Long flights can be uncomfortable -- heck, any flight can be unpleasant in today's cramped, packed planes. But with a little effort and forethought, you can hit the ground feeling fresh.
Flight attendants spend up to 960 hours per year in the air. In 2017, they provided service to passengers making about 2.25 billion business and leisure trips in the U.S. Who's better equipped to give travel advice?
Airport ground workers may have some different ideas. But here’s what flight attendants say are the secrets to low-stress travel.
15. Turn mishaps into free stuff
When mistakes happen on the airline's end — like, maybe your preordered meal got fouled up, or you and your S.O. got seated apart from each other — flight attendants typically have the go-ahead to make up for it with free stuff.
A complimentary vodka-and-orange-juice can go a long way to soothe tense travelers. Complaining works, just be sure to do it the right way.
And try to get on your flight attendant's good side before things go sour. When the airline commits a foul, your complaint will feel more like a conversation among friends and less like whining.
14. Sit in the back for better service
Most people think the front of the plane is the best place sit. You might get served first at mealtime, and you'll be among the first to deplane. (That's especially important if you're competing on The Amazing Race!)
But flight attendants will confide that the rear of the plane usually gets the best service. It’s easy for them to sneak an extra ginger ale to someone in the back without drawing the attention of the entire plane.
A long-time flight attendant tells the British tabloid The Sun that flight attendants often ignore requests from the front, because if they have to deliver an item to someone up there, other passengers will see and will want the same thing.
13. Get to the gate early for a cheap upgrade
Be ready to board early, and ask at the gate if there's a business or first-class seat that you might be able to snag at a discounted rate. Airlines will often have last-minute, cheap upgrades available.
Not every airline operates this way. But if yours does, you could be in for quite a deal.
Make sure you’re first-class eligible. Many airlines have dress-code requirements for first-class. While traveling in sweats or pajamas can by comfy, your super-casual attire could disqualify you from an excellent upgrade.
12. Be strategic to avoid screaming babies
Babies are wonderful, of course! But few things can be as devastating to the quality of your flight as a screeching child.
For quieter travels, sit far from the partitions on planes called "bulkheads."
Here's why this is a great tip: The rows behind bulkheads tend to be roomier, which makes them preferred seating for families with small kids. So, avoid bulkheads, and you'll avoid babies.
11. Use earplugs and headphones for privacy
As airlines pack passengers in tighter and tighter, your personal bubble gets smaller and smaller.
With some comfortable earplugs, earbuds or headphones, you’ll at least own your aural space.
The ability to maintain some privacy can be a godsend on a long flight — especially if you’re unfortunate enough to be seated near a baby.
10. Be suspicious of airline blankets
Planes are breeding grounds for germs. So, don't snuggle up with a blanket supplied by your airline unless it's given to you sealed in plastic.
If the blanket isn't sealed up, that means somebody else has already used it. You could play it safe and bring your own blanket, but a blanket can be cumbersome in your carry-on.
Be vigilant, and don't accept a potentially unwashed, germy blanket. You don't want to go home with a cold or something worse as a souvenir from your travels.
9. Thoroughly sanitize tray tables
Be careful at mealtime, because the tray tables on planes are notoriously filthy. One of the reasons is that parents often use them to change dirty diapers.
One 2015 study found that the drop-downs are a bacterial playground, with 17 times the bacteria found on a typical toilet seat.
So, bring alcohol wipes and sanitize your tray table when you take your seat. (And make sure you finish before takeoff!)
8. Wipe down the air nozzle
Airliner air is typically 50% fresh air, 50% recirculated air. You know what that means? Bacterial spores coughed out by the passenger 20 rows behind you will inevitably end up traveling through your air vent.
Once you've sanitized your tray table, give your air nozzle a once-over, too. It’s not a bad idea to point the nozzle away from your face either. That way the germs won't be launching directly at your face.
Besides, that air can be cold. Were you prepared for that?
7. Bring warm clothes on a plane
It can get chilly up there at 33,000 feet. Especially for long transcontinental flights, you’ll want to be sure to have enough warm layers.
Pack a sweater and maybe even a scarf in your carry-on, even if you’re flying somewhere warm. You’ll stay toasty during the plane ride, then you'll have extra layers in case of cool nights at your destination.
If you do fail to pack warm clothing, you'll have extra motivation to stay active on the plane...
6. Walk around while you're in the air
Dramatic changes in elevation and prolonged sitting can increase the risk of blood clots and a condition known as deep vein thrombosis.
Getting up and walking around the plane every 90 minutes or so can improve circulation and reduce the risk of problems. Plus, your brain will benefit from the stimulation.
But exercising on a plane has its limits. So rather than waiting until you're in the air, give your body the movement it craves before you board...
5. Work out before and after the flight
Balance out of all that midair sitting with solid workouts before and after your flight. It’s a whole lot easier to sit still for a 16-hour transpacific flight when you're coming off a rigorous workout.
The fatigue from working out can make sleeping upright in coach seem almost as natural as lying in a bed. Almost.
Just be sure not to overdo it. You don’t want to be too sore, and an intense workout can lead to unnecessary inflammation and elevated stress-hormone levels.
4. Befriend the flight attendants
This travel hack comes highly recommended by every flight attendant who has ever pushed a beverage cart or answered a call button.
Those hardworking airline employees too often are used as emotional punching bags by disgruntled passengers. A little courtesy goes a long way.
Flight attendants are more likely to help you out if they like you, and they often have extra meals and servings of vodka for their favorite flyers.
3. Pack a 'sweet dreams kit'
Catnaps in the air can be rejuvenating, but getting comfy can be a challenge given that economy seats on many airlines don’t offer much leg room. Having the right sleep gear can help you get some rest, even in the very tight quarters.
What should you bring on board? A neck pillow is a must, Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant Heather Sanchez tells Forbes.
Other sleep essentials include an eye mask, earplugs and noise-canceling headphones.
2. Avoid using electronics before bedtime
The screens on electronic devices emit a lot of blue light. Blue light stimulates the brain to produce serotonin instead of melatonin, and you need melatonin to help you fall asleep.
Before you want to get some shut-eye, avoid watching movies on your tablet or playing games on your phone.
This will give your brain plenty of time to switch to melatonin-production mode. And then, you can keep working on adjusting your sleep schedule — to reduce jet lag.
1. Shift your sleep schedule
You might want to do this starting a couple of days before your flight. Try to go to bed according to the local time at your destination.
Ideally, when your alarm goes off it will be at a reasonable hour at your current location. Hop out of bed and get some sunlight, if that's possible.
The sun exposure will help convince your brain that it’s a normal wake-up time. But if you end up having a rough night’s sleep, that might help you crash on the plane. (Oops, sorry — poor choice of words!)