I’m on record saying that air travel is an awful experience for the most part and has been for my entire life. I came to this conclusion long before United Airlines’ recent dismaying experience with a passenger who was dragged off a plane by police, sustaining injuries in the process.
As negative as I can be about the miseries of flight, over the years I’ve come up with some hacks that make it bearable.
Here are my top five:
1. Make a day of it.
Modern air travel is so much faster relative to what most people used to endure — long train, boat, or car rides — that we’ve come to believe that we’ll be whisked from point A to point B with no deleterious effects.
This is foolish. Just because your flight is two hours doesn’t mean that’s all the time you’ll be committing to the journey. You could get stuck in traffic on the way to the airport. You could be delayed at check-in or security. The flight itself could leave late. You could get bumped! You could miss a connection. And on and on.
Add to that the stress you’ll endure if you fly coach, with a cramped seat, and you’re confronting an ordeal.
My practice is to write off the travel day. Even if my flight is just a couple of hours, I plan to spend the day on the move and unless there’s a business commitment mixed in, I devote myself to the journey.
I get to the airport with hours to spare, have a bite to eat and something to drink, do a bit of reading, board the plane, take my flight, and then I don’t rush at the other end. In effect, I impose leisure on something that for most people isn’t leisurely.
All bets are off, of course, if I’m flying with my family. But when I’m, solo, I make it all about me.
2. Use the lounges.
Some travelers have airport lounge access thanks to their ticket or relationship with the airline or lounge through a credit card. But if you don’t, I think it’s worth it to pay for daily access. In fact, I routinely now do this.
I usually spend around $50, and if you figure that I’m already saving a fair amount of money by flying coach and would have to feed myself in any case, I think it evens out and actually can be a money saving expenditure.
Even if it isn’t, it’s much more relaxing to hang out in the lounge than it is in the terminal or by the gate. I’ll often spend a few hours doing this, becoming a sort of temporary citizen of the airport.
3. Stay overnight at an airport hotel.
This often isn’t as expensive as you might think. On a recent layover in Lisbon, I decided to spend the night at a nice boutique hotel across the street from the airport, and I spend around $100.
Again, you’re taking care of yourself with this move, reducing the stress of getting the airport on time. For early flights, I think this a total no-brainer. You wake up, maybe enjoy a free breakfast, and you either stroll over to the airport or jump on a shuttle.
This works our best if the hotel is in the airport itself.