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Tips for flying

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Tips for flying

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Departures board at Cologne/Bonn airport

    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 [1]) that can help you understand how different airlines operating on your chosen route compare in levels of service, timeliness and comfort.

Multiple airports

Most major cities have more than one airport. Try selecting flights that the less known or smaller airports to depart out of or arrive in as they are more likely to have cheaper fares than the larger, more known airports. For example, if you wish to depart out of the Bay Area, consider flying out of Oakland International Airport (OAK) instead of 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. Also, 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 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

  • more restrictions when it comes to changing travel plans
  • lower baggage allowance
  • less amenities (at least the free ones) on board
  • paid food and beverages
  • absence of check-through facilities
  • no mileage accrual

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.


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
When calling an airline or travel agency to make changes, the fastest way to find your ticket is to tell the reservations agent that you will give them your PNR, and spell it out with the NATO phonetic alphabet (Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta Echo Foxtrot Gulf Hotel India Juliet Kilo Lima Mike November Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Uniform Victor Whiskey X-ray Yankee Zulu). This is much easier than trying to spell out your last name, and you will gain some instant respect for sounding like a pro.

The major advantage of an electronic ticket (e-ticket) is that because your flight details are in the airline's computers, the e-ticket can't get lost, forgotten, or stolen. Your travel plans can also be altered without the need to print and deliver a new ticket. If your airline offers online or self-service kiosk check-in, you can use these to print boarding passes, thus saving time at the airport.

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.

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.

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.

Online check-in

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.

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 telephone, fax, SMS or via a designated point in downtown Singapore. Lufthansa also offers SMS 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. However, the advantage of sitting near the front can be canceled by screaming infants, who ironically tend to be seated in this zone for its presumed quietness. 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:

  • seats at the tail end of the plane often have no middle seats, which gives you more room to spread out
  • seats just before the exit row and at the end of a section may not recline
  • seats next to the toilets may be smelly and have lots of people trooping up and down to them
  • seats next to the galleys may be noisy especially when flight attendants prepare and roll-out the meals

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. Ask the gate agent to review the cabin plan immediately after the flight closes: if the agent says seats "XX C-D-F-G" are available, you've just found four contiguous seats in row XX. 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. Several online sites provide detailed maps for in-service aircraft and can help when choosing the best seat:

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 aircrafts.

Before Leaving

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 no harm in bringing your own home made meals (or even snacks).

At the airport

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.) This will ensure that you will not be stressed 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.

Just as you don't want to be stuck in long lines for airport formalities, neither do your fellow passengers. While some reasons for long queues can be due to the airport or airline, other reasons can be attributed to the passenger. For instance, lining up when your documents are not yet ready, being unsure if luggage complies with all requirements or being unsure of what to do could add unnecessary seconds or even minutes to the process, keeping the queue stationary for quite a while. Therefore, please be considerate by making sure everything is in order before lining up. Avoid making special or extraordinary requests at the queue unless it's absolutely necessary as it will involve the staff getting-out of their seats and asking their supervisors of what to do in circumstances they are not familiar with. Passengers who qualify for expedited check-in options (e.g. in-city check-in, kiosk check-in) but choose to undergo the traditional check-in procedures entirely can also stall the ques.

Express/expedited security lanes

To avoid the hassles associated with normal security checks, some airports offer expedited security lanes for frequent travellers who are deemed a low security risk. You normally need to apply beforehand to use the expedited security lanes and acceptance into the programme is not automatic as authorities need to review your security and criminal background. Take note that in cases of heightened security, the expedited security check lanes may be suspended or closed so in such cases, check the security alert level applicable to your area to anticipate whether you can use the expedited security lane or not. Express check-in lines also exist for those travelling with carry-on luggage only.

Lounge Access

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. For example, Priority Pass allows you to gain access to lounges at most major airports at payment schemes convenient to your travelling needs and you can apply online at


When no order is specified for when passengers are supposed to board, board first if you are seated at the back and board towards the end if you are seated at the front of your cabin. This way you won't be blocked by passengers seated in front and unnecessarily block passengers headed for the back seats. This also helps keep the line moving especially in full flights. To estimate where your seat is, check your airline's website for seatmaps or ask staff at the gate. Bold text

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

Jet lag is not caused by flying per se, but 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).

One way to avoid jet lag for short stays is to ignore the difference in time zone, and maintain the same sleeping schedule as you would according to the time "back home", perhaps keeping lights on to simulate daylight and pulling shades to simulate night. This is less practical for longer stays, or when travelling several time zones from home which would place you far out of synch with local hours.

The impact may be diminished by gradually adjusting your sleep schedule in advance of a long-distance trip. For example, before flying from California to Germany, you might start a week ahead of time, going to bed and waking up an hour earlier each day. By the time you actually made the trip, your sleep schedule would be almost in synch with your destination.

For flights lasting longer than you are used to, have enough sleep right before the date of your fly--it's even worth sacrificing packing right or having done all the work you promised before going to vacation.

Another remedy is to attempt to have a normal day, but 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 it's not check-in time yet) and go and see some of the sights, making sure to get some 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, but have some sleeping tablets handy in case. That way, if you wake up far too early because you're on the wrong time zone, just take a tablet and go back to sleep. After a couple of nights, you'll have adjusted to the point where sleeping tablets aren't needed anymore.

The most important book ever written for the international traveler about preventing jet lag was Overcoming Jet Lag by Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D. and Lynne W. Scanlon, published by Berkley Publishing Group. Dr. Ehret's research was underwritten by The U.S. Government and used by The U.S. Army Rapid Deployment forces so they could be "fighting ready" no matter how many times zones they crossed to get to their destination. With Dr. Ehret's permission, that outdated and out-of-print book was rewritten, revised, and republished in October 2008 by Back2Press Books with a new title: The Cure for Jet Lag by Lynne Waller Scanlon and Charles F. Ehret, Ph.D.. The new edition contains multiple flight plans -- eastbound, westbound, zigzag, one landing, multiple landings and corresponding 3-Step Systems for each flight pattern. It also contains a chapter on "old" remedies used by international travelers like Henry Kissinger and Lyndon Johnson, some of which work fairly well, but none of which are comprehensive.

It's also important to note that Dr. Ehret did not subscribe to using any drugs to prevent jet lag. He felt not only that they were unnecessary but also that the body had to work over-time to get rid of the foreign substances in the body. This just added another negative element complicating jet lag.

Excess baggage

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. Shipping your excess baggage as cargo can cost less than half the price of paying normal excess baggage fees. The biggest drawback is that one needs to deliver and collect the goods from the airport's cargo terminal. There is also no guarantee when your excess luggage will arrive as excess luggage is sent on a "space available" basis only. There is also unforseen charges to consider when picking up in the form of clearance charges, handling fees and in certain circumstances customs duties.

For long trips, consider mailing items ahead of you. Sea mail is generally much cheaper than air freight, let alone excess baggage rates. See individual country listings for information reliability of postal service at your destination, however.

Luggage delivery services provide a good 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 much cheaper than airline cargo rates and can be cheaper than excess luggage/unaccompanied lugagge providers, who typically provide a door-to-port service.

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

Economy class passengers on long flights are prone to this, which is essentially blood clots forming in the veins, especially those in the legs. While such an occurrence is rare, one should still take precautions to minimize it. If your flight is 5 hours or longer, consider leaving your seat for a walk along the aisle every 2 hours or so. Even a trip to the washroom and back is better than nothing. First and business class passengers need not worry about this as there is generally more room for such passengers to exercise their legs sufficiently for this not to happen.

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.

  • Arrange entertainment. The best way is to bring a portable DVD player, books, or anything else they can use to stay occupied with themselves. Be creative. Ipods and PSPs also play video these days, and are much easier to carry than a DVD player and DVDs. Kids don't seem to mind the fact that the screen is 1" square. The batteries last far longer than a DVD player for a longer flights.
  • Have something to suck on while ascending a descending. Don't give it to the child when you get onto the plane - wait until you leave the runway, or it will be finished before you take off. Similarly, wait until well into the descent.
  • Bring favorite snacks for fussy eaters. If children don't like the airplane food and get hungry, irritability can increase.
  • Aim for a window seat for the child, and sit by the window at the airport. Airports are a hive of activity, usually enough to keep any child occupied for a little while.
  • Get an airport book. There are many picture books for young children that name the many things at the airport. For older children at a large airport, an airplane identification chart can pass some time.
  • If you are flying with a baby or young/loud child, consider bringing a bag of earplugs and offering them to your fellow passengers. They will certainly appreciate your consideration.

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. Ensure you have sufficient food, clothes, nappies, entertainment, to avoid turning a couple of hours delay into a nightmare.

This is a usable article. It touches on all the major areas of the topic. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!