How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Flight

August 25, 2015

You’ve spent weeks – maybe even months – planning your dream Paris vacation. Why should the first and last hours of your trip be a nightmare? Here are some ideas to help you minimize the stress of air travel… and even enjoy it!

Be nice to yourself. Think about the things that will keep you upbeat and positive during your trip and create your own happy place. Here’s my strategy:

  • I pack my carry-on as if it’s the diaper bag for a cranky 2 year old (because that’s what air travel can do to me). Must-haves: snacks, headphones, charging cords, airplane survival kit (earplugs, eye shade, tissues, gum, and more snacks), and arrival kit (toothbrush/toothpaste, touch-up make-up, small hairbrush, maybe a change of clothes).
  • My iPad is stocked with things to make me smile — with music, comedy albums and videos, apps that will help me brush up on my (very limited) French, and some light reading
  • My travel clothes comfortable but neat, wrinkle-resistant, and layers that are easy to get on and off. A scarf sprayed with a light scent (I’m partial to lavender) can be casually draped across my nose and mouth to give me a break from the smells around me.
  • Before my flight, I relax with a glass of wine – and plenty of water. Yes, the water causes some anxiety about bathroom access on the plane, but dehydration can make any trip a misery.

Be nice to others. Will a smile and a wink get you that upgrade to first class? Will you receive a humanitarian award for exercising patience in the security line? Unlikely. But wouldn’t you rather go through the day with a smile rather than a scowl?
Of course, it’s tough to remain chipper when things don’t go according to plan. Remember, calmly asking “what are my options?” is likely to yield better results than shouting “this is unacceptable!”

Make informed choices. Advice from every airline customer service agent I know (and I know quite a few): do not book your ticket through a third-party website (e.g., Expedia.com, CheapoAir.com). This is typically followed by a 10-15 minute rant; I’ll spare you the details, but here’s what it boils down to: because of fare restrictions and the way third-party reservations are handled in the system, the agent’s ability to help you solve problems is extremely limited, even if the problem is completely out of your control.

Do your homework. Minimize anxiety and chaos by knowing what to expect and controlling what you can control.

  • Make sure to choose your seat and let the airline know of any special needs (dietary restrictions, pre-boarding requests) when you book your ticket. If your first choice seat isn’t available at that time, check back once in a while to see if anything better has become available.
  • Know the rules/fees for carry-on and checked baggage, and plan accordingly (remember that they vary by country and airline).
  • Flight schedule change often… be sure to check your departure time a couple of days ahead of your travel (particularly if you booked months in advance), and your flight status before you leave for the airport.
  • Important: If your flight is delayed, you should still arrive at the airport according to your original departure time.
  • Have your airline’s/travel agency’s website, app, and/or customer service numbers handy. These tools are often more efficient than waiting in line for an agent at the airport.

Get to the airport early. I plan to be there 3 hours prior to departure for international flights. If this seems excessive, remember that most airports/airlines require you to check in 45-60 minutes prior to departure. You must board the plane 20-30 minutes prior to departure or risk losing your seat.
If you sail through the check-in process, passport control, and security with no delays, you can treat yourself to a leisurely glass of wine, browse the duty free shops, and maybe even get a pedicure. But if you get stuck in the behind a school group of 20 teenagers… it’s nice to know you have plenty of time. (Remember that TSA Precheck and Global Entry mean bupkes in airports outside of the U.S. A first- or business-class ticket may allow you to skip some lines, but that’s not an option everywhere.)

Once on the plane… relax. You’re almost there. Organize your stuff so that you can reach it easily, sit back, and open your book or listen to some music. There’s not much else you can do at this point, so you may as well relax and dream about your tour of Montmartre.

Don’t underestimate the value of an airport pick-up. For years, I dismissed this as an unnecessary luxury. But I decided to give it a try on a recent trip, and arranged a airport pick-up package in Paris through American Concierge… after a particularly challenging day of travel, the sense of relief when Rich met me at the airport was overwhelming. He helped me with my bags, guided me through the airport, and voila… I was on vacation in Paris!!

– Meredith

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