Boarding an aircraft, getting locked into a small aerodynamic tube, sitting beside a complete stranger for a long duration, and not to mention, putting your life in someone else's hands, can be a highly stressful situation. But flying, like many other things we do that scare us, is a fear we conquer time after time because we know the reward is worth the risk and that something memorable is waiting for us on the other side. Every day, passengers book flights to reconnect with loved ones, check once in a lifetime experiences off their bucket lists, take well-earned vacations, and sometimes even start completely new chapters of their lives. For those who genuinely enjoy the romance and process of flying, there are still plenty of nuisances that can easily be avoided with a little inside information. As a flight attendant for four years, I've learned a thing or two about improving a journey. Here, six of my tips and tricks.
1. Board the aircraft last to score an empty seat beside you
As a flight attendant, one of the most common questions we receive from passengers during boarding is if the aircraft is full and whether extra seats will be available. Our answer is always that you need to wait until all passengers have boarded, the doors are closed, and the plane has been pushed back before you can consider moving to that empty row. If you’re one of the last passengers to board, then any open seats you see are most likely going to be free and yours for the taking. But beware: it’s best not to abuse this advice. Delaying the aircraft costs thousands of dollars, so if you’re lazy about boarding last, they will close the gate and unceremoniously leave you behind. The point is to be at the gate ready to go, but position yourself near the end of the queue.
2. Don’t sit near the bulkhead to avoid being seated next to a baby
While babies deserve to travel and explore the world as much as the rest of us, it can be a pretty painful experience if you find yourself seated next to one that’s inconsolable for the majority of a flight. While there’s no escaping (or blaming) the shrill of an upset child, you can lower your odds of sitting directly next to one by choosing a seat that’s located far from the partitions on board. These partitions, which go by the technical name “bulkheads,” are the only places on an aircraft where a parent can safely secure a baby’s bassinet — and are, therefore, where most children under one year old will be situated.
3. Sit near the back for the most attentive service
While most passengers tend to choose seats that are at the front of the aircraft, so that they can disembark first and have a better chance of securing their preferred meal option, flight attendants know that if you’re sitting towards the back, you’ll receive the most attentive service. The reason is simple: We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way. 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. For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it’s much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine.
4. Avoid the window seat to prevent being cold
Though it may seem obvious, passengers tend to forget how cold the fuselage can get when the aircraft is flying at 35,000 feet — and they’re still dressed in shorts and sandals from spring break. To prevent being chilly, uncomfortable, and desperately purchasing a blanket from the airline that you’ll never use again, don’t select a seat that’ll put you next to the fuselage for the entire flight.
5. Pack your carry-on carefully to resist racking up unnecessary expenses
If you take the time to plan ahead and thoughtfully consider what to pack in your carry-on, you’ll minimize unnecessary spending and make the uncomfortable parts of flying much more enjoyable. Avoid wasting money on last-minute items from the airport that have shamelessly inflated prices. It’s best to buy your sleep mask at a dollar store, bring your phone charger from home, carry a scarf or sarong so you can avoid purchasing an overpriced blanket, and pack yourself a snack, in case you don’t like the meal served on board.
6. Join the frequent flyer program to increase your chances of getting an upgrade
Gone are the days when flirting with the desk agent or causing a scene would be enough to get you upgraded. When a flight is booked in economy, but still has seats available in business class, most major airlines will scan their passenger information list for solo travelers and offer upgrades to those who are enrolled in their frequent flyer program. This means that even passengers who don’t have many points can still be eligible, as long as they’ve put their name in the hat. So, it doesn’t hurt to go online and join frequent flyer programs for free.