At the Airport
Once you’ve purchased your ticket, there are a few more planning items that will help make the long flight as least stressful as possible.
- Be First on the Plane – Getting on the plane last usually means you’ll have to work hard to find a space on the plane for your bags – with no guarantee you’ll find one (these bags will have to be gate checked). Also, boarding the plane first allows you to avoid the ‘traffic jams’ and relax until departure. For airlines that board by zones, a trick I use to board first is to jump in line right after 1st class – even if it isn’t my zone. Agents usually let you through as not to cause a commotion or delay the line.
- Choose Seats Wisely – Choose your seats using SeatGuru or SeatExpert – they are invaluable resources that will tell you what amenities exist on the plane and which seats on the plane are the best (and worst). Some planes have USB and power ports for your electronics – but not in every seat. Use these sites to learn which seats they are available and the type of connector you will need.
- Get on the Exit Row – Though often reserved for premium members, many of them don’t actually get claimed until the boarding call is made. If you are early for the flight, simply ask the agent to assign you an exit row – can’t hurt. The benefits are obvious, more space – not just legroom but on many planes the seats directly in front of the exit row don’t recline all the way (safety reasons). This means no one is smashing your knees or preventing you from using the tray table every time they recline.
- Get Your Own Food - Don’t get suckered into buying overpriced airport food – stop where ever you want to eat before you get to the airport. Remember, you can’t bring ‘liquids’ into the airport – there’s no restriction against food. You can purchase something to drink once you pass security – but even this isn’t necessary as most airlines still provide water for free (most I said).
What to Put in Your Carry On
Last but not least, packing your carryon with a few essential items can make the flight more comfortable. Here’s a list of items I make sure to pack on long flights.
- Music/Movie Player – Even the best airlines may have music or movies you don’t actually want to hear/see. Copy your music and/or movies onto your laptop to increase your options. The downside to this is most laptop batteries barely last 3hours, so you’ll get to watch up to 2 movies at the most for any flight over 4 hours. Portable DVD and MP3 players are somewhat better options – but the battery is still an issue. The best approach (I think) is to bring a Smartphone that does all of the above and that can be charged using the laptop (or airplane) USB ports. Any Windows Mobile, Android, or iPhone can double as a video and music player.
- Get an eReader – eReaders are devices that allow you to read electronic books. Easier to carry 500 electronic books than 3-4 heavy paper books. The most popular eReader is Amazon’s Kindle – though Sony and Barnes and Nobles offer eReaders as well.
- Carry-on vs. Checked Bags – Anything important to you – put it in your carry-on! Never pack your laptop, passport, credit cards, or anything expensive in your checked luggage. Insider’s tip – “Fragile” is a joke. Airlines do not honor these stickers on bags – they get treated just like any other luggage. If you have something important (expensive) that can’t fit in carry-on, ship it via insured USPS. Many US airports have Post Offices and the rates can often be less than the checked baggage fees from the airlines. If you absolutely have to check your bags, ALWAYS watch the airline representative place a tag on your luggage before you leave. My bags have been misplaced 3 times – 2 of the times I didn’t watch the person place the stick on my bag. Finally, make sure your bag stands out from other luggage – particularly for black suitcases. I put a long strip of duct tape on my mine – cheesy, but it works.
- Miscellaneous – I also include these items:
Finally, the best way to get through a long flight is to sleep – nothing makes the time go faster than not being aware of the time in the first place. Unfortunately, I can’t sleep on airplanes unless I can completely lie down – but if this works for you – go for it.