It’s no secret that airlines are cracking down on freebies. Many of the top companies, budget, and luxury alike, will charge for luggage, food, and even the ability to choose your own seat. We’re not talking about the fancy seats that fold into a bed. No, even choosing a normal, basic, economy seat can stack additional fees on top of the price of a ticket. There are even tickets where they will not let you carry a bag onto the flight without an added cost. In our current pay, as you go economy, it often feels like nothing is free on airplanes anymore.
But fear not! There are still plenty of ways to find a "free lunch" on your next flight, both literally and figuratively. Airlines vary in what they will give away to passengers for free. Some of the items on this list are standards that all but the most budget airlines will generally uphold, and others are found in specific instances. Either way, these are the things that you can still expect to get for free once you’ve settled into your in-flight seat. Food, beverages, and other goodies are still found on flights around the world.
20 Extra Helpings of Snacks
Snacks are another item on this list that was once taken for granted as a guaranteed part of any flight. While that is no longer the case, it is a pretty safe bet on all but the most budget airlines. At a minimum, a little bag of pretzels of peanuts is expected. In addition to that, you can often ask for extra if you’re hungry. Let the flight attendants pass through fully, then ask them for an extra snack or two. Unless they are really running low, they will normally be more than happy to provide them.
19 Basic Medication & Bandages
Accidents happen. Illness and injuries do occur from time to time while in the air, but that does not mean you have to suffer or try to remedy them on your own. A cut, scrape, or minor illness can usually be treated right on board the plane. Flight crews carry a basic medical kit to ease any minor discomforts that happen while in the air. Things like a headache and stomach medicine, burn creams, and bandages are usually available on board the aircraft.
18 A Full Water Bottle Refill
Bringing a reusable water bottle saves time, money, and is environmentally friendly. As long as its empty, airports will let you walk through security with any water bottle. Once on the plane, skip the drink offering of the flight attendants and instead ask if they wouldn’t mind filling up your water bottle. They will often say yes, using their own bottles of water. This way, instead of having an open cup with a couple of sips of water that you need to drink quickly before it spills, you have a bottle filled to keep you hydrated. On top of that, bottles are often leak-proof, making it easy to store in your bag or the seat back without needing to keep the tray table down.
17 Grooming Kits
This is not a given, but many flights will offer a grooming kit of some kind for passengers. Sometimes, these are waiting in the seats on the airplane. Little kits of toothbrushes, toothpaste, socks, or even slippers are tucked into seat backs or are available upon request. This is mostly airline specific, some carry them, and some don’t. Even if you don’t see one when boarding, ask a flight attendant once on the plane. They may have them tucked in the back and out of sight but be happy to provide one for you.
16 Hand Sanitizer & Sanitizing Wipes
We all know the fear of sitting down on a plane and hearing with dread coughing coming from your next door seatmate. Getting sick after flying is very common, but it can be a miserable way to start a trip or return home from one. One way to stay ahead of illness while traveling is to use hand sanitizer frequently. Every time you go to the bathroom and touch the handles on doorways for example. Another is to use wipes to clean the TV console in front of you, the armrests, or even the light switches above the seat. If you didn’t pack your own of either, a flight attendant can easily provide these items.
15 A Cup of Hot Water
Hot water can feel especially soothing on a dry and parched throat during a long flight. By itself, it’s a lovely, and free, item provided by airlines at any time during the flight. However, if you want something a little bit more interesting, bring a tea bag from home and pop it in the cup as well. Instead of the usual bland, black tea that is on board most American and European flights, you will have a nice cup of your favorite tea to comfort you during the journey.
14 A Tour Of The Cockpit
Ever wondered what goes on in that little room at that front of the plane that gets you safely from one part of the world to another? The intricate and complex system inside the tiny cockpit is fascinating to explore. Most airlines will offer a cockpit tour with the captains if you ask. Try to target the end of the flight when the staff is not busy or preparing for another takeoff and be prepared to wait for when it is convenient for them. The tours are generally a few minutes along, but many will let you ask additional questions as well if they have time for it.
13 A Special Meal
A free meal is not a guarantee anymore on flights. However, if the flight is offering a free meal service, they will usually allow any passenger to get a “special” meal. A special meal is different from the main two or three choices that every other passenger will get and usually caters to a dietary requirement. The basics, vegetarian, gluten-free, and dairy-free, are often on offer but many airlines also have dozens of additional choices to accommodate for both physical and religious needs. This always has to be booked in advance. Usually, there is a section at checkout to select for a special meal. If you can’t find it, give them a call and they can schedule it for you.
12 Hungry? Get A Second Meal
On the occasions where a flight is serving meals, you don’t need to settle for just one. The meals that are provided can be tiny and unsatisfying, doubling up will help curb that in-flight hunger. Once again, this request is best saved for later in the flight. Let the attendants go through the plane fully delivering meals. Then, when the attendant is done and knows that everyone has been fed, they are more likely to say yes to your request for another serving.
11 Keep Kids Busy With Activity Packets
Parents know all too well the trials of trying to keep a child entertained throughout a long flight. In this digital age, it is easier than ever to pop your kid in front of a screen for hours. But not every kid is a digital kid, and not every parent wants their kid stick glued to a TV for the entire flight. When this gets old, or when you think they need to take a break, ask the flight attendant if there are any kids or activity packets on board. Many airlines offer a package of games or other attention holding activities to keep kids busy and give them a much-needed distraction.
10 Cozy Up With Blankets & Pillows
Blankets and pillows used to be waiting for passengers when they boarded, resting gently in their thin plastic wrap on the seat cushions. While airplane staff won’t necessarily prop them up for your arrival anymore, both items are still usually available. This is an airline by airline basis, but generally, aircraft have a stash somewhere on the plane of blankets and pillows. Ask for them when boarding or after settling in to get the most out of your potential sleep time.
Sometimes, we just forget to pack headphones or only bring Bluetooth ones (which do not work with plane entertainment systems). Flights that have TV’s usually have headphones. The budget airlines may charge for them, but most will still let you borrow a pair for free. They are not the greatest quality, and the style is more reminiscent of 90’s walkmen then the new airports, but they do the job. Airline headphones can do the job of tuning out a snoring neighbor or tuning in to some in-flight entertainment.
8 Snacks For In Between Meals
Emirates airline has a leg up on other long-haul economy flights. In addition to offering food during mealtimes, they also provide a cup of instant noodles, free of charge, at any time. No, this is not exactly a luxury option, but a cup of noodles are warm, comforting, and strangely delicious. More than anything they offer substance, great for easing hunger pangs after hours of being rooted in one spot. All you have to do is find a flight attendant and make the request. Within minutes, you’ll have a personal soup cup steaming in front of you.
Airmail is not dead, no matter what the young folk says. Postcards are still one of the cheapest and most thoughtful souvenirs a person can send home from their travels. Some airlines will start you off with the materials right away, serving up their very own postcards. Ask for one on your flight out and send it off from your trip to a loved one at home. It will give them a nice surprise and save you the expense of a touristy trinket that they will likely never use. This also works on the trip home, by the way, if you’ve forgotten to purchase a gift for someone who was promised one.
6 Keep Entertained With a Pack Of Playing Cards
It’s not all about the digital screens for in-flight entertainment. Many planes also have a stash of real, hold in your hand, activities as well. Playing cards can be borrowed for free if you don’t want to purchase your own set. Use it as a way to chat with your neighbor, entertain your travel partner, or keep them to yourself for a mega-solitaire marathon. Either way, playing a game is one of the best ways to pass the time and avoid crushing boredom.
5 Stay Informed With A Local Newspaper
Often given out on the morning after a night flight, newspapers are a great way to stay up to date on where you left or check in about where you're headed. They’re on board long before they’re offered, so feel free to request one earlier if you don't want to wait for breakfast to get your media fill. This option is helpful if you are bored and the internet is being spotty. Most of us are used to scrolling through different apps and websites to get our daily news, but when that is not an option, an old-fashioned, black and white newspaper comes in very handy!
More and more flights are offering in-flight WiFi free of charge to their paying passengers. This one is still hit or miss, some charge pretty high fees to use the plane’s WiFi while others are giving it away for nothing. If this is a concern of yours, check in with the company before purchasing a ticket to ensure this is included. Airplane reviews online are a great way to find out this information as well, in addition to the quality of the WiFi provided.
3 Take A Quick Break With Free Child Care
If you’re kind and cautious with asking for this one, you can end up with free, temporary childcare on a flight. Many flight attendants are happy to hang out with your child while you run to the bathroom or walk down the aisle for a quick leg stretch, especially if you are traveling with them alone. Be careful with this, though. They are not your babysitters and have a very hard full-time job they are working, asking nicely is the key here. There are some airlines that offer an actual nanny for parents who are flying, though these must be requested in advance.
2 Delicious Adult Drinks
Alcohol felt like the first to go when airlines initially started crunching budgets and tightening belts. But rest easy, there is still free alcohol to be had on certain flights. For domestic flights in the U.S., it almost never comes standard, although certain American and Delta flights are looking to change that. However, many European airlines offer free alcohol on flights. In addition, many American based airlines will also serve alcohol on international flights.
1 Non-alcoholic Drinks
The other side of the drink equation is still pretty easy to get. Unless you are flying the ultra-budget airlines, non-alcoholic drinks are still expected and provided. Sodas, coffee, and tea should come included in just about any airfare cost. Not satisfied with the small plastic cup serving you've been given? Most flight attendants will happily provide the full can of soda or bottle of water if you ask for it.