How to Fly The Friendlier Skies
I’m not a serious business traveler, but I do fly an average of once a month due to my far-flung family and friends. Thus, I consider myself a reasonably savvy flier. Often as I wait in the security line or listen to an irate customer chewing out a desk agent, it occurs to me that people should have to pass some kind of test to be allowed to board an airplane.
Since the government is unlikely to start issuing licenses to passengers, the next best thing is educating the masses. In honor of the upcoming busiest travel day of the year, I present my guide to flying: How to Fly the Friendlier Skies.
(This guide specifically addresses concerns for flying domestically on the day before Thanksgiving and should not be considered totally helpful when flying abroad.)
DO book your ticket in advance and choose either an aisle or window seat. Middle seats are for suckers and children that need corralling. If you’re flying one of those airlines where you can’t choose a seat until you get to the airport… best of luck with that.
DO NOT ask someone to swap with you because you don’t like the middle seat/ you don’t fit in the middle seat/ you want to sit with your friend or significant other and your seat happens to be the middle seat. Someone else should not suffer because you didn’t plan ahead.
DO arrive at the airport 2 hours early. Some people are going to say this is ridiculous and you don’t need that much time. I know my advice seems extreme, but you will never be stressed about missing your flight if you get there early. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong when you leave it to the last minute. You can leave less time if you live in a smaller city, but sometimes those security lines are the worst. Whatever. I’m not your mom. Do what you want.
DO NOT ask everyone to let you to the front of the line when you arrive 30 minutes before your flight. Everyone else is trying to catch their flights too. We may allow you to skip us because we’re nice, but we are secretly shooting laser eyes at your back and hoping you miss your flight. You may only ask other people to accommodate you if you are in danger of missing the last minutes of a loved one’s life. Don’t bother trying to force your way to the front because the security folks are watching like hawks for abnormal behavior.
DO wear loose-fitting and comfortable clothes. Layer. Flights are always cold and I guarantee someone will turn their air vent so that it blows on you. Plus, you will swell while in flight and your tight pants will feel like sausage-casings. Think comfy jeans, cardigans, close toed shoes, and light scarves. Plus, if you’re going from a cold climate to a warm climate or vice verse, you will be glad to shed or gain layers as needed.
DO consider your footwear carefully. I strongly suggest slip on shoes (Toms for the win!), and I urge the wearing of socks because you will have to go barefoot on the icky airport floor. That said, if you need to wear boots during your trip, it’s a tactical move to wear them in flight to free up packing space. This is a personal choice that you must make for yourself.
If you choose to wear complicated shoes, DO NOT linger around the conveyor belt while you put them on again. There are people coming behind you and the trays are bumping into each other. Grab your things and then go sit on one of the benches the airport so helpfully places near the security check. Get organized.
DO NOT wear booty shorts, athletic shorts, formal shorts, micro-minis, shoes with heels, shoes that make sounds, shoes with complicated laces, strapless dresses, 90s-era lycra dresses, dirty tank tops, tons of jewelry, anything you would wear to a dance club, metal of any kind, or heavy perfume/cologne. I know you want to look good when you get off the plane because chances are you are meeting someone you want to impress, but your flight will be agonizing and lululemon pants will do great things for your rear anyway. (Note: Dudes should not wear lululemon.) A helpful guideline is to consider what you might want to be wearing if you crash-land on a mysterious island and might need to run from errant polar bears. Would you like to be wearing 3 inch heels and a zebra print skirt in this situation? No you would not.
DO NOT make jokes about weapons you may be concealing or other possible nefarious plots. It’s not funny. You will not make it to your flight.
DO remove all metal, empty your pockets, and take off your shoes/watch when going through security. I know you see the numerous signs asking you to do this. I know you see everyone around you shrugging off their shoes and pulling change out of their pockets. You too will go through the metal detectors, so don’t act like this is surprising. You are not a special unicorn.
DO look alive while going through the checkpoint. DO NOT daydream until you have to walk through the metal detector and then scramble to remove all contraband. Have your shoes half off, take your bag of liquids out, put your laptop in a separate tray, and take off your coat. (Yes, that’s right. You have to remove your coat. You might be a terrorist. I don’t know you.)
DO NOT have a tantrum about going through that machine where someone can allegedly see all your naughty bits. They see literally 1000s of bodies a day. You just can’t worry about it too much. Until they tell us the machine causes cancer, thank your chosen deity that this machine offers some added safety and prevents pat downs for those of us with metal rods in our backs. We DO NOT think it is funny when the security staff don’t believe us and think we have weapons hidden down our shirts. I had surgery when I was 18! It happens! Don’t look at me like I’m a criminal!
DO choose the security line filled with business people. That other line may look shorter, but do you see the family of 5? What about the dude carrying the oversized bag and sporting a dozen piercings? For the shortest wait, look for people traveling alone that also look professional. They will zip through like woah, and so will you.
DO check a bag if you have to carry liquids over 3 oz. Also check a bag if your bag is really too big to go in the overhead bin but you just really hate the baggage fee and waiting for your bag at the baggage claim. Your bag will not magically shrink because you despise these things. When you get on the plane and it won’t fit and you start bitching and moaning about how unfair it is, nobody will have sympathy for you and we will all exchange looks and form an unspoken alliance against you. When the plane crashes, we will give you to The Others. Oh, you may also want to check a bag if you are like me and hate lifting your bag over your head, feel really anxious about what will happen if you get on the plane and there’s no spots left in the overhead, and fear standing around looking desperate while the flight crew gives you annoyed looks.
DO NOT pitch a fit in the security line when they tell you that your liquids can’t go on the plane with you because they are too big. I don’t care that the last airport didn’t catch it. I don’t care that you paid a bajillion dollars for your magic serum that makes your skin look like Cate Blanchett’s. You’ve been watching the news the past 10 years. You know the world we are in. Don’t carry the liquids. Check your issues at the door and your bag at the desk, drama queen.
DO pack your cell phone charger in your carry on. My dad always says that you can get any where you need to be if you have your passport and a credit card. In these modern times, I would add cell phone and therefore cell charger to that list.
Also, DO NOT give the security folks or airline employees a hard time. If you’re really being mistreated, then be assertive but not nasty. Try to remember these people are doing their jobs and they would rather be at home with their own families on the holiday. Their day is like 90x worse than yours because they’re missing holiday fun and they have to deal with 1000s of angry and entitled travelers. They can’t make the weather better, they can’t make aircrafts bigger, and they can’t make exceptions for your carry on because you really need it. Smile and be gracious. They’re more likely to want to help the nice folks, and I once got a free drink card for a Delta flight because I smiled at the weary desk agent.
As a follow-up, DO be extra nice to the gate agent. Sometimes your attitude with them can make all the difference. One of my friends bought the gate agent a Coke and got bumped to an earlier flight. Another friend volunteered for a late flight and then got bumped to business class instead. Kindness counts and being a juicebox will not get you what you want.
If you’re at an airport where you have to walk a long way or take the train from the security lines to your gate, DO choose to walk when you have the time in your schedule. You’ll be sitting for a long time and it’s good exercise. And you won’t feel bad about that cheeseburger you’re about to destroy.
If your airport has those moving sidewalks, DO NOT board them and then just stand in the middle. They are actually supposed to help you move faster, not contribute to your general laziness. If you don’t want to walk because you have medical reasons or just have hours to kill, move to the right hand side so that other passengers can move past you.
DO embrace unhealthy food. I know you’re trying to be good and eat the salad, but it’s usually a completely anemic and disgusting salad or just as unhealthy as the burger you actually want to eat. Just eat what you want because if your flight crashes, this will be your last meal. If you insist upon being healthy, you can usually find snack bars in most of the airport gift shops.
DO get into the Sky Lounge or other airline equivalent if you have the means. Free drinks, warm cookies, and wifi. This is how the other half lives.
DO NOT spread out over 3 seats in the waiting area for your flight. Do you see the folks hanging around the edge of the gate looking harassed? They need a seat more than your purse does.
DO treat the hallways in the airport like a roadway: slower traffic moves to the right and everyone moves out of the way when you hear beeping and see flashing lights.
DO NOT amble down the center of the hallway like a confused cow blocking traffic in a farm town. DO NOT suddenly stop in the middle and check your phone. Usually people in airports are in a hurry, so be aware that someone walking behind you will probably run you over if you’re not careful.
DO be kind to people with small children. I know, I know. We all dread sitting next to the crying infant, but the parent usually can’t help it and is usually mortified by the ruckus caused by their bundle of joy. Sometimes they can’t avoid air travel and they will spend the whole flight dreading dirty diapers and inconsolable crying. Try to be patient and remember that you were once very small too. As a follow up, DO bring headphones.
If you are a parent, DO be mindful of your little one. We can all be understanding about a kid that is cranky, hungry, dirty, etc, but that doesn’t mean you have license to take a nap and ignore your toddler while he or she kicks the seat and races up and down the aisle. As long as you’re trying, no one can fault you. But I will write angry letters to you in my head if you’re laughing while your kid continually pops his head over the seat to pet my hair (TRUE STORY).
DO NOT get drunk before or during your flight. Not only is this annoying to the people who are sitting around you, but it’s not very good for your body. The flight will de-hydrate you and make you feel ill. Have a cocktail at the airport bar. Shoot, have two if you’re getting them for free at the Sky Lounge. But don’t over do it. If it’s a long flight, choose water when the flight attendants come around and you’ll feel less gross when you land.
DO limit your liquid intake and go to the bathroom right before your flight. If you have to go during the flight, it’s okay, but you want to avoid it if you can. There could be snakes.
When they are boarding your flight, DO wait until they call your zone. This is controversial, I know. Some people say that you should sneak on as soon as possible to guarantee your bag gets stowed overhead. Personally, I’m a rule follower and some airlines are pretty nasty about it.
DO NOT crowd around the gate in a hostile scrum, making it impossible for people whose zones have been called to figure out where the line is. You will get on the plane, I promise. Just wait your turn.
DO get out of the aisle on the airplane as soon as possible. DO NOT linger in the aisle, futzing with your sweater or trying to find the right book. Store your bag and get out of the way. Other people are trying to board.
DO NOT try to make deep conversation with the stranger sitting next to you. Sure, pleasantries are nice. If we crash-land on a mystery island, I want to make sure you’ll help me survive so I’m all for forming a team. But, let’s be superficial here. Hardly anyone wants to talk for more than about 2 minutes, and I’m reluctant to tell a total stranger where I’m from and what part of town I live in. Exception: if you are an attractive, smart, witty, successful straight male between the ages of 30 and 35, you are permitted to talk to me. Also excepted: Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, Emma Stone, Anna Kendrick or one of the other famous women with whom I want to be best friends.
DO NOT hum, whistle, sing, have loud personal conversations, laugh like a hyena, play a noisy video game, or otherwise behave in a manner that assumes you are the only person on the flight and the people around you cannot see or hear you. We can see and hear you. And we hate you.
If you are very tall, a little large in general, or otherwise take up more room than the average person, I have sympathy for you, but please DO NOT crowd into my seat. Aim for an aisle seat so you can spread out.
If you are on an aisle, DO be mindful of the drink cart. It will clip your elbow as it passes you and those flight attendants absolutely DO NOT care.
DO remember this: All is fair in love, war, and claiming the arm rest. Act early and stake your claim.
DO bring a book or magazine to read, the trashier the better. If you have a fancy e-reader, remember that you can’t turn it on during take off and landing, so you may want something else to read during that time.
When the plane is taxi-ing for take off, DO NOT obsess over the fact that most planes crash during take off and landing. DO NOT think of all the things in your life that you still haven’t done and ponder how fast you will burn alive and if your mother will have to identify you. DO NOT fixate on whether you will just be vaporized. DO NOT wonder if it will make the nightly news. DO NOT worry that you won’t go to heaven because God knows that you only pray during a crisis.
DO bring mints or gum if you’re really concerned about your ears popping. If you fly often, this probably won’t bother you much. If you have kids, they will love this and you’ll be a winner.
If you choose to bring a device that plays videos, this should go without saying, but DO bring headphones. Also, DO expect everyone around you to pretend like they just happen to be looking in your direction when they are really trying to watch your video and figure out what it is.
DO NOT expect the flight to have blankets, pillows, playing cards, etc. That was a golden age that has passed. Pour one out for Pan Am.
DO NOT make the whole flight land and miss their travel plans because you are nervous about flying and flip out on the flight attendant and demand to be let off the plane. (another TRUE STORY) You know your limits and holiday travel is especially important to everyone else on the plane. Now is not the time to face your demons.
DO NOT put your coat in the overhead bin. That space is needed for carry on luggage and you probably want to use it as a make shift blanket or pillow anyway.
DO NOT be the person that boards with 5 bags dangling from your arms. Come on, man. Be cool.
DO commandeer the microphone and sing to us if you are Adam Sandler and you need to propose to Drew Berrymore.
When the plane lands, DO NOT immediately unbuckle and try to get up. Remember that “Fasten Seat Belt” light? It is still lit. We are not done moving. Sit tight.
DO, however, turn on your cell phone. That is allowed when you touch down and you need to look busy and important. DO NOT forget that you are surrounded by a hundred other people and they can hear every word you say. You should probably text if you can.
Also, I’ve noticed a disturbing new trend where people rush to the front of the plane as soon as the seatbelt light goes off. This is not the proper way to deplane. Unless the flight attendant requests that people with connecting flights be allowed off first, DO wait for your turn to exit. The plane unloads back to front and each row files out in order. Everyone is trying to get some where and your plans are not more important. If you want to get off first, book ahead and sit in front.
DO be considerate and aware of your surroundings and generally follow rules.
DO NOT be an entitled douche canoe.
It’s very simple, really. Have a lovely Thanksgiving and travel safe!
Thanks to Ann, Eric, CK, Jenny, and Dave for their suggestions.