109 years ago, the first airplane, invented by the Wright brothers, rose into the air and landed safely. Just eleven years later, the first airliner—or passenger airplane—took flight, changing the world in significant ways. The airplane and airport have featured prominently in many of our lives, and its status and operations have changed significantly. Airplanes used to be the height of luxury; people would don their Sunday best and look forward to flying. In fact, airplanes were so popular for a while that in 1948 Edward Brown, Jr. invented a fly-in theater, where those who owned small planes could travel to Asbury Park, New Jersey, taxi up their airplane, and watch a movie.
Nowadays this is not the case. The airport is a hectic place; trips are stressful. You always seem to get a crying baby on your flight, they change your gate four times, and the food is overpriced. So you need to be prepared, because when you are prepared, flying can be a nice experience again. Here are some tips to make that happen.
- Choosing your flight: Choosing your flight will all depends on your own preferences and needs as a traveler. Red-eyes are good for sleeping. Having layovers is cheaper but space your layovers well. Don’t leave less than an hour between a landing time and a new departure time and try to stay on the same airline. If you miss a flight because your first flight has arrived late, you may be shuffled between airlines as they try to get you to your final destination.
- Choosing your seat: If you are lucky enough to choose an airline which lets you choose your seat prior to your trip, plan accordingly. Seats at the front have you boarding last but exiting the plane first. Aisle seats have the disadvantage of knocked elbows and people climbing over you to use the restroom, but they have a bit more room. Avoid middle seats. Window seats are coveted for the view, but they’re also great if you want to rest your head against the wall, but you do have to climb over people to get to the restroom.
- Dress comfortably and prepared: There is nothing more irritating than the person in front of you at the security gate who wore a belt and a watch, shoes that need untying, a jacket that needs taking off, and pants with pockets filled with loose change, cell phones, and other odds and ends. Instead, you want speed and efficiency. Bring a light jacket for the plane but keep it in your carry-on until you pass through the gates, or tie it around your waist. Slip off shoes are recommended. Typically I wear something light but that fully covers my arms and legs: well-fitting jeans and a comfy t-shirt.
- Suitcases with wheels over duffle bags: If you not checking luggage, this is a must. If you are checking luggage, I’d still recommend the wheels. Wheels are just plain convenient.
- Carry-on luggage:Preferably one with front pockets for you to keep the odds and ends you’ll be accessing often in the airport on the plane. Here you can keep your ticket, food, your mp3 player/phone, your ID, etc. If you have two carry-on items, put the items you’ll be using most in the carry-on that will fit underneath the seat in front of you so you don’t have to get into the overhead bin. In your carry-on luggage bring something to entertain you. Also recommended is a spare change of clothes, just in case your luggage doesn’t make it with you to your destination. I also keep all my chargers in my carry-on so I’m not stuck with any dead electronics. Most airports have plug-ins around the gates. DO NOT pack liquids over 3 oz, food that isn’t prepackaged or is opened, nail clippers, tweezers, or basically anything sharp. Extra recommendations: ear plugs, eye covers for sleeping, and something soft to rest your head on if you plan to sleep on the plane.
- Airport arrival: An hour to and hour and a half before departure time is recommended for arrival.
- To check or not to check?: Not checking a bag has pros and cons. The pro is that once you’re off the plane, you don’t have to wait around at baggage claim and you know nothing’s going to get lost. You save money, but you also have significantly less space. Carry-on luggage must fit in the overhead compartment. If you check a suitcase, you get a carry on plus a personal item. Sometimes it’s worth it to spend that extra $25, if you’re planning on staying for a long time and need a lot of clothes, or if you’re planning on coming back with more than you came with, such as souvenirs or gifts.
- Checking in: Have your confirmation number and ID/passport ready. You can either work with an attendant or do self-check in. I prefer to work with the attendant if I am checking a bag, as you’re going to have to meet up with one anyway to take your bag; however, the screen check-in is simple and effective, too.
- At the security gate: Your ID and your ticket should be out and ready to go before you get to the person that’s going to check it off with the pen. Don’t put it away immediately; I always find myself pulling it out to triple-check my gate, and you’re allowed to hold your ticket and ID as you pass through security. Laptops should be easy to access because you’re going to need to pull them out and put them in a separate bin. Your shoes, jacket, and all metal items and accessories will have to be pulled out as well.
- Food: Do not buy food on the airplane. It comes in small quantities with low taste-value and it costs too much. Usually I don’t want to pack around something in my carry-on, so I eat at the airport food court. But if you’re traveling at night, many food courts are closed. Bring a snack, but save the water and soda to buy once you’re through the gate—you’ll have to throw it away anyway.
- Patience: I wait until my boarding group number is called before I shuffle over to wait in line. I don’t stand up when the plane lands until there’s actually space for me to ease out into the aisle. I don’t rush to baggage claim because I know my baggage isn’t going to be there for another 10-15 minutes. The more patient I make myself, the more relaxed everything feels.