Full disclosure: As I started writing this, I was sitting in the Cathay Pacific lounge under the Hong Kong International Airport, waiting for a flight that was almost a day late. The lounge was lovely, but after the first 10 hours or so, even the free tea and dumplings started to wear thin. I tell you this, because -- no matter what you do, as if you needed to know -- while flying is amazing, air travel sucks.
The technology and difficulty of propelling you through the air leave you at the complete mercy of the airline. No matter what the cute video you watch on the taxiway says, airlines regard you mostly as mass and money. I know this far too well: I’m up to about 40,000 miles in the first half of the year, on an average of a flight every other week -- and this has been a relatively light year for me. Status or no, I know full well that to the airlines I’m basically a talking suitcase. Even if you manage to book the lie-flat studio bed in international flagship first class, you remain a body packed in a metal tube. Cargo, in other words.
The good news is, there are ways to turn the system to your benefit. Airlines learned some time ago that the best way to make sure passengers (and their far wealthier employers) keep giving money to them, rather than to their competitors, was to encourage loyalty and tamp down on passengers’ unhappiness. You can’t do anything about the weather (or in my case, Beijing air traffic control). But you can make your experience a lot more pleasant if you follow a few tips.