10 hacks to vanquish air travel stress

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/puroticorico/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Richie Diesterheft</a>
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/puroticorico/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Richie Diesterheft</a>

The fact that you can barrel down the highways of the sky for a few hours and arrive on the opposite side of the globe is truly a miracle… a miracle that, between intimate security encounters and agitating turbulence, you’re way too freaked out to take any joy in. Drop the terror at 30,000ft and start focusing on the terroir of your tiny wine bottle, because with these tips on beating ubiquitous travel snags, that next flight to parts known or not is going to be a breeze.

Lost luggage
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/cayetano/2161760393" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Cayetano/Flickr</a>

Problem: Your luggage got lost

In 2012 alone, 1.9 million bags were “misplaced” into whatever Bermuda Triangle sucks these things up. Few things are more maddening than finding yourself stranded in a foreign country without your sweet pair of vacation cutoffs.
How not to stress it
First off, know that it probably won’t happen: while 1.9 million bags sounds staggering, that’s out of 590 million passengers (and only 3.22 passengers out of 1000 are victims of actual theft, a 25% drop from ten years ago). But you can still minimize the odds by reducing connecting flights; baggage transfers accounted for 80% of delayed and lost baggage in 2013. If worse comes to worst, you can always see if your jorts ended up at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.

Buckle up.
Natali Glado/Shutterstock

Problem: Ttttttttttturbulence

The most common cause of injury to air passengers, turbulence is responsible for a lot more than pitching your stomach. Undetectable by radar and invisible to the naked eye, the jet streams that cause turbulence can hit a plane with tremendous ferocity that may force it to dive upwards of 30 meters in seconds.
How not to stress it
Boy, sensationalism sure is fun! Granted, turbulence is “the most common cause of injury to air passengers”, but that’s because it jostles around baggage, resulting in luggage falling on people when they open the compartment upon landing. In reality, only 30-60 of the U.S.’s 600,000,000 fliers are directly harmed by episodes of turbulence, and two thirds of that number are flight attendants, who aren’t usually buckled up. And while, yes, turbulence isn’t detectable by radar, pilots, aided by local reports and weather patterns, can still usually see it coming. This means those injured were most likely dinguses who refused to buckle their seatbelts. Still afeared? Nab yourself a seat by the wing where the turbulence is least, er, turbulent, since it’s the fulcrum around which the plane pitches and won’t move as much.

She's waiting for you!

Problem: You woke up late and will probably miss your flight

Every year, more than 10% of all flyers are no-shows. Inevitably, there will come a day when your flight takes off without you despite your sprinting through the terminal like the star of a bad rom-com.
How not to stress it
While it might not be the official policy of every carrier (notable exceptions: US Airways and Southwest), if you know you’re probably not going to make it, call at least two hours before your scheduled departure and ask if there’s a “flat tire” rule, which extends you the common courtesy of being put on the next flight on standby with the same airline at no charge. 

Sergey Ash/Shutterstock

Problem: You arrived far smellier than when you departed

Close quarters + a lot of people + recirculating air = a not so fresh time.
How not to stress it
There’s little anyone can do about the personal hygiene of other passengers, but you can prep your own body the night before, especially if it’s an early flight. Shower late in the evening and apply Gillette Clear Gel Deodorant once you're totally dry.. Moisture from a sloppy 5am shower and your body’s tendency to sweat more in the morning makes absorption of an antiperspirant’s sweat or smell fighting properties difficult, and you won’t get the funk-fighting powers you need.

Meditating the sickness away

Problem: You’re worried about getting sick

Bad news: your fears are well founded. A 2007 study of plane surfaces by biological microbiologist Charles Gelba found that four out of six swabbed tray tables tested positive for MRSA and norovirus, and 30% of flush, faucet, and tap handles tested positive for E. Coli. Gross.
How not to stress it
Even though those surfaces might be a lost battle, you don’t have to spend a second worrying about the air, which is constantly pushed through HEPA filters, regularly vented to the outside, and mixed with new intake. Just be sure to wipe down your tray table and arm rests with a disinfectant wipe, avoid aisle seats (since they’re the ones most frequently occupied by passengers in dire need of bathroom proximity), and try to resist the siren call of the Sky Mall. Having passed through countless hands, it’s probably covered with enough bacteria to make you as sick as the deals inside.

No Free Wi-Fi

Problem: You can’t get free Wi-Fi

Half of the busiest airports in the U.S. are outfitted with free Wi-Fi, but at the other half you’ll be paying for chunks of that sweet, sweet Internet.
How not to stress it
There are two big loopholes to most timed out internet connections, at least in the terminal (in-flight’s another matter). Try refreshing your cache or spoofing your IP after a free trial in order to tell the service, “gosh, no, this is the first time I’ve used this fine service of yours and I would be interested in paying were I given the chance to use it!”. Or try enabling developer tools in your browser. Either method’s not guaranteed, but if you know what caches and/or developer tools are, they’re worth a shot.

You're on the first flight to bummerville
B Calkins/Shutterstock

Problem: Your flight was cancelled

Already in 2014, almost 100,000 flights in North America have been cancelled (nearly 3% of all flights), one of them probably yours, all announced with a sad, shuddering click of the public address system carrying the sad, shuddering voice of the flight attendant who knows exactly what everybody is thinking about them.
How not to stress it
Remember this magic number: 240. Rule 240 was a standard for air service established by the Civil Aeronautics Board in 1978 that required airlines to place passengers on cancelled and delayed flights on the next flight out, even if that flight is a competitor’s, and place economy flyers in first class if the seats were available.  While the board might be no more and the rule no longer a mandated guideline, some major airlines (including United) still observe it.

Are your evolutionarily coded triggers going off yet?
<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bibbit/5456802728" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">Bridget Coila/Flickr</a>

Problem: There’s a baby

With cries that can register at 115db (about rock concert levels) and trigger an involuntary fight or flight response in the region of the brain responsible for reward and emotion processing, babies manage to create stress that’s evolutionarily coded into your brain.
How not to stress it
Because you can’t get your hands on the beta blockers it’d take to stop the flow of adrenaline triggering your fight-or-flight response, get an exit row seat and a big pair of headphones. Why? By law, that bundle of joy isn’t allowed in an aisle seat or an exit row, so at least you won’t be trapped mere inches from its gaping scream-hole.

<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/heionaurora/36696012" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">xtina/Flickr</a>

Problem: You can’t sleep

Engine noise (often making the cabin a more than mildly uncomfortable 85db), jostles from other passengers & the plane, and uncertain temperatures can have you emerging from your redeye flight red-eyed. It’s an accepted reality of air-travel, like legroom not existing and pilots starting every announcement with “uhhhhhh“.
How not to stress it
Try not to drink alcohol, because dehydration wrecks the REM cycle, and remember that caffeine has an astounding six hour half life, meaning that morning cuppa won’t help you out at 30,000ft. Also, let your body breathe. Dress in wool or cotton, and bring your own light sheet -- yes it’s super-attractive, but that polyester blanket prevents your body from releasing heat. 

Getting the bump
Capricorn Studio/Shutterstock

Problem: You got bumped

Almost 600,000 people were left to watch their planes fly away in 2012, because it is perfectly legal for airlines to offer more seats than they have.

How not to stress it
Know that the bump rate is down 50% from ten years ago. Beyond that, get a seat assignment, check in online, arrive early, and, if you can help it, splurge a little on your seats (extra legroom, etc) -- according to the New York Times, people who get there last and have the cheapest seats get kicked off first (meritocracy!). Agreeing to give up your seat for some negotiated price, is a transaction not regulated by the Department of Transportation, so protect yourself by learning the limitations of your voucher: ask questions about blackout dates, how far in advance you can make a reservation with it, and if you can be confirmed on a later flight.