August 30, 2019/by Dave Macaulay

How to increase comfort on your first or thousandths flight

Flying for the first time or frequently flying can trigger lots of different and conflicting emotions, excitement, fear, happiness and panic, to name a few. Working remotely in Barcelona while leading a team in Austin, TX showed me the real perils of a frequent flyer lifestyle.

Flying over Perito Moreno glacier

As someone with anxiety, I remember how terrified I was on my first flight alone. Everything seemed so new and so complicated, but in reality, the whole experience is designed to guide people through it with ease.

Throughout my many journeys to distant and different destinations, I came up with things that make the whole experience much more comfortable, and I'd like to share them in this article.

 Sign up to the frequent flyer program

This one should be a no brainier, free stuff for flying or paying for your ticket! Even if you're getting one flight a year, you'll still accumulate points which eventually you'll be able to trade for flights, hotels, upgrades and more. As you earn more points, you'll rank up in most frequent flyer programs, the higher the rank, the more free perks you get. For instance, silver (emerald on OneWorld) enables you to use most lounges and use the priority/business check-in, saving valuable stress and time.

A frequent flyer account is even more critical if you're flying for work. Typically your work won't have a frequent flyer account, so you're allowed to use those flights to contribute to your ranking and top up your points.

 Fly in the highest class your budget allows

This one will seem rather obvious; the higher business and first-class cabins will provide a much more comfortable experience than the less luxurious economy cabins. However, even just bumping from economy to premium economy on most airlines gives you a nice bump in quality, service and comfort.

I do entirely appreciate this isn't a suitable option for many travelling and their budget will dictate the cabin they can travel in. You can still be perfectly comfortable in economy and have a pleasant trip. I flew from London Heathrow to San Hose in this beautiful cabin and using the following advice I made that trip a success!

 If you're tall, legroom is everything

I am 6" 3 so on most airlines my knees will go straight into the back of the person in front. Sparse legroom isn't apparent on all airlines in their lower cabins, but it can make a longer journey pretty uncomfortable.

(not my feet, promise!)

Most airlines will allow you to book these seats ahead of schedule for a fee, on shorter flights these fees usually are quite reasonable. However, when flying on a transatlantic flight, you'll quickly see these go up to and over $100, that frequent flyer program I mentioned earlier can reduce or remove this cost though. You can also make it known to the check-in staff and cabin crew that if possible, you'd like to move to a seat with additional legroom. If you're indeed tall like me, they should try their best to get you into a more comfortable seat.

If you're not super tall and don't need the legroom please please please don't book those seats. I appreciate everyone wants the most room possible, but sometimes other people need something more. A comfortable cabin is a smooth flight.

 Be polite, make friends

There are lots of different types of people who'll be seated around you on your flight. Some will be chatterboxes, some will be quiet, and to themselves, some may not speak any English and some unfortunately maybe rude. The truth of the matter is you're about to spend an extended period with these people. It could just be the British in me talking, but it's good to have a positive standing with people. I am the sort of person who'll introduce themselves to their neighbors when they move into a new home. So it's certainly not for everyone.

When you sit down, say a quick hello to the person next to you, let them know you're friendly and maybe have a short conversation. I've never had these sorts of discussions last the whole flight but it's nice to know you've got friendly neighbor's on your flight. It honestly makes the awkward question of needing to get up to the toilet much easier if you've already set a positive tone with another person.

 Bring your own entertainment

Having your own entertainment is incredibly crucial if you're on a shorter haul flight as they typically won't have entertainment systems. Even on longer flights, the entertainment system could be severely outdated or broken, giving you a bad experience.

I have a checklist of things I would typically do at home that I enable myself to do in a WiFi free zone. More and more airlines are adding WiFi, but it can be broken or expensive. Having a tablet / iPad / laptop makes this a lot easier, but I'd typically do the following:

  • Download any series I like on Netflix, Prime Video etc
  • Download several YouTube videos that I can watch more infrequently
  • Download articles or ebooks to read

I also find it important to bring something more engaging in the form of video games. It's down to your personal preference but I find bringing some video games can help make the time fly.

The whole goal of this is to enable yourself to do the things you'd typically do at home when you're sitting down on the sofa relaxing.

 Bring good headphones

Planes are very noisy on the inside, the people, the engines and the potential screaming babies. Having a good set of noise-cancelling headphones can be a lifesaver for all of the above. Enabling you to consume your content alongside being perfect for blocking out other noises.

I never sleep with music playing except when I'm on a plane. Something relaxing and easy-going that my ears are used to hearing does a better job of blocking out unwanted noises than cheap earplugs.

On the note of screaming babies, please remember that the family and the baby are probably more stressed than you are. Your own earphones or earplugs are the most effective way of resolving this issue. If I were that young and unaware of the world, I'd be terrified of flying too!

I hope some of these tips make your next trip as comfortable as possible! Let me know if you have any other suggestions in the comments.

On a long plane flight
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