Flying Hacks: 10 Secrets to Stress-Free Air Travel (From a Pro!)

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How have I had my blog for 3.5 years and never shared my very best flying hacks for stress-free air travel?  I’ve been so busy sharing my tips on travel packing for women and things like fitting all of your beauty products into a tiny ziplock bag, that I haven’t managed to spill all the secrets I rely on time after time, to keep myself sane while I’m flying.

In case you’re new here and we haven’t met yet, I fly around the U.S. and the globe for work and for fun about 20 times per year.  That’s crazy!  I know.  Travel can make you want to lose your mind….but it doesn’t have to.

Here are the best things I’ve learned over the years that you can use to keep your next flight truly stress-free.

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Top 10 Flying Hacks for Air Travel

1. Never book a middle seat

What?  What if there are two of us?  How will we sit together?  I thought this post was about stress-free air travel!

Even if there are two of you, and you want to sit together – don’t book a middle seat!  Here’s what to do instead.  Most planes have rows of three seats on each side.  Instead of booking two of the three seats next to one another, book the aisle seat for one person, and the window for the other person.

Middle seats are always booked last on flights, and sometimes, they’re not booked at all if the flight isn’t full.  So the odds are decent that you’ll have an empty middle seat in between you!  

Hooray for extra space to stretch out!  If the middle seat does get booked, that passenger will no doubt be HAPPY to switch with you if you decide you’d rather sit next to your companion.

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me – try it!

Pro Travel Tip: These days, travel can be more uncertain than ever. Check for any COVID-related restrictions at your destination, and never travel without travel insurance! I recommend SafetyWing, because they have flexible + affordable insurance plans, and also cover COVID-related impacts on your trip (not all companies do)!

2. Join the airline’s frequent flyer program

It pays to have the chance to get some special treatment.  Even if you have no intention of ever flying a certain airline again, it still pays to sign up for their program.

The reason is that these customers are often given preference over passengers who aren’t part of the program, especially in the event of having to “bump” passengers to another flight.   After all, they’re free to join!

The best part of these programs is flying for free! Learn how to rack up miles as quickly as possible by reading how to earn frequent flyer points without flying.

3. If your flight gets canceled, don’t wait in line at the customer service counter

Why?  Because EVERYONE from your flight will be doing the same thing, so you’ll likely be the 200th person helped, and by that point, all of the seats on the best alternative flights will probably be taken. 

The best flying hack in this situation is to grab your phone and call the airline.

The agents on the phone will be able to help re-book you, and odds are better that you’ll get the very next flight – instead of having it already be full by the time you get to the front of the line at the airline counter.  Do damage control ahead of time by programming the airline’s customer service number into your phone.

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4. Always, always, always fly carry on only

The worst way to start a trip is without your luggage.  And it happens A LOT with checked luggage, which is one of the reasons I always fly carry-on only. It’s my tried-and-true flying hack for air travel!  

In addition, if you happen to get re-routed or delayed, flying with a carry on bag means that you’ll still have all of your things with you when you arrive.

The same thing goes for flying standby, which many people aren’t aware of.  Yep – you can only fly standby if you have a carry on bag!  If you have checked luggage, you’re prohibited from flying standby.  Bottom line: if you want to maintain flexibility with your flight schedule, don’t check a bag!

If you’re flying internationally, my post on what to wear on a long haul flight will help you pick the perfect outfit!

5. One more reason to go carry-on only (that’s how important it is!)

You’ll also save a ton of money by not checking your bag.  Airline baggage fees have gotten so expensive!  Just think of all the other trips you can take with the money you’ll save.  

Most airlines now charge at least $25 to check a bag, and that’s only one way.  So you’re talking a minimum of $50 just to get your bags to your destination!  That same $50 could easily pay for a fun meal or adventure during your trip.

Or, you know, getting a blowout in Paris.

If you need more help, I’ve also put together all my packing must-haves in my free printable travel planners – all yours to download!  Same goes for how to pack makeup for travel – I’ve got you covered.

6. Check Your Plane’s Seat Maps Ahead of Time

When you’re booking your flights, do your homework on the seating options.  I use Seat Guru to check out the configuration of the flight I’m booking on.  You can see seat-by-seat ratings of the best place to sit on any given airline and flight.

Another airplane hack is to use the Expert Flyer app to check open seat availability on flights, especially on the day of departure.  You’ll be able to see whether or not another seat is open that an agent can move you to.  

This goes for different classes of service, too!  You can see if there are any business or first-class seats open that you might be able to upgrade to.  Score!

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7. Score the Best Seat on the Plane

Still need a different seat?  Usually seats are “released” about 20 minutes before departure.  That means that seats get opened up from passengers who haven’t checked in for the flight 20 minutes before it departs.  

So, 20 minutes before departure is the PERFECT time to check in with a gate agent to see if you can score a seat in a better geography.

In general, if you check in with the gate agent around this time, you’ll probably be able to get your preference on a window or aisle seat, or move up closer to the front of the plane.  Sometimes, you’ll even be able to grab a premium seat (read: extra legroom) for no extra fee!  Just smile and ask nicely.

8. It can pay to order a special meal

Did you know that many airlines offer special meals for passengers with dietary restrictions?  It’s true – on most flights that offer complimentary meal service, you can order a special meal that is tailored to your dietary needs – whether that’s gluten-free, vegetarian, kosher, or otherwise.

These are usually freshly prepared….and you’ll also get your meal before anyone else does.  You have to order these meals BEFORE your flight (as in, a day or two before), so check with your airline ahead of time to see what your options are.

Not only is eating healthy a useful flying hack, but it’s also a great way to practice your self care while traveling!

9. Avoid Motion Sickness – Even During Turbulence

Do you get motion sick while flying?  Me too.  It can make frequent air travel a total pain, but I’ve learned a few ways to deal with it.  Check out this guide I put together on the best ways to prevent motion sickness during travel.  It even includes one trick that a flight attendant taught me YEARS ago, that has helped me soooooo much.

10. Zip Right Through Airport Security Like a Pro

Airports can cause stress RIGHT from the beginning, by forcing you to (basically) strip down and unpack all of your stuff that you have packed so well.  Not a good recipe for stress-free air travel.

I’ve written a whole post on how to FLY (forgive the pun) through airport security, saving yourself time and sanity along the way.  Hint: it starts with keeping your liquids bag in your handbag when you arrive at the airport.  Check out the post for everything you need to know!

READ MORE: How to get over Jet Lag Quickly And Get on With Your Trip

There you have it – My Best Airplane Hacks for Stress-Free Travel!

Need more ideas? Check out these tips for first time flyers with anxiety. If you’re worried about air travel, these ideas will help put your mind at ease.

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  1. Totally agree on the special meal! My preference is the “Asian vegetarian” one. It’s usually vegan and includes rice, vegetables and legumes. Sometimes it’s been more Indian-style, with curry, while other times it’s been more like a Chinese stir-fry. Either way, miles better than the boring (and unhealthy) standard meals!