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How To Travel By Air Without Going Completely Insane

Illustration for article titled How To Travel By Air Without Going Completely Insane

Most people who say they love travel usually actually love "being in other places." Anyone who actually loves going to the airport, waiting in a series of increasingly frustrating lines, sitting on a plane and then reverse negotiating a strange place is either damaged or more relentlessly positive than SpongeBob Squarepants on ecstasy. The process of being in transit is not enjoyable and can present some unique barf baggy challenges that one can only hope to MacGuyver through.


I'm not going to advise anyone on how to sneak contraband through the security checkpoint line. If you try to bring a gun or one of those cartoon bombs made by Acme corporation onto a plane, you deserve to be locked up in cartoon jail or sent to a school or rehab center that will teach you how not to be dumb. Accidentally taking a gun to the airport is a pretty goofy thing to do. However, if you've gone through a bit of a party phase, or if you're still in a party phase (and here by "party," I mean "drug-doin'") there's a chance that when you're preparing for the drudgery of the airport, you might forget that you're carrying illegal substances, like my friend who flew home not realizing until she got there that she was carrying a heaping serving of cocaine in her jacket pocket. If you realize that you're carrying drugs on your person before you get to the line, just throw that shit away. It's really not worth it to try to sneak it through. If you do get caught trying to sneak drugs through the airport, don't talk. Anyone who has watched CSI knows that the worst thing a criminal can do is talk or be a washed up guest star from an 80's sitcom with slicked back hair. Crying will solve nothing. Neither will loudly asking the surly TSA agents if they know who your father is.

Crying will sometimes solve other problems, though, like if you get bumped from your flight or if your flight's cancelled and you're trying to get on the next plane out of town. Before you unleash the tidal waves in front of the ticket counter agents, assess the situation. In my experience, male ticket counter agents are more unsettled by the sight of a woman crying than other women are. Older gentlemen who could be my father are usually the most touched by a display of waterworks. And women who are my age are the least susceptible to manipulative crying of any demographic I've encountered. A good sob story ("I have to get back in time for work tomorrow or I WILL GET FIRED!") is important, but Tears in Hell can backfire as well. Once, I was able to get on the last flight from Atlanta to Chicago using only the power of tears. Another time, I'm pretty sure the ticket counter agent let someone else ahead of me because I was being a big fucking baby. Use caution.


Between the armrest hogging and child seat kicking and weird pilot announcements, the best way to deal with having to fly is to be unconscious for as much time as possible. Pills can help with this, so try to get thee some Ambien if you can. If not, or if you don't like the idea of taking a livestock tranquilizer while surrounded by strangers, try an over-the-counter sleep aid like melatonin. And if you hate taking pills but love drinking, there's always in-flight booze (but don't drink too much of it, lest you end up like my mother, who nervously drank on her first transatlantic flight and ended up vomiting the entire contents of her stomach as her first act on European soil). For some reason, airplanes are chilled to the temperature normally used to preserve freshly harvested meat, so you'll probably need a blanket. Try to get your mitts on one of those before the flight takes off. Or nestle in the beard hair of the man next to you.

One need only note that the seat pocket in front of you contains a barf bag to know that sometimes, people barf on planes. And sometimes, that person might be you. As soon as you're feeling under the weather, tell the flight attendant. They may move you to a roomier seat or to one adjacent with an empty seat so you don't vomit on the person next to you (I've never done this, but I imagine that it would be very embarrassing. Once I spilled Diet Coke all over a member of the US Military so freshly returning from Iraq that he was still wearing his uniform. It was pretty much the most embarrassed I've ever been). The flight attendants may also may provide you with some basic TLC.

Layovers are a pain in the ass, but the asspain can be minimized by seeking quiet. Your benevolent site editor-in-chief Jessica Coen swears by one-day passes to airlines' "luxury clubs" for particularly long (like 6 hours at a super busy terminal) layovers or delays. If you can swing it, day passes can be purchased online for a small fee — around $50, usually — and the silence you experience in that oasis of calm is worth the price of the pass. In the airlines' luxury lounges, you're not only free of the screeching and loud cell phone conversations and bodily stink of other people, you're able to sit in a comfortable chair. There are power outlets aplenty. You might even doze for a bit. It's like a little Island of Happy in a Sea of Sad.

After a long flight, the last thing that anyone wants is a snafu in reclaiming your luggage, but it happens. This is why it is of utmost importance to pack a day's worth of toiletries in your carry on bag, as well as a fresh pair of underwear (good underwear, not period underwear, in case your bag gets searched). You should also fly with something distinctive attached to your bag so that it's easy to describe to an airline employee; I fly with the ugliest Pepto Bismol pink rolling suitcase in the entire world. Puppies get cancer from looking at it, but it's immediately identifiable on the baggage carousel, and if it were to be lost, it would be hard to miss. Once you're pretty sure your bag's AWOL, report it missing as soon as you can. Most airlines will compensate you for emergency supplies you had to purchase to replace what was lost in your suitcase, so keep receipts. Also, don't panic; 98% of delayed luggage is eventually returned.


If you're among the unlucky 2% whose luggage has disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle (and really, it didn't disappear — the pilot took it and he's wearing your underwear right now), you have a right to be reimbursed by the airline for part of the cost of what was contained in your bag. For domestic flights, the airline's liability is capped at $3,300 per bag. Internationally, what they'll pay out varies from country to country. If you paid a checked bag fee for a bag that gets lost, the airline also has to return the bag fee to you. You may have to produce receipts to prove the value of the items in the suitcase, so I guess that's good news for nerds who save all of their receipts. For those of us who don't, plan on spending a lot of time on the phone arguing.

The Mile High Humiliation club doesn't have to be so bad. With a little pluck and a lot of tenacity, flying can be an experience in testing the limits of one's own mental strength. Like running a marathon, but using your patience instead of your legs. And with less pants-pooping.

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The interwebs make flying pretty simple, imho, because so much can be verified / arranged in advance. My personal guidelines:

1. Early morning flights are least likely to be delayed.

2. Want to know exactly what your seat will be like?

3. Want to get a specific seat? Book directly with the airline or with a booking website that lets you pick a seat (they do NOT all do that).

4. Know your airline food. Safest across the board is to preorder vegetarian; some airlines (Virgin, Singapore, Thai, Korea, Cathay) will have decent non-vegetarian food options.

5. Domestic US flight? Bring own food. Unless you're one of the lucky people with an airport with plentiful and decent food options, don't expect to find something edible there.

6. Eye mask + noise cancelling headphones + neck pillow + sleeping aid + blanket (wrap / jacket) = quiet flight, crying babies or no crying babies.

7. Frequent flyer miles aren't what they used to be, but still. - best resource for all things FFM.

8. Need constant entertainment? Bring something non-electronic for take-off / landing.

9. To the extent possible, pack light.

10. Airline and airport reviews at will at least let you know what you're in for.

11. Do a lot of international travel and live in the US? is awesome.

Disclaimer: I love flying and airports. The love's been a bit dented by the security theatre, and never extended to subpar airports, but still.