26 Flying Travel Hacks

Check out these sick flying travel hacks so that traveling sucks less.

Ok, sometimes it’s the destination, not the journey. Globetrotting can be stressful, but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. I sat down with an incredibly well traveled friend (been to 61 countries!) and jotted down a few tips to make your flight and time at the airport suck less:

Thinking ahead…Some pre-departure tips:

1)Pre-order a vegetarian or vegan meal with your ticket if plane meat grosses you out.

Or, obvs, if you don’t eat meat. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but personally, I can never stomach the mysteriously cooked meat that comes with my plane meal. I’m pretty sure airlines don’t charge for special meals (ie, gluten free, Kosher, etc.), so take a page out of Orange is the New Black, and lie about your dietary requirements for a better plate. Oh, did I mention you get served your food first!

2) Confirm with airline 24 hours in advance for special meals or baggage.

If your gluten allergy slipped through the system somehow, there will be nothing they can do about it once you’ve taken off. For special baggage, like a surf board, it’s just good to confirm so that there are no problems when you arrive at the airport.

3) Get travel insurance.

Maybe you’re a risk taker and don’t think that you’ll need the insurance. However, I always think it’s good to have, and companies like World Nomads offer really affordable and comprehensive insurance that covers everything from trip cancellation to emergency dental. Your insurance is likely to reimburse you if your baggage is damaged on a flight if the airlines won’t, and they’ll even give you money if your baggage is lost or misdirected so you can buy new clothes while you wait for your baggage to arrive. I wish I had had this many times on a Eurotrip I took a few years back because Alitalia lost my luggage twice! The most frustrating instance was when I flew to Warsaw from Sicily and had a train immediately booked to take me to Krakow, so I couldn’t stick around the airport. I had to go out for drinks that night, sleep and do a day tour in my plane clothes before the airline finally delivered my bags to my hostel.

Travel insurance is also good if you are flying to or from remote locations where there are natural disasters or extreme weather, because flights often get canceled and airlines don’t always reimburse or reschedule you.

4) Always try to join a rewards club or frequent flyer program. 

You can get free tickets, bumped up to first class, or use your points to purchase things in flight. In addition, you often gain access to airport lounges (which you can usually pay something like $50 to enter anyway), which often include free food, drinks, coffee and wifi.

A friend of mine, Napoleon Streisand, is an absolute champ at getting rewards and miles. He traveled to all seven continents in four months and only accrued $241 in flight costs. He’s a fucking legend, and lucky for us all, he’s writing a book about his travels so we can all learn a thing or two. Check out his site here or watch his book trailer below.

Airport tips:

5)Check the baggage weight limits for each airline so you know how to pack.

That seems to go without saying, but suddenly you’re at the baggage drop off counter and the unfeeling stewardess tells you that your bag is 2 kilos over. Next thing you know, you’re crouched over your bag on the floor, trying to put on as much extra clothing as you can and stuffing whatever looks heavy into your carry on. While you should always check the weight limits, DEFINITELY keep this in mind if you’re flying with a budget airline, like AirAsia or Ryanair. These airlines usually only allow only 20 kg (44 lb) for checked baggage and 7 kg (15 lb) for carryon. (Ryanair allows 10 kg carryon, and you have to pay to check 15-20 kg of luggage.) You can always call ahead or change it online if you really feel that you are going to go over the limit.

If you are flying a budget airline, try to pack as many heavy things as you can in your carryon, for example, laptop, books, etc. If you can stuff it all in a small roll-on, duffle or backpack and walk past the stewardesses like it ain’t no thing, chances are they aren’t going to stop you to weigh the bag. Although they might make you try to shove it in some metal crate thing to see if it fits…

Check out this list of luggage restrictions by airline for more specific info.

6) Don’t lose your arrival and departure forms.

Even if they give you one for a layover somewhere. I had a layover in Thailand, and they made me go through immigration and stamped my passport and everything. Some countries are really strict about those forms, and they’ll hassle you even if you have stamps on your passport to prove when you entered the country.

I remember Peru being a particular pain in my ass. Every hostel needed to see my arrival form, which I lost, and I had to pay a fine on the Chilean border because I didn’t have the stupid thing.

7) Carry a pen.

Not just for your crossword puzzles and sudokus. There’s almost always some form to fill in. It sucks to make it to the front of the line at customs or immigration or wherever and you have to let others pass you because you didn’t have a pen and didn’t fill in your forms.

8) Don’t bother waiting on that line to board the plane.

You know how the second your flight starts boarding people with disabilities or pregnant ladies or old people, everyone else gets anxious and starts racing to get on line? Don’t be one of those idiots. It’s useless, unless you feel like standing, of course. The only time it makes sense to wait there like a cow for the slaughter is when you have a big carryon and you want to make sure you shove it into the cabin before a stewardess sees it and tries to make you check it. Or if it’s first come, first serve seating (Ryanair, again).

9) Don’t lose your boarding pass.

It has often been in my nature to throw away papers I don’t think I need (see tip 6). However, not many people know (or at least I didn’t know) that the little sticker that the flight attendant puts on the back of your boarding pass at checkout has a barcode on it that tracks your baggage. The first time Alitalia lost my baggage, it was much harder to find my luggage (or maybe the guy working at the lost baggage desk was just a dick) because they couldn’t track it via the barcode that I threw away unknowingly.

10) Check the departure board for your gate, even if your gate is written on the ticket.

Sometimes, your gate gets moved. They usually make an announcement about it, but you can’t always hear the accented, quick-talking flight attendant over the hum of the airport. As you walk to your gate, just do yourself a favor and check the scoreboard in case anything has changed so you don’t have to make a mad dash to the right gate after zoning out on your phone at the wrong one for an hour.

Tips for comfort on board:

11) Upon check-in, ask the flight attendant about emergency exit seating.

Unless you’ve picked your seat in advance, they don’t always have a seat assigned to you until you check in. That’s why the flight attendant will sometimes ask you if you’d like the window or the aisle (only happens if you’re there early enough, usually). If you like a bit of extra legroom, and really, who doesn’t, ask if there is any emergency exit seating available. It usually is, and you only have to worry about being a hero if the plane crashes, which Superman tells us isn’t all that likely, statistically speaking.

Alternatively, or in addition, if you’re on a long flight and aren’t the type to cozy up to the window and knock out for the whole ride, ask for an aisle seat so you’re not jumping over sleeping passengers every time you have to pee.

12) Always ask if you’re on a full flight.

You can either ask at the check in counter or once you’ve boarded. If it’s not a full flight, you may have the option of moving to an empty aisle, or even getting bumped up a class.

13) Never be afraid to ask to switch seats.

Maybe you’re seated next to a baby, or a loud douche bag, or a smelly one. You can always ask the flight attendants to move you. On a flight home from Israel, a young Orthodox Jewish man sat next to me. I smiled at him and said hello, and he responded by promptly turning to get the attention of a male flight attendant and asking if he could switch seats because his religion doesn’t allow him to sit next to a woman, or something.

14) Never assume the in flight entertainment will be sufficient.

Sure many airlines boast having in flight entertainment, and often you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the high quality and wide variety of entertainment offered (United Airlines is on point!) However, you might get stuck on an old plane with outdated entertainment, or worse, a throwback to the 90s, when one movie plays on a big screen for everyone, and every time the pilot makes an announcement, the movie starts from the beginning. The horror!!! Always plan ahead, whether that means stocking up your hard drive with downloaded movies and making sure your computer is fully charged, or bringing a book and some sudokus. Or some valium. Maybe eat a pot brownie first. Whatever does it for you.

15) You can ask for more food and drinks at the service station at any time.

Nobody wants to be that guy, but technically, the flight attendants cannot decline your request for more than that stupid tiny cup of water, or a few extra airplane snacks. It’s one thing if they’ve run out of meals, but there is almost always something extra to consume on board if you’re starving.

16) Almost every airline serves free booze on international flights.

Some even do it on domestic flights. Some only serve wine or beer, but most have a pretty stocked bar that you can get your hands on. You only need ask, because they will rarely offer. Check out this super helpful list of airlines that serve free alcohol.

17) Ask for a courtesy pack on long or international flights.

Now, they don’t all offer it anymore, especially if you’re in steerage with the unwashed masses. But every once in a while you get lucky and are handed a lovely pack with socks, toothpaste, toothbrush, and other generally refreshing items. If you’re traveling with children, you can also ask for games and activities like coloring books and crayons.

18) Bring your own courtesy pack.

You know those days that turn into multiple days where you’ve been on and off planes for 40 hours and you feel and look and smell like a dumpster. A quick refresher in the bathroom never hurt anybody. I like to pack a small tube of face wash, toothpaste and tooth brush, baby wipes, and a change of undies and socks.

19) Stay hydrated.

While many of us might like a glass of red to calm us of our flight jitters, keep in mind that you’ll feel that glass as if you downed three glasses up in the air. The air on planes is very dry, so it’s important to keep drinking water. I like to buy a giant bottle at the airport and bring it on with me so I don’t have to keep asking the flight attendants for drinks (Note: Flying out of Israel, you are often not allowed to take ANY liquids on flights, even if you bought them at the airport.) It’s also a good idea to use some sort of face and hand moisturizer if you’re on a long flight or if you’re a frequent flyer, as well as lip balm.

20) Keep moving.

According to the CDC, blood clots can form in your legs if you are sitting still in a confined space for more than 4 hours, so this means it can happen when you’re on a bus or a boat, as well. Your chances can increase if you are older, obese, on the pill, etc. Try to reduce your chances by getting up and walking every once in a while, or by doing some seat exercises to keep the blood flowing. For example, you can point and flex your feet, raise and lower your legs while keeping them in a right angle, or do shoulder shrugs. My mother recently bought me some compression socks that look sort of ridiculous and go up past my knee. She also insisted that I take baby Aspirin to thin my blood before long flights. I did the things, because Mom’s always right, right?

Compression socks and baby aspirin
Compression socks and baby Aspirin to combat blood clots on long flights

21) Pack extra socks, a blanket and a sweater. Maybe you’ve already thought of this, but there have been plenty of flights where I was freezing even though I was already in a sweatshirt and they gave me blankets. You never know, and remember, the blood isn’t running as smoothly to your lower extremities on a flight. So if you hate being cold, and you hate your feet being cold, pack some extra bits of cloth for comfort.

22) Bring a sleeping mask and earplugs. These should just be staples in your travel bags. Jet lag sucks, but if you can get some rest on the plane, you’ll be much happier for it later. If you’re lucky enough to have noise canceling head phones, those work better than earplugs on flights because your ears may be more sensitive to the change in cabin pressure and it’s just never good to be sticking things in your ears.

23) Chew gum, yawn and swallow to keep your ears from popping during takeoff. You can also equalize by moving your jaw or holding your nose closed and pushing air out of your ears. If you have a cold, it’s definitely a good idea to take a decongestion pill before you board, as well, because the pressure in your sinuses and blocking your ears could grow with the changing of cabin pressure.

Post-flight tips

24) If your baggage comes out of baggage claim damaged, contact the airline to see if they’ll compensate you. If you notice it while still at the airport, go immediately to your airline’s baggage service office to file a claim. Usually, if you were on a domestic flight, you have one day to show any damage to the airlines in person. If you flew international, you usually have about a week after the date of arrival to get in contact with your airline.

25) Contact your airline to see what you can get if you have a long/overnight layover. Before you decide to set up your sleeping bag in a cozy corner of the airport, check to see if your airline offers courtesy overnight accommodation for long layovers. Korean Air, for example, offers a nice free room in a hotel plus free transfers to and from the airport for layovers over 8 hours. Some companies just provide food vouchers, but again, it’s always worth asking!

26) Leave reviews for good flight attendants. It’s not every flight that you find yourself with a flight attendant who is happy to help you and goes the extra mile. Pay it forward by getting their name and going on the airline’s website to leave a good review. This could increase their chance of getting a pay raise or getting put in first class.


by Rebecca Bellan