Essential Steps to Prep for a Perfect Flight

In “How to Get Through the Airport Faster & With Minimal Hassle,” we shared tips on helping your trip to start off smoothly, from checking if your flight requires an online check-in to getting through TSA unscathed.

Now, you’re en route to the boarding area. But for travelers who loathe long flights, this next part is no fun. In the second half of our two-part series on navigating air travel with ease, we share tips for a seamless boarding process, how to stay comfortable during your flight, and what to do if there are any bumps upon landing.

Much Ado About Boarding

The boarding process feels like being told to “hurry up and wait,” as crowds of passengers mill around for their chance to jump in line. Why does something so simple always turn into such a pain?

It’s a domino effect—one delay in the morning, be it because of weather, bad luck, or human error, creates an entire day of scrambling for your flight crew.

To understand why boarding so frequently goes awry, here’s some insight as to what it looks like on the other side of the jet bridge during a tightly scheduled turn (meaning the airplane arrives and is set to go back out again shortly):

  1. A plane arrives at the gate, and the crew is given between 15-20 minutes to help nearly 200 passengers deplane.

  2. They then must cross all the seatbelts, pick up garbage, and give their work areas a rough cleaning.

  3. If any crew members are swapped out, it’s required that they perform another briefing and security checks during this time.

  4. At this point, passengers have started filing into the plane. In the back, catering is stocking up foods, while maintenance is removing garbage.

In total, crews are given roughly 25 minutes to board up to 200 passengers. The entire process of deplaning, cleaning, and boarding new passengers is supposed to occur within 45 minutes.

Why such a crunch for time? Because, whenever an aircraft isn’t in the air, an airline is losing money—so deplaning, cleaning, and boarding is crammed into as little time as possible.

More importantly, why does this matter to you?

Boarding Works Better When Everyone Works Together

Maybe it’s the sheer number of rules and loss of autonomy, or perhaps we’re just all in a hurry, but there’s an aspect of airports in which even the most considerate among us are willing to stampede for a place in the front of everyone else.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you board first or last. In fact, that time could be better spent prepping your carry-on items while you still have the space to move unobstructed.

How to Prepare an Inflight Care Package

You might be wondering what we mean by prepping carry-on items—after all, those bags are already packed!

Have you ever been stuck halfway down the airplane’s aisle, as someone in front of you proceeds to hold up the entire line while they arrange which items go in the overhead and what stays at their seat?

Even more frustrating, have you ever accidentally left your inflight entertainment, snacks, or headphones in a bag that’s in the overhead bin, only to endure an hour of being buckled up and bored due to turbulence after takeoff?

These situations can be totally avoided by packing an additional (empty) satchel or tote bag in your carry-on luggage. I prefer one of those reusable shopping bags that you can pick up at any grocery store since they’re roomy but easy to crumple up.

Instead of gathering around the ticketing area before your boarding number is called, take that time to transfer the following from your general carry-on bag into your tote:

  • Water bottle
  • Eye mask
  • Earplugs
  • Snacks
  • Reading material
  • Headphones & music player or phone
  • Kindle, iPad, or tablet
  • Hand wipes
  • Gum (for sensitive ears)
  • Chapstick and hand lotion
  • Cash & credit card (for purchasing onboard snacks or movies)
  • A pen for completing forms on an international trip
  • And anything else you might need during your flight

Keep in mind that passengers are allowed both a carry-on item and a personal item when boarding. The personal item can be your purse, a laptop bag, of the above-mentioned tote.

This is in addition to a coat, umbrella, or other personal accessories. To keep in line with the rules, we recommend stashing your purse or other lose bags into the carry-on meant to go in the overhead bins, that way you’re all set to sit when you reach your seat.

Arranging your in-flight items beforehand doesn’t just simplify the boarding process, it also means that, if the plane’s overhead bins have run out of room and your belongings have to be placed far from your seat or checked at the last minute, you don’t need to spend time fumbling through a larger pack to arrange everything you need.

Additionally, by keeping your items grouped in a tote, you’re far less likely to leave anything behind.

Knowing that you’re not in a race for bin space means that there’s no reason to rush aboard. Instead, enjoy those last few minutes of freedom! Grab some extra snacks, stretch your legs, and use the restroom because you should always…

Be Prepared to Get Stuck in Your Seat

There’s little that befuddles your flight attendant more than when those assistance bells start dinging immediately after (or during) taxi and takeoff. After all, takeoff and landing are the most crucial parts of a flight for your safety-minded crew.

What could be so important as to call an attendant out of their safety harness?

Often, passengers just need to use the bathroom, grab a drink of water, retrieve something from an overhead bin, or stretch their legs (because they boarded first)—situations that can easily be avoided by arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare and preparing the above-mentioned tote before boarding.

»See Also: The Best Airline Rewards Credit Cards

While passengers are generally allowed to move about the cabin within twenty minutes of takeoff (as indicated by the seatbelt sign located above your seat), there are times when you’ll be required to stay seated for much longer.

This happens when the captain has received reports of turbulence up ahead, even though you may not feel it at the time, which, while rare, can last for hours.

Even more frustrating for passengers is that, while your crew is erring on the side of safety in case of turbulence, in-flight service comes to a standstill in these situations. After all, you don’t really want two people lugging a 300-pound service cart up the aisle during a potentially bumpy ride, do you?

Yet another reason to store a few snacks in a tote at your seat.

How Else to Survive a Long Flight?

One of my favorite travel accessories is a hand massager. I picked up a carved hand reflexology massager in Thailand, but any shape that has softly rounded points works well.

Carved hand reflexology massagerCarved hand reflexology massager

It’s great for relieving tension in your palms after holding a book up for hours. Also good to hit pressure points throughout your neck, calves, feet—anywhere that’s feeling stiff after hours of sitting still.

If you can’t find one of those, even a tennis ball will do. They’re especially good for massaging the arches of your feet during long flights. However, it helps to knot a string around the ball like a yo-yo, so it doesn’t go shooting down the cabin of the plane.

What’s the Proper Procedure for Connecting Flights?

Sometimes, non-stop flights just aren’t available—or, they’re just too expensive. No one likes having to make a multi-flight journey, but tight connections can add extra stress. What’s the best way to make a connecting flight, especially when your ticket shows that there’s little time to spare?

As long as your entire trip is on one itinerary, i.e., there’s a single confirmation number for both flights, that means your connection has met the airline’s minimum time requirement for that specific airport. This is true even if your second flight is with a different airline than the first—this is called a codeshare.

However, sometimes flight delays cause a missed connection even when minimum time requirements are met. In this case, an airline will put on the next available flight—which might not be the next plane heading out—at no cost to you.

Less comforting is that, especially for some international destinations, the next vacant seat might be 24-48 hours away.

Pro Tip: Connecting internationally? You may think you have a ton of time to spare in between flights. But, don’t forget that international passengers must pick up their bags midway through the journey, so that you can accompany them through another security check before proceeding on to the next flight.

This security requirement means that you’ll rarely see an international connection with less than two hours. Just make sure you’re through to the other side before stopping to shop.

Does an Airline Owe You a Hotel During a Missed Connection?

Short answer: No. According to airline passenger’s bill of rights, you should only expect hotel vouchers to be handed out in certain circumstances, such as multi-hour flight delays. Even in these cases, the airline isn’t responsible for unavoidable factors, such as weather or natural disasters.

While each airline’s customer service protocol differs, and it’s always worth asking, those passengers who miss a connection should expect to spring for their own hotel or hunker down to get comfortable in their terminal.

Why You Should Rarely Book Flights Separately

When you’re planning your trip, sometimes it’s tempting to book two separate flights to make for your own connection—be it to save a few dollars or because that itinerary just wasn’t offered.

I’ve done this several times, often to take advantage of one lower-priced leg, such as a deeply discounted transatlantic, or using a cheap domestic like Southwest, who doesn't codeshare with other airlines.

It’s rarely worth it.

First, airlines owe you diddley when you’ve concocted your own, unique travel itinerary, including offering information or assistance if you’re cutting it close to missing that connection.

Additionally, the do-it-yourself version of connecting two flights takes much longer. Why? Because you have to collect your bags, go back to the ticket counter to check in, and go all the way through security.

If you’re flying internationally, double that time. Unlike passengers with a through itinerary (who are only briefly inconvenienced with luggage that’s handed over for a security check, then recollected), you’ll have to perform the whole check-in process again.

That is, of course, after you go through customs and immigration—not such a hot decision when you’ve only got two to three hours in between flights.

Final Thoughts

Making the most out of your air travel is mostly about being prepared: Give yourself plenty of time, prepare the things you’ll need for easy access, and always have enough cash on hand to endure unexpected delays.

And, no matter the reason, if you plan to fly to an international destination with separate tickets, unless they're flexible and/or refundable, my recommendation is to allow 24 hours between flights.

This may sound extreme, but it's the equivalent of flying to catch a cruise—if you miss it, the consequences can be devastating to your trip and your wallet.

» See Also: 10 Common Myths About Air Travel Debunked

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.