After hundreds of thousands of miles flown, I have a pretty smooth process that makes my life SO much less stressful when I fly. So many of my Ten Travel Tips for Flying are gathered and fostered after having spent many flights making mistakes and being frustrated with my hands full of stuff as I try to deplane and the passengers around me grow irritated as I take forever to gather it all up. Now I watch newbie travelers and smile because I, too, was once there. Fly little birdie, fly. And I will help you.
ONE. Fly Early
Ugh, I know. I don’t like it at all when that alarm goes off at 4:30AM to get me on a plane by 6:30. But let me tell you, the perks are endless. Flights that depart early trend on time more than later ones. Early flights also lay over through busy airports earlier, so the airports are not as busy and those connecting flights also trend more on time, because, they’re early. See the pattern? That old adage that the early bird gets the worm is kinda true here.
TWO: Choose your Layover Strategically
I fly Delta a lot. And that means, from TUS, I often lay over in ATL. And Atlanta’s airport is, I believe, THE busiest in the nation. So if I know a layover is inevitable, and I know the airport or airline trends late (like if I am flying later in the day), and I have a choice between a 44 minute layover and one that is more than an hour, I always choose the longer one if I can, even if it costs a bit more. I have spent way too many minutes dashing from door to gate, weaving through people, dragging heavy gear bags behind me just to make a flight, or sitting on the tarmac watching the minutes tick by, knowing that this delay is going to make me crazy on the other side. And airplanes wait for no man, or woman. I promise.
To combat the stress, I strategically pick my layovers based on the airports where I lay over, time of day, past experience with delays, known airport busyness, size of the airport, and how well I know that airport in terms of being able to get from one gate to the other quickly. I do this from experience, but you can also research the airports ahead of time if you want to be really geeky and informed.
THREE: Get TSA Precheck
TSA Precheck Rocks. It’s a process, but not a very expensive or difficult one. And it is the single most effective time-saving thing I have ever done for myself. I waited way too long to do it.
I have the luxury of flying out of a smaller airport (TUS) most of the time, but even that small airport gets hella busy at peak times and in peak seasons, and when that TSA precheck line is open, not only is the line shorter, but even if and when it isn’t (because yes, people are catching on) the EXTRA time saver is that I don’t have to remove my laptop or electronics from my bag (and oh by the way I travel with, like, ALL the electronics…laptop, iPad, iPhone, studio light, cameras (plural), lenses, and on it goes), and I don’t have to take off my shoes and walk that grimy floor barefoot (in the summer) and I don’t have to remove sweaters etc. So basically I plop those bags on the belt and pick em up on the other side. Breeze. And bonus points for when you’re in that bigger airport and you can wave to the long, long line waiting for standard security as you zoom through.
Bring your own water bottle. Empty of course. Because TSA won’t let you anywhere near the gate with a full water bottle. But seriously, do the environment and your wallet a favor and pack an empty water bottle in your bag. They make some cool collapsible ones. I love my Hydroflask because it’s slim, but it is a bit weighty. Whatever you choose, as soon as you cross that magic line into the gate area, most airports have water filling stations next to the water fountains that dispense (presumably) filtered water. So you get hydrating delicious water for those dry airplane cabins and save yourself $5 because no one needs to spend that kind of money on H20. Fill er up.
FIVE: Carry a bag in a bag.
Have you heard of a turducken? A turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken. Or something like that. I’ve never had it, but the analogy holds here. Stay with me. Excluding checked bags, you’re only allowed one carry-on and one personal item on the plane when you fly. I always have both. And, um, my personal item is usually a laptop backpack that is as large as a suitcase. And the other is my camera bag which, um, is a suitcase. Yeah. So neither my laptop backpack nor my camera bag generally fit under the seat. What that means is I cannot access them readily before takeoff or sometimes even in the air if I am in a window seat. So what I have done is bought a small cross-strap bag from Dakine that I pack with all my in-flight necessities. After I get to my seat I remove this bag and my water bottle, tuck them into the seat-back compartment, load my bags in the overhead and wheeeee: instant access to all my stuff that also allows me a quick exit when deplaning because all I have to do is sling that bag over my body and go.
SIX: Pack the Essentials within easy reach
Speaking of in-flight necessities, that little bag I mentioned above fits the items I have come to need and love. Here’s what’s in my little bag:
a. Burts Bees vitamin E and Peppermint lip balm. Because dry cabin air always chaps my lips. And this one smells great.
b. Hand Sanitizer. Because I don’t want to be eating my peanuts with hands that have crossed paths with every traveler before me.
c. Essential oils. Most notable Doterra’s Peppermint and On Guard. The peppermint is my favorite and takes care of any headaches I might experience but also is great for just smelling awesome and blocking out that fried food smell coming from the person near you eating the lunch they brought onto the plane. On Guard is the prevention side of the house. I use this to help boost my immune system, and like to have it handy especially if someone near me is hacking and sneezing, which they almost always are.
d. Eye drops. I am a contact wearer and when I am on a plane my eyes, like my lips, get dry.
e. Noise canceling headset. I have a very small set I bought that is battery powered and plugs into Delta’s seat-back entertainment system, but also works with my phone and iPad. I am always bummed when I forget this.
f. Portable phone charger. I would say only 50% of the airplanes I fly in have USB ports for phones and, of those, they only work about 25% of the time. So I keep my charging cord and a portable charger with me, especially for longer flights.
g. iPad with pre-downloaded Netflix shows and book to read on the Kindle app. This gets me through after I’ve done the crossword and Sudoku in the in-flight magazine.
h. Pen and pencil. For above.
i. Phone. Of course.
j. Justin’s Almond Butter snack pack. Because it’s filling, good for you, fits into my Keto plan, and also because the snack situation is getting kind of lame on airplanes. Southwest stopped peanuts (boooo) and only does pretzels. Delta has peanuts but sometimes they’re out, or it takes forever to get to me. So in a pinch, I nosh on one of these and it’s awesome.
SEVEN: Wear layers and comfortable clothing
I know you know this one. But in case you don’t, airplane cabins can be either frigid or sweltering, all depending on your altitude. So I always wear a lighter long sleeved sweater over a thinner shirt and some form of comfy leggings or stretchy jeans so I can feel comfortable and adjust my temperature as necessary.
EIGHT: Choose your seats strategically
Once you reserve your flight, if you didn’t get the seat you wanted, try calling the airline directly to see if they can assign you to your preferred seat. Also, when you check in at the airport, ask the attendant if there are any open seats that you can be moved to or exit rows that you can be assigned to. And even then, if the answer is no, check in with your boarding gate agent about 15 minutes before the flight. You’d be amazed at what you can get if you ask.
I often choose exit rows and I can get those ahead on Delta because of my Skymiles status (see below), but sometimes I can’t. So I ask. And ask again. I also often choose the aisle, so I can have more leg room and quicker access to the bathroom. But lately I’ve also been loving the window seat for longer flights because I can lean up against the wall and snooze a bit. But whatever you seat preference, don’t be afraid to ask for something better.
Oh, and Southwest Seat Hack, download the Southwest app, set your alarm for one minute before you need to check in (24 hours before your flight), and as SOON as check-in is available (again, 24 hours on the nose before your flight departs, so if your flight departs at 6AM on Tuesday, check in opens 6AM on Monday) RUN to your phone and check in. This will get you a earlier boarding letter which means you’ll get your choice of seats and are more likely to have overhead bin space still available. Because even thought Southwest allows two free checked bags, people STILL insist on bringing practically full sized suitcases for the overhead. On direct flights. Sigh.
NINE: Keep that blood flowing!
Compression socks are for everyone. When I fly on very long flights, I often wear middle of the road compression rated compression socks. I find that my feet swell a bit and these help with that, as well as circulation in general. I have a few cute pairs, but I just came across the company Vim&Vigr which has some fun ones. I also get up and stretch a lot on long flights. That’s where the aisle seat comes in handy. I walk to the bathroom often even if I don’t need to use it.
TEN: Live the #skymileslife.
If you use credit cards, pick an airline affiliated one. I am a small business owner, and as such I have a ton of higher priced items that I frequently have to invest in for my business. And I travel for that business, but also for pleasure. So 8 years ago I did the research and decided to become a Delta Skymiles American Express card holder. It was the best choice for me and has proven itself in the rewards I have received. And no, I’m not paid to say this!
Yes, there is an annual fee. But I get a BOGO domestic airline ticket every year, I get free checked bags on Delta, and I get lots and lots of miles for my dollars that I can spend without blackout dates. And get this, because of that card and the amount of travel I do, this year I finally reached Platinum in the Delta Skymiles Medallion Program. And ohhhh the joy.
I was Gold (the tier below) for many years, and even that was excellent. I got to choose exit row seats when I booked a flight. I got to bypass long check in lines to check in Priority and then board in SKY zone before 70% of the plane. I got to be on upgrade lists sooner and as such have flown first class for free and Comfort Plus for free many times (freee drinkies! Better snackies!). But now that I am Platinum, I get some pretty cool extra perks, to include even faster boarding, priority bag tags so my bags drop first, and I was immediately upgraded free to Comfort on a flight I have reserved for England in May (I also get more chances at free upgrades in general). And I also get access to Delta’s Skyclubs, which, if you’ve ever had a 3 hour layover in an aiport and couldn’t find a seat that wasn’t squashed between a parent with a screaming child and a person whose elbows took up a seat and a half, you’d know is so worth it.
I also have the Southwest Chase Credit Card since the only other airline I fly if I can help it is Southwest, and mostly only to LA / SNA and back. But I’ve scored lots of free tickets just by spending points using this card as well.
So yeah, IFLYSOUTHWEST and SKYMILESLIFE. These two airlines are, in my opinion, the best in the domestic travel biz.
So there you have it friends and fellow travelers! I hope my article on
Ten Travel Tips for Flying will give you a stress-free and breezy next adventure! Because no one wants to land at their final destination frazzled.