By Travel columnist

Want to have a better flight? Of course you do.

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And who better to give you some in-flight tips than a flight attendant whose favorite hobby is passenger-watching? I observe in amusement as travelers make the same mistakes, flight after flight.

So what makes the difference between a “horrible” and a “not so bad” trip? Here are 12:

1. Plug ‘em up
Earplugs are a wonderful invention, but seldom used. They can be bought for less than $1, and I can’t stress their importance enough. Just think— no more crying babies, annoying seat chatter, or startling pilot announcements. The whole world seems a lot more tolerable when you use them. They work great in hotel rooms as well. I never leave home without them.

2. Don’t be part of a smelly situation
A small tube of lavender lotion can be your saving grace when it comes to the in-flight body odors swirling around. A dab under your nostrils will leave you smiling while others gag at the nearby passenger with foot rot.

3. Have some taste
If you have the unusual experience of being fed onboard, skip the special meal unless it’s a medical necessity. “Special meal” usually means a not-so-special taste.

4. Bag it
Don’t check out your common sense with your check-in baggage. For example: heart medication, priceless heirlooms, passports, or items resembling weapons. Being reunited with your bags is not always an immediate guarantee. US Airways made this point abundantly clear during the holiday season.

5. BYOA
Bring your own amenities. Whether it’s pillows, food, blankets, special requirements, magazines, antacid, or whatever, bring your own because airlines are slimming down on all amenities.

6. Be a pessimistic optimist — or is it the other way around?
Don’t expect every detail to go as planned. Delays, misconnects, and seat problems are just a few hassles associated with flying. It’s unusual to make it through an entire journey without something going wrong.

7. Cover thy laptop
When any form of liquid passes near or over your personal solitaire machine, close the cover. I have witnessed accidents, turbulence, and clumsy flight attendants ruin too many computers in-flight.

8. Chat her up
Talk to your seat neighbors once in awhile. They could surprise you and be quite interesting. If not, you can say you tried and will probably never see them again. I have met some of the most interesting people in my life on an airplane. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

9. Carry on considerably
It is time to be sensible if you are one of the growing number of frequent travelers who carry-on their bags. A perfect-sized roller-board suitcase is one that fits in the overhead bin wheels first and slides to the back. You are taking the space of three other bags if you have to put it in sideways. Save the aggravation of finding a space and consider getting one that fits. I flew with the same passenger three times in the last month, and every time he told me it fit on his last flight, I assured him that I knew otherwise.

10. Gadgetize yourself
On your next flight bring an I-Pod, DVD player, or your kid’s Gameboy to keep you distracted. I can’t tell you how many times I have preserved what’s left of my sanity by playing my $5 digital Yahtzee game.

11. Check your mental baggage but carry on your sense of humor
Air travel these days is stressful, nerve wracking and can be quite frustrating. If you can look beyond these annoyances, you can often find interesting and quite humorous aspects.

12. Give them a small break
I know that airline employees can frustrate the hell out of you, but they are fighting for their lives and with less manpower and support. The workload of the gate agents, customer service reps, flight attendants, and even the pilots has recently doubled, but their pay has been halved. It takes a big person to be able to put the shoe on the other foot.

Got any air travel tips of your own? Send them to me. I have a prize for the top two tips.

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