Plan your flight
Join a Frequent Flier Program
Airline loyalty programs offer benefits like free flights and upgrades. It is not easy to reach a silver, gold or platinum status, but once you do, you get plenty of perks like priority boarding, preferential check-in, extra baggage allowance and access to the lounge. So enroll and gather miles (check all the other ways to gather miles through the airlines partners, such as hotels, stores or credit cards).
Aim at having one loyalty card for each of the major progams (One World, Star Alliance and Skyteam).
Fact #1: Flights are fuller and seats smaller
The statistics from the major US airlines show us that the seats have grown tighter with less legroom (from an average of 32.75 inches in 1985 to 31.25 in. in 2014 or 83.2 to 79.4 cm), They are also narrower today they average 17.1 inches (43.4 cm) while in the 1990s they were 19 inches or more (48.3 cm).
And more people are flying, the Passenger Load has grown from around 67-71% in the mid 1990s to 84% in 2013 -and this is the average, so it means that most flights are 100% full. Fuller flights: longer boarding times, shortage of space in overhead bins for carry-on luggage and more in-flight "friction".
Better seats, what you can do:
- See if seats with more legroom are available on board (emergency exits rows or bulkhead seats for instance - and you have no "recliner" sitting in front of you), you may have to pay more for them though.
- Upgrade using your frequent flyer program or consider a "Premium Economy Option" which may fit your budget.
- Confirm your seat as fast as possible that way you can choose one that suits your needs.
Seats behind the wings, to the rear of the plane are noisier (those jet engines!), but the first rows in economy, close to the bulkhead are where the infants will be traveling (nothing worse than a baby crying all night on a long flight).
An aisle seat is comfortable because it let's you get up and walk about as many times as you want to, without bothering your fellow passengers, but, when those on your row, middle seat or window seat need to go to the toilet, they will wake you up to do so. Window seating lets you rest your head against something solid but, you will have to bother the passengers sitting next to you to reach the aisle.
Sitting in the back of the plane means you will be the first cabin passengers to board (after those given priority: passengers travelling with small children, frequent flyers and certain card holders) you will also be the last to deplane.
Check where the restrooms are located and chose your seat so that you are not close to one (there is a lot of passenger traffic to and from the toilets) and queues may form, chatting people will keep you awake or distract you. Try SeatGuru.com to see the locations of seats in all types of planes and airlines.
Below we give you some tips for Feeling comfy in that tiny seat.
Tips for the flight
1. Bring a healthy snack
Onboard meals for economy passengers are not very good. I usually bring my own snacks with me (cereal bars, dried fruits or nuts, bar of chocolate) and when I must eat a meal on a long haul flight I choose a Gluten Free Meal because it always includes a salad, and fresh fruit and it doesn't have any pasta.
2. Keep your Seatbelt Fastened
Always buckle up: your seatbelt should be fastened at all times, you can wear it loosely but buckled so it does not bother you. Turbulence during a flight can happen at any time: This CNN post tells us that in May 2017 "At least 27 passengers were injured when an Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Bangkok, Thailand, hit severe air turbulence".
Keep buckled until the plane has come to a complete stop at the terminal building. A sharp braking of the craft will send those who jump up to grab their carry on luggage flying down the aisle. It happens, frequently.
3. Skip the Booze
When the trolley comes up the aisle, skip the alcohol and take water instead. Also avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea or cola sodas (i.e. Coke, Pepsi). Caffeine and alcohol are diuretic, meaning you will urinate more and therefore dehydrate more. The cabin is already a very low-humidity environment so you should avoid losing more water.
4. Be polite when reclining your seat
Know the rules regarding reclining your seat: keep it upright during take-off, landing and when onboard meals are served. The rest of the time you can recline your seat.
There have been some mid-flight episodes of "Recline Rage" because the passenger behind the reclining one gets upset at this disruption of his already limited space. So, if you intend to recline your seat, be polite and turn around just to see if its clear and make eye contact (or even smile) with your fellow passenger before pressing the recline button.
5. Manage your Jet Lag
Flying across several time zones disrupts your body's natural clock. So try these simple remedies:
- Your goal is to adapt to the local time as soon as possible, so change your clock to the destination time zone as soon as you board your flight.
- Avoid stimulants like alcohol and coffee at least 3 to 4 hours before going to sleep.
- Upon arrival eat lightly and keep hydrated.
- Don't stay indoors: Walk in the sunshine to reset your biological clock to the new time zone. Try not to sleep or nap during daytime.
- Sleep at night: use ear plugs and set your alarm clock to wake up.
6. Pack your own in-flight amenity kit
Unless you fly first or business class, you will probably not get an onboard complimentary amenity kit on your flight -economy class amenity kits are very rare nowadays.
But, on some flights -when I upgrade or if I book business because there is no economy class options, I manage to get my hands on one of them and salvage the items that I need (the packed towelette, tooth brush, toothpaste and the eye shades) and use them to replenish my stock for my own onboard amenity kit, which by the way is much better than those prepacked ones you get on board.
The sole purpose of an amenity kit is to make your flight experience better. Planes are cramped, uncomfortable and the in-flight conditions are harsh.
Fact #2: Bacteria in an aircraft
I do recommend that you get up and stretch your legs, walk down the aisle to the rear toilets. When you use them, wash your hands there with the liquid soap and water and also use hand sanitizing wipes which kill off the bacteria on the latch, flush button and faucet (I also use them to wipe the tray table on my seat. Read on below):
A study by Travelmath.com took samples from flights in the US and reported the dirtiest places on a plane (measuerd in "colony-forming units" or CFUs per square inch):
- Tray table: 2,155
- Overhead air vents: 285
- Lavatory flush buttons: 265
- Seatbelt buckles: 230
- Bathroom stall locks: 70
Your seat is dirtier because washrooms are cleaned more frequently -on every flight- than the tables or the seats which are scrubbed less often. Do note that these samples did not report potentially infectious strains such as fecal bacteria (E. coli for instance).
If you tink that it sounds bad, compare the aircraft's environment with your home; these are average values reported by a NSF study:
- Faucet handle: 18,100
- Kitchen countertop: 361
- Toilet seat: 172
- Cellphone: 27
- Money: 5
So it is a good idea to carry some wet towels in your amenity kit.
7. Freshen up and take care of mouth hygiene
Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. These are lightweight and there’s nothing like brushing your teeth after a long haul flight. Remember to pack a small bottle with mouthwash, but not more than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or the security check will discard it.
8. Combat cabin dryness
Visit our page on Why does flying wear you out?, where we explain how the very dry air inside the cabin harms your body. So it is important that you keep your skin moisturized (some hand cream will serve the purpose), and don't forget about your lips (lip balm) and eyes (a small dropper of Visine will play the trick).
9. How to feel comfortable in that tiny seat
During long flights your feet will swell because fluids build up in your lower legs, ankles and feet. So take of your shoes as soon as you get on board and let your feet relax. For short flights (less than three hours) I choose a pair of cozy socks, they keep my feet warm and give them "breathing-space". Long haul flights are a different matter. Compression socks can help reduce the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis and minimize swollen ankles (learn more about Avoiding clotting and swelling).
Temperature can be an issue on flights: Some are too hot, others are too cold, temperature changes from one part of the plane to another and rarely is it comfortable. Usually the airplane blanket is enough to keep warm so I don't usually wear a sweater on board. I wear a long-sleeved shirt which lets me roll the sleeves up or down according to the temperature and it has the bonus of a pocket to place my reading glasses.
Eye shade or eye mask for overnight flights. I always carry one, though you can buy them online too.
I also wear a wide headband (around my neck) it keeps me warm, it can also serve as an eye shade.
Noise can be an issue so you can reduce it with earplugs or noise-canceling headphones: the prices range from almost $200 for the Bose Quiet 25 headphones to barely 36¢ per pair for simple silicone earplugs with a cord like the ones I use.
In case you didn't know, the Active Noise-Canceling headphones use microphones that "listen" to the background noise, analyize it and create a counter-signal that neutralizes the unwanted outside noise. You can use them without having to play any tracks, and relish in the silence they create.
To sleep better, avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, cafeinated beverages like sodas) and keep clear of alcohol. Sip a cup of chamomile or linden tea instead -they are natural sedatives.
You can toss into your kit a small deodorant cream (you can carry any deodorant on board as long as it is less than 3.4 ounces - 100 ml and in a ziploc type bag).
My full kit
This is what I carry in my amenity kit:
- A small led flashlight that works on an AAA battery
- Mint flavored chewing gum
- Mini Ballpoint Pen (to fill in customs forms or migration forms)
- Small tooth brush and tooth paste
- Aspirin (a strip)
- Small plastic bag
- Foldable plastic spoon & fork
- Reusable silicon corded ear plugs
- Lifesaving Braided Rope Tactical Wrist Band with whistle (I bought this in Canada on a whim)
- Stainless Steel Telescopic Collapsible Cup (75 ml) -a souvenir from Lucerne, Switzerland
- tiny padlock
- Dental floss
- Adhesive bandages (Band-Aid)
- eye shade
- Tea bag and Non-dairy creamer pack
- lip balm
- Magnifying glass
- Tiny packed bar of soap
The inflight kit is completed with three more items:
- Water bottle
- Wide headband
I use an old Air France business class pouch which is lightweight, compact, has one large compartment and a good zipper. You can use any of the nylon pouches for sale (this one is transparent).
10. Top Tip: Water!
Hydrate! Drink water before boarding.
For in-flight hydration try this trick: You can't carry a bottle of water through the security screening, but you can bring an empty one with you in your carry on luggage. Just fill it up at the water fountain after going through the security check. On board stick it into the seat pocket.