By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 1/29/2008 11:30:32 AM ET 2008-01-29T16:30:32

If you want advice on your pipes, you go to a plumber. Trouble with your wiring? Talk to an electrician. So when it comes to tips on air travel, who better to ask than the flight crew? After flying as a flight attendant for 20 years, I have more than enough tips to keep you going. But I thought this time I would ask other flight attendants for their hard-earned advice, in order to spread the wealth around. Here are 12 tips from your flight crew.

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1. Remember your lot
How many times have you forgotten where you parked your car at the airport? How many times have you conducted a lengthy search of the parking lot, dragging your suitcase behind you? This happens to us all the time. Here are two ideas: Write the location down and stick it in your passport or, better yet, call your own cell phone and leave a brief message. If your cell has a camera, you could even take a picture of the car — just make sure you get the lot and level number in the photo!

2. Go before you go
Two minutes before you board the airplane, visit the airport restroom — even if you think you don't have to go. There is nothing worse than getting on the airplane, stowing your bags and settling into your seat, only to realize you have to make a trip to that teeny-tiny lavatory. If you do have to go to the restroom during the flight, try to avoid the rush hours, which are after the meal service, after the movie and just before landing.

3. Walk on by
If your flight is not full, try to be one of the last to board. That way if you don't like your seat (or the looks of your seat neighbors), you can bypass it and plop yourself down in a more inviting seat. If by chance someone comes to claim that seat, look at your boarding card in surprise and go back to your assigned seat. No harm done.

4. Check your bags at the gate
If your nonstop flight is full, let the agent check your carry-on bag at the gate. That way you won't have to scramble for space in the overhead bins, you'll be certain your bag is on the flight and, because last-minute luggage is stowed last, it will most likely be among the first bags out on the baggage carousel when you land. I know many frequent fliers who purposely check their carry-on bags at the gate for this very reason.

5. Bring earplugs
I have said it many times before: Earplugs are the best all-around invention for air travel. They can truly make your flight. I asked 10 flight attendants for their advice for this column, and every one of them recommended earplugs. Don't leave home without them.

6. Layer it
No matter what time of year it is, chances are the in-flight temperature will be either too hot or too cold for your liking. Dressing in layers allows you to acclimatize to any in-flight condition from an Arctic blast to a Saharan inferno. Also, if you want to pack more items in your suitcase, wear your bigger items on board. A ski parka and hiking boots might not make a fashionable travel ensemble, but if it means Junior's teddy bear can come on vacation, I say, "Go for it!"

7. BYO ...
Don't count on the airline to provide any in-flight amenities, including diapers, snacks, aspirin or special-diet foods. Yes, once upon a time these were standard offerings, but budget cuts, a cattle-car business model and greedy management have taken away all those one-time courtesies.

8. Practice safe lav
When it comes to doing your business in-flight always remember: "No socks, no shoes — no enter!" It's just crazy to enter a germ-infested cubicle in your bare feet, and yet I see people do it all the time. Also, use a paper towel to turn faucet handles and door knobs, and if you don't have the hover-over-the-toilet maneuver down to an art, use the seat liners (hey, it takes practice to get your aim right on an airplane!). And for heaven's sake, don't look too long in the lavatory mirror. The lighting in there brings out wrinkles and blemishes that you never see on the ground.

9. Back up
Gadgets like DVD players, iPods, Game Boys and laptops are great to bring on the airplane, but they all can malfunction and they all require batteries that can run down. Nothing beats a good book as a backup. I was once a passenger on a full flight to Australia. My laptop ran out of power, the video and audio at my seat were both broken, I couldn't sleep and I had 12 hours of flight time remaining. If it weren't for the 400-page book I always keep with me, I think I would have gone crazy.

10. Learn to love lotion
Not only is moisturizing lotion good for rehydrating skin that dries out in flight, but it can also serve as a smell barrier. If you put some directly under your nose, you can defend yourself against most olfactory offenders.

11. Deplane calmly
You have been on the airplane for hours on end, so if you don't have to make a tight connection, what are a few minutes more? Remain seated and watch the masses battle for their bags, jockey for position and then wait impatiently for the airplane doors to open and the line to start moving. The minutes you lose are worth all the frustration you avoid.

12. Sayings to remember
It's a bumper-sticker world out there, and there are some sayings that really help you cope with the frustrations of air travel. Here are three: "Put the shoe on the other foot," "Do unto others ... " and my favorite: "He who laughs, lasts." If you can truly laugh at life's frustrations, you are a fortunate individual.

Follow these tips and you will travel like a member of the flight crew. Hope these help, and if you have any more, send them along and help out your flying partners.

James Wysong is a veteran flight attendant who has worked with two major international carriers. James recently released a new book, “Flying High With A Frank Steward: More Air Travel Tales From the Flight Crew.” For more information about James, visit his Web site or send him an e-mail.

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