Let’s be honest, the glamour and sophistication of jetting around the world only subsided during the early days of commercial aviation, when pilots were Adonis-like creatures and stewardesses were admired for nothing more than their glamour. Nowadays with the number of passenger reaching 70 million a year at Heathrow alone you are more likely than ever to encounter all those travel annoyances ranging from screaming toddlers to lost bags and overcrowded airplanes.
Unless you’re a frequent flyer, and a observant one at that, you will probably never realise that most of these are easily avoidable, or at least minimised, if you don’t follow the crowd and smarten up your travel decisions. Here are some tips I have found helpful to make flying a hassle-free and comfortable experience:
1) Booking your flight
Always check price comparison sites, such as skyscanner.net, Opodo and eBookers. They will often provide features you don’t always find with the operators such as multi-stop trips and different airports in the same city.
Airport: The rule of thumb is to pick the small airports, as they have much smaller security queues and you can often take less than 10 minutes from check-in to boarding gates.
Weekday: Go against the crowd, if you can. Saturdays are usually a great day to fly back from holidays. Tuesday to Thursday tend to be the best for flying out of central hubs, such as London.
Time of day: mid-day is usually less busy than morning or evening.
2) Travel light. I mean really light. If you have more than a medium size case/rucksack and a laptop bag then you are not travelling light. Sometimes rucksacks are given special care (for example from London Stansted, where you have to drop them at a separate “oversized” bags area) and therefore may be less prone to being lost. Wear clean, neat socks as you may be asked to take of your shoes for security. Don’t wear belts with large buckles. Try to take all your loose items (iPod, passport, change, phone, wallet, cards, etc) in you jacket or handbag, as you will have to do this at security anyway. If you only travel with a handbag (clever!) then remember to carry small travel-style toiletries, or buy some at the airport shops after security.
3) Checking in and choosing your seat: Online, online, online. If you can’t, then try to be at the airport as early as possible so you can choose your seat. If you are with a budget airline then it’s actually better to be there late and let everyone else in first. If you get in later you can look around for better seats and avoid children, large groups travelling together and drunk football fans.
If you have children yourself then do everyone a favour and seat at the front of the plane and board using the airline’s priority boarding, this will save you and everyone else waiting.
I spent way too many awful flights with children screaming behind me and kicking my seat until I learned they cannot travel on the emergency row seats, so I always sit in the row in front of these if I spot children checking in for my flight. If you’re sure there aren’t any then the emergency row will do just fine, as long as you don’t need your laptop.
Window is better than aisle, just don’t use the toilet. If you arrive late and can’t choose a seat then watch out for rows of seats all taken, they usually indicate a group travelling together and you don’t want to be near those.
Take a book, a magazine or something to distract you. I usually have books on my iPhone, they do the trick just fine.
4) Take-off and landing: Chill out. Don’t open laptop/ipod/iphone until after take off. They will ask you to close them/turn them off, so you’re wasting your time.
After taking off is a great time to change the time setting on your phone / watch for your new time zone.
After landing please don’t do what everyone else does, that is, get up straight away and look for their overhead bags. It makes me laugh every time to see people rushing to get up and get their bags and then waiting for 10 minutes standing up. People: it only takes 5 seconds to get your bag, there’s no hurry.
5) Getting your bags: Do you see that area just next to the conveyor belt where everyone is standing? Don’t be there. Airport designers have tried to guide people away from this area by delimiting it with a grey/green marking on the floor, but obviously it doesn’t work. If everyone stands next to the belt then it makes life hard for everyone. Just stand away, watch and when you see your bag then go and get it. Make sure you push people out of the way and if they inquire just tell them to freaking wait for their bags a few feet back.