Get your seat in advance: Book your flight far enough in advance to get a window or aisle seat, whichever you prefer. Then make sure to pick your seat when you book your flight. The best way to do this is to book directly through the airline rather than through a third-party site, which may not transmit your seat preferences to the actual airline (in fact, you may not end up with a seat at all until you arrive at the gate, which will ensure that you have the worst seat on the plane or are at risk for getting bumped).
Before you pick your seats, use Seatguru to get advice on the best and worst seats on a particular plane. Beware that sometimes exit row seats, the seats in front of the exit row, and the seats in the last row don’t recline, and that while you’ll have more legroom, you can’t keep any luggage at your feet in the masthead sections. On the plus side, if you book far enough in advance to get a seat near the front of the plane, you might get lucky and end up with an economy plus (read: extra legroom) seat without even paying extra for it.
Experiment with different airlines: Most airlines are barely distinguishable from one another, and it often seems like you have no choice of airline if you want the cheapest ticket from point A to point B. Some people seem to have better luck with some providers than others, though. Also, there are a few that try to offer something genuinely different (like Southwest, which doesn’t assign seats, or Virgin America, which boasts wider seats, mood lighting, and 110v power at every seat to plug in your electronics in-flight).
Wear headphones from the moment you get on the plane: Whether you are listening to anything or not, headphones will signal to people that you want to be left alone (of course, this tip assumes that you do want to be left alone!). They also help transport you to your own peaceful world, free of those constant intercom announcements and the other obnoxious noises associated with flying.
Redeem some of your miles for an upgrade to business or first class: Nowadays, miles are easier than ever to get with rewards credit cards (and their generous signup bonuses), so you won’t have to feel like you’re sacrificing hard-earned miles when you use them for something that isn’t an actual plane ticket.
Fly at night so you can sleep: People tend to be a lot chattier on daytime flights, not to mention that there’s sunlight coming in through the windows. So if you want some peace and quiet or like to sleep on the plane, choose a flight that departs after dark.
Do things that you are too distracted to do when you’re at home: If you’re the type of person who normally can’t sit still knowing that there’s a house that needs to be cleaned or weeds that need to be pulled, take advantage of being forced to sit still on the airplane and do something you wouldn’t normally be able to relax enough to enjoy, like reading a book.
Book a nonstop flight: Flying directly from point A to point B decreases your chances of having a delayed or canceled flight. Sometimes it costs more, but often it doesn’t, or the price difference is negligible.
Have a drink: Some people think that drinking on the plane is a sure way to make yourself miserable since flying is already dehydrating enough, but other people swear that alcohol helps calm their nerves about flying or lets them pass the time faster by napping through their flight.
Board last: Why rush to get in line when your plane arrives? The sooner you board, the more time you’ll spend sitting in those 17-inch seats. If you wait until final boarding, you’ll avoid the cattle call, spend less time waiting in line, and spend less time on the plane.
Board early: On the other hand, if you have significant carryon luggage, you might prefer to board early, lines and all, to make sure you have room for your luggage. If you get stuck storing your luggage in a bin behind the row where you’re seated, you’ll be the last person off the plane.
Those who fly frequently usually have an airplane system all figured out, but if your system is broken or you aren’t such a savvy flyer, these tips might make your next few hours on an airplane more enjoyable.
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Photo by David Dennis