Airline Travel 101

Feeling antsy? Me too. After over a year now of living reserved lives, I can’t wait for all of us to yet again share the feeling of two engines whining on take-off, propelling you down the runway and experiencing that light sensation as the tires leave the pavement. Fortunately, this is coming closer to reality as more people get vaccinated every day. This week, I am going to talk you through the ins and outs of airline travel, and give you some tips for when you find yourself starting to travel more often.

First, I’d like for you to keep your health in mind when on a plane. Sure, there are (and probably will be long after vaccinations) COVID precautions such as a mask, and possibly a face shield or glasses. But besides these accessories we have all grown used to, there are a few other considerations. When on a plane, the air circulating into, around, and back out of the cabin is very low in humidity. This is because air at the 30,000 foot cruise altitude is low in moisture. The air is circulated to maintain a clean, oxygen rich environment on board, but this often leaves passengers with scaly-like skin, dry eyes, and an insatiable thirst. This is where I would like to remind you to drink enough water. I know, many of us may hold off on how much we drink to avoid having to disturb the person next to us every time we need the restroom. But when you start to notice these changes in your body, it’s always best to take care of yourself, attempt to prevent some dehydration, and remember to drink water!

Speaking of fluids in your body, blood flow is pretty critical. If you have no pre-existing conditions that would normally cause you to think about this when getting on a plane, you may never have considered it. But when you sit stagnant for so many hours in the same position, this doesn’t suit well for proper blood circulation. What I do to try and counteract this is to stand up, hang out outside the bathroom and stretch my legs. Another thing I like to do is to sit in my seat and flex my leg muscles repeatedly for a minute every 30 minutes to an hour. This helps with circulation, can help to prevent blood clots, and also counteracts some of the restlessness I get in my legs. Compression socks can also work wonders!

Now, how to go about passing those long hours on flights to another continent. Here are my suggestions. If you are awake and alert and the increased oxygen levels in the cabin have not knocked you into a state of drowsiness, reading is always a nice go-to. I used to always pack a book, often bulkier than I preferred, but I recently purchased a cheap Kindle for a compact means of reading while traveling. If that drowsiness has set in and your airline offers in-flight entertainment, kicking back and watching all the new movies you have yet to see is an easy, low focus activity. And if you are struggling to fall asleep, but the time of day or atmosphere in the plane keeps you awake but feeling destroyed, put your headphones on to zone out and listen to some music while you rest your eyes. I pieced together a playlist for my travels that you can check out here. My choice of music is very eclectic, so there’s a little bit of everything on there! And lastly, some of my favorite pastimes sitting on a plane have been spent scrolling through my gallery of pictures on my phone. This is a nice way to recall old memories and reminisce a bit. Flying high above the Earth, it’s cool to remember where you have been, what you have done, and where you are going. Overall, just a relaxed time for some reflection and pondering life.

For those who do travel frequently, meaning multiple times a year, some programs to help accelerate your wait times in the airport are TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry. These are both U.S. Customs and Border Protection Programs, so note that Pre-Check is specifically for U.S. based readers while Global Entry is available for Americans in addition to other countries of origin such as India, Mexico, the U.K., Germany, and South Korea (see the ‘Eligibility’ tab in the Global Entry link below to see if you and your country qualify). Pre-Check requires a security screening appointment where they collect your fingerprints and ask some background questions. Upon issuance of your Known Traveler Number after a successful appointment, you can then enter security check points through the Pre-Check lines that are often much shorter. Also, you are not required to remove your shoes, belts, light coats, liquids, or electronics from your bag. This is a real time saver when security is backed up, or when you are passing through the airport at peak hours of the day such as in the morning or after work hours. It also makes your trip super convenient as you don’t have to (nearly) empty your entire bag into the plastic bins. Most times, I make it through security in less than ten minutes with Pre-Check. These expedited lines are not open at very early or very late hours of the day though, however, most of the time the regular security line is pretty empty at these times too, so even if Pre-Check was open during these hours, it wouldn’t really save you much additional time. As of now, Pre-Check costs $85 and is valid for five years.

Global Entry is a program convenient for frequent international travelers. If you have ever gone through customs on your return from a trip, you may have seen Global Entry signs leading you to separate electronic kiosk booths where you print your customs ticket upon return from your trip, and to a customs line typically with very few to no people in line where you go once you get your printed ticket. This program has saved me hours of waiting in the normal customs line as many people who only travel internationally once or twice a year do not buy into this program. Literally, I am able to get through customs in five minutes versus the average hour I spend in line, or at worst, two and a half hours I have spent in line in the past. Conveniently, upon purchase and qualification of Global Entry (this requires a background check appointment as well), you automatically get Pre-Check eligibility at no additional cost. But wait, there’s more! Global Entry doesn’t just get you through your home country’s customs quickly, it also gets you through customs in partnered countries also listed on the website. Global Entry costs $100 and is valid for five years. One final piece of info to consider with both of these programs is that some traveler credit cards, or cards with travel benefits, will incorporate the cost of Global Entry and Pre-Check in their annual fees.

And here are a few final suggestions I have for you before signing off: 

  • Keep the possessions you will need while on the plane in easy access exterior pockets of your bag
  • Keep a pen accessible for any customs forms you may be required to fill out upon entrance into a country
  • If you have a long flight and wear contacts, it’s easiest to just to put your glasses on from the start
  • Chapstick is your best friend in the air
  • Noise-canceling headphones really make a world of difference
  • Be kind to those around you and your flight attendants; you’ll be spending lots of time in close proximity
  • Save one of the water bottles you get on the plane to refill and take with you once you upon arrival

Stemming from my personal experience, these are a bunch of my top tips and recommendations which I hope will come in handy for you. If you have any suggestions or air travel secrets of your own you are willing to share, let us know in the comments section below!

Be sure to join us next week for another adventure that actually left me hanging from a cliff!

-Rebecca

“An investment in travel is an investment in yourself.” – Matthew Karsten

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