directly rather than through a third party travel site or agent (like Expedia or a credit card portal). This is why we almost always book directly with the airline — but occasionally it makes sense to book through a third party. For example, sometimes you can get a better points redemption through your credit card portal rather than transferring points or booking directly. Also, there have been a few times when flights through or other sites have been hundreds of dollars cheaper than through the airline directly. This has saved us money but did backfire once when the airline’s price drop dramatically a month later but I couldn’t cancel and rebook without fees because I booked through GoToGate for what — at the time — was a significantly better price. It’s a gamble, but I find there are noticeable advantages to booking directly.

10. Get lounge access

I swear I’m likely to sneeze out $100 for food and beverages in an airport before I even realize what happened. That’s one of the reasons that lounge access is a game changer. Even if it comes at a fee, I generally wind up paying less for a better airport experience. Lounge access may come as a credit card perk, with elite status, with a business class ticket, on points, or simply with a day-pass fee of $25-$60. Do the research and the math to decide if it’s worth it for your trip. For business trips, I love to have a comfortable, quiet space to work and can generally get an included meal while on the road. For leisure travel, I love having a mimosa and cozy space away from the airport chaos to start my vacation right. Even when paying for a day pass, it almost always cost the same or less than getting a meal or drinks at an airport restaurant — but it’s especially nice when the cost is included in my airfare or annual credit card fee.

Bonus: BYOC

Bring your own condiments. So, this one isn’t as important as bringing snacks, but when you grab an airport sandwich for the plane or get a bland meal in flight, it helps to spice it up with some hot sauce or even mustard. I try to always remember my Tabasco.

Extra bonus: be kind to the crew

I saved this one for last because it’s an important point to end on. Flight attendants have to deal with sooooo much stress on a daily basis, and they are usually so kind and accommodating. Don’t forget that in addition to helping to make your flight comfortable, they are trained safety experts who will help you in an emergency. They deserve respect and kindness — and a smile, hello, or thank you can go a long way.

What are your top flying tips? Tell us in the comments

4 responses to “Top 10 Flying Tips From An Experienced Traveler”

  1. snacks are very important but I do like the idea of bringing your own condiments given some of the blah sandwiches I have had on the airplane

  2. Asking for upgrades – always!!! The image under 9 is still a favorite image of Theo! And I agree. NEVER leave your seat up to chance!!! Smh. Love this one and need to get a good neck pillow before December.

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