Tips for Flying

Chris Brogan Finally Flies a Plane

I travel every few days. On the day this posts, I’ll be flying to Chicago. A few days later, off to the west coast. Then, Chicago again. Then home. Then, Latvia. Yes, I fly a lot.

I thought I’d offer some tips for flying.

Tips for Flying: Planning Your Flight

  • Airline rewards programs are important. However, I sign up to them all, and then just try to use one or two airlines more than others. Lots of people want to stick to one airline. I think this isn’t advisable these days.
  • When possible, try to fly in the night before. Travel is always messy these days, and hoping that you’ll get in when the ticket says you’ll get in is right up there with hoping the tooth fairy will bring you that quarter she owes you from when you were six.
  • Use services like SeatGuru to understand the best potential seat for your flight. I forget this step sometimes, often to my detriment.
  • Obviously, leg room is important to most folks. Most flights now charge for the good leg room seats. Decide ahead of time by distance traveled and activities planned whether that’s what you’ll want to do. Also, and this is personal preference, I prefer the window seat for one reason: carts and people having to pee don’t bump and jostle me as much. Mind you, I’m very broad across the shoulder, so maybe that’s a personal preference.

Tips for Flying: Packing

  • Learn to pack light and compact. My friend, Ben, showed me One Bag a year or two ago, and it’s made a world of difference.
  • Pick up the Monster Portable Power Cord with USB. I call this the friendmaker. Every airport has too many people seeking power from too few plugs. Offer to help with this and you’ll meet a few friends.
  • Pack a few energy bars or other dry snacks in your personal bag or laptop bag. It fends off really bad food purchases at the airport, and bringing bars from your grocery store saves you that ouchy moment when you pay $3.79 for something you know costs $1.49 anywhere else in the world.
  • Pack a few extra quart-sized plastic zip bags in your case. They are always useful.
  • If at all possible, carry your luggage onto the plane. I use the Eagle Creek Tarmac 22, but Mitch Joel (who recommended this bag to me) has recently upgraded to the Eagle Creek Traverse Pro Daypack (amazon affiliate link), and I have looked it over and plan to buy the same one when I’m next in the market. Why carry on? Because waiting for your luggage at the carousel adds another 15 minutes to your time at the airport.

Tips for Flying: Airport Experiences

  • Always ask someone upon arriving at the airport whether the good food is before security or after security. They’ll know. In some airports, everything worth doing is before the security line (Orlando in Florida comes to mind, as does Kansas City). In others, what’s before is slender pickings and what’s after is where you’ll find the fun (DFW comes to mind).
  • Stick your boarding pass and your ID somewhere really obvious and always the same place. I use my right front pocket. You can use your suit jacket pocket, or whatever you want. But make it REALLY easy to access.
  • If you’re wearing a jacket when you travel, it’s easy to plop the things you need out of your pocket into your jacket pockets, including your watch and whatever metal jewelry, and then lay that in the tray, instead of dumping it all in the tray. It’s easier to fish things out of your pocket while walking instead of having to scoop it all back out of the tray.
  • I try to put my things on the scanner belt in an order that makes sense on the other side of the screening. So, I put my shoes down first, my jacket over my shoes, and my toiletry plastic zip bag on top of it all. I put my laptop in its own tray, and then my luggage follows these two trays. When I get through the metal detectors (or those joy-sucker xray devices), I scoop up the bag of toiletries, put on my jacket, put on my shoes (I try to wear slip-on shoes for flying), and then tuck that zip bag into my suitcase. I put the suitcase down on the ground, scoop the laptop back into my laptop bag, and I’m off with my luggage. (If anyone else is thinking about Up in the Air at this moment, it’s very much like that).
  • Personally, I like finding my gate sooner than later for two reasons. One, quite often I misunderstand where the gate it in comparison to where I am, so if I actually set my eyes on it, I’ll know how far I am from it, so I can judge when to get back there to board. Two, no matter what the signs say all over the airport telling you which gate you’re at, things change at the last minute quite often, so I like to see what the gate actually reports will be leaving from it versus what the boards say.
  • People not to argue with: TSA. They don’t care. Gate Agents after reporting a delay. They can’t change much. Instead, with TSA, simply know their system and navigate it with the least amount of annoyance you can muster. For the gate agents, think of intelligent questions related to your delays, such as whether your connecting flight is delayed as well, and whether the other airport has later flights matching your final destination, etc. Neither of these groups are worth fighting with.
  • Most airports are starting to offer free wifi, or at the least, Boingo. I’ve found that having a Boingo account has been very useful, even though I also travel with a 3G card. Sometimes, airports don’t have the best cellular reception, and to me, connectivity matters. Having a few ways to connect is easier than one.
  • The airport is the single best place to answer all those emails you’ve been neglecting. Doing this at the gate instead of diving into the magazine you bought for the flight saves you twice. If you’re a gmail or other online mail user, use an offline mail client that supports POP3 or IMAP like Thunderbird (free for Mac or PC), so that you can work on these mail messages even while you’re on the plane (if you have room).
  • Boarding in order is vital for Southwest. For everyone else, it’s up to you. The risk of boarding last is that the overhead bins get filled up and you have to gate check your carry-on. The reward is that you can just hang out, not stand in an awkward line, and get more laptop time before standing around on the jet bridge feeling like cattle.

Tips for Flying: On Board the Plane

  • Those really good headsets are worth it for soothing the roar of an airplane. I went with Beats by Dr. Dre Beats Solo HD Black On-ear Headphones with ControlTalk (amazon affiliate link) after buying the very low end Bose and not finding them as nice for music. Even if I wear these but don’t plug them into music, they make my flight a lot nicer. On-ear drowns out a lot more than earbuds, I’ve learned.
  • I bring a bottle of water or juice onto the plane so that I’m never stuck in that “drythroatneedadrinkbuttheattendantisn’tcomingforanother20minutes” feeling. Anything I can do to eliminate discomforts or frustrations, I’m going to do. This one helps a lot.
  • Quick note: parents can’t usually do a lot to help that their kid is crying. Give them a break. Smile politely.
  • Quick note 2: if someone looks like they need help (like getting a bag into or out of the overhead), then offer to help.
  • Quick note 3: if someone’s in your seat, don’t make a big stink. If you must have that seat over what they’ve left you, just ask nicely. If they don’t comply, a flight attendant will fix it. No worries.
  • Upon landing, your only job is to get your stuff and get out quickly. Never EVER stand still the moment you exit the jet bridge and stand at the mouth of the terminal. This is the single most worst part of the flying experience, because there’s inevitably one person mucking up the line (see Quick Note 2 above).

    Tips for Flying: Getting Out of Dodge

    • When you deplane, go pee. You might think, “Oh, I’m fine. I can make it to the _____,” but what almost always happens is that traffic snarls or something else happens, and you find yourself really having to pee. I’m only telling you this because it happens quite often. (And wash your hands.)
    • I sometimes stop and get a second bottle of water on the way out of the airport to go with one of my energy bars, in case I get stuck in traffic and in case I’m going to be a while before dinner.
    • If you’re taking a cab to your destination, always have the address ready when you get into the cab. I use my calendar software for this and not only do I have the hotel name and address, but I have the telephone number, in case there’s a question about directions, or in case I arrive VERY late and need to ensure I still have a room reservation.
    • And from here, the adventure is up to you.

    You Know Most of This

    A lot of travel tips are somewhat self-evident, but maybe you don’t travel as much and the refresher is good. In other cases, maybe you’re a frequent traveler but are always looking for tips to keep things fresh. In fact, that gives me an idea.

    What if YOU wrote YOUR travel tips post and linked it back in the trackbacks to here? What if we could see via the comments your tips added on your site, so that people can come and find the best advice through a simple exploration? (Remember: posts in the comments with a URL take a day to get through the filter. Don’t worry and repost. We’ll get you settled.)

    What do you think?

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