Although I quite like travelling by airplane, there are definitely elements about airplane travel that are less enjoyable and can even be quite stressful.
Whether you’re a seasoned flier or thinking about taking your first ever flight, here are my 15 simple hacks for easy airplane travel.
Before You Go
Getting prepared for your upcoming flight is the best way to ensure a smooth experience.
1. Double Check Dates and Times
First thing’s first: make sure you’re confident of the date and time of your flight. There’s no point in being vague about things. “Oh, it’s around 8am,” just won’t cut it.
- Know what time your flight leaves and give yourself at least two hours in the airport (more if it’s an international flight).
- Arrange how you’re going to get to the airport – taxi, car, public transport.
- If you are driving yourself, you’ll need to arrange airport parking and know where you are heading (some companies don’t operate from the airport itself, but offer a shuttle bus service from their parking grounds to the airport).
- If it’s a large international airport, know which terminal you are aiming for. Different airlines operate out of different terminals, especially international and domestic flights.
2. Bring All Your Documentation
A final check of your passport, visa documentation, travel itinerary and any other essential paperwork is vital before leaving the house.
Many years ago I arrived at the airport to meet a friend and travel to Spain. She was American and had booked our flights before coming to the UK. She had been given paper tickets that she had forgotten to bring to the airport. Confident that we would be able to talk to the airline and get our tickets reprinted, we found that they were unfortunately unable (or unwilling) to help as they claimed not to have a record of my friend’s booking on their systems. No ticket, no flight. We had to turn around with our tail between our legs and go home. No holiday to Spain.
Thankfully, there is less reliance on physical tickets these days as a lot can be done electronically. If you do have a confirmation email I strongly advise bringing this with you to the airport, or be able to at least bring it up on your phone without Wifi or data so you can access the references/booking codes.
For more travel mishaps, read about the time I missed an international flight.
3. Roll Your Clothes
One more packing tip is to roll your clothes to avoid wrinkles. This trick not only saves you the hassle of ironing everything on your arrival (like, no way), but it also enables you to pack more efficiently as rolled clothes take up less space. Coupled with your packing cubes, your bag will be a totally clutter-free zone.
4. Use Packing Cubes
The key to stress-free travel is minimising disorganisation. Ensuring your bag is tidy and easy to find things in is one of those small tricks that will provide you with huge benefits.
The beauty of packing cubes is that you can organise your belongings into compartments. This means you can put your hand straight on the things you need, cutting out the time you spend shuffling through a jumble of clothes, electronic chargers and toiletries that are all swimming around the bottom of your bag.
5. Bring A Power Bank
A power bank with USB points will make sure that your electronic items do not run out of juice. We are becoming increasingly reliant on our electronic gadgetry, especially our smart phones, so ensuring this is easily rechargeable can be key to stress-free travel.
The beauty of a power bank charger is that you can charge your phone or Kindle and anything else you may be carrying at the same time that charges using a USB. Plus, when you arrive at your destination, you won’t have to worry about your accommodation having a lack of plug sockets.
Take a look at the other essential packing items first-time travellers really shouldn’t travel without.
In The Airport
There are things you can do in the airport that will make your pre-flight experience run smoothly.
6. Get There Early
I know you’ve heard this one a thousand times but it really is sound advice. Rushing through an airport with adrenaline sweats because you fear you’re going to miss your flight is not the best recipe for happy travels. However, knowing how long you’ll need at an airport is a little like the question of “how long is a piece of string?” So the best answer to this question is “as long as it takes” in the context of airports, so give yourself enough time to comfortably arrive at the boarding gate.
Sometimes the arrival, check-in and boarding process flows smoothly and you breeze through every step of the way. There are other times when the queue for security takes 50 minutes only to find that your bag gets pulled out for a search. Sometimes getting to your boarding gate entails taking a monorail to another terminal (Heathrow, I’m looking at you).
7. Use Self Check-In If It’s Available
If available, I would recommend using self check-in machines in the airport. There is no need to wait around for the check-in desk to open as you can use the machines in the check-in area whenever you want, and there is also usually no queue for them. If you want to stand in line to wait for a person to check you in, go for it. However, we’re all familiar with self check-outs at supermarkets and shops these days so the premise is exactly the same.
Have your passport and booking reference to hand when you head up to the machine as it’s likely to ask for these details. It will probably scan your passport and you’ll have to enter your reference number. This brings up your details and then you are able to print off your boarding card and luggage tag that you put on yourself. You move over to the bag drop area, usually about 20 feet from the machines, and send your bag off on the conveyor belt.
I do acknowledge that it’s sad we’re replacing humans with machines in so many areas in our lives, however, it’s likely that you will be seeing self check-ins more and more frequently as you travel so it’s worth getting used to them. If you’re travelling by yourself it’s really a quick and simple method of checking in that avoids the long queues.
8. Don’t Check Baggage
If your trip is not a long one, consider not checking your baggage.
Pros of travelling with a carry-on:
- Ideal for shorter length trips
- Ensures you pack light, which means you travel with only the essentials
- You keep all your items with you when you fly – great if you need to grab extra clothing/layers
- Minimises the risk of your bags getting lost in transit
- No need to queue to check-in your baggage
- You also do not need to wait to collect your bag in arrivals – meaning you can exit the airport much quicker
Cons of travelling with a carry-on:
- You are unable to bring toiletries over 100ml through security
- Some airlines only allow one piece of carry-on luggage – if you are also carrying a handbag/purse this may have to fit inside your carry-on
Travelling with just your carry on will save you a lot of time in the airport as you reduce the time spent checking-in and waiting to collect your bags. Keeping your bag with you gives you the peace of mind that all of your belongings are safe and you can access them anytime you need during the flight.
It also encourages travelling light because you don’t fill a 25kg suitcase with things you won’t need or wear. Reducing your travel items down to just the essentials will save you time throughout your holiday as it will be easier to physically travel with a lighter bag. Plus it means you are dressed and out of the door quicker in the mornings as you are not agonising over the entire wardrobe packed into your suitcase.
9. Keep Your Luggage Label
If you do check baggage, remember to keep the sticker receipt or barcode you are given at check-in. I speak from a voice of experience that this piece of information is vital if you find yourself arriving at your destination but your bags do not follow. Yes, that dreaded moment when you wait at the baggage carousel and realise your bag is not there.
If your luggage does not make the flight, head to the Baggage Claim/Lost Luggage desk in the baggage claim hall. Using this barcode, their systems will be able to quickly pinpoint the exact location of your bag and arrange for it to be reunited with you.
10. Get Prepared For Security
If you’ve ever had to wait at the airport you can pretty much guarantee it’s at security. For obvious reasons, taking the time to carry out security checks and screenings takes a few moments. Take hundreds of people all heading for the departure gates and channel them towards this area and you have quite a bottleneck.
You can play a huge part in how quickly you proceed through security by getting prepared.
- You’ll notice clear plastic bags are provided as you approach the queue for security. Take a moment to sort through your hand luggage and place anything liquid, gel, paste or cream into this bag so you can quickly put this into the tray provided.
- Take your laptop out of its case or sleeve. You will be asked to put this in the tray to be screened.
- Think about what metal you have on your person – belt buckle, coins in pocket, jewellery and other accessories. Get ready to remove these items.
- Take off your coat as you wait in line.
- It’s quite common to be asked to remove your shoes, too. Wearing slip on shoes – or at least ones without a lot of fiddly laces – would be a huge advantage.
- Are you carrying drinking water? If you have a bottle of water on you, it’s time to hydrate. You will not be allowed to take this through security, so you’re going to want to finish this whilst you wait in the queue.
In The Departure Lounge
Departure lounges and duty free areas can vary from airport to airport. Some are as huge and glossy as a shopping mall, with stores, bars and restaurants as far as the eye can see. In other airports you’ll be lucky to find a hard plastic chair on which to enjoy your overpriced packet of unappealing sandwiches.
11. Check Your Flight Status On Departure Boards
Before you get completely distracted by the goodies awaiting you in departures – and that can be a glass of wine – double check your flight, gate and status on the departure board. And remember to keep checking it.
When you get to your departure gate, double check the boards to make sure that you are at the correct one and keep your ears and eyes peeled for any announcements. I’ve zoned out with my book thinking I’m waiting where I need to be, only to look up and realise that I was surrounded by passengers going someplace in India when I was going to Malaysia.
A last minute gate alterations saw me frantically dashing through the airport to arrive at the correct gate as the crew was beginning to close the doors.
Always a stomach dropping moment.
On The Flight
Aboard your flight there are several things you can consider that will make your flight more comfortable.
12. Travel With Extra Toiletries
Staying fresh plays a huge part on how relaxed you feel throughout your flight and when you get to your destination. If you’re flying long-haul you may be offered a small toiletries package by your airline that usually includes an eye mask, ear plugs, toothbrush and toothpaste. If you’re not lucky to receive this, or even if you do, I would recommend bringing a small selection of personal items that will help you to feel clean and ready to face your new adventure.
Items such as a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant and face wipes take up little space in your carry-on bag but have a huge effect on how put together you feel after spending several hours on a plane. Contact lens wearers should bring their contact lens case, solutions and their glasses with them.
Bearing in mind there is always the (unlikely) potential for your hold luggage to not arrive in your intended destination, I would also advise packing a change of underwear and a t-shirt, so you have some clean clothes to wear if you have to wait a few days to be reunited with your case.
13. Always Take Water When It’s Offered
Flying dehydrate you. Whether it’s the altitude, the air conditioning in the cabin or a mixture of the two, being sat in a seat for hours at a time without drinking will leave you with a pretty epic thirst. It’s not a nice feeling to land with a dry mouth, headache and sluggish body. Drinking as much water as you can will help keep your body’s circulations flowing and minimise that jet lagged feeling.
I’ve always said yes to free water offered to me by the cabin crew. They usually come round every couple of hours on a long haul flight and hand out water. I also ask for additional water with my inflight meal. When you’re desperate to get out of your seat and stretch your legs, use the opportunity to wander up to the crew’s kitchen area and ask for a drink there.
14. Wear Lose Fitting Clothes
I’m a huge advocate for comfortable clothes and flying is the perfect chance to make sure you feel relaxed. On-board the airplane you may want to ditch those super tight, high-waist skinny jeans in favour of something more stretchy to promote good circulation. It’s also quite common to feel a little bloated when you fly so something that’s not incredibly fitted will help you feel better.
Layer up with a jumper, cardigan or a shawl to cover-up against overly effective air-conditioning.
15. Don’t Forget To Move
Sitting down for extended periods of time on an aircraft can make you vulnerable to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). Before you get too alarmed and cancel your flight to Australia (please don’t, it’s a fabulous country) remember that you are completely able to counteract any effects of long haul travel by ensuring that you get up and move around.
If you’re really concerned about DVT you can look into purchasing a pair of travel socks for long haul flights. On long journeys, the inflight magazine usually has recommended exercises that you can do in your seat so keep your eyes peeled for those. The main thing to remember here is to not vegetate for hours and hours without moving.
Check out flight socks for prices and availability:
Try not to sit stationary in your seat for 13 hours – if you can do this, I’m impressed – but do simple stretches and movements that will help to keep your circulation happy. These can be things such as rotating each ankle, or massaging your calves and of course, getting out of your seat to walk up and down the aisle and visit the toilet will get your blood flowing again and allow you time to stretch.
Extra Tips For First Time Fliers
If you’re just about to embark on your first ever flight, don’t be nervous! It is an incredibly exciting moment that will lead to the ability to explore a new part of the country or world once you disembark. Winning, right? Keeping in mind the above hacks will ensure your first time on an airplane is be a comfortable one.
However, if you’re thinking, “sure this all seems great, but how do I even get to this point?” then I’ve created a check-list that you can use when booking travel for the first time. This check-list will walk you through the steps you need to take as you plan and book your travels. It covers useful information such as remembering to check the dates in your passport, organising visas, travel vaccinations and insurance.
- Check out my step-by-step guide to the travel booking process
- How to decide where to go for your first solo travel destination
- What it’s like staying in a hostel for the first time.
Do You Love Flying?
Hands up if you’re like me and love flying because of the association that you’re going on an adventure? I enjoy flying because I know that the act of doing so is bringing me closer to a new destination that I am keen to explore. There are sometimes the occasional unavoidable hiccough when it comes to airplane travel, but taking the time to make sure you’re organised before your flight is the best way to ensure your travels continue without a hitch.
If I’ve got you feeling inspired, why not take a look at some of my other posts about first-time solo travel:
- How do you know if you’re ready to travel solo?
- Preparing to travel alone – even if you’ve never spent time by yourself before
- What does it feel like embarking on your first solo trip?
- How will you feel when your travels come to an end?
Over to you.
Share any tips you’ve got for first time on an airplane, or even those hacks you’ve learned from being a flight veteran. I’d love to hear of your experiences and how you manage your flight process.
Share with a friend you know is about to embark on their first ever flight!
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