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8 Airplane Tips That Make Air Travel Suck a Lot Less

Tips for Making Air Travel Better
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Let’s be honest, modern air travel sucks, especially long-haul flights. Even before COVID-19, it was tedious, inconvenient, and, frankly, just not healthy. Now, amid the pandemic, it’s all of those things and worse. So, we’re fond of any tip, no matter how small, that makes flying easier. Here are our favorite airplane hacks you’ve (probably) never heard of before.

How to Score an Airplane Row All to Yourself

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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.

Beyond that, veteran travelers know that it’s all about last-minute timing. Download ExpertFlyer — the free version of the travel app provides near-real-time 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)

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Airline food has slightly — we stress slightly — improved since the military-grade, Dharma Initiative slop of the last century. 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 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.

The next best option is to upgrade your meal on the plane. Some airlines, especially international carriers like Air France, allow 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 often need to request these at least 24 hours in advance.

Embrace the Rear, Near-Bathroom Seat

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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. 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 to thank the flight crew and not to make a show of it.

Win the Armrest Battle for Good

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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. Armrests aren’t getting any wider, and the airlines seem content to do zero to remedy the problem. 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 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. Ridiculous? Absolutely. But, what’s more ridiculous is getting into a fistfight over a quarter-inch of armrest space at 30,000 feet.

Armrest Tip to 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.

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 3-3-1 rule. Trust us, though, you can pack quite a few 3-ounce booze bottles 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, but 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 wired 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.

Invest in Noise-Canceling Headphones

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If you’re a frequent flyer you’ll benefit from noise-canceling headphones. There are many quality headphones out there and we’ve rounded up the best travel headphones but we recommend the Bose QuieComfort 35 II because of its features, style, and price point. While its $299 price point is steep these headphones Whether your waiting for your flight to embark and want to wirelessly connect to your laptop or you plan to snooze through your flight without listening to any babies cry in the plane, the QuietComfort 35 II are the best wireless headphones to take on any trip.

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Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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