This is a bit of a rant disguised as useful information – I just read a well-known travel blogger’s take on stress-free travel. It all sounded very chill so long as you can afford priority access through security, lounge access and business class.
Back in the real world, I don’t waste money of flights, I’m not going to pay 10X the price of economy for some “free” drinks and lounge access and a lie-flat business class seat. I’ll spend that money travelling.
So for the rest of us back in cheap seats of the plane – here is how I still enjoy flying!
Know the rules
If you are flying on a budget airline or just on a cheap ticket, be very clear on the rules. Know the size and weight of carry on and checked luggage. Know the time the gate closes. Plan around these things. Double check the airline’s website to make sure your flight time hasn’t changed – they won’t always email you an updated itinerary. Make sure you have any visas or proof of onwward travel sorted out for destination (yes the airline will check before they let you on the flight).
If the airline offers it check-in online, as soon as possible after it opens. Some carriers open 7 days in advance, others only 24 hours. And although some now offer apps and other electronic alternatives to old-fashioned paper boarding cards, I still try to bring paper copies if at all possible. Check the rules – some cheap European airlines will charge you a LOT if you need to print out the boarding pass at the airport. At the other extreme Air Asia now has QR code readers at the gate – you just need the QR code on your smart phone.
Get to the Airport Early
Flying internationally I aim to be at the airport 3 hours early. For domestic I still leave 2 hours unless it’s my small local airport. If I’m leaving home I usually get a lift with a friend and we have a drink or two or a meal, before I leave. The reason airlines tell you to get there early is because it means you will probably still make your flight if there is weather chaos, traffic problems, or, as in my case once, you leave your passport at home and have to drive back 1/2 the route to get it!
Once a the airport I like to get through security and then chillax in departures. There are usually plenty of food and shopping ops. Free WIFI is getting more common for that annoying Facebook update.
Even if you check-in online – you still need to queue for bag drop – unless you travel carry-on only. Really, it’s worth the effort – plus you get to actually enjoy your trip rather than worrying about moving your dirty washing around a foreign country. And anyone can do it – Icould go on – instead I’ll just direct you to the book I wrote on the subject!
For Americans – the rest of the world has weight limits on carry on items – and yes they matter, they may well check, and yes you can only take one bag on and one “small personal item” – at best.
Time Your Flight Right
You can get all bent out of shape trying to avoid jet-lag- but it’s not a huge deal really. What does make a difference is it you can organize a flight that either flys through the night and/or arrives in evening. It’s easy going to bed a few hours later, rather than trying to stay awake during the day.
If you can’t sleep on planes- you’re probably not tired enough! I tend to miss out the night’s sleep before getting a flight – usually because I need to pack! It used to be poor planing on my part – but now it’s quite deliberate as I really do want to be able to sleep on the flight!
Once you are at the departure date – there is no rush – whether you board first or last you’ll get the destination at the same time. And there will be a seat for you – really! But do remember to get to the gate on time – don’t be the person whose being called over the PA system because you forgot to leave the bar!
Pick Transits Wisely
I really, really hate flights that are more than 10 hours long – specifically anything over 10 hours does my head in – Auckland to California is 14 hours. Flying via the Pacific or Hawaii splits the flight times quite nicely.
On the other hand some transit lounges are better than others. Avoid the US for tansit – as they don’t actually have the concept and you will need to enter the US even if you only have a 4-hour layover. And have the appropriate visas etc. The rest of the world has transit. Some of the better ones I’ve been through recently include:
- Singapore – best airport in the world according to many poll.s Swimming pool, free city tours, lots of food options , orchid gardens, grand piano, what’s not to like;
- Sydney – not as fancy as Singapore but well laid out, an hour’s free WIFI, a (well-hidden) free shower.
So what are your tips for flying long-haul! And no don’t tell me about the amazing upgrades Americans can get using the right credit cards – the rest of the world can’t get those either!