12 Tips, Tricks, and Things You Didn’t Know About Flying

I am an experienced traveler that used to travel as part of my job requirement. I used to fly at least twice a week to destinations all over the US as well as other countries in Europe and Asia. I’ve amassed hundreds of thousands of points on various airlines and have reached the highest reward statuses. Here’s some advice I’ve gathered to make traveling just a little bit easier for you.

Multiple airports

Many travel sites allow you to search for multiple airports around a given city. For example, if you’re flying into San Francisco, consider checking the Oakland International Airport (OAK) in addition to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Often the tickets may be cheaper, or there may be better flying times.

Domestic vs international flights

Often times, domestic flights are much cheaper than international fights even for the same distance traveled. A trick you can use is to fly to a city close to the border, and then drive your way across. For example, if you want to go to Montreal, consider flying to Syracuse, NY and then driving across the border. Or if you’re headed to Beijing from Hong Kong, consider crossing the border to Shenzhen first and then flying out from there.

The cost of budget traveling

Remember when airlines all used to serve food no matter what the price of the ticket was? Those days are long gone. The old saying goes: “you get what you pay for” and that definitely holds true for budget travel. Cheaper tickets usually means:

  • More restrictions on changing tickets and times
  • Fees for multiple baggage
  • Less amenities on board like free headphones
  • Paid meals and certain drinks
  • Very little mileage accrual
  • Limited in-flight entertainment

Ticketing

Most airlines offer e-ticketing, but some airlines also allow you to check in purely using a smartphone app. My advice is to use both if you can. Use the phone when it’s convenient, but also print out your e-ticket in case the phone scanners stop working (which has happened to me).

Carry-on only travel

Carry-on only travel is the way to go, especially with baggage fees, lost baggage, and extra wait times. Pack light; bring only what you need, and double check the security restrictions.

Online check-in

Most airlines allow you to check-in online 24 hours before your scheduled flight time. The main advantage of this is to get better seats as often times restricted seats will become available.

Choosing a seat

There’s not a real science to choosing a seat, most people either prefer the window or the aisle for obvious reasons, but there are subtle variations amongst the seats of the plane.

  • Seats before or at the exit rows may not recline
  • Seats around the toilets may smell funny
  • Some seats may have slightly more or less legroom depending on the curvature of the plane
  • To find the best seat available, use sites like SeatExpert or SeatGuru.

What pilots don’t want you to know

Pilots only tell passengers what they need to know, so even if there’s an engine failure, most of the time it goes unannounced. Most planes can fly just fine with one engine anyway.

Pilots never tell passengers about thunderstorms, often times, they’ll say: “we’re approaching a patch of rough air” so no one freaks out.

One of the worst things that can happen to an aircraft is hitting a massive updraft, which can’t be seen by radar. It throws everything up in the air and then down very violently. Turbulence, on the other hand, just bounces the plane around for a bit.

Sometimes, a plane will have an aborted landing due to whatever reason, (like something blocking the runway). The plane will all of a sudden pull up again and circle around. This happens every now and then and is somewhat normal, but passengers almost never know.

What pilots do want you to know

Often times, how a pilot lands is a good indication of their skill, so if you want to say something nice to them as you’re getting off, say “nice landing,” they’ll appreciate it.

Airlines have adjusted their flight arrival times so they have a better chance of being on-time. For example, they’ll say a flight takes 2 hours when it only really takes an hour and 45 minutes.

It’s one thing for pilots to tell the passengers to fasten their seatbelts, but when the pilots tell the flight attendants to stop serving and sit down, that’s when you know there’s some serious turbulence ahead.

It is pretty dangerous for a baby to be held by the parent instead of being placed in a child seat. Sudden acceleration or deceleration could cause the child to become a flying projectile. The only reason why this is allowed is to save money for passengers so they don’t have to pay for an extra seat.

What flight attendants won’t tell you

The mile high club does not really happen. The bathrooms are cramped and gross and should not be a fantasy that people want to indulge in.

Being polite and courteous is the best thing you can do for your flight attendant, they serve hundreds of customers so a little kindness goes a long way. Smiling, and light flirting is often okay, touching and grabbing is not.

Sometimes, flight attendants freak out the same way passengers do during severe turbulence, but they have been trained not to show it. The last thing the plane needs is a bunch of freaked out flight attendants scaring all the passengers.

Advice for nervous flyers

Pilots find it perplexing that so many people are afraid of turbulence. It’s pretty hard for a plane to crash due to turbulence, wings don’t just fall off and engines don’t randomly stop working. Airplanes are built to withstand lightening strikes so it’s perfectly safe even if you see lightening around you.

The smoothest place to sit is often over the wing. The plane is like a seesaw so if you’re in the middle, it tends not to move as much. If you’re a nervous flier, book a morning flight. The heating of the ground later in the afternoon causes bumpy air and that’s usually when most thunderstorms occur.

Airline lingo 

  • Blue juice: The water in the lavatory toilet. “There’s no blue juice in the lav.”
  • Crotch watch: The required check to make sure all passengers have their seat belts fastened. Also: “groin scan.”
  • Crumb crunchers: Kids. “We’ve got a lot of crumb crunchers on this flight.”
  • Deadheading: When an airline employee flies as a passenger for company business.
  • Gate lice: The people who gather around the gate right before boarding so they can be first on the plane. “Oh, the gate lice are thick today.”
  • George: Autopilot. “I’ll let George take over.”
  • Landing lips: Female passengers put on their “landing lips” when they use their lipstick just before landing.
  • Pax: Passengers.
  • Spinners: Passengers who get on late and don’t have a seat assignment, so they spin around looking for a seat.
  • Two-for-once special: The plane touches down on landing, bounces up, then touches down again.
  • Working the village: Working in coach.
Dennis Liu is one of the founders of Ravn.com, a website aimed at helping travelers discover amazing things to do in a new city. 
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  • Toni Jacaruso said at 2011-11-11T13:51:38+0000: I am a frequent flyer, a road warrior and lover of travel. I thought this article was fantastic! It's not often that I read something about traveling and learn so much. Plus, the entertainment factor alone was worth the time. Thanks!