Tips for flying
This article is a travel topic
Commercial aeroplane flight is one of the most common forms of international travel. These are some tips for making your flights safer, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.
For a guide to the standard procedures, rules, and other basics of travelling by air (some of which have changed in recent years), see Fundamentals of flying. See also First and business class travel, Discount airlines.
Choosing an airline
There are several airline quality ratings (like ) that can help you understand how different airlines operating on your chosen route compare in levels of service, timeliness and comfort.
Many major cities have more than one airport. Try checking flights from all airports to find which have cheaper fares. For example, if you wish to depart out of the Bay Area, consider checking Oakland International Airport (OAK) as well as San Francisco International Airport (SFO). In cities like London, larger airports like Heathrow cater for full service carriers, with lounges and airbridges, whilst the newer Luton and Stansted airports serve short haul budget carriers, with less shops, paid lounges and are further away from downtown. Often, more budget carriers operate out of these smaller airports. Some ticketing systems allow you to search using a code that covers more than one airport: see Metropolitan Area Airport Codes for more information.
If you're not sure what time you can make it to the airport, book the last flight of the day. This way you can always try to fly "standby" on earlier flights if you get to the airport earlier than expected, as long as the conditions on your ticket permit this (budget tickets may not).
Domestic vs International Flights
As domestic flights are usually significantly cheaper than international flights for the same distance travelled, if you are in a city near an international border and wish to get to a destination in a neighbouring country, you can usually save quite a bit by crossing the border by land and flying from that country. For example, if you're in San Diego and need to get to Mexico City, you can cross the border to Tijuana by land and take a flight from Tijuana. Similarly, if you are in Hong Kong and need to get to Beijing, you can cross the border to Shenzhen and fly from there. People in Ottawa and Montreal can use Syracuse N.Y. for flights to American cities and Toronto residents can fly out of Buffalo instead of Lester B. Pearson.
The cost of budget travelling
While it is a good idea to save on air fare, you could face trade-offs in choosing budget carriers or the cheapest tickets off mainline carriers. Some of them include
Take note that even major carriers, especially in the United States can put a price tag to other amenities and services even at a full price of an economy ticket. Pre-booking these services or amenities online where available can mitigate the costs somehow.
Finally, unless the promo or point-of-sale is based in the European Union, you should take note that the advertised price usually does not include taxes and other surcharges.
It will be up to you to find the right balance between costs of air fare and the amenities. The old saying goes: you get what you pay for. For more advice on budget travelling, please see the article Discount airlines.
The major disadvantage is that your flight details are in one specific airline's computers, so other airlines cannot access them. This is not a problem 99% of the time, but can be a major headache if a flight cancellation requires you to switch to a flight with another airline. If this happens, get an "endorseable" paper ticket from the original airline as backup before heading over to the other airline's counter. Likewise, for complex itineraries involving multiple airlines (like round the world flights), you should opt for a paper ticket, especially since inter-airline e-ticketing agreements are not that common yet.
Not all destinations offered by major airlines are e-ticket eligible. But for the destinations that are e-ticket eligible, your airline may levy a surcharge if you choose to purchase a paper ticket. Some airlines will no longer issue paper tickets for some journeys.
Carry-on only travel
If you do not really need loads of luggage and will be away from home for a very short time, it may be worth considering taking carry-on only. This saves time at your destination because you don't have to wait to claim your checked luggage, and certainly carry-on luggage is less prone to getting lost or stolen. It might also save you money because many airlines charge a fee for each checked bag. Check with your airline to make sure that your bag fits within their size/weight restrictions for carry-ons, and whether your purse or laptop counts toward the limit of how many bags you can carry (or see our List Of Airline Baggage Limits to help you compare airlines). Also, with tight security restrictions on what kinds of items you can take with you into the passenger compartment (particularly nothing that could be used as a weapon and liquids in anything except small bottles), a carry-on-only strategy may not be practical so it is also useful to check the airport which you will departing out of to see restrictions in addition to the ones implemented by the airline you will be using. It is worthwhile to carry all critical items in the carry-on luggage, such as underwear, extra clothes, toothbrush etc.
If you want to travel with carry-on only but also have luggage that should be checked-in, you can use a company that provides a luggage delivery service. Alternatively, you can use a wardrobe management company like The Traveler's Closet that not only stores and ships your luggage belongings, but provides you with a database to 'virtually pack' your items, and cleans them for you between trips. You can even arrange to have clean pressed apparel awaiting your arrival.
Besides the traditional check-in at the airport (see the Checking In section), your airline can allow you to check-in online from anywhere with internet access. They usually open at least 24 hours before your scheduled flight. By checking-in online, you can select your preferred seat in advance, quote your frequent flyer number for mileage accrual, inform the airline how many bags you are intending to check-in thus saving time at the airport. Furthermore, everybody else who is part of your traveling party can also be checked-in along with you.
Online check-in procedures, features, benefits and requirements vary per airline and possibly per airport of departure. For instance, some airlines may offer only online check-in and only if you are departing from certain airports so be sure to check with your airline if online check-in is available from your departure airport. In relation to that, some airlines will allow the printing of a boarding pass at home while other airlines will still require passengers to claim it at the airport. Another example is that for some airlines such as Southwest that do not assign seats, passengers are allowed to board earlier if they have checked-in in advance. Also, some airlines will make this option available only to electronic ticket holders while others will invite paper ticket holders to take advantage of this option as well.
If your airline does not let you print your boarding pass from where you are, be ready to note down or print all the other pertinent information given to you at the end of the online check-in process as they will be used to facilitate the rest of the check-in process at the airport.
The airline will usually provide a special lane for those who checked-in online; be sure to use it for faster service.
Don't know where to print your boarding pass? An emerging trend in the issuance of boarding passes is having electronic boarding pass. Some airlines such as American Airlines, Air Canada and KLM already offer this service to passengers flying selected routes. All you need is a WAP or WiFi-enabled mobile device (such as a Blackberry, iPhone, iTouch) and depending on the airline's system, you can check-in online or via your mobile device. You will receive a link to your electronic boarding pass or sometimes the boarding pass itself via SMS, MMS or e-mail on your mobile device (consult your mobile device manual on how to save SMS, emails). The boarding pass will contain a barcode which will be scanned at the checkpoints and gate. If you are on a "domestic" flight, you will only need to bring the mobile device containing the boarding pass in addition to your ID as required documents.
Other remote check-in methods
Some airlines and stations also offer alternative ways to check-in. Singapore Airlines for instance will allow you to check-in via self-service kiosk, SMS, mobile phone application or at Marina Bay Sands. Lufthansa also offers SMS check-in. If you use a kiosk, you can either manually input information, swipe your cards or scan the 2D barcode located in your printout or sent to your mobile phone for faster check-in.
If you are departing out of Hong Kong and taking the MTR Airport Express train, you can enjoy the convenience of a typical check-in (see the Checking In section) at the Hong Kong or Kowloon station. However, you will need to have already purchased an Airport Express ticket to enter the check-in area as there are faregates used for entry. Once you are done, you can just take the train and proceed directly to passport control upon arrival at the airport. This is very useful if you still have a lot of things to do in downtown Hong Kong but don't want to worry about carrying and transporting your luggage by yourself to the airport or leaving them somewhere. A similiar system exists in Kuala Lumpur, with the KLIA Ekspres train leaving from KL Sentral Station.
Choosing a good seat
See Fundamentals of flying#Choosing your seat for an introduction to choosing a good seat. However, in addition to the choice of window seats (good views), aisle seats (more freedom to move) and middle seats (lacking the advantages of either window or aisle seats) there are several other considerations for choosing a slightly more comfortable economy class seat.
How close you sit to the front or back end of the plane is a mixed bag of benefits and drawbacks. In most jet aircraft, seats in back experience more cabin noise; the difference can be significant enough to cause discomfort, and it's one of the reasons why first class is always located in the front. In wide-body aircraft, rear economy window seats will provide you with a better view than in the front of the economy section, where the view is obstructed by the wings. The effects of turbulence are weakest near the leading edge of the wing, in the middle of the aircraft. Finally, US National Transportation Safety Board data from accidents in which some passengers survived and others did not, indicate that seats at the rear of the plane are statistically safer.
Airplanes also have "ordinary" seats that are less or more desirable for some reason:
It is possible to simulate the comfort of first class by securing a row of unoccupied seats in the middle section of larger aircraft, and raising the armrests to form a makeshift bed. Be on the lookout for these rows as you get on the plane, and be aware that others will be too. The flight attendants are also aware of these rows, and will also use them to relocate people.
Try to be one of the first ones to board, and "secure" the seats with open newspapers or magazines--the object is to make the row seem uninviting until the doors close and seat assignments are more-or-less frozen.
If you want to sleep, fasten your seatbelt over your blankets so that it's visible; otherwise, you'll be pestered by the flight attendents should the "fasten seatbelt" sign turn on mid-flight. Seating arrangements vary greatly between airplanes and airlines, so you'll need to consult detailed seat maps to figure out the good and bad ones. There are a few online sites that provide detailed maps for in-service aircraft and can help when choosing the best seat:
If you know what type of aircraft on which you are traveling, you can look up the seat map on all of these sites. SeatExpert also offers a unique feature that allows you to find a seat map by entering your flight information (airline, flight number, date of departure). SeatGuru also helps to find out what aircraft type you'll be flying  (although it gives little help beyond US airlines).
Sometimes aircraft scheduled to fly on a certain day for a certain flight may be substituted for another aircraft at the last minute. Therefore it is a good idea to take a look at all possible aircrafts and their respective configurations to find out the number of your preferred seat. Furthermore, an airline may have a certain kind of aircraft with different configurations. For example, the front row in one of Airline X's A330s may be row 1 but in another kind of A330 of Airline X it could be row 11 even if the front row of both A330s are of the same service class. It is also worth knowing if the an airline's aircraft is 2nd hand or leased from another airline as the seat design may have significant differences from in-house aircraft.
If there is something wrong with your seat, say the electronics don't work, or if you are sitting next to someone who takes more than their share of the seat, or who is obviously ill, then bring this to the attention of the flight attendant. Usually they can reseat you if they know about the problem early enough.
To save time, please ensure that you pack only what is absolutely necessary for your trip as having really bulky or plenty of luggage can cause a security hassle, as well as additional costs if you want to check them in.
Most airlines usually allow you to bring your own food so in case you have a feeling food isn't going to be great or will cost you extra, there shouldn't be any harm in bringing your own home made meals (or even snacks).
See Packing list
At the airport
If you want to reduce stress get to the airport at least an hour before the recommended time. (Check with your airline. In the US, the recommended time is usually 1 hour before takeoff for domestic flights, 2 hours for international. In some countries, it may be up to 3.) You will not have to worry while standing in long queues for check-in, security, emigration, and more security. It also gives you a buffer for delays on the way to the airport.
If for some reason you are delayed and you're worried about missing your flight or the flight status indicates that you are in danger of missing your flight, find a member of your airline's staff or talk to staff at the security gate. If you are really in danger of missing your flight, they can arrange for speedy check-ins and for you to be moved up in queues. But they won't notice if you don't tell them. Calling for late-passenger instructions while you are on your way to the airport can also help. The plane will not wait for you; but it might wait if you're one of 50 connecting passengers on a delayed flight.
Check-in for domestic flights can usually be done on the airline website up to 24 hours in advance of departure. If you have no baggage you can just proceed directly to your gate and flight with your printed boarding pass. However, some carriers insist that they inspect and verify your travel documents before allowing you to go through security, do this but there is usually a special lane provided for you. If you have baggage, drop it at the bag drop lane. Removing old tags from your bag before proceeding to the bag drop will speed up this process and avoid redirection.
If you can't check-in online, the check-in kiosks at the airport are much the same, and issue a boarding pass for you. You then need to go to the bag drop if you have more than carry on luggage.
If you have to check-in manually, be prepared for longer queues. Have your documentation ready before you get to the counter.
Express/expedited security lanes
To avoid the delays associated with normal security checks, some airports offer express security lanes for frequent travellers who have pre-registered, or sometimes for passengers who have paid an additional fee.
In cases of heightened security, the expedited security check lanes may be suspended or closed.
Even if you don't hold a first/business class ticket or are a member of the premium tiers of your frequent flyer programme, there are ways for you to obtain lounge access:
Often a boarding order is specified by the gate attendants, usually boarding business class, passengers with special needs, and passengers at the back of the plane first. When no boarding order is given it may help if those seated at the back were to board first, but this doesn't usually happen, and aisle blockages are common. To estimate where your seat is, check your airline's website for seatmaps or ask staff at the gate. Regardless of the boarding order given, you are always free to remain in the boarding lounge until the final call for the plane. If you choose to spend the least time possible in a cramped aircraft cabin, just wait in the boarding lounge until you see the last person at the gate, and join the end of the queue.
Special meal requests
Special meals are are a variation from the standard food offered by the airline. They generally match a variety of dietary or religions requirements, such as kosher, halal, vegetarian, diabetic, Low salt etc. Children's meals are often also available as special meals.
Special meals are offered by some airlines, often they can be ordered as part of the online booking process, or subsequently by managing the booking online. Special meals always need to be ordered at least 24 hours in advance, and the chances of getting one at check-in or when on the plane are slim (although it can never hurt to ask, as occasionally there are special meals on the plane from people who failed to board).
Special meals are usually served before other meals, this can be especially useful for children's meals. They can be of higher quality, but can also by lacking in some aspects, for example it is not uncommon for people ordering a vegetarian meal to get a vegan meal such as plain vegetables and rice (rather than that spinach and ricotta pasta they may have been hoping for).
Jet lag is a form of disorientation and fatigue caused by abruptly switching to a different sleeping/waking schedule and different daylight hours. Some people are affected more than others, but it tends to happen when crossing two or more time zones in a single flight (which first became commonplace with the development of commercial jet air travel, hence the term).
It doesn't follow that the greater the time difference between your origin and destination, the greater the jet lag. Often a short 4-5 hour difference that causes you to wake at 2am can be more fatiguing, and take longer to overcome than a complete reversal of day and night. For places near the International Date Line, a time difference of 23 hours (eg. Hawaii and New Zealand) would not cause much jet lag.
The basics to remember without going to too much effort, are to get a good night's sleep before your plane trip, and to sleep as much as possible during your plane trip. Ignore timezones, movies and entertainment, and just sleep whenever you can. When you arrive at your destination, forget your origin timezone and exist solely by the destination time.
Attempt to have a normal day in terms of the time zone you've flown into. If you land at 7AM, for example, you will probably have been served breakfast on your flight, so head to your accommodation (ask if they can mind your luggage (if you aren't travelling light), and go and see some of the sights, making sure to get daylight and fresh air. You'll feel tired, particularly by the mid-afternoon, but keep pushing on until an early dinnertime. Eat dinner and then go to bed. You should be tired enough for a good night's sleep.
Avoid planning long drives on your first day, as that is an easy way to get fatigued.
Check your airlines baggage restrictions carefully. Airlines are increasingly strict on size and weight limits for both carry-on and checked-in baggage, and charges for excess baggage can be steep.
Make sure you always check the actual rules of the airline you are flying with. With an abundance of codeshare flights it is easy to assume that the luggage allowance will be the same as the airline you are booked through, or the airline indicated by the flight code, however it is the rules of the actual airline operating the flight that apply. If you are a frequent flyer with status be particularly careful, as any increased baggage allowance you have when flying with your airline will usually not apply to the codeshare flight.
If you find you are taking more baggage than allowed, check with the airline to see what the cheapest way of carrying it is. Sometimes additional baggage allowances can be pre-purchased, especially online where discounts may be given. Excess luggage fees are heftier if the excess weight is detected at the airport than if pre-arranged and pre-purchased.
Airlines generally offer discounted cargo rates to passengers, but this must be arranged prior to departure and the destination of the goods your want to ship as cargo must match the destination on your ticket and you will need to deliver your bags to the cargo terminal, and you may incur duties and other charges.
Consider posting or sea freight which can be much cheaper than air freight or excess baggage charges. It can be a good way to get some baggage back home when you don't need it any longer, or even to send some baggage ahead for longer trips. See individual country listings for information reliability of postal service at your destination, however.
Luggage delivery services provide an alternative. Luggage is delivered by a specific date, normally between 48hrs and 5 days and a door-to-door service is provided so you don't have to go to the cargo terminal either at drop-off or to pick-up your luggage (port-to-port). All paperwork is provided to you and customs procedures are managed. The price is cheaper than airline cargo rates, but still expensive.
If you have a lot of baggage, consider flying business class or even first class. The ticket will cost more, but with most airlines you get a larger luggage allowance.
Deep vein thrombosis
Passengers on long flights are prone to this, which is essentially blood clots forming in the veins, especially those in the legs. You can take precautions to minimize it:
You should be aware of the early symptoms, such as pain or swelling in the legs, which can happen after you disembark, and seek medical treatment. The condition can be fatal.
Flying with children
Children can get restless and irritable while flying and in airports. There are strategies you can follow to ensure your children enjoy the trip.
Consider safety. If you are traveling with a child who is less than three, have them sit on an approved child carrier, not on your lap. In the unlikely event of an emergency, a lap child may impede your ability to brace. Be aware of whether there is an oxygen mask for infants on the aircraft/row.
Anticipate delays. Even the shortest flights can be delayed, involving additional time both in the terminal and on the aircraft. Ensure you have sufficient food, clothes, nappies, entertainment, to avoid turning a couple of hours delay into a nightmare.