Tips for Flying That I Learned during My Airline Career
I spent most of my career in the airline industry. One benefit of working for them is knowing certain tiny secrets that only staff, family, and friends are familiar with. Flying tips like the rationale (or lack of) of selling airplane upgrades.
I also learned how to handle the passive-aggressive behavior that thrives in cramped economy cabins and how to never lose my luggage (after over 100 flights).
These 4 tips for flying are part of my book Budget Travelers, Digital Nomads & Expats: The Ultimate Guide: 50 Tips, Tricks, Hacks, and Ways to Free Stuff & Cheaper Flights.
1 — Get Suited to Win a Flight Upgrade
Even though a business class seat takes up the same amount of space as two or three economy seats, the standard price for them more than makes up for it. That is why airlines continue to offer them. They are, however, more difficult to sell.
Imagine how much potential they waste if no one uses those wonderful high-tech oases, with their big-screen in-flight entertainment, free Italian lotions, and exquisite food. They even warm your nuts on the airline where I worked (no pun intended).
Airlines understand that traveling with an empty seat in business class is a waste. After all, several of the world’s best airlines have built their reputations on this compartment.
That is why they often offer upgrades for some of their customers.
They upgraded my friends and me on our very first international trip, while we were still in university. If you’ve ever experienced the same luck, you’ve probably thought:
Why did they choose me?
It is simple to explain why you did not get an upgrade. For example, if you are traveling with a large party, it is doubtful that they would upgrade everyone or just a portion of your group.
On the other hand, there are several reasons to upgrade a passenger. I list some things I saw throughout my airline career below:
- Customer holding a high-tier frequent-flyer program card (such as United Airlines’ Platinum).
- Affluent people
- People who have a disability or a medical condition.
- The cabin staff may also pick well-dressed guests at random.
You probably overlooked the first two criteria if you are not a high-spending, frequent-flyer member or popular enough to be invited on television programs. The last one is within your grasp. Even yet, very few people are aware of it.
You might see a steward inviting a customer to Business Class. There’s a chance he got picked because of his good-looking outfit. Unless you’re a reggae celebrity, your chances of getting the same treatment if you wear dreads and tie-dye shirts are minimal.
Get well-dressed to get upgraded. The worst that may happen is that you’ll catch the attention of the person in the adjacent row.
2 — Tips for Flying near the Obnoxious Over-Reclined Passenger
There is an apocryphal tale of an old Chinese torture procedure where a shackled person has drops of water dripped on her forehead till gets mad. The name “Chinese” was most likely given to it to add mystique, and the true author is believed to be the medieval Italian jurist Hippolytus de Marsiliis.
Despite the dubious origins of the idea, I discovered a handy adaption that allowed me to avoid one of the most uncomfortable passengers of economy class: the over-reclined. To be more exact, I mean those that sit in front of you (on any means of transportation) and recline their seats while you attempt to eat your in-flight meal. They eventually produce mishaps, such as a wine stain on your shirt or coffee in your trousers.
I’ll tell you a little secret.
Few individuals can stand up to a steady stream of chilly air in their eyes or forehead. Normally, the air conditioner exit above your seat is adjustable. When the obnoxious individual pushes his seat toward you, do this:
1. Close all other air exits near you (if nobody minds). Since each exit shares the same airflow, blocking the others increases the strength of your flow.
2. Direct your air exit to the individual who has over-reclined and is virtually resting on your lap.
3. Release the hurricane. Allow the full-force cold-air cannon to annihilate the awkward person.
You may now dine in peace.
3 — Tips for Flying with Traveling Luggage: Never Lose Your Suitcases by Doing This.
My baggage for my first trip abroad was just a large, dark-colored, simple suitcase. We were arriving at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, which has the same luggage carousels for multiple flights. Hundreds, thousands of suitcases mix in the same place. Having a bag just like many others, I assure you of one thing:
It’s not nice to grab someone else’s luggage by accident and have the individual run to you, thinking you’re stealing!
A simple strategy might help you avoid uncomfortable situations. It will also make it easier to complain to the airline if you missed your bag and respond when they ask if there was any information that might help them identify your suitcase.
Place a giant sticker on it!
Some random abstract pattern, or one of your favorite places.
If your baggage is of a hard material, such as acrylic or plastic, this will work well. However, if it is of fabric, a sticker may not cling for long enough. In this scenario, the best advice is to just get a bag in an unusual or bright color.
It may not seem great in an Instagram picture, but it will save you time and prevent you from losing your belongings in those ever-growing airports.
4 — Book Just Two Tickets but Get Three Seats.
My wife and I were still two flights away from home on our travel back from South America. The first one was almost 12 hours long, and we could have used some additional space to stretch our legs while watching a movie.
A nightmare in such scenarios is a quarterback-sized dude sitting in your row and squeezing you like toothpaste. This is a frightening panorama for a 12-hour journey.
My wife prefers window seats, but I favor the aisle. So we came up with a simple and obvious solution: one of us chose the window and the other the aisle in the same row. With so many other seats available on a low-season flight, it was improbable that anybody would choose the middle seat.
This is not a guaranteed hack since if the aircraft is almost full, someone may just take whatever seat is available, even if it is between you and your spouse.
However, it worked almost every time I tried it.
Have a fantastic (and low-cost) vacation!
Flying Tips: Conclusion
1 — Get well-dressed and behave graciously to increase your chances of winning a flight upgrade, especially on low-season flights.
2- Avoid the over-reclined by using the air-conditioning exits over your head. If he reclines his sit too close to your lap during an inconvenient moment (eg: mealtime), just direct the air exits to your lap (and his head).
3- Never lose your suitcase in gigantic airports by marking it with a large, unusual sticker. A sticker may not cling for long enough if it is of fabric, so get a bag in an unusual or bright color. It will also make it easier for the airline/airport to find it if they miss your baggage.
4 — If you are traveling in a pair or couple, one can reserve the window and the other the aisle in the same row. During the low season, it was likely that nobody will choose the middle seat.
5 – If you are somehow afraid to fly, don’t worry: some planes are much safer than others. Check in this article what are the safest airplanes.
Any other flying tips do you know?
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Levi Borba is the CEO of expatriateconsultancy.com, creator of the channel Small Business Hacks, and best-selling author. Subscribe to my articles (for free) and receive (also for free) the ebook “The Blueprint for First-Time Business Owners”.