Because I spend too much time going to weird places and eating, I'm constantly flying. And because I'm a judgmental, selfish person, I'm constantly trying to figure out ways to improve my quality of life while flying. And because I want to make your flying life better too, if only because I read a fortune cookie that says a high tide raises all boats, here are all of my tips, secrets, hacks, and non-buzz-related words to help you fly like a pre-sun-melting-mishap Icarus.
Pick a parking shuttle
Unless you live close enough for public transportation, pick a parking shuttle that has extra perks for repeat customers. I use one in San Francisco (SkyPark) that has not-that-bad donuts, several newspapers, and will even wash and fix your car while you're gone. Coming back to a clean, not-broken car is, in many ways, better than even going on a trip.
Pick an airline and stick with it
There are easy ways to find out the best frequent-flyer programs, but once you choose one, stick with that airline as much as possible. Consider even getting a credit card with rewards points. Status equals faster security lines, free checked bags, free food and movies on board, winning smiles from flight attendants, and possibly even those cool wings from the pilot. However, you should basically have a backup rewards plan with an airline that flies to the places your main airline doesn't. Southwest's Rapid Rewards is a solid alternate move, because the perks come in quickly, and it flies to those random secondary cities most other airlines don't.
Choose your seat wisely
When selecting your seat, don't choose the empty row. Choose the row with one other person in it, as you'll scare people away from the dreaded middle seat. And for short flights, just sit closer to the front, even if you don't have as much space. You can get off the plane 10-15 minutes faster. And another pro tip: sit around the exit rows. You can't recline your seat but who actually cares on a non-red-eye? It won't affect anything, but somehow no one ever wants to sit in those because they feel like they're getting screwed not being able to put their seat back 4 to 6in. BE BETTER THAN THAT.
Wait to upgrade
If you wait until the day of your flight, you can often pay less for an upgrade, as they are incentivized to fill those seats. Prices often fluctuate depending on whether the flight is considered short, medium, or long, but I often find that medium-length flights (around three hours) are the best deal to upgrade. Don't bother with two hours or less: you can suck it up for those.
Remember these three things about luggage
1. If you are going on a trip that is 48 hours or less, you should be able to fit everything you need in a smartly designed backpack or small duffel that could, if need be, fit under your seat (plus a hanging bag that most airlines will take and stow for you if you ask).
2. If you have to check bags, most good rewards programs allow you at least one free. So make sure you're taking advantage of that.
3. If you're in a paying situation, you can often just take your bag through security and then check it at the gate for free (flight attendants admit they'll do it). If your bag is too big to fit through security, and you're going away for less than a week, ask yourself: who do you think you are, anyway?
Invest in a quick security-line solution
If you fly even somewhat frequently, a membership in Clear or TSA PreCheck ends up paying for itself in terms of not making you want to stab your eyes with brass letter openers every time you go through security. If Clear exists in your home city, definitely get that, as that means you can use it for 50% of all of your flights.
All lines are not created equal
If you can't skip the line, be smart about which security terminal you use. I've found in particularly crowded airports that it's sometimes faster -- once you get your ticket -- to actually go to a less crowded terminal and walk or take a shuttle over to your gate once you're through the security line.
Know the best restaurants/bars/convenience stores
Pre-scout your terminal for the best food/drink so you're not wasting your time eating a weird egg salad sandwich wrapped in plastic from one of those little bins next to the Luden's cough drops. Need a helpful reference guide? Check this and this.
Have your snack-and-drink game locked down:
Because you never know if Virgin is going to run out of kids peanut butter and jellies, come correct with snacks. Here is a quick cheat sheet in case you lack common sense.
A big thing of water
A bar that isn't just pretending to be a candy bar, unless you feel like eating a candy bar, in which case just buy a damn candy bar
Your own PB&J if you're under 13 but weirdly reading this story
(Also, here's how to make a nutritious lunch entirely out of items sold at an airport newsstand.)
TUNA OF ANY KIND. This is in caps lock for a reason. I will find you and give you incredibly hostile looks.
Any "salad" sandwich. Tuna is one of these "salads."
Anything that you'd describe as "pungent" or "messy"
Keep your headphones in
Know the internet will suck on morning weekday flights
Because everyone is flying for work, and everyone is going to need to use their computer, and the internet is essentially like a public pool -- the more people in it, the slower you're swimming. If you can, pick afternoon flights, or try and use the first hour or two of a red-eye to do work. Or follow these other travel Wi-Fi tips. Weekend flights have amazingly fast internet because no one wants to do anything but watch Property Brothers and vape.
Befriend the flight attendants
Don't be eager and annoying, because that'll just make them hate you and erroneously blame you for farts in your area, but if you're cool when you're waiting for the bathroom and you ask them interesting shit and show you’re funny and not horrible-smelling and have good taste in Kelme sneakers, you can get all sorts of hookups. Also, they can tell you how to have sex on the plane.
If you have to poop, remember this
It's actually better to go when there's a small line rather than no line, to avoid detection as the pooper. Treat it like a bar bathroom in terms of expediency and courtesy flushes. And this is the most crucial: act like you, too, are grossed out by whomever pooped BEFORE you when you come out of the bathroom. Maintain eye contact with the next person. Losing eye contact will prove that you are ashamed and thus were the pooper. Maybe even pretend to gag a little. The real pooper would never vomit from their own smells. But no matter what: never. Leave. Their. Eyes.
Get up and stretch every 90 minutes or so
I read somewhere that your legs atrophy and you get blood clots and possibly die if you don't. I REALLY READ THAT SOMEWHERE.
Don't have more than two drinks
People are sort of hardcore both ways on this, but sometimes a gin & tonic sounds delicious and is just what you need to take the edge off a particularly brutal Property Brothers renovation filled with unforeseen building-code issues. Just make sure you have that water to counter-balance the dehydration.
Invest in a good duffle bag
Rolling bags need to stop. They're just awful and heavy and ugly and no one knows how to put them in overhead bins correctly. I think it's wheels out, but I don't really know because I don't have one because I'm not a goddamn monster.
And when you're getting off the plane...
... leave when it's your turn. Don't try and bull-rush past your row swinging your roller bag like a Quidditch broom. Help older people and little people getting their bags out of the overheads. Don't be a dick. Thank the pilot. Fist-bump the flight attendant. Stare down the tuna salad person. And be on your way.
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