By now it's no mystery that flying, a modern marvel of convenience, is nonetheless stressful enough to make you look and feel your worst. A number of factors make it particularly miserable: seat recliners, bin hogs, crying babies, airplane Wi-Fi. Mostly, it's the airlines' fault. Since 1985 the average amount of legroom in coach has withered from 33in to 31; the average seat width has shrunk from 20in to 17.5. Meanwhile the average plane has gone from 61.4% full to 83.8%. You don’t need to be John Nash to know more people plus less room is an equation for stress.
But just as you crank up the easy-listening station to make it through your workday, there are things you can do to chill out when you fly. We talked to Mandy Walker of Consumer Reports and assembled few helpful pointers to reduce the stress of air travel.
Get TSA PreCheck
Ya tú sabes. Beginning your trip by shuffling through a security line with a 40lb duffle bag on your shoulder means you'll probably need a massage before you even get to the gate. It's a drum we keep beating: sign up for PreCheck. The lines are typically shorter, always move faster, and allow you to skip through security with your shoes on, your laptop in your bag, and no sorta-naked images of you scanned to some creepy back room.
It seems like when you buy your ticket, any seat not in the middle of the back row has a "premium" charge. But 72 hours before the flight, airlines start releasing those premium seats, as well as seats from canceled reservations, to the general public. So if you don't want to shell out $50 to sit in an exit row, go online and look for better seats three days prior to departure.
We're not saying do a full-on Pilates class in the aisles (flight attendants hate that). But sitting in cramped conditions for extended periods of time does cause muscle tension and possibly even blood clots. So get up and stretch your legs every hour or so, even if it's just to go ask for a newspaper.
Chill in the airport lounge
It might seem illogical to show up at the airport early just to sit around and answer emails in a nice comfy chair near an open bar. No, wait, that sounds completely logical. It's also well within your reach at lounges run both by independent companies and the airlines. It starts your trip off in a relaxed setting (some lounges even offer massages) that will carry over to your flight.
Use sanitary wipes
Does that make you "that guy" who feels the need to wipe down his tray table before enjoying his bag of snack mix? Yes. Does it also minimize your risk for getting sick during several hours in a confined space with 175 sneezing, coughing strangers? Indeed it does. And reducing that anxiety over getting sick -- as well as your chances of actually being sick when you get on your return flight -- makes the whole experience more relaxing.
Let everyone else board first
Why is it people always crowd around the boarding gate to get ON an airplane, then as soon as it lands those same people are making a mad dash to get the hell off? Don't do that. Waiting in a slow line full of old ladies with roller bags they can't lift over their heads is a terrible way to travel. Wait for the final boarding call and stroll on after everyone else is seated. If you check luggage or pack light you won't even need to worry about overhead bin space.
Make your space more comfortable
Your tiny slice of airplane real estate doesn't need to be as uncomfortable as the airlines make it. Bring along your own pillow and blanket (because we all know about the ones on the plane), an eye cover, and some noise-canceling headphones, and voila! You've created your own little spa in the sky. Even if it is a lot smaller than it was 30 years ago.
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Matt Meltzer is a staff writer with Thrillist who puts the easy-listening station on noise-canceling headphones to get through the day. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.