The Beginners Guide to Flight Comfort
Flight comfort: preparing and planning your air travel to have the best experience.
Air travel involves luggage restrictions, security checks, sitting near-strangers, and the possibility to explore far-reaching places.
Knowing what to expect before entering an airport will help you have a good experience. From booking your flight to getting on the plane, here are some helpful tips and tricks.
Before flying: Preparing for your flight
Know the baggage lingo
Airline baggage rules depend on the airline, specific flight, and level of ticket you buy. Pay attention to the baggage options when you book your flights – it can come as a surprise when you arrive at the airport and have to pay a fee you didn’t expect.
If you are thinking about putting a luggage lock on your bags, read this article from TSA (Transportation Security Administration) about policies for locking baggage. In most cases, it eliminates frustration to leave your bags unlocked, as TSA might need to open your bag for a security check. If you’ve put a lock on your luggage TSA will cut the lock to do their check.
Here are a few airlines baggage guidelines:
Airlines use terms to refer to the type of luggage you are allowed to bring. Below are the three levels of baggage you will be concerned with.
Most flights charge a fee for a checked bag. This is the bag you check in before you go through security when you first arrive at the airport. If you are traveling with sharp objects like scissors, souvenir weapons, or items you don’t want to drag around the airport with you, a checked bag is your option. Checked bags usually have a weight limit of 50lbs.
This is a bag that you will take on to the plane with you. It will be stowed in an overhead bin during the flight, and you will have access to it – albeit inconvenient access. When booking your flight check the rules on this bag as well. Not all flights allow a free carry-on bag.
Common dimension guidelines for carry-on bags are 9 x 14 x 22 inches (23 x 36 x 56 centimeters). But check your airline’s luggage policies for specifics.
A personal item is a small bag, like a purse, that can be tucked under the seat in front of you.
Common dimension restrictions for a personal item are: 8 x 14 x 18 inches (20 x 35 x 45 centimeters). But check your airline’s luggage policies for specifics.
Book your tickets
If you are flying with travel companions, try to get seats together when you book your tickets. Having someone you know in the seat next to you allows for more comfort on the flight. Jordan and I do this whenever possible because we can lift the armrest between us and it gives us more space to stretch out.
Some flights will not assign a seat until you check in the day of the flight.
For flights that allow you to pre-pick your seat, there will be a plane seat map that comes up in the booking process for you to choose from.
Seat Guru is a tool you can search the airline and flight number of your flight and see a seating map of the specific plane you’ll be on.
Drink lots of water
Pre-hydrate, air travel is dehydrating because the air is dry and it is recycled through the cabin of the plane throughout the flight. Hydrating before your trip will also assist your body to adjust to any difference in elevation, weather, or jet lag you experience at your destination.
Pack items to make your flight experience the best
See the section below “Things to pack for your flight.”
Pack your bags to go through security
Going through security can seem daunting and scary if you are doing it for the first time. Being aware of what will happen eliminates some anxiety.
Once you’ve stood in line with many other travelers, you will be asked to place your carry-on items, your shoes, belt, and any other metal objects into bins that are placed on a conveyor belt and scanned by TSA (Transportation Security Administration).
You will then be told to go through an x-ray scanner or walked through a metal detector. If all’s clear you will then pick up your belongings at the end of the conveyor belt.
If there is something that a TSA guard needs to check they will pull you to the side and do a metal detector wand over you again to double check. They may have to pat you down, which they will fully explain to you before they do it. They will also offer to take you to a private room to do the pat down.
If your unaware this could happen, it is intimidating, but they’re just trying to keep everyone safe, and they are very professional about it.
Keep in mind, going through security starts when you pack, not when you get to the airport. Pack with the TSA rules in mind to eliminate problems later.
All electronics have to be pulled out of your bags and placed in a separate bin to go through the scanners. When you pack these items plan for easy access.
Review TSA’s list of illegal items. These will be removed from your bag and discarded; you will not be allowed to take them on board.
You are allowed a quart sized bag with 3.4oz sized containers of liquids. This includes toothpaste, shampoo, soaps, contact solution and so on. This baggie will probably also need to be pulled out at the security check. All liquids need to be stored together in a zip-style bag.
Medical concerns and flying
Check with your doctor before flying if you have any medical concerns.
If you have a medical implant that is metal, it will probably set the metal detector off. There is no need to worry about this, as TSA will do a quick scan to verify the metal is not external, and you’ll be on your way.
For any other medical concerns here is an article by TSA with contact information. They will answer your questions.
Important documents for flights
Designate a spot for tickets, ID, passport, and other important documents; they should be easily accessible. Nothing is worse than getting to your checkpoints and being unable to remember which pocket you put your paperwork in.
Important documents for specific destinations
Make sure you have any necessary documents you will need – tickets, confirmation numbers, passport, ID, shuttle information for when you land at your destination.
Download a book, music, movie onto your smart device
Have a few different options of things to do during your flight. Plan according to your flight length. If its three hours a movie or audiobook may get you through. If it’s a long international flight you will probably need a variety of activities.
Audiobook and ebook resources
Audible is Amazon’s audiobook app. Download the app to your phone and then choose and purchase audiobooks you want to listen to.
Another resource for downloadable audiobooks and ebooks is your local library. If you don’t know how to access this, physically go to your library and they will help you set it up. Your library might even have their app on which to download ebooks and audiobooks.
Another great resource is Podcast Addict. Its an app you can download to your phone that allows you to search for and access podcasts from your favorite podcasters. Download a selection of episodes ahead of time to save data.
Pack it all in your “personal item.”
Most flights allow a personal item – like a purse, or small bag, and a carry-on item that can go in the overhead bins. Check your flight details for this information before booking tickets, as different levels of tickets offer different bag options. Some airlines charge extra to have a checked bag and a carry-on.
Your “personal item” will need to be tucked under the seat in front of you. This allows you easy access to anything in the bag, making it the perfect place to put all your in-flight necessities. You can also put these items in your carry-on if you have one, but this may be harder to get to as you will have put it in the overhead bins as soon as you board the plane.
Toiletries in your carry-on
If you have a carry-on item, consider packing your basic toiletries and a set of clothes in it. This comes in handy for long flight teeth brushing, or if your luggage gets lost and you need to last a day or two before your baggage catches up with you.
Wear loose clothing
Wear something you will be comfortable sitting in for a long time.
Loose fitting clothing also keeps you warmer. Airplane cabins get pretty chilly.
6 Things to Pack for Your Flight
1. Travel pillow
This can be a game changer during a long flight. Something small and simple that fits in your purse will work.
Or something designed for travel like this:
2. Refillable water bottle
Once you’re through security, you can fill your bottle in the airport – at a water fountain.
If you are uncomfortable with tap water, bottled water is available for purchase at airport shops/restaurants. It’s expensive.
Having water with you onboard will help you stay hydrated and happy during the flight and afterward.
Hydro Flask is my favorite water bottle because it keeps liquids cold, or hot, for long periods of time.
Something to munch on if you get hungry is always a safe bet.
See our post Snacks for Air Travel for snack ideas.
Flights get chilly once the air conditioning has blasted for a bit. Having a pair of socks to keep your feet warm may help you sleep, or stay comfortable.
Some people have trouble with their feet swelling on flights. Whether its caused by sitting or the change in atmosphere, having a pair of compression socks may help keep you comfortable.
An airplane can get cold once you’ve settled down and held still for a while. The air conditioning in your neighbor’s seat may affect you as much as them. A jacket quickly solves this problem.
6. Headphones, earplugs or other sound canceling device
Bring a pair to listen to your music, movie or podcast.
Also, to eliminate any noises around you if you decide to sleep through a flight.
Tips for going through security
Pack to go through security
Review the section above.
Designate a place for tickets and documents
Pick a pocket for your documents, and only use that pocket throughout your trip.
You will probably have to take your shoes off to go through the security check. Wear something comfortable, that comes on and off easily.
Don’t wear jewelry or belts through security
You will also probably have to take off your belt and jewelry to not set off the metal detector. Remove these items and place in the scanner bins, or don’t even wear them, eliminate an added thing to worry about.
You will probably have to remove your jacket, blazer, or sports coat – any outer layer.
Be sure you want the world to see what’s under it.
Tips for flight time
Fill your water bottle once you’ve gone through security.
Drink during the flight, even if it means going to the bathroom often. Getting dehydrated before your vacation is no way to begin a trip.
Hydration also helps with jet-lag, lack of sleep, or elevation gain you may be facing during your travels.
If once you’ve boarded the plane and everyone is seated, you find you are not comfortable with your seat, there is the possibility that you might be able to trade with other passengers.
Families traveling together often try to do this. Keeping little ones close by is necessary during long flights, to keep them happy and taken care of.
Try politely asking fellow passengers if they would like to trade with you. But be willing to accept a ‘no’ and settle into wherever you’re seated.
You can also ask the flight attendant for an alternative seat if you have a legitimate problem.
All the items you prepared for your flight should be handy in your personal item, under the seat in front of you. Once your flight has taken off, pull out your stuff.
Stretch every hour
Break up the sitting time by getting up every hour or so to use the restroom, or just stretch your legs for a few seconds. Flight attendants don’t want people clogging the walkways, so don’t be too long.
Be nice to the flight crew; it’s usually not their fault.
Be kind to the person next to you; whether you know them or not, it will be a long awkward flight if you aren’t.
Be nice to everyone else in the plane – don’t blare your music too loud, laugh obnoxiously, talk loud enough for the whole plane to hear you – generally try to be considerate of those around you.
My family has a running joke, code-named “juicy fruit” to signify anything super-annoying.
We were on a 5-hour flight to Hawaii. At some point during the flight, a family behind us decided they wanted to teach their baby to talk.
In a loud, obnoxious, talking-to-kids-in-a-high-pitched-voice, kind of tone the woman said over, and over, and over “can you say J-U-I-C-Y F-R-U-I-T?” It went on for a LONG TIME!
Don’t be that woman!
Do your activities
You prepared ahead by downloading a book, podcast or movie, now go ahead and enjoy those activities.
Take a snack break
Break up the flight by pulling out your snacks. Most airlines offer drinks at some point during the flight; some also offer a small snack: pretzels, cookie, or small snack pouch. For longer flights, a meal may be provided. On our trip to China, we were served two meals and a couple of snacks throughout the flight because it was a long eighteen hours or so.
Just because they serve it, doesn’t mean you will want to eat it.
If you are health-conscious, have food restrictions or are a picky eater – bring your food.
See our post Snacks for Air Travel for snack ideas that serve a variety of eating styles.
3 things you should NOT do before a flight
Eat a heavy meal
Don’t eat a heavy meal before getting on a plane.
At best, it will make you uncomfortable.
Worse, you might get to use the barf bag in the seat pocket.
Drink alcohol and caffeine
Both alcoholic and caffeinated drinks are dehydrating – something you are trying to avoid.
Take cold medicine
While you may have considered this as an option for helping you sleep, this is another way to dehydrate your system.
Taking cold medicine dries out your mucous membranes – nose, eyes, and respiratory system – making you uncomfortable and potentially creating a ripe environment for germs (this is not meant to be a medical explanation, just a tip to avoid discomfort).
A red-eye flight runs through the night. Likely, you will want to sleep through these flights so that you’re ready to go when you land at your destination. Here are a few things to bring to make a red-eye flight comfortable.
1. Travel pillow
2. Blanket or jacket
3. Face mask
Blocking out the light of the flight cabin can help you sleep.
4. Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs
5. Sleeping aid
Talk to your doctor if you get motion sickness, or want to take something to help you sleep while flying.
A common option to help with motion sickness, and make you drowsy is Dramamine.
Check with your doctor before using it.
If you get airsick
For flight anxiety
Here are some resources for those who are afraid of flying, or get anxiety from flying.
Over on Live Simply, Kristin Marr shares some natural solutions to flight anxiety in Natural Remedies for Calming Flight Anxiety and Flying Comfortably
Take a tummy soother
Dramamine is good for motion sickness, and it can also make you drowsy. If you’re trying to sleep, this is a good option.
Check with your doctor before using it.
There is also a non-drowsy Dramamine, but in our experience, this has also caused drowsiness. Perhaps you will be affected differently.
Check with your doctor before using it.
Take something to soothe your stomach before you get on the plane. And have extra for the remainder of the flight. If it’s just an upset stomach having ginger pills, or ginger candies to eat will help soothe your stomach.
Ginger Altoids, ginger tummy drops or ginger mints are all great options.
There’s a vomit bag in the seatback pocket in front of you.
There you go.
This is not an exhaustive guide to flying.
Every flight is different, and everyone’s personal needs will be different.
However, these tips will set you up for a better experience, no matter what the flight details.