Over the last 4 years, I have had the opportunity to take enough flights to where now I’ve begun forgetting what airports I’ve been to, and which ones I haven’t. Since taking my first flight from Chicago O’Hare (where I waited 16 hours until it was time to board) to my home city of Jacksonville, Florida in May of 2018, I’ve learned a few things that I now implement to make flying easier and give me that private experience until I can make it my reality.
I think that we can all agree that flying commercial when you’re unprepared can be an absolute nightmare, and the only thing that compares is a C-list 80s rom-com. It doesn’t have to be though. Did you know you can fly with ease and comfort without having to fly first-class? Honestly, depending on the carrier and distance of your flight, first-class is simply a way to waste money for subtle niceties. Save first for the long-haul flights.
Preparation Begins At Home
If you’re anything like me, you wait until the night before to pack. I’ve always had this habit even when I was in Boy Scouts. I’m not here to tell you that it’s better to pack in advance because I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach, but, I will tell you it’s about how well you pack in the short time you give yourself. By packing thoroughly and properly you’re going to save yourself a ton of headache and lower the risk of TSA rummaging through your items.
The day before your trip wash your favorite sets of clothing and gather your toiletries. I’d recommend owning two sets of hygienic products. One for home use and one for travel. Remember liquids must be in containers 3.4oz or smaller and be put in your checked baggage. I’ve found toiletry bags to be essential in organizing your small easy-to-lose items. It also makes it easy to find once you unpack in your hotel room or at the airport to freshen up. Throw in a few quart-size Ziplocs to store your liquids and other items in. It’s an annoying feeling to get to your destination and realize you forgot your toothpaste or deodorant. You want to make travel as easy as possible for yourself.
As you’re packing, roll your clothes to be able to pack more. Be aware of your airline’s baggage guidelines, however. Some have a limit of 40lbs per bag, and others 50lbs. Some have varying measurements as well. You can find a cheap luggage scale online if you aren’t sure how heavy your bags are and have a tendency of overpacking. Put your shoes in grocery sacs or travel bags, and I always include an extra garbage bag or two for dirty clothes.
Reserve your carry-on for items you absolutely need or want to have near you at all times. I’ve personally never brought a checked bag to stow away in the overhead bin, but if you do, make sure you research what you can bring and what you can’t. Every time I travel I bring a backpack with a book, chapstick, charging cables, electronics, gum, earbuds, laptop, notepad, writing utensils, an empty bottle, and instant coffee and hydrating powder packets. You can’t bring a full water bottle through TSA but you can bring an empty one. I found a tightly sealed bottle and once I get through security I fill it up at one of the water fountains. Instant coffee is essential too as sometimes flights are too short, turbulent, or simply don’t serve beverages or snacks. Just understand what goes in must come out.
If you are taking a flight that lasts more than a few hours you may want to consider bringing a travel pillow that fits around your neck as well as a comfortable sleep mask to cover your eyes. You may look goofy but who cares? There have been plenty of times where I dozed off for a nap and these two things made a world of difference.
The night prior, make sure you get good rest if possible and drink plenty of water and electrolyte-rich fluids. The airplanes are pressurized and the air dry, and few things can make you feel more dehydrated than airplane air. The morning or day of, eat a nutritional meal, especially if you don’t want to spend much money on your trip. A lot of times airport food can be price gauged and it’s a hit or miss with airline options on longer flights.
The Booking Process
An aspect of flying like a pro is booking like a pro. Whenever you’re going on a trip, find out the airport you’d like to fly out of and what airport you’d like to fly into. When you’re going into a bigger metropolitan area there may be multiple airports, some of which are closer or further away from where you’re visiting. Keep this in mind as you search for flights.
What is your budget for your trip? Are you flying one way and taking a different method of transportation back? Are you purchasing your ticket there and your ticket home at a later date? Keep in mind that waiting may result in a higher fare. During holiday seasons especially the rates will be significantly higher as people scramble to make last-minute arrangements. If you know you will be traveling during these times, book several months in advance.
If you don’t have one already, the more often you fly the more likely you will find a favorite airline. Certain airlines are known for being “low fare” or “ultra-low fare” and others more premier. I’ve come to appreciate comfort and several additional inches of space in my seat, especially as a tall 6’2 guy. If you’re on a super tight budget you may be willing to sacrifice comfort for a less expensive option. Never book through Google flights and try to avoid carrier sites. I’d suggest using a trusted, validated, and verified third party like Skiplagged that scans the web for the cheapest fares and offers filtered options. Also, take into consideration the possibility of a layover especially if you’re flying out of smaller city airports. Certain airports may have lounges that make your time easier.
Depending on your airline you’ll have different booking options. Delta for example has 6 different classes, all with different perks and… Prices. Educate yourself on what your chosen airline offers and which you prefer to go with.
Once you’re ready to whip out your debit cards now it’s time to add your luggage if possible and choose your seating. It’s important you pick a seat ahead of time so you get what you want. If you’re in basic economy and don’t mind being a leader if an emergency happens, try to choose a seat at the exit door of the airplane. You’ll get a significant increase in legroom for free. Unless you expect to get up and use the facilities multiple times, pick the window seat. It doesn’t put you awkwardly between two people and you get to look out the window at exceptional creation. If no window is available sit on the aisle so you can at least stretch your right leg when people aren’t walking by.
The Day Of
Either the night before or several days prior to your trip, decide how you are going to get to the airport. Will you be taking an Uber or Lyft? Is a family member driving you? Are you shuttling from a hotel or going old-school in a taxi? After your form of transportation is ironed out, figure out how early you need to leave in order to get to the airport at least 2 1/2 hours before your flight is scheduled to take off. Ideally, I’d aim for 3 or more as you never know how busy it will be and TSA can be backed up depending on a variety of factors such as people working, technology present, world events, etc. Most airlines begin the boarding process 30 to 40 minutes before the scheduled take-off time so keep that in mind. It’s much better to arrive early with time to kill than have to scurry through the airport and possibly miss your flight. Many airports offer free WiFi networks and host a variety of shops you can stop and look at while you wait.
When you check in with your airline you will need to have a valid ID present such as a Driver’s License or Passport. You will need this same form of identification to get through security before you walk through the sensors. If you are dropping off a checked bag or paying for it the day of your flight, ask for a printed boarding pass. Yes, you can have it on your phone but you will come to appreciate your ever-growing stack of passes. I usually take my printed copy and immediately pack it away and end up using my phone for convenience.
In order to make your travels as comfortable as possible, physically, I’d recommend wearing slides, a hoodie or light jacket, and shorts or sweatpants. Avoid belts, shoes you have to untie, and heavy clothing as TSA will have you remove them when you walk through their sensors. Be prepared to unload your electronics into the bins as well. This in my opinion is probably the most stressful part of flying but after a while it becomes routine.
Now, where the heck is your gate? Gate is the term used when talking about where your airplane is and where you board. In larger airports, there may be multiple terminals connected by tram or within walking distance of one another. Pay attention to what terminal you need to be at and give yourself plenty of time to figure out the layout of the airport. Most of the signs are self-explanatory and if all else fails, ask an airport official. Make sure to get to your gate early to claim a seat and rest if you’re not a fan of standing.
“Calling all passengers with passage from Jacksonville, FL heading to Miami, we will begin boarding shortly…”
Such a refreshing phrase to hear. Pay attention to your boarding group or position in line, have your pass ready in hand and get ready to find your seat. Always be courteous of other flyers and remember your manners. Nobody wants to fly with a jerk.
Many airlines offer frequent flyer programs where you can accumulate miles that can be put towards future flights. If you see yourself flying a ton there are also credit cards such as the Delta Skymiles Gold and above that give you a signing bonus as well as free checked bags and other exclusive benefits. I got 40,000 Skymiles in my first month just by spending money using credit instead of debit. Do this responsibly of course.
I looked and those 40,000 miles could translate into a free round trip in economy or even a first-class flight to certain destinations with the only thing left being $12 out of pocket. I’ve recently flown a round trip from Little Rock to Orlando and was able to save $60 by not having to pay for my first checked bag. If I fly with my significant other or multiple friends they get theirs for free too. That means I can save $120 or more on one trip, which pays the annual fee itself.
Through my phone bill with T-Mobile, I get free WiFi on applicable flights. This is nice as some airlines charge for an hour pass and if I only need to check a few emails what’s the point of paying? This is when a book comes in handy or having music and podcasts pre-downloaded to listen to. I allocate much of my time in the sky to thinking and dream building. We’re too connected to technology as is and if you’re really desperate make use of the screens on the back of the seat in front of you.
Keep an external power bank charged and include it in your carry-on bag. Although there are outlets throughout the airport or even on the plane it’s better to start off your day with your devices fully charged. Check your cables more than once the night before.
As I mentioned earlier, certain airports may have lounges you can go to during your layover or while you wait for your flight. These can come at a cost though. Through Capital One I get access to one in Dallas-Fort Worth but have to pay $65 per visit. There are certain credit cards that can grant you access for free, but come with higher annual fees so you will be responsible for measuring the pros and cons yourself.
All of this boils down to flying smarter and making your experience as comfortable as possible.
Enjoy your trip!