If anyone knows the best ways to travel, it’s got to be a flight attendant. These guys fly for a living - and that often means ten to twenty days of travel a month. That’s a lot of time to be spending on airplanes and in airports. Of course, part of that time is also spent at destinations where flight attendants get short breaks (the biggest perk of the job), but altogether, the sheer amount of traveling that flight attendants do means that these are the true expert travelers.
Plus, of course, flight attendants will share the best tips with each other, teaching the newbies how to get the best seats, how to pack efficiently (and incredibly lightly), and how to deal with the worst kinds of customers… and yes, if you make the flight crew angry, there are little ways that they can make your own life worse in return. Thankfully, some generous flight attendants have also been sharing their best tips and tricks with those of us who spend a whole lot less time in the air (or in far-flung corners of the globe), so that we can take advantage of everything they’ve learned when we travel. From packing to planning, these are our favorite flight attendant tips.
Staying hydrated on a plane is a must, but make sure that you bring your own water on board (whether you buy it bottled, or fill up at the airport drinking fountains). Although ‘tap’ water on planes should be safe, the tanks that store it are difficult to fully clean, and that can mean bacteria build up. That also means no tea or coffee (sorry) but the ice isn’t made on board, so that’s still totally safe.
If you like to turn the air vents on for the feeling of fresh air (or to cool down) on a flight, think about bringing some alcohol wipes with you on the plane, and using them to wipe off the vent before you turn it on.
Point it toward your lap, rather than your face, too - and help keep airborne germs away from you - or at least, away from your nose and mouth. We're much more likely to catch a cold on a flight compared to on the ground, so taking these steps can make a huge difference.
As well as cleaning off the air vent, definitely clean off the tray table with an alcohol wipe. The trays aren’t always cleaned thoroughly between flights, and people do all kinds of weird things on there.
It could be something as simple as putting a used kleenex on the surface and transferring germs that way, but people have also been known to change babies or hold carry-on-sized pups on the trays, and that is a whole new level of gross to deal with before you lay your head down for a tray-top nap.
These days, it’s not necessary to carry a huge amount of local currency when you travel, as most places take credit cards. However, most people will still keep some cash on them for tips or roadside stalls. Plan ahead and change money before you leave so you can research the best rate, or if you forget, wait until you get to your destination city and find a bank or currency exchange. The ones at airports have notoriously bad rates.
Airports do have plenty of options for picking up food, but it’s still a good idea to do a little planning when it comes to meals on the go. Make sure that if you are intending to eat at a sit-down restaurant at the airport, you are leaving plenty of time to get through security (and remembering that boarding starts before the actual flight time). Bring snacks if you have a long flight or dietary restrictions. And don’t forget about landing, too.
If you are landing late at night, you may not be able to find a meal easily - check with your hotel ahead of time, or bring snacks in your checked bag to have a picnic dinner.
If you are going to leave something behind on a plane, there’s a solid chance it’s because you put it in the seat-back pocket and forgot about it. Electronics are particularly prone to being left behind here, including laptops, tablets, and phones, but passports and books also get stuffed into these pockets and forgotten.
Unless you are happy with the idea of accidentally leaving it behind (think a water bottle, snacks, etc), don’t put it in the pocket. Keep it in your carry on bag so you won’t forget it when you leave.
The fastest way to make sure that you aren’t going to leave anything behind is to have a solid packing routine. Make sure that you have a carry on bag that you love, and put the same things in the same place each time. Invest in some packing cubes, and if you travel a lot, consider setting up a ready-packed bag of toiletries in miniature, so you don’t have to think about shampoo, shower gel, moisturizer and the rest every time you fly.
Some children can be absolute angels on a flight, and most people know that the parents of even the worst-behaved ones are trying their best… but that doesn’t mean that we want to sit next to a crying child or sticky tot. However, if you are rude to the check-in staff, there are some who will happily change your seat to one surrounded by the children on the flight, all but guaranteeing you a less relaxed journey than you hoped for.
Always be polite to airline staff. You may even get an upgrade, or a more direct flight, if they are in a good mood (and it’s possible).
Especially on long-haul flights, it’s common to find pillows and blankets provided for the passengers - and it’s a lovely courtesy to help people fall asleep on the flight. However, be careful when using pillows and blankets that aren’t wrapped in plastic. The plastic-wrapped ones are clean and new, but if you see blankets that are folded on the seat or in the overhead bin, there’s a good chance it has actually just been refolded after the last passenger used it.
If the plane has been on several flights without a full clean-out, it may have been used multiple times by the time you touch it.
Frequent flyer miles are a great way for regular travelers to save up for free trips - and who wouldn’t want that? But be aware that when that frequent flyer number is scanned, a little file will pop up for airline staff to read… and it has a section for notes on the customer. If you’ve always been a great passenger, or have tipped staff in the past, you’ll potentially get better service.
If you’ve been rude or difficult in the past, however, there’s a solid chance it will be noted down in the frequent flyer account, and you may not get the best responses from your attendants.
When picking your seat, aim for at least the second row back in any cabin section, unless you are specifically after that extra legroom that comes with the bulkhead row. For the very tall, the legroom may be worth it, but for everyone else? Get ready to store everything in the overhead bins, which includes electronic devices during takeoff and landing much of the time - no reading that kindle till the flight is in the air.
As well as less screen time and access to your things, there are also all the responsibilities that come with bulkhead seating in an emergency, and potentially a smaller in-seat entertainment system.
Dressing for a flight is always interesting - are you going to aim for total comfort, or for dressing up (either for arrival or to hopefully score an upgrade)? Whichever way to decide to play your airline fashion, make sure that your outfit includes layers. Both planes are airports are usually cold, and there can be some major variations in temperature between your departure city, airport, plane, and destination - especially if a plane gets stuck on the tarmac and can’t blast the a/c for a while.
Make sure you can add or remove layers, and keep your legs and arms covered if you get cold.
Airports can be intimidating if you aren’t a regular traveler - or if it is your first time traveling through a huge hub airport when you are used to smaller, local ones. However, the best advice from flight attendants (who are constantly navigating new airports around the world) is to look up!
Airports usually have lots of signage, but it will be hanging from the rafters, so keep your head up. Some also have apps and maps you can download to your phone, but if you are using them, step to one side so you aren’t in the way.
Sitting toward the front of the aircraft usually means getting off the plane faster at your destination, as well as dealing with less turbulence or air sickness. However, if you sit at the back, you can often get better service while in the air.
According to one flight attendant, some will actually avoid call bells at the front of the plane: “because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way," she wrote. "This can cause a problem since planes often don't have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes, or the time on shorter flights to deviate from the service schedule”.
While many hotels do provide ironing boards, you may not always have time to stop and iron your outfit - but if you travel with a flat iron for styling hair, it will do the job in a pinch (and you don’t have to be at your hotel, either). Need to land somewhere and immediately look put together? Pop into a bathroom and use the outlet to give your clothes a quick once over and you’ll look like you didn’t just step off a plane.
Planes are not the best places to stay hydrated, and humidity on a flight is often as low as 10%. Add that to pressure changes and sugary free sodas with salty snacks, and you may look puffy and dehydrated on landing. Make sure that you take water on board and limit the salt, but also drink a bottle before getting on the flight - just make sure you visit the washroom before you board too, in case you are stuck on the runway (and unable to use the plane washrooms until you get in the air).
As well as being dry, airplanes can definitely be a bit cramped and uncomfortable, and being stuck in your seat for too long can lead to a sore neck and back. It’s a good idea to learn a few simple stretches that you can do in your seat, as well as stretching before and after the flight if you can.
In addition, you can buy a portable massager - tiny versions exist that are perfect for getting the kinks out while you are in the air, or as soon as you get to your hotel.
As well as stretching in your seat, you can also make sure to take a stroll up the aisles if you are on a really long flight. As well as giving you a chance to stretch out, this also helps ward off blood clots and swollen feet while in the air (pressure socks can also help, if you are particularly at risk thanks to medication).
Just be aware of what the flight crew are doing, and try not to get in anyone’s way. Rolling out a yoga mat in the aisle might be a bit much!
If you travel often and love to work out, consider a nationwide gym chain, rather than a local one. Many hotels offer fitness facilities, which can be great, but if you aren’t guaranteed that option (or if you are staying at an Airbnb or with friends), being a member of a nationwide gym usually means you can use any location - and that means guaranteeing a workout in every city, even when you are traveling.
When you arrive, try and spend a little time outside, and if possible, in some kind of green space. That might be the hotel’s rooftop deck or balcony, but if you are staying somewhere near a beach or park, head out to grab a little nature time. After hours in a cramped plane being pumped full of recycled air, some time in the fresh air and sunshine of nature can be a huge mood booster. The vitamin D from the sun helps keep you healthy, and green spaces help us stay calm and happy while on the go.
As well as the usual suspects for travel tips (like travel guides and blogs), if you have some time in the air, chat to your flight attendant about the places they like to go when they land.
Many flight attendants fly similar routes on a regular basis, and with a day or two of stopover, they get to know the best bars, restaurants, and local points of interest, and if they have the time (and you’ve been friendly and polite) they’ll be happy to share their tips with you.
Now that most planes have individual entertainment screens, it can be easy to assume that that will keep you busy for the whole flight. However, there may be times when a specific screen isn’t working, and if you haven’t planned anything else to do, you’ll be sitting flipping through the inflight magazine until you’ve memorized it.
Bring a book as well, or better yet, bring some things that you have to get done - thank you notes, updating lists, etc. Make the flight productive, rather than zoning out completely.
Jet lag is the bane of long-haul travelers, and there are plenty of suggestions that you’ll hear on how to avoid it as best you can. Some of the most common include switching your watch (or, let’s be more realistic, phone) to the destination time zone the day that you leave.
When you arrive, get some sunshine (sunlight affects body clock), and if you are exhausted, take a short nap rather than getting a full sleep.
If you have an early flight on your way home again, think about bringing breakfast from your hotel, rather than relying on the in-flight meals (or expecting all airport facilities to be open, if it’s a red-eye). If breakfast is included in your room cost, and you ask ahead of time, many hotels will be happy to make you a doggie bag of the breakfast so you can grab it and go, and not get hungry on the plane. Of course, it’s important to check the rules for bringing foods through security at the airport you are heading to as well.
If your packing routine failed you and you realize that you are without a charger, go ask at the hotel desk and see if they have any in the lost and found. Many hotels will keep a stash of found and unclaimed chargers for a range of different electronics, and if you ask politely, they will often be happy to lend one out to guests who have forgotten their own.