I don’t know about you, but air travel stresses me out. For real!
As much as I have and will continue to travel, I do not look forward to the process of travel. If only they could get teleportation working, I’d be in my glory! Flying to me is a necessary evil and though you just have to deal with it, there are ways to make it easier to take.
Here are my top tips for air travel to make it a little easier that I’ve learned from decades of travel.
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Check-In Before You Head to the Airport
The best tips for air travel start well before you’re on the plane. Maybe it’s just me, but I get really impatient waiting in lines. And I’ll do what I can to avoid them when possible.
So, for me, it’s a no-brainer to check-in online before I head to the airport. It’s really easy to do. Each airline has its own process. So, you just need your confirmation number with most airlines and can check-in.
This is a big help to avoid the often long line to check-in at the airport. Also, another bonus is if you end up hitting traffic on your way to the airport, it saves you time so you can go directly to the gate. A great thing in my opinion.
Even if you check a bag, this is still helpful. You can check-in online regardless of whether you are checking a bag or not. Most airlines have a separate line for people who are already checked in and simply need to drop off their bag(s). So, either way, you save time.
And if you’re flying Southwest or an airline that does “cattle call” where they don’t assign seats, but assign a place in line, it’s essential. At least, it is if you care about the seat you get unless you don’t mind a middle seat at the back of the bus!
One of the best ways to stay healthy while traveling is starting off on the right foot. And that includes getting to the airport (of course, if you’re flying!) and when you’re traveling.
Choose Your Seat
As I just mentioned, certain airlines, like Southwest Airlines, don’t assign seats. Instead, they assigned you a place in the boarding line. In that case, you just want to check-in as early as you are able to in order to make sure you get as high a number in line as possible.
For other airlines, you can generally choose your seat when you check-in. It’s a good idea to do this, unless you don’t care where you are sitting for your flight.
For a short flight, it may not matter but for longer ones, it sure does. If you prefer a window or an aisle, you’ll want to check in before you get to the airport to get what you want.
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Some airlines offer discounted fares where you either choose a seat closer to the flight. Or, you can’t choose until you get to the airport. I have seen Delta and American Airlines do this, though I’m sure there are others.
It’s something for you to consider if the money off the ticket is worth it to you.
Why This Matters
Maybe you don’t care about your seat on the flight and if that’s the case, that’s great! But most people, I think, have a preference. And generally, it’s not a “dreaded middle” seat, which is just no fun. Particularly for a really long flight.
And for people who are nervous flyers (can you see my hand raised?!) this is pretty important. I personally prefer an aisle seat as I feel a bit confined in the middle seat or at the window. Though, I’ll admit I love looking out the window.
For me, it depends on the airplane configuration. (Sometimes you’ll see three seats or two, which you’ll see on small planes, and large, transcontinental flights). Here are some other great tips for flight anxiety.
It may not matter for those airlines that don’t assign seats. But, when you are able to select your seat when you book, it’s a great thing. Other airlines allow you to select your seat closer to the flight.
And sometimes they charge extra for the benefit of a seat selection. In that case, you need to consider if the additional cost is more or less important than your seat selection.
Pack a Carry-on Bag
I’m a huge fan of minimalist travel and it’s one of my favorite tips for air travel that I use every time. It’s a learned thing, as I laugh when I think of my first trip to Europe. I lugged around two of the hugest bags EVER which I could barely carry.
And the killer part of that is that I didn’t touch most of the clothes I had brought. But I brought them just in case I might need them. Sound familiar?
One trick I have done for a while now is that I lay out what I’m thinking about packing then spend some time going through it. I have found that when I think through my upcoming trip and lay everything out before packing, I don’t need as much as I originally thought.
Since then, things have improved a lot and I have taken this to the next level! It’s now a fun challenge to see how few things I can bring. Now I use compression packing cubes and reduce what I bring as much as possible.
I have gone on several trips of around two weeks each and brought an international-sized travel bag. (Hint: even smaller than a regular carry-on sized bag) along with a small backpack.
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Another thing I often do is plan to do laundry while I’m traveling. For a low cost, it really helped me to reduce the number of things I’m carting around while I travel. Try it! You can pack for two weeks in a carry-on bag.
Bring a Snack
Being on a plane can be stressful enough, but it’s compounded when you’re hungry. When you think about different tips for air travel, of course, you think about your time on the plane. You want to make sure it’s comfortable.
It’s a good idea to bring snacks when you fly. You can’t always count on the flight having enough food for sale for everyone and sometimes they run out. Or you may not like what they are offering or have left.
Another good idea is to bring a water bottle. You can fill it at the airport, and many airports now offer filtered water systems. Make sure it’s empty on your way to the airport, of course, then fill it up before you get on the plane.
If there’s turbulence or if you snooze when the flight attendant comes through, you may be out of luck. Even a short one-hour flight can feel long when you’re parched.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re well-hydrated before you travel. I don’t mean downing a gallon of water right before getting on the flight, but drink some extra the day before you travel and that morning in preparation.
Leave Enough Time
I used to be the Queen of cutting it close when it came to flights. Thankfully (knocking on wood) I have never missed a flight but I have sure come close. And nothing says “please flag me for a search” like anxiously running through an airport.
Having said that, I do feel the 2-hour arrival recommendation before domestic flights is a bit more than necessary for most people, especially if you don’t check a bag. However, it’s a good idea to make sure you have more than enough time and not to cut it too short. And that time is really up to your discretion and what you feel comfortable with.
Sometimes Things Are Outside of Your Control
A number of years ago, I was traveling across the country for Thanksgiving. Then I had a long bus ride ahead of me. I allowed plenty of time knowing how busy the airport gets during the holidays. Well, there was construction on the highway leading to the airport, and traffic was re-routed through the city of Boston. Traffic there is hideous in the best of circumstances.
It was bumper-to-bumper and we were going surface streets through a congested city. If that wasn’t enough fun, BAM! We got rear-ended. And not just that, by an 18-wheeler truck. Luckily, no one was going fast and we were able to drive away after we exchanged paperwork.
I thought the fun was behind us until we got to the airport and tried to open the trunk. You’ve got it! It wouldn’t open. We tried everything we could think of and no luck. I lucked out that the folks at the check-in desk were willing and empowered to work with me and one even came out to help. I’m not sure how he managed, but he got the trunk open and I raced through security with minutes to spare.
I was grateful I had left a little extra time that day.
Have Your Identification Handy
There’s nothing worse than standing in a long line to check-in and the person in front of you starts frantically fumbling to find their driver’s license or passport. As if they weren’t waiting all that time in the same long line, right?
Keep your identification handy and the same goes if you have a paper boarding pass. If it’s electronic, consider taking a screenshot as a backup in case you lose internet access.
True story! For some reason, I can’t seem to figure out how to get internet access on my phone in my local airport. The first time I used a mobile boarding pass, I realized when I got to the check-in that I was unable to access it and had to run to the desk to get a paper copy and lost my place in line. On a Southwest flight that is done by number and not seat assignment, that s*cks.
Prepare for Security
Ok, you know the drill if you have flown in the last year or two once you get to security. You’re going to be asked to remove everything from your pockets, dump all liquids, and take off your shoes. Remove your belt and pull your laptop and toiletries out of your bag. Do yourself a favor and plan for it before you get to the belt.
Ideally, wear shoes that are easy to slip off and on so you’re not fumbling with them. Make sure if you are carrying a bottle for water that it’s empty. And make sure your laptop and toiletries are reasonably accessible.
A little planning before you get there can go a long way to reducing your stress when traveling. It will also keep you from being that person that annoys everyone behind you. (You know who I mean!)
Consider the Trusted Traveler Programs (U.S.-based Travelers)
I mentioned that I am super impatient waiting in lines, right? Well, one great way to reduce your wait at airport security and at immigration returning to the United States is to join one of the Trusted Traveler Programs.
These are designed for United States citizens. Though some other countries’ citizens may be eligible, depending on the program. There are several to choose from, and you can select which makes the most sense for you based on your typical travel.
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The benefit of the Trusted Traveler Programs is that you get expedited times at the airports or for border crossings.
Trusted Traveler Programs Available
There are four Trusted Traveler Programs that are currently available in the United States:
- TSA PreCheck—Expedites security screening in United States airports for domestic or international travel.
- Global Entry—Offers expedited passport control so you can shorten your time going through immigration and customs upon entering the United States.
- NEXUS—Provides expedited border clearance between the United States and Canada when crossing by land, air, and marine ports of entry.
- SENTRI—Allows expedited entrance to the United States from southern land border ports.
The programs have certain eligibility requirements, require an application and an interview, and are subject to availability. They are a great idea to save time and to reduce stress.
There is a cost to these programs and they take time to get approved. However, if you’re looking for tips for making your air travel more convenient, this is a good one to consider.
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Pack Necessary Items for Convenience
If it’s something you may want or need while you’re on the flight, try to pack it in the bag you stow under your seat.
That way you don’t have to go rummaging through your bag in the overhead. Or worse, need to take it down and open it up trying to find what it is you’re looking for. And if you’re “height challenged” like me, this can be tough to do!
If you can’t fit all that you need in your smaller bag, try to put it either in an outer zipper or at the top of your bag so it’s easy to access. And don’t forget, use jacket pockets if you need to.
Bring a Jacket
If you’re the type of person who tends to get cold easily, grab a jacket or a sweater to wear on the plane. There’s nothing worse then shivering through your entire flight (who, me?) because either you didn’t think of it or you were too stubborn to pack an extra item. It’s a good idea to have something in case you need it, even if it’s just a long-sleeved shirt you can put over your top.
Since I’m now so into minimalist packing (link to other post) I am very careful with packing just the minimum amount that I need for my trips. But, even if I’m going to a hot-weather destination, it’s a good idea to have something for the flight or even air-conditioned restaurants. If I don’t want a jacket or a sweater, I just pack a light wrap.
The Top Tips for Air Travel
These are the tips for air travel that I consider when I’m planning for every trip. They have been really helpful for me, and I hope they are useful for you as well. What do you suggest for top tips for air travel given what you do to prepare? I’d love to hear!
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Photos sourced from Unsplash and Pixabay.