Since Thanksgiving, it’s been that time of year when most of us will board a plane to be with loved ones or just take a little vacation to enjoy the holiday season. Airports become packed, lines are longer and some peoples’ tempers become shorter with so much stress piling up in an environment that we will never be able to control.
Yes, we can’t control long check-in lines or giant TSA lines. We can’t control the weather changes. We can’t control airplane mechanic issues or procedures. And we can’t even control a flight attendant having a bad day. How about the fear that some have of flying or the pressure of a different world since 9/11? What we can control is our attitude toward it — and how we prepare for this adventure.
I have been flying for more than 17 years non-stop; on a monthly basis, I do four or five international flights as an international cabin crew member. I have seen and heard pretty much everything inside an airplane, in the terminal or in a train going and coming from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, where I am based working for a major U.S. carrier. Also, any chance I have when I am off-duty, I board a plane to a new destination. I love traveling to know more about our world and its beauty, but interestingly, on every flight, I learn something new about people and human-nature situations in that environment.
It never ceases to amazes me how most people make their lives so more complicated when the issue is flying. They simply forget that the main reason you are inside an airplane is to going from point A to point B, which means that planes are not restaurants, bars, movie theaters or your living room. Or course, airline carriers will compete among themselves by offering perks to keep loyal customers and attract new ones. From that point of view, it is rather amazing if everything would work 100 percent, but sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s when preparation and anticipation comes to play a big part on the mental and personal physical success of a trip. So on that note, I came up with this small guide of reminders to help you to be ready for any event:
Unless you are really spending six months away on an island or you are Cher or Madonna on a world tour, there is no reason to overpack for a weekend or a short vacation. Most of the time, you will only use half of what you bring. Every time I am finished packing, I remove a few pieces from the luggage. I also limit myself to check only one piece. Lighter and less baggage are always a must in my book.
GOOD HYGIENE & DRESSING RIGHT
Do I really need to remind people to take a shower before going to the airport to catch a flight? Or better yet, make a good use of deodorants? You would be surprised how many people board a plane with strong body odors. Some airlines have procedures about such situations, and they won’t think twice about asking you to deplane, no matter what religion or personal habits you might have, so save the embarrassment and your trip by being fresh and clean — but also don’t overdo it with strong fragrance scents.
It is so very practical if you dress appropriately on a plane because your trip would be more enjoyable, so stay away from tight pants, shorts, sandals, flip-flops or anything that should only be worn in your home. Remember that the temperature inside the cabins can be very low; very often I see people wearing tank tops asking for extra blankets. I always carry with me a light sweater, and it comes really handy. Also, I try not wear belts or shoes with laces, and in doing so, it becomes very helpful when going through security lines (loafers are the best option). Barefooted in an airplane is a big no, therefore socks are very welcomed, especially if you must visit the toilet, and you insist on not putting your shoes on.
GOOD SEAT = GOOD FLIGHT
Whenever possible, try to obtain info about your seat with the gate agent; it is the best way to avoid surprises once you board. Unfortunately, when a flight is full, chances are you will be stuck with whatever seat was given to you if you are in main cabin. However, if you can select a seat online, and you are traveling alone on a long flight, I advise you to get an aisle seat if you are a light sleeper, so you can get up and walk to stretch out as many times you wish. A personal small pillow is a good idea to bring on board, especially if you have a window seat.
DO NOT RELY ON AIRPLANE FOOD
Before we start talking about food, I need to point out that it is so important to have your own bottle of water in a flight. So, once you pass security check, get a very large bottle of water. Nothing is more unpleasant than to be depending on a flight attendant to bring you a glass with water, especially if you are on a window seat or a middle seat. If you have special diet needs, please don’t completely rely on the airline caterer even if, upon check in, your gate agent confirmed your special meal is on board. What you can do is once you find your seat, go immediately to the galley and ask the flight attendant working that position to make sure your requested meal is indeed on board. Once the front door of the airplane is closed, there is nothing that can be done. I always have with me chocolate, nuts, cashews or potato chips on those long flights. Sometimes, when there are long delays on the runway, food and water available are such a good comfort.
GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME TO CONNECT
If any problem on departure caused an enormous delay on your flight, and you have a tight connection time to fly to a final destination, you will have the most miserable flight. And there is nothing you can do, especially if you are coming from an international flight to get onto a domestic one, since immigration and custom lines — in some cities — can be such a torturous ordeal. So give yourself a good three or four hours to connect. Anything less than two hours can be great if works, but a nightmare if it doesn’t. How about those who book their flights to arrive on the same day of an important event? Why gamble with your peace of mind?
BE NICE, BE CONSIDERATE
It doesn’t matter if you are seated in the main or premium cabin, a bad attitude won’t take you very far on a plane with a cabin crew who are there to help you with your real needs. Flight attendants can spot right away a potential problematic passenger, and they will do what is right for the safety of the flight when the aircraft door is still open with the plane on the ground. Arrogant attitudes are better fitted on your own private jet (as if). Serious fights have erupted over that type of passenger who drinks a lot, the one who keeps kicking the seat in front of them, parents who let their children loose or the one who decides to be a DJ in the middle of the flight. Again, remember commercial airplanes are not social places where everything is permitted, or where adults can become spoiled children.
THE FEARFUL FLYER
Avoid sitting in the back section of the aircraft; turbulence is much larger in that area. Keep yourself busy with books, movies, puzzles, games, quiet music or you might even attempt to write a long overdue letter to a former boss, ex-wife, ex-husband … Stay away from caffeine products. A glass of wine is a good option to relax, but only one. It is also good to keep in mind that cabin crew members fly weekly, they, too, have families, and they wouldn’t put their lives in danger if flying wasn’t extremely safe — it is safer to fly than to drive to the airport.
THE MIRACLE TOOLS
Pens, headphones, earplugs, face masks, sunglasses, mints, mini-wipes, headache and stomach pills … believe me, these simple articles can make a big difference on your trip. Also, besides drinking lots of water during the flight, always have a face cream to hydrate your skin (it makes you feel good), but if you really want to have that million-dollar look of someone who is about to board a plane when you are actually deplaning, then don’t forget to get a face mist; they do wonders. My favorites are Mist Me Gently by Givenchy and In Transit Spray On Moisture by This Works.
THE AMBIEN NIGHTMARE
Unless you want to be known as the “flight streaker,” I strongly advise you to stay away from taking Ambien on a flight — especially if you are mixing it with some cocktails. And, more importantly, if you have never taken Ambien before but you heard they are very helpful on a long flight, trust me, don’t make the first time you try it be on an airplane.
TELL YOUR LOVED ONES THAT YOU LOVE THEM
You might be driving a car, riding a bike, on a train or a plane, it doesn’t matter what, where or when — nothing is certain in life, so to find yourself in a situation that unexpectedly became a distress event in which you catch yourself thinking about the unresolved fights you had with loved ones is, for sure, a horrible feeling. Unfortunately, causalities might happen, and the last thing in your mind should not be, “I should have said I loved her/him when I left home today …”