8 Airplane Hacks That Make Air Travel Suck a Lot Less

Let’s be honest, modern air travel sucks. It’s tedious, it’s inconvenient, and, frankly, it’s just not healthy. So, we’re fond of any tip — no matter how small — that makes flying a little easier. Here are our favorite airplane hacks you’ve (probably) never heard of before.

How to Score an Airplane Row All to Yourself

Scoring an entire airplane row to yourself is like a blessing from heaven, particularly on a long-haul flight. But, it’s always a game of chance even on half-empty flights. Your best bet is to start by flying off-season and off-peak routes. If you’re working with a travel agent, they can direct you toward less-crowded alternative flights.

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Beyond that, veteran travelers know that it’s all about last-minute timing. Download ExpertFlyer — the free version of the app provides up-to-the-minute updates on your flight’s seating chart. If you notice a row isn’t filled just before boarding is set to begin, swap your seat using your airline’s dedicated app or talk to the gate agent to secure the change. As a last resort, once every passenger is on board, you can move to any open seat within your same class of travel. If you can hold out till the very end, you might also be able to score a dirt-cheap upgrade to Business or First Class.

Get A Better Meal (Faster)

Airline food has slightly — we stress slightly — improved since the military-grade, Dharma Initiative-worthy slop of the 80s and 90s. But, unless you’re flying first class, it still leaves something to be desired. In order of your best alternatives, the first is to splurge on a proper meal just before your flight. This is, of course, the most expensive option. But, the food will almost certainly be better than anything served mid-flight, plus you’ll be able to skip the meal service and start catching some zzz’s as soon as the boarding door closes.

airplane hacks better flights airfrance meal

The next best option is to upgrade your meal on the plane. Some airlines, especially international carriers like Air France, are allowing even Economy passengers to upgrade their meal for a fee. We’ve found that these meals can be even better than, for example, standard Business Class eats.

If you’re cheap and flexible, however, opting for a vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-friendly meal means you’ll often be served first ahead of all other passengers. This also means you’re guaranteed to get the meal you want before they run out. Just remember you’ll need to request these at least 24 hours in advance.

Embrace the Rear, Near-bathroom Seat

Conventional wisdom leads many folks to angle for a seat closer to the front of the plane. These seats disembark first, and they’re the first to see the drink cart. Plus, sitting here also means you’re more likely to score your first choice of meal. But, flight attendants we’ve spoken with confirm they’re less likely to treat passengers in these seats with comps on the sly. The reason being: they don’t want other passengers seeing such preferential treatment and demanding the same. It’s worth noting that passengers seated in the rear are more likely to score little freebies like an extra bottle of wine or a few free bourbon nips. Just remember not to make a show of it.

Win the Armrest Battle for Good

Our unofficial, made-up research has shown that a full 87% of air rage incidents start with an armrest battle. Things only escalate from there. Considering that armrests aren’t getting any wider, the airlines seem content to do zero about this. Enter Soarigami. This paper-airplane-inspired widget is made of leatherette and recycled cardboard and is as functional as it is silly-looking. It folds perfectly flat when not in use. But, once deployed, it “converts” one armrest into two. Rubberized wings secure to either side of any standard airplane armrest (up to 2.75 inches wide) to keep it firmly in place. For less than $20, you can save hours of in-flight discomfort, and maybe even make a new friend (or at least “not an enemy”) in the process.

airplane hacks better flights armigami arm rest

Get the Aisle Seat Room You Deserve

If it seems airplane seats are getting smaller and smaller … and smaller, it’s not your imagination. Particularly for taller or (ahem) portly gentlemen, seats can be downright impossible to get comfortable in. Thankfully, air travelers with an aisle seat can find a bit of reprieve via a “secret” button. To find it, place your hand on the underside of the outermost armrest and run your fingers to the backside near the hinge. There, you’ll find an obvious button that you probably never knew was there. Push it, and you’re free to position the armrest vertically, flush with your seatback. Voilà! Much to the consternation of your fellow passengers, the entire aisle is now your own personal leg space. Positioning the armrest vertically also makes it easier to get in and out of your seat during bathroom breaks and upon touchdown.

Put an End to Reclining Seats

Reclining seats have long been a hot-button issue among travelers. Whether you’re for or against them, having the passenger in front of you drop his seat into your lap for a six-hour redeye is no fun. Enter the Knee Defender. This patented device is so simple and ingenious, it’s a wonder no one thought of it 20 years ago. It’s sold as a pair of pocket-sized plastic “locks” that mount between your tray table arms and the seatback in front of you. Once in position, they block the person in front of you from reclining his or her seat. Alternatively, you could do the guy a solid and just ask him not to recline. Although, with air rage incidents on the rise, maybe that’s not such a great idea.

airplane hacks for your seat

Pack a Party in Your Carry-on

Are you a nervous flier? You’ll be happy to know that the TSA surprisingly allows air passengers to pack alcohol in their carry-on bags. There are two caveats, however. Since they are liquids, the bottles must follow the 3-oz rule — trust us, you can still pack quite a bit of booze in a quart-sized bag. The other, more troubling catch is that you’re not technically allowed to consume any alcohol that isn’t served by a flight attendant. However, you’re also not “allowed” to cut the tags off your mattresses …  some people choose to live on the edge.

Hang Your Headphones

We’ll assume you’re not the sort of hotshot that travels with $300 noise-canceling headphones (although you should), and that earbuds suit you just fine. If the tray table latch connected to the seat has the common J-shaped hook, fold your earbud cable in half and loop the entire bundle into the hook. It isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it could save you from an impossibly tangled mess of headphone wires. The standard iPhone buds fit quite nicely, and it’s an easy way to keep them knot-free without stuffing them in the seat pocket in front of you.

When you’re ready to tune out, treat yourself to this travel playlist:

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