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Airplane Travel Tips

Don't take sleep aids until you're in the air - Airplane tip

Though it may seem appealing to sleep through those long waits on the tarmac, avoid the temptation to take a sleep aid until you're up in the air.

You may miss important announcements, or, worse yet, you may be asked to disembark and wait for a later plane.

If you plan to take a sleep aid, be sure to take a seat where you are less likely to block in other passengers, like a window seat or a middle seat. Your fellow passengers don't want to climb over your dead weight in the middle of the night.

[Photo: Flickr | mirjoran]

Swap shelves in airport bookstores - Airplane tip

I've been noticing swap shelves in airport bookstores lately. Store owners are starting to encourage frequent fliers to leave a book and take a book. This helps you get fresh reading material for free (or cheap) and lightens your load of a book you're done with.

A few airports, like Portland International, have used bookstores where someone has undoubtedly just sold back that bestseller you wanted, and you can pick it up for less than full price.

Alternatively, check out The Paradies Shops: they let you return a book you bought within 6 months and receive half your money back.

[Photo: Flickr | jrodmanjr]

Wear sunglasses during the flight - Airplane tip

My problem with flying stems from having really bad seatmates -- the kind that read over your arm, nudge and kick you endlessly, and take eons to mess around with their luggage. And I'd sit and grit my teeth in silence.

The solution is shockingly simple: about a year ago, I accidentally wore my sunglasses the entire time we were on the plane, and I noticed my seatmate was courteous, but left me alone. One more flight confirmed it: no more eye contact means my bad neighbors leave me alone unless absolutely necessary. I can finally fly in peace.

[Photo: Flickr | Robert Thomson]

Making multiple stops? Get a map of the airport - Airplane tip

When your airline trip involves multiple stops, a little research before you leave will reduce frustration during the time you switch from one plane to the next.

Visit the website of the airport you will be changing planes at and print out a map of the terminal. When faced with a short time to get from one concourse to the next you will find a map to be very helpful.

In addition to your investigation of the airport layout, you should also identify shops and restaurants that interest you in the event that your layover time becomes lengthy.

Pro tip: add the Gate Guru app to your smart phone.

[Photo: Flickr | James Cridland]

Don't grab the seat in front of you - Airplane tip

During your next flight, be considerate of the passenger in front of you. When settling down into -- or, getting out of -- your seat, don't grab the seat in front of you for leverage.

Nothing is more startling (or, annoying) than to suddenly feel your seat rock backwards because the passenger seated in the row behind you couldn't just use the armrest.

Stop getting sick when you fly - Airplane tip

Forget buying expensive products that promise to keep you healthy when you fly. This simple, but unglamorous trick, prevents me from getting sick every time.

Before I head to the airport, I put a generous amount of antibiotic ointment on a cotton swab and then coat the inside of my nose. It creates a barrier for the germs and keeps my nose from becoming dry and irritated while breathing the recycled air in the plane.

(Of course, I have no medical proof, but I never get sick after flying when I remember to do this.)

Have an airplane raffle - Airplane tip

Last year on our flight to Las Vegas, I asked several of the other passengers if they would like to partake in a drawing for a chance to win money before landing in Vegas.

Several passengers were interested, so we got a trash bag and a marker, and each passenger that wanted to play wrote their seat number on a dollar bill and placed it in the trash bag.

After asking everyone if they wanted to play, we had a young passenger draw one of the dollars from the bag and that person won all the cash.

Check behind you before reclining your seat - Airplane tip

Airline space seems tighter than ever. Before you recline your seat, make sure you warn the passenger behind you.

Broken computer screens, spilled drinks and bruised knees are just a few of the hazards of what is supposed to be a relaxing seat position. Done properly, the seat will recline without slamming your back against it.

If you decide to nap, don't turn it into a bed. Rolling over in your seat or shifting positions abruptly while the seat is reclined will launch anything on the tray table behind you.

Be aware -- and be courteous!

Think overnight spa instead of red-eye stress - Airplane tip

Most people like to travel during the day, but I prefer to take the night flight and pamper myself. In my carry-on, I pack an eye mask, ear plugs, soothing music on my iPod, my fuzziest socks, and a journal.

As we start off, I order a glass of wine and write down my thoughts about the trip, and the top three things I have to do while I am there to feel like I experienced the place.

Then I sit back, listen to my music, wearing my eye mask and fuzzy socks. Before you know it, we have landed, and I am refreshed and ready to explore.

Drink lots of water! - Airplane tip

Most of us underestimate how much water we should consume on a daily basis, but we should not overlook it on the day of a flight!

Water works wonders when it comes to off-setting jet lag. It hydrates and promotes mental clarity. It also helps with fatigue, dizziness and lightheadedness, all common symptoms when we fly.

The best part is: water is free when you're on board, and you can order as much as you need.

Pro tip: purchase a bottle after you've arrived at your gate, and you won't have to ask for water on the flight.

How to really save money on airline tickets - Airplane tip

While some people espouse the virtues of "cheap tickets" service, I've found that those sites actually add quite a lot of taxes and fees on top of standard airline tickets. What they are useful for is finding out exactly what airlines are offering flights and when.

Look at the list of all flights going to the destination, and pick a time and airline company you want to go with. Then book tickets directly through the airline themselves.

Not only is it cheaper to book directly, but often, it can clue you into deals they may have going for booking in advance, or on a certain day.

Use airplane aromatherapy - Airplane tip

Obese fliers, crying babies and ever-shrinking legroom get lots of press, but the stinky guy is a frequent flier's worst nightmare. While a good book and your favorite music can distract from the physical discomfort of flying, sitting next to or even near to something with very strong body odor can be downright nauseating.

Travel pros come prepared. I carry Origins Peace of Mind on planes and dab a bit under my nose to block unpleasant odors. Unlike dousing yourself in strong perfume, the scent won't bother your neighbors. In a pinch, alternatives include Vapor-Rub, essential oils and pulse-point creams.

Use AirNinja to search low-cost international carriers - Airplanes tip

Looking for a cheap flight in a far-away place? Most low-cost carriers (like Southwest in the US) don't list or sell their fares through aggregator websites (like Expedia and Travelocity) -- you need to book directly with the airline.

To find out what low-cost carriers fly between any two given cities, check out AirNinja. They let you enter in your starting airport (and a destination, if desired), and show what low-cost airlines have departures from that airport and where they go, complete with links out to the airline's own site for booking. And it's free!

Spend five minutes talking to your seatmate - Airplane tip

We're accustomed to two extremes: the gregarious seatmate who talks through the whole flight, and the one who has his eyes closed from the start. Most of us prefer the latter, but we may be cheating ourselves out of a business contact or an interesting story.

In my opinion, here's the best greeting to use to help find that middle ground:

Hi. Nice sitting with you. Would you mind giving me five minutes about you, then we can each read/work/listen to music/sleep, having had our lives enriched by knowing another interesting person.

You never know, you may wish you had a longer flight.

Avoid conversations by wearing headphones - Airplane tip

Sick of hearing about a stranger's dysfunctional family or odd medical conditions? Avoid conversations all-together by doing a simple thing: wear headphones.

This works best if you also avoid eye contact (and it may be necessary to pretend that you don't hear you fellow passengers the first time they speak). Pull your headphones off when speaking to them and then put the headphones back on when the chit-chat is over.

In reality, it doesn't even matter if the headphones are plugged in. The other passengers just need to believe they are.

Get an empty seat next to you - Airplane tip

Here's your best shot at getting that coveted empty seat.
  1. Book a seat close to the back of the plane. Most airlines and bookers fill the seats at the front of the plane first, leaving more empty space in the back.
  2. Don't choose the last row, though, as often times these seats don't recline.
  3. Don't choose an exit row seat (these tend to fill up) or a row of three that's completely empty (lots of people travel in pairs).
  4. Finally, make sure to re-checkin at the airport kiosk to see if any more desirable spaces have opened up.
Have fun spreading out!

Lose the luggage, get a ruck sack - Airplane tip

Now that most airlines charge to check your bags, more people are opting to carry their luggage onto planes. However, not much fits in your typical carry-on. To maximize your carry-on capacity and still fit your bag in the overhead compartment, take a tip from the U.S. Army. Trade your rolling luggage for an army surplus Ruck Sack.

A Ruck Sack offers plenty of pockets and lots of room for your belongings. They're also durable and easy to sling across your shoulders. Look for a pack with an internal back frame to better support the load.

Check historical on-time ratings - Airlines tip

The uncertainty of flight delays can be nerve-wracking. Will you make that 40 minute layover... or will you be stuck in Newark for half the day? An alchemy of time of day, current weather, and the airports involved determine your fate.

You can obsessively check, but can't really predict, weather. The other factors, however, are a little easier to figure out ahead of time. Sites like the well-regarded FlightStats.com offer historical on-time performance for most routes. Punch in your flight info, and you'll be rewarded with average delays and details on past performance.

Maybe, now, you can relax.

Maybe.

Get upgraded to first class for free - Airplane tip

Work for a company that will only reimburse coach fares? Book a full-fare economy class ticket with a Y booking code.

Commonly referred to as "Y-up" tickets, travelers with a Y booking code may request complimentary upgrade to first class seating. Airlines created the Y booking code to get around tighter corporate travel policies, while still catering to their most lucrative passenger segment.

Hey, gate lice -- stop crowding the gate - Airplane tip

Your seats are reserved. There's no circulating air until the plane takes off, and even if you're the first person on the plane, you're going to be hot, you're going to have to move, and you're going to get elbowed -- and maybe get luggage dropped on you. Also, if you're not the first person to board, you're going to spend 20 minutes slowly creeping down the crowded walkway.

So... stay out in the relative open space of the terminal waiting area until the gate agents make the final boarding call. Or, at a minimum, wait until they call your boarding number before rushing the gate.

No one like gate lice hovering around the entryway -- especially as the rest of us are trying to board.

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