As the cabin door closes and the flight attendant begins the safety demonstration, are you one of the many who feel a mix of claustrophobia and anxiety flood through your body? Even if you’re a calm flyer, you may not be after the captain announces a 40 minute hold on the tarmac and turns off the engines to save fuel. If it’s summer, the cabin heats up and so do the tempers of those around you. You’re sweating, the kid behind you is crying and kicking your seat, and the plane hasn’t even taken off yet. Even in the best of conditions, flyers will tell you that flying isn’t what it used to be. It’s basically a cattle car experience with no food and little room. So what can you do to make flying as stress-free as possible?
1. Choose your seat and your flight carefully. If you’re able to fly midweek when there are fewer business travelers, do so. Middle of the day is generally lighter than the first flight out in the morning. If you book online, you can usually choose your seat. On long flights, aisle seats allow you the ability to get up and move around without disturbing your seatmates. Some airlines such as Southwest do not have pre-assigned seats, but by checking in 24 hours early online, you’ll receive a low number which will allow you to be one of the first boarding. You can also pay extra for a premium seat which has more leg room.
2. Travel light. Your smaller carryon is most likely going to wind up at your feet so make sure you’ll have room to wiggle your toes. The bigger carryon will go in the overhead, so make it as small and light as possible. With efficient packing and wardrobe planning, you can do with a lot less than you think. If you’re going to be gone more than a few days, check your bag. It will be less hassle for you onboard. Although most airlines now charge a baggage fee in coach, international flights do not. A few like Southwest are still clinging to the no baggage fee policy.
3. Travel rested. It’s no fun arriving at your destination in a state of exhaustion. Don’t take that 6 a.m. flight unless you really have to as you’ll probably have to leave your house around 4 a.m. Also, be sure to arrive at the airport in plenty of time so you’re not stressed out before you even board.
4. Be hydrated. Carry water onboard – one trick is to carry an empty bottle through security and then fill it at the tap. Avoid alcohol the day before and on the flight as it will only make you thirstier and more tired.
5. Dress in layers. It doesn’t matter what season it is – you can not predict the temperature onboard the flight. Long ground delays can mean the power is shut off, letting in cold or hot air. Too much air conditioning during the flight can leave your feet freezing. Carry a pair of warm socks to put on and always have some sort of a jacket to wear. Conversely, if it’s the middle of winter, be sure you can take off your outer layers if it becomes warm on the flight.
6. Carry easy to eat food. Unless you’re in first class, forget the meals unless you want to pay for them. It’s best to carry a bunch of nutritious snacks – veggies, cheese sticks, trail mix, crackers, etc. For a longer flight, make a sandwich to take. Being able to eat makes the time go by faster. In courtesy to your neighbors, don’t bring anything messy or smelly. This is not the place for the can of sardines or leftover garlic pizza.
7. Carry entertainment. With the array of electronic devices available from iPods to kindles, there’s no reason to be bored. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, and a good book make the time pass.
8. Put on your friendly attitude. If you take the time to start a conversation, you may find your seatmates to be good company. The list of topics two strangers can find common ground on is as wide as the sky – just be sure to stay clear of politics and religion unless you quickly find out that you’re on the same page. Always be respectful of the passenger who wants to sleep, not talk.
9. Take medication if necessary. If you are a stressed-out flyer, ask your doctor for something to reduce anxiety. Be sure to carry your prescription medicines with you and some simple painkillers like Tylenol or Advil. Many doctors recommend taking a baby aspirin before takeoff to reduce the chance of blood clots.
10. Exercise. Even if the aisles are too crowded to move around or the flight is too turbulent to be out of your seat, you can still clench and unclench your abs and buttocks, do toe raises, and small ankle circles. Keeping the circulation going to your lower extremities is a safety precaution and makes you feel better as well.
Okay, so the door has closed. Sit back, relax, and imagine your destination. For all of its stresses, traveling via airplanes sure beats covered wagons. Have a good flight!