Modern air travel has become a mixture of invasive security procedures and demanding passengers on Ebola-ridden flying sardine cans. OK, we are exaggerating a bit, but it isn’t as enjoyable as it once was … when ignorance was bliss.
We can’t help you take off clothing and unpack your suitcase before going through security. We refuse to be a part of your scheme to toss the 30 screaming babies off the plane. But, there are ways to make the curb-to-curb experience at least bearable.
You have some control over happens in the airport and on the plane, and a little foresight and creativity will go a long way in keeping you sane and, dare we say, even help you enjoy the experience.
1. Play Nice
A kind word and a smile can go a long way when dealing with a flight attendant, gate agent or customer service rep. Among travelers, the ratio of “cool, calm and collected” to “selfish, self-entitled and stupid” has shifted radically, so when you make an effort to be one of the former, the perks can be yours. When a flight attendant is dealing with an unruly passenger, a sympathetic eye-roll/smile combo will get you on their good side. A joyful “Happy Thanksgiving!” once inspired a gate agent to allow me to board a plane seconds before departure with an upgrade to business class. It doesn’t happen often, but really, how hard is it to not be a jerk?
2. Dress Up
This is a throwback to a more civilized era. Back in the day, air travel was considered fancy and exciting for a reason. There’s something that just feels good about slightly loosening your tie, kicking off your shoes and sipping a fancy cocktail at 35,000 feet, even if you dropped $12 for the drink and the kid behind you is kicking your seat. Besides, who do you think is more likely to get an upgrade, the guy in the suit or the schmuck who wore pajamas and flip-flops?
3. Consider Tipping
No, I’m not kidding, but this one’s a bit complicated. “I’ve been tipped a good bit, as have many of my female colleagues,” said one veteran flight attendant at a major airline. “We are supposed to refuse but I’ll always accept the second attempt. It’s a good way to get offered a second drink even when we’re not serving.” That said, accepting is often a punishable offense, so if a flight attendant continues to refuse, thank them for their service and stash the cash. They’ll appreciate the thought, either way.
4. Wait Until the Last Minute
Most, if not all, U.S. airlines have started charging extra ducats to pre-book the exit row as part of their “Economy Plus” scheme, and it sucks. What most passengers don’t know is that if you roll the dice, you might just score extra legroom for zilch. How? Wait until you get to the gate and ask to be switched to the exit row.
5. Aisle Armrests Move
What’s that, you say? No they don’t? Well, we have news for you. They do. Most of them, anyway. There’s a lever or latch on the underside of the aisle armrest on most or all commercial planes. It’s an accessibility issue, but anyone can make it work for them and as long as you’re discreet about it, it can get you an inch or two of lateral room.
6. Get Global Entry
Photo via Flickr/CBP Global Entry Enrollment Center, RRB
This is by far the greatest advance for the frequent traveler since the rollaboard. For the relatively low price of $100, you have five years of breezing through U.S. Passport Control and Customs in dozens of airports in the U.S., Canada, Aruba and Ireland. Not only that, but Global Entry gets you automatic TSA Pre-check, so not only is entering the country a breeze, domestic security is a cinch.
7. Fly Direct
If you’re hell-bent on using services like Priceline or Expedia, there are a few things you should know. After purchasing your ticket, “book your seats directly with the airline,” says a former airport customer service pro for a major airline. “Seats bought on [the above services] are not booked in ‘real time,’ and as a result, the seats Expedia might give you upon booking might not actually be available, so as far as the airline is concerned, you have no assigned seat,” they add. In addition, “many ‘bid your own price’ tickets are valued at $0 to the airlines, meaning you may get no frequent flyer miles, no assigned seats and zero ability to make changes.” Buyers, beware.
Photo via Flickr/Kirti Podder
It’s common knowledge that you shouldn’t be taking shots while in the air, but if you’re prone to a tipple now and again while on the ground, an airborne cocktail can make the flight go faster, might make the overpriced plane food more palatable and believe it or not, could just make the whole circus that is 21st century air travel a little entertaining. Just remember to drink water every time they offer it (and more) and you’ll be fine.
9. Good Things Come in Small Packages
This is rather specific, but if you get the chance, take a tiny plane. The kind where they weigh you before assigning you a seat (always tell the truth, here) and you might get the chance to sit up front with the pilot. While flying at 35,000 feet across the U.S. can provide some pretty great vistas, there’s nothing like looking out the window and seeing a family of whales from 2,000 feet over the Nantucket Sound or landing on a sand runway in Virgin Gorda.
Mark Rabinowitz is a Nashville-based freelance writer, film producer, and regular contributor to Paste. He is the co-founder of Indiewire.com and really likes cheese.