Recent headlines suggest that air travel is more stressful than ever. Passengers are increasingly being bounced off over-sold flights. As the government becomes more paranoid about terrorism and security breaches, screening measures and restrictions are multiplying. Passenger and airline crew conflicts, even punches thrown, appear more common than ever. What the heck is going on?
Apart from giving up flying all together, how can you make air travel less stressful, especially during the holidays when more people than ever are traveling?
As someone who flies often, I’ve learned a thing or two about taking some of the stress out of travel. Here are some ideas for de-stressing your next plane trip.
Plan ahead. You know you’ve got a trip coming up. Why wait to schedule your flight, hotel, car and other transportation? Often, you’ll get a better deal—and decrease the stress of last-minute arrangements—if you schedule your all the aspects of your trip well in advance. And pack your bag ahead of time. Don’t wait until the final few hours when you’re feeling pressured to pack and are more likely to forget essential items. Consider packing the night before and have your bag(s) ready to go.
Plan your packing. I travel enough that I have a pretty standard array of things I pack. These items vary slightly depending on whether it’s summer or winter. They include a pair of dress slacks; two versatile lightweight jackets for dressing up or dressing down; a pashmina (large wrap/scarf); long-sleeve knit(s); short-sleeve knit(s); casual slacks; walking shoes and comfortable dressier shoes; a casual over-shirt; a sun shirt (in summer); a hat; and a lightweight jacket (with lightweight gloves and an ear-band in the pockets). Take clothes that go together and can be mixed or matched.
Use packing cubes. The more organized you are, the less stressed you’ll be. Packing cubes make packing easier and more organized. Use one for underwear; another for shirts; still another for slacks. You’ll spend less time pawing through your luggage and your clothes will actually be less wrinkled. Some of my favorite packing cubes come are Pack-Its from Eagle Creek. (See our full review of this product.)
Take less stuff. My mother-in-law, an inveterate traveler, always advised, “Pack your bag. Then take out half the clothes and take twice the money.” She’s right. You don’t need all those clothes, but you will need plenty of money (including small bills) and a good travel-friendly credit card.
Stay in an airport hotel. Where I live it’s tough to get to the airport on time without staying at an airport hotel the night before. It’s taught me that the $75-$125 you’ll spend for a hotel room is well worth the hassle of driving to the airport and risking missing your fight due to traffic mishaps like accidents, bridge closures, ferry delays or shut downs, etc.
Get to the airport early. As more people fly and security measures increase, the lines at security checkpoints are becoming longer and it’s taking more and more time for security screening. Even former quick-through solutions like Pre-Check are becoming more crowded. And believe me, security agents don’t care if you miss your flight. Also, if you’re checking bag(s), airlines require you have them checked in 45-60 minutes before the flight. One time we missed our flight, not because we weren’t at the gate on time, but because we needed to check a bag and we’d arrived 40 minutes before the flight and baggage was closed. Getting to the airport with plenty of time to get through security and/or hustle across the airport in response to gate changes will help you stay calm and ensure you’ll make your flight.
Take an air-porter. If you live a ways from an airport it can be expensive and time-consuming to drive your car to the airport. And airport and off-airport parking fees are going up and up. Consider alternative options like private air-porter vans or even public transportation like buses or light-rail. Some van and bus services offer door-to-door service and even amenities like bottled water and Wi-Fi. Instead of worrying about traffic, just sit back and relax.
Check your bag. Schlepping bags through airports and then struggling to stow your bag in overhead bin space is stressful. Check your bag. (Really. Don’t be cheap. Your serenity is worth it!)
If your bag is smaller, you can always surrender your bag at the gate (usually for free) when gate agents plead for people to check their bags. If your bag is larger, check it online and then simply drop it at your airline’s baggage drop. Or, for a small tip, check your bag with the Skycap outside (they can also print your boarding pass).
Enroll in pre-screening programs. Nothing is more nerve-wracking than long security checkpoint lines or having to submit to a pat down or further ‘screening.’ One way to avoid this is to enroll in one of the pre-screening programs that allow you to zip through screening quicker with less hassle. They cost a few bucks (Nexus for U.S.-Canada entry is $50 for five years; Known Traveler Pre-Check for U.S. travel costs $80 for five years; Global Entry for international travel is $100 for five years) and require you go to the airport or elsewhere for an in-person interview. However, the time-saving, stress-relieving benefits are worth it.
Use an airline lounge. If you’ve never been in an airline’s lounge, you’re really missing something. They offer a way to get away from the maddening crowd. Lounges usually feature comfortable couches and chairs, free beverages and snacks, and plenty of places to re-charge both your devices and yourself. Some even offer showers. The price of admission is a yearly fee, frequent air miles, or, in some cases, enrollment in certain credit cards. If you travel a lot, it may be worth it.
Carry food. Feeling hungry and having airport food concessionaires closed can be stressful. Also, eating sugar-laden options at airport vendors can cause stress. Carry a few healthy food options like mixed nuts and cut-up fruit. I even take a small cooler bag for cheese or a sandwich.
Stay hydrated. Air conditioning and recycled plane air can play havoc with your body. Carry water and drink plenty of it. Avoid too much caffeine, sugar-laden drinks, and alcohol.
Take advantage of airport massage. I’m not paying $20 (or more) for 15 minutes with an obviously bored masseuse at the so-called airport spas. But I recently discovered massage chairs that are a bargain and can help get out the kinks. I shelled out $5 for 21 minutes of some serious kneading and felt much better afterwards.
Use noise-cancelling headphones. Planes, especially smaller ones, can be noisy places. Noise-cancelling headphones or even just foam earplugs can help cut the noise (and discourage irritatingly chatty seatmates). Then you can get a few winks so you arrive at your destination rested.
Know what alerts TSA. I’m always amazed at how many people still don’t know you can’t take liquids through security. Or that gels or liquids, including things like jams, yogurt, peanut butter and a zillion other things in quantities larger than 3 ounces aren’t allowed. I’ve recently been stopped for taking freezer cool pouches. They’re okay if they’re completely frozen—though they will stop you and search them. But if they thaw, they’re going in the trash. Prepare ahead of time. Take out your computer. Remove liquids. Take off your belt, shoes, and coat. Learn the drill, people. It’ll make getting to the airplane less stressful.
Don’t wrap gifts. It’s the holidays, but you can’t take wrapped gifts through security. It makes them nuts. If you must take gifts through security, keep them unwrapped. Better yet, mail them to your destination and avoid the hassle altogether.
Obey flight crew instructions. If a member of your flight’s crew tells you to do something, do it. That includes sitting down and buckling up, even if you’re in line for the bathroom. The number one job of the flight crew is to deliver you safely to your destination and they FAA have rules they must follow. Recently, a young man was baffled when, after sitting on the tarmac for an extended time waiting to take off, he was tossed off the plane after he got up to go to the bathroom. He’d asked the flight attendant if he could use the restroom and was told no. Unable to hold it, he flaunted the flight attendant’s direction, got up, and used the facilities. Because of his actions, the plane lost its place in the take-off line and had to return to the gate and the passenger was removed. Everyone on the plane was inconvenienced because this passenger refused to obey the flight crew’s orders. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor