When you start traveling by plane, plenty of people will likely want to give you advice. Most of these people are well-meaning, although the tips and tricks they provide are sometimes less than stellar pieces of advice. Even people who have never actually taken a flight anywhere will be tempted to dole out sage wisdom!
This is often how bad advice is perpetuated from person to person. If anyone prefaces their tips with “I’ve never actually tried this” or “I’ve heard it’s a good idea to,” you can probably dispense with the so-called advice that follows. Sometimes, though, even other experienced travelers will give you some pretty shoddy tips.
As it turns out, a lot of the common air travel advice you receive will probably be questionable. While bad advice is sometimes visible from space, other tips and tricks might seem to make good sense at first glance. That is, until you try them out for yourself. Nonetheless, people insist on dispensing these nuggets of questionable wisdom, even though they don’t hold up in practice.
We’ve collected 20 of the most common pieces of air travel advice that won’t actually help you all that much. If someone tries to sell you on one of these tips, tell them thanks, but no thanks!
This is the same sort of advice as trying a new medication for your long-haul or red-eye flight. Cracking open a bottle of wine or sipping on a rum and coke is just as bad as trying out a new medication during the flight.
Many people will tell you to have a drink, if you’re of legal age, in order to sleep on the plane. Experts think alcohol has a more potent effect while you’re airborne, however, and it also dehydrates you. Unless you want to be hungover when you land on the first day of vacation, stick with water.
It seems like a no-brainer. You need a specific currency, and your bank is going to take weeks to get it. Why make the extra trip and spend the extra time? Just grab your foreign cash at the currency exchange kiosk at the airport. You’re going to the airport anyway, and every one has an FX counter for travelers like you.
Only do this if there is absolutely no other way for you to get cash before you leave. These kiosks count on the fact you have no other options, so they charge much higher rates. You get less bang for your buck, so if you can, exchange your currency literally anywhere but the airport.
Air travel is always a bit of a trick thanks to baggage restrictions. You’ll likely have 1 carry-on, plus 1 personal item. If your flight is international or long-haul, you may get 1 checked bag. All of these items have to fit certain dimensions and meet weight requirements.
That’s why one common piece of travel advice is to wear your heaviest items of clothing. This could include jackets, jeans, sweatshirts, and even sneakers. And, in theory, it sounds like a great idea. But chances are you’re going to be sweating buckets an hour into your flight. Just pay the fee so you can be comfortable instead.
Travelers are often advised to arrive at the airport hours before the departure, in order to ensure they have enough time to go through security and make it to their gate. If you follow the airport guidelines, though, this usually results in a long time spent lounging near your gate.
Some people put this to a test, and devised a mathematical formula to minimize airport wait times. Unfortunately for most of us, this isn’t practical advice at all! If you’ve ever seen people scrambling through a lengthy security line to get to their gate, you know why. Missing your flight is going to waste more time than arriving early ever will, so just get to the airport early.
Many people recommend unplugging whenever you go on vacation. Most of us are deeply attached to our smartphones, and going on vacation can seem like a great way to detox from smartphone addiction.
Unfortunately, leaving your electronics behind or not worrying about charging them isn’t the best plan when you’re traveling by air. While you may not be able to make a call mid-air, you do want to have your phone on when you land. You need to be able to call a taxi, GPS your way to your hotel, text a friend, or haul up your hotel reservation. It can also be useful in emergency situations. You need that phone, so keep it charged.
Long-haul flights and red-eyes aren’t much fun. In theory, they’re great, because you can just go to sleep for a few hours, and wake up in a brand new country. Except, if you’ve ever been on a plane, you know the seats are hardly comfortable, and there’s plenty of distraction, from movies to someone kicking your seat to snoring passengers and screaming babies.
That’s probably why so many people recommend trying out a new medication before your flight. Others will push herbal remedies for jet lag. Just keep in mind you don’t know how you’ll react, and you may not like the results. It’s better to test-drive new medications on the ground.
With all the talk of missing planes and attacks around the world, it’s not surprising some people are afraid of flying. Many people feel the risk is heightened by international flight.
Some people suggest you shouldn’t bother seeing the rest of the world, and just stick with domestic flights. Pilot error and mechanicals are just as likely anywhere in the world, though, among other things.
And while there are plenty of things to see and do at home, do you really want to cross most of the world off your bucket list for a marginal feeling of additional safety? Travel is about adventure, and that involves at least a little risk.
Chances are this piece of advice was handed to you by an older friend, colleague, or well-meaning relative. They may have heard rumors about how dressing up in a suit could score you a free upgrade. If you want to sit business class, you’ve got to dress for the part, right?
This might have worked in the past, but it doesn’t pass muster anymore. While dressing smart casual will likely get you better service, you’re more likely to get an upgrade if you fly solo or travel during off-peak times. Even being polite goes a lot further than upgrading your wardrobe.
This is perhaps the most nonsensical piece of advice on this list, but some people swear by it. We’re a little skeptical, and we wonder if they actually ever tried it, or if they’ve just heard it works from “a friend of a friend.”
The theory goes that you can defeat jet lag simply by putting brown paper bags on your feet while flying. The science here is super-sketchy, and ultimately, the theory just doesn’t hold any water. Instead, try to stay hydrated and try to adjust yourself to the local clock as soon as you can. You’ll look much less ridiculous to boot.
Traveling with children presents its own unique challenges. It often seems like a courtesy that airlines allow parents priority boarding. If you have small children with strollers, then this is often so the strollers can be packed and loaded onto the plane in a timely manner.
You might think twice about boarding early, though, especially for long-haul flights. Since you’ll have to wait for all the other passengers to board the plane, you’ve only allowed for more time for your kids to get antsy and bored. Do yourself a favor and prebook your seats, then take your time boarding. As long as you’re at the gate, the plane’s not leaving without you.
This seems like a great idea when you first look at it! Your passport and other important documents are things you don’t want to get ruined, so it makes perfect sense to protect them with some kind of cover. Bonus points if it’s super-cute or reflective of your personality, right?
Wrong. Most of the time, customs officers are going to ask you to take your passport out of the cover. So now you’ve actually increased the risk of damaging it as you pull it in and out of the cover. Worse, it can take time to get the documents in and out of the cover, adding to the time it takes you to move through security.
We’ve already met with the struggle of getting everything you need on vacation into your allotted baggage for a flight. Sometimes, however, the problem isn’t so much the weight as it is the sheer amount of stuff you have in your carry-on or checked luggage.
Compression bags are some people’s favorite solution to this problem. These vacuum seal bags can reduce the volume of your clothes, allowing you to pack more in your case. It can be useful if you’re packing light, but bulky gear, but chances are you’ll just end up tossing in more than you really need. Practice packing light instead.
Who doesn’t love the duty-free shop? They’re all over airports, trying to convince travelers like us that this designer handbag is such a steal, or that you’re picking up an amazing deal on luxury chocolates or wine.
Chances are the duty-free is a bit of a rip-off. Common items often cost much more at the airport, even if it is “duty-free.” The other issue with shopping at the duty-free shop is that you’re unlikely to find anything more than mass-produced items. If you really want to bring home something unique, be sure to complete your shopping away from the airport.
Let’s be honest. Planes are uncomfortable at the best of times, and trying to sleep on one is often a lost cause. That’s why this particular situation keeps cropping up on this list. You’re on a red-eye or long-haul, and you just want to get some shut-eye.
One of your friends says skip the complimentary airline drinks and the herbal jetlag remedy. They recommend a sleeping pill instead. Sleeping pills can have some fairly unpleasant side effects, however, and not all of them last the same length of time. Skip the unpleasant fogginess, and just try to get some shut-eye the old-fashioned way.
A last-minute flight is often touted as a great way to save money. Airlines, desperate to fill their flights, drop prices in an effort to get people to buy. You swoop in and take advantage of what looks like a great deal.
Except when you get to the airport, you find the flight has been oversold and you’re waiting for a seat. You may not get on this flight. Or the next one. Or the one after that. That’s exactly how you wanted to spend your precious vacation time, isn’t it? Plus, you’ll probably get a better deal if you just book ahead.
Whether you’re selecting your seats prior to boarding or you’re on a flight where you can pick any available seat, you might make for the seats around the emergency exits. This is especially true if you’re a nervous flyer. After all, if you’re right beside the exit, you’ll be the first one out of the plane in an emergency!
Your odds of survival are actually increased if you sit at the back of the plane. Emergency exits often come with additional responsibilities, and you may actually be asked to move if you’re under the age of 16 or if the flight attendants don’t believe you could open the door. (Trust us—it’s happened!)
Many journeys have to be completed in stages, which means you’ll end up with one or more stopovers on your flight. You’ll disembark, then wait to board the next flight. Depending on where you’re going, you may end up with 2 or 3 flights total.
People try to minimize layover time between flights, but this isn’t always possible. From time to time, you’re going to end up with a long layover. You might be tempted to book a hotel room to get some sleep.
This is often expensive, first because the closest rooms will be airport hotels. Next, you’ll need to get over there. Perhaps worst of all, you run the risk of missing your flight, especially if it’s early.
Air travel can be expensive. There are no two ways around that fact. It’s why people are always on the hunt for travel deals, and you might be tempted to book the absolute cheapest flights.
Keep in mind “cheap” is not always “better.” The flights with the best prices often have high “pain” factors. They’re often on econo airlines with few amenities, involve several stops and long layovers, and depart incredibly early or incredibly late. Think about your schedule and your comfort alongside your wallet. Air travel can be an uncomfortable experience, but you don’t need to go out of your way to make it more unpleasant.
Back to the packing debate. This piece of advice isn’t strictly for air travelers, but it is common enough to warrant mentioning. It might seem especially helpful if you’re trying to cram your life into 1 checked bag and a carry-on.
Folding your clothes takes up more space, so people contest that rolling them up maximizes the space in the suitcase. It’s not true. We’ve tested it. Your absolute best bet? Don’t fold or roll. If you can, spread items out along the bottom of your case. Some items, such as pants, will need to be folded, but only fold them once. This avoids adding unnecessary bulk and comes with the bonus of not creasing all of your clothes.
We’ve already made the case for booking in advance instead of booking last minute and then hoping you get on the flight you booked. Booking in advance also helps you take advantage of the best prices.
So you should book as far in advance as possible, right? Some people will tell you this is definitely the way to go, but it’s not always the most practical piece of advice. The best time to book flights is actually between 90 and 56 days before you depart. You’ll get the best prices then (and book on Tuesday if you can). There’s no need to book a year in advance.
References: SmarterTravel.com, mappingmegan.com, GoAbroad.com, stayatbase.com, loveexploring.com