This article provides a good number of flying tips. It covers the planning, ticket buying, packing, and traveling phases.
I am not an airplane fan. I would prefer to travel using another transportation method. Even though flying is not my favorite part of traveling, I recognize planes connect multiple parts of our planet in an impressive way. And if you travel, you will have to fly at some point.
For that reason, I have put together some flying tips. You are welcome to add your suggestions in the comments area. In that way, we can learn from each other.
Flying Tips – Planning
Use a Flight Aggregator
I have to admit I am not a flight aggregator lover. However, since flights from airlines like American Airlines cannot be found anymore on Orbitz or Expedia, I have started to use aggregators to get a better idea of the prices out there. Kayak is one of the most popular aggregators out there. If you are interested in finding a flight to or around Europe, use Momondo since this website includes low-cost airlines (ex., Ryanair).
Tip: Remember to search for flights using an incognito window on your browser. Studies show the browser or equipment manufacturer you use to search for tickets has an impact on the prices shown on flight aggregators.
Save a few bucks by booking directly from the airline website
Some websites dedicated to selling travel services charge a fee for each transaction. For example, when you buy an airline ticket, the website may be charging you an extra 10 to 15 dollars fee for the service. An airline website usually does not charge this fee. So, use an aggregator to find a good price and then check the airline website to see if the price is lower.
Know the difference between a direct, nonstop, and connecting flight
Don’t confuse a direct and nonstop flight. Here are some definitions:
- Connecting Flight – A flight with an intermediate stop and change of aircraft.
- Direct Flight – A flight between two points by an airline with no change in flight numbers, which may include a stopover at an intermediate point.
- Nonstop Flight – A flight that does not involve any intermediate stops.
A nonstop flight is the best option because it saves time and avoids potential delays.
Make sure you purchase your ticket under the exact name that appears on your passport or ID
This is a really important issue. If the name on your ticket is different, by even one letter, from the name in your official ID, you can be denied boarding. Plus, the airline may charge you a hefty fee for a name change (more than $100).
When doing your reservation online, make sure you have written your information correctly before completing the transaction. When booking by phone, ask the agent to spell your name (even though you have to spell it to him/her).
If you discover a spelling error in your reservation, call and fix it as soon as possible. Don’t wait till you get to the airport to take care of this.
Always review your confirmed reservation for errors
Nowadays, most ticket reservations are done online. Usually, we get an e-mail with the confirmation details. A lot of people I know never open the e-mail until the last moment. It is a good practice to check your confirmation documentation once you get it. This practice can save you a lot of trouble.
Select your seats as soon as possible
If you prefer a type of seat or have a special need (disability, need extra space because you are tall), select your seats as soon as possible. Visit websites like seatguru.com or seatexpert.com to learn what are the best seat selections.
Note: Nowadays, most airlines charge a fee to select a specific seat.
Make sure you know what airport you are flying to
Big cities usually have more than one airport. For example, if you fly to London, you can arrive at Heathrow, Stansted, Luton or Gatwick. Double check the airport you are departing from the day you are traveling. People get confused more than you think. A friend lost his flight to South Africa because he showed up at the incorrect airport.
Make sure you understand how far the airport is from the actual city center before booking. You can book a great deal without noticing you are actually flying to an airport 50 miles (100 km) from where you want to go. It can be more effective to fly to a closer airport when taking into consideration the extra money you have to pay for ground transportation.
Also, remember major cities (ex., capitals) usually have domestic and international airports. You arrive at the international airport from a foreign country.
However, many times, you fly to a city within the country from the domestic airport. First, determine if your international flight is arriving and your domestic flight is departing from the same airport. If this is not the case, make sure there is enough time between the connections to move from one airport to the other. I know a lot of people who have discovered at an international airport that their flight is leaving in an hour but from the domestic airport. That my friends is what I call a big, big headache.
Additionally, if somebody is picking you up at the airport, verify the person is clear about what airport you are arriving at. A friend of mine had to wait hours after arrival because his brother confused the NYC airport he was arriving too.
Fly as early as possible
The probability of getting stuck in a delay increases as the day progresses. Therefore, it is wise to fly as early as possible to avoid an unwanted surprise. Moreover, try to avoid rush hours when possible.
Make sure you have the correct foreign document requirements
This may be surprising but a lot of travel plans get frustrated because the traveler fails to acquire the proper documentation. Bear this in mind: it is your responsibility to get the correct documentation. Do not book any travel service before you understand what documents are necessary to enter a foreign country and how long is going to take you to get those documents. Here are some things to take into consideration:
- Always bring your passport when traveling out of your country of residence. This may sound obvious but some people forget to take their passports when boarding a cruise or exiting their countries for a day (then, they can’t return like when trying to cross by land from Mexico to the United States).
- If you reside in a country but are not a citizen, bring your residence card.
- Acquire any necessary visas and make sure you know where and how to get them. Government websites usually contain a list of complete entrance regulations (U.S. citizens go to www.travel.state.gov/travel).
- Make sure your passport is valid for six months after your entrance to a foreign country.
- Make sure you have at least two blank, unstamped pages in your passport. Some countries require two blank pages, not one.
Arrive early at the airport
Recently, I heard the following quote: “Plan for the worst, expect the best”. I think this applies to this point. A lot of things can go wrong on the way or at the airport. We, travelers, know that. So, make an effort to arrive early. It is better to wait for some time at the gate than enter the airplane stressed and cranky.
Flying Tips – Packing
Now that we have discussed the travel planning/ticket buying stage, we can move to the packing stage. These are general packing tips. The idea is to help you navigate through the airport (and your destination) with your luggage easily. I will do a detailed packing post later.
Do I need to stress this? – Pack as light as possible
After 15+ years of roaming the globe, I only travel with carry-on luggage. It has simplified my travels in such a drastic way. I can easily carry my luggage around, avoid back and arm injuries, and don’t have to separate from my bags that often.
I will recommend you try to travel in this way. Believe me, you can pack a lot in a small suitcase (if you know how to do it). Most important: you don’t need to pack tons of belongings in order to have a great experience. However, I know this may not be a viable option for everybody. If you need to check-in luggage, pack as light as possible.
Don’t overpack your checked luggage
As I mentioned in the previous bullet, packing as light as possible should be your goal when traveling. I already mentioned some good reasons to adhere to this practice. So, do you need more arguments?
Well, let me tell you zippers can break (especially if you are using cheap luggage) when you overstuff your luggage. I have seen episodes of suitcase “explosions” in the baggage claim area. I think you don’t want to experience something like this.
Additionally, you may need to open your suitcase at the airport (or security will need to open it), and then it will be hell to close it.
And, of course, moving around heavy luggage is a pain.
If you don’t want to lose something, don’t pack it in your checked luggage
This should be a traveler’s rule. Don’t pack in your checked luggage those pricey or important items. For example, you should never check:
- Cash or credit cards
- Expensive electronics (cameras, iPods, computers)
- Important documents
- Objects with sentimental value
Wrap fragile items
I always try to avoid packing fragile items. However, sometimes I feel the need to pack a bottle of perfume or nail enamel. From experience (hard experience, I guess), I have learned it is not wise to just put these items somewhere in the bag (not even in the toiletries bag).
Now, I put fragile items inside a ziplock bag before placing them in a determined space. If there is a breakage or spillage, the ziplock bag will contain the mess. The same applies to items that can easily open (shampoo, nail remover, etc.)
Spread out heavy items in your suitcase
Do not pack all heavy items on one side of your bag. In general, it is more difficult to carry or lift bags with the majority of the weight on one side. Plus, the bag will tend to fall to the floor from that side. Spreading the contents will give you more stability.
Know the airline baggage restrictions
Beforehand, make sure you know how many pieces of luggage you are allowed to check-in and how much is going to cost you to check them. Nowadays, the cost of checking luggage changes frequently. Also, know the baggage size and weight limitations. Make sure your packed luggage meets those restrictions (if not, fees apply).
Differentiate your luggage from the rest
I am not talking about attaching a colorful bow to your bag. I am not sure that tactic works very well. I am talking about the following:
- Forget about checked luggage and you will not have to worry about this (I know, I know, I already mentioned this)
- Buy luggage in distinctive colors
- Place a colorful luggage strap around your bag
- Add a colorful handle cover
- Use a luggage cover
- Make a design with duck tape
- Get creative!!
Important: Always check the bag tag before taking the bag with you.
Differentiate your computer too (or label it)
Most laptops are black. There are cases when people take the incorrect computer after the security check (I mean sad cases). Have a way to quickly identify your laptop. You can place a label or business card on it. In that way, it is easier to identify it and there are higher probabilities of return in case you take the incorrect one.
Put a label on your suitcase
Label your suitcase outside and INSIDE. If the outside tag separates from the bag, your personal information is still inside.
Bring your own food or snacks
Plan your meals while flying, if you want to save money (most airlines charge for food or snacks on domestic flights). Even if your flight includes meals (international), pack something to eat. You will thank me once you have to hang out for 12 hours in an airplane. The time between dinner and breakfast is about 8 hours. Don’t tell me you are not going to get hungry during that time.
Bring your own entertainment
British Airlines have paid compensation to the Dukes of Cambridge (aka Will and Kate) because they confessed how boring the flight was. Turns out the video system of the airplane broke and it was the most boring flight ever.
The same happened to me during my flight to Brazil. I had 11 hours of torture. Lesson: do not rely on the in-flight entertainment (unless you are one of the fortunate beings who can sleep on an airplane).
Pack your electronics together
In this way, you can get them out of your bag quickly if security officers instruct you to do so.
If you know something is not allowed in the carry-on luggage, don’t pack it there
Do your own baggage inspection at home. Don’t take chances with objects you know are not allowed in carry-on luggage. If you are returning home, revise the objects acquired at your destination. You don’t want security to confiscate your beautiful souvenirs.
Flying Tips – At the Airport
Now, I am offering information on what to take into consideration when arriving at the airport. Additionally, I have tips on how to deal with some situations once you are on the plane. Pay special attention to the plane tips since I have gathered a lot of information from a friend who is a flight attendant.
You never know what complications may arise. There is no need to get cranky into a plane.
Know your flight or confirmation number
Have these numbers handy if you want to use the self-service kiosks some airlines provide. You want to avoid the long lines if possible.
Keep an eye on your valuables
This is especially important when you are passing through security. People in a hurry tend to forget items at the security belts. Some have taken the incorrect laptop. Therefore, don’t get distracted and double check you have all your possessions (or your correct possessions).
Verify your luggage destination tag
Believe it or not, an airline representative can place an incorrect destination tag on one or more of your suitcases. This has happened to me on two different occasions.
Always, always take a look when the representative is placing the tags on your bags. Make sure they are marked for your final destination. If you notice something wrong, speak up. One time, I had to ask to speak to a manager because I knew the tag was wrong and the representative didn’t want to acknowledge her error. But in the end, she was ordered to change the tag.
If you want to save money, avoid buying food and other items at the airport
We all know the food at the airport is ridiculously expensive. Bring your own food if you want to save. This applies to the plane ride too. Sorry, this doesn’t apply to liquids.
Flying Tips – On the Plane
Place your in-flight necessities in a small bag
This should be done for two reasons. First, you don’t want to hold a lot of people boarding the plane while you take out of your carry on everything you need for the flight. Second, you probably don’t want your belongings floating around a pouch full of germs and other gross stuff (you have no idea what my friend has found there).
Beware of the trays
The food trays are full of germs and bacteria (plus who knows what food remains). Wipe them with humid, anti-bacterial wipes if you want an extra layer of protection.
Use only brand new blankets
Do not use blankets if they have been previously used (they come packaged if they are clean). People use blankets to clean their noses, hold their vomit, and sneeze. Some even use them to cover and clean themselves during and after having sexual encounters (true story). So please, please don’t wrap yourself in those blankets.
You may want to bring your own water
The water provided in-flight comes from bottles. However, if attendants run out of bottled water, they don’t hesitate to serve water from the plane tank. This is the same water used to flush the toilet. If you drink a lot of water, make sure you have enough supply.
Put your seat belt on
It is important to use the seat belt when you are seating. I know it sucks (so uncomfortable). The thing is that you don’t know when unexpected turbulence is going to hit. If the plane suddenly drops altitude, you may end hitting the ceiling and falling back to the floor with full force. Avoid getting hurt by taking this precaution.
Watch your lower back
I don’t know about you but my lower back hurts or gets tired when flying long hours. Now, I put a pillow between my back and the seat to alleviate pressure. You can also roll a jacket or sweater and put it in the correct place.
Close the toilet lid before flushing
The restroom is the grossest spot on the plane. Consider how many people use it in a relatively short period of time. For obvious reasons, use a piece of paper towel to close the lid before flushing. Avoid making contact with the surfaces and use hand sanitizer if you think that tank water is too dirty for you. Oh and please, wear shoes in the restroom.
Wear comfortable shoes and clothes
I don’t quite understand the 4 inches heels on planes.
Bring allergy pills
Nowadays, there a tons of allergens floating inside a plane. Small pets are allowed in the main cabin. People use all sorts of perfumes and lotions. I can mention a thousand more things that can cause an allergy. So be prepared. I hate having an allergy attack while aboard (plus some people can’t tolerate the sniffing, you don’t want to create enemies).
Hope all these flying tips are helpful!
What flying tips can you share? Let me know in the comments section below.
i like your tip on arriving early – i fly pretty frequently but i still arrive very early, i’d rather be relaxed before my flight than totally stressed!
One other tip for flying internationally, there’s a lot of travel agencies [that act as a ticket consolidator] that can get tickets for less than even searching on aggregators & online. For example, for travel to Japan from the US, i use a travel agency such as JTB or IACE. I *always* find tickets cheaper through these agencies than I can find online since they purchase bulk seating.
Wow, great tip. Thanks a lot Jenjenk. I have heard about these consolidators but never used them before. Where we can find more information about them?
David @ MalaysiaAsia says
Hey Ruth, some great tips on Flight Planning though I’m one of those last minute flyers.
These tips are very well said here. I agree with you in booking airline ticket through internet, because you might also get their promos and other discounts. And also, if you book at the earliest time, you can pay less than the original amount.
That is a good tip. My experience is that ticket prices are way lower if you buy as earliest as possible (like you mentioned). Some people seem to be experts in getting good deals at the last moment. This hasn’t work for me.
Great list! I had no idea there were websites that helped you select the best seat, what a great idea.
You should check seatguru.com and other similar sites if you are really interested in getting a good seat. They have information on a lot of airplanes on different airlines (since the seats configuration change depending on the airline).
Jan Ross says
Great tips – thanks. I keep forgetting that American Airlines is not on Expedia. I just bought tickets on Delta and probably paid too much!!
I like Orbitz but now I have to check somewhere else because American Airlines is not there. American does not necessarily has the best service but it does have good prices on major city routes.
John in France says
I use the tripit.com travel planning service and it has a built in link to seatexpert.com. I have a round the world flight in a few days time and I checked my seats and they were all very poor, so have managed to change them to the better economy seats available. Fabulous.
Thanks for the tip. I have never used tripit before but will take it into consideration. Great to know you are going on a round the world trip. Wow, how exciting!! Wish you success and happy times.
I actually hate flying too- but I have saved a lot of money before by using different sites to book my flights. I love airfare watchdog. com. it was great.
I don’t know why a lot of people who travel a lot have problems with flying. Anyway, I will check airfare watchdog. Love you guys are sharing the sites that work for you.
Michael Figueiredo says
These are all great tips! And thanks for teaching me about Momondo—I’ve never heard of it before but will definitely try it out in the future.
Momondo is not that well known in the United States but I think we should give it a try. I have heard very good reviews about the site from experts in the travel industry like Pauline Frommer.
Great tips! I get sick of flying too but it’s certainly less painful if you’ve found the lowest fare available and have all your documentation in order
I know, flying is probably the most stressful part of my traveling experiences.
Stephanie - The Travel Chica says
I bring healthy snacks to eat, so I don’t get tempted by Cinnabon in the airport 🙂
I bring no snacks because I KNOW I’m going to Cinnabon.
Stephanie and I should probably never travel together. 🙂
Hey guys, I think we can reach an agreement. Let’s eat Cinnabon at the airport and then the snacks on the plane. I suppose nobody opposes.
You have some wonderful tips here!
Thanks for stopping by, Sailor.
Great tips, Ruth!
I’d bring a pillow or neck pillow — I think some airlines here in the US are charging (or plan to) for pillows and blankets. You might also want to bring a blanket, especially on long international flights, they sometimes, they also run out.
Yes, I have heard some airlines intentions of charging for pillows and blankets. I have more “on the plane” tips in the second part of this post.
Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista says
Great list of tips. Flying is a big pain but a necessary part of most travel. When picking seats don’t be afraid to select a window and aisle with the center seat open. This way, maybe no one will select the center seat and you can always ask that person to switch with one of you so you can sit together. I have never met anyone that wouldn’t trade that center seat for a window or aisle!