I take about 20-30 flights per year. Most of them are shorter leasure trips within Europe. I always fly economy, both for the sake of the climate and for my wallet.
A lot of things can be said about economy, but very few things are pleasant. You sit in a tiny seet, cramped next to a stranger. Some of your fellow passangers are not used to flying, and are unaware of basic aviation etiquette.
But don’t despair, there are still a lot of things you can do in order to make life easier and the journey more tolerable for yourself and those around you.
1. Relax in the airport lounge before your flight
While flying is annoying, waiting for a flight can be even worse, but we’ve all seen them. While we’re tired and annoyed from camping out near the gate for an hour or more, with crying babies, loud talkers and commotion, just when boarding starts, they arrive.
Refreshed, relaxed and with an effortless stroll.
The lounge people. These ellusive people, who have been hiding out behind doors, clearly marked with signs saying “By invitation only”, until boarding.
The benefits of airport lounges
Airport lounges are basically calm, all-inclusive waiting areas for those who are willing to pay a little more extra for a lot more comfort. Actually, you don’t have to be willing to pay extra. You just need a basic understanding of the economics of airports (which is based on the fact that most people will spend a significant amount of money just from a couple of beers, a sandwitch and some bored shopping).
They usually have different seating arrangements; couches, arm chairs, cafe tables and workspaces, so that you can comfortably relax, have a meal or work.
They are usually equipped with a buffet ranging from light snacks to full, warm meals, a bar with alcoholic and non-alcoholic refreshments, a private bathroom, often with showers.
All this – sometimes except for premium drinks – free of charge once you’re in.
How do you behave in an airport lounge?
Most airport lounges have dresscodes, but they are usually informal. As long as you don’t look like a bum, you’re good to go.
Behaviour is more important, though. Since the purpose of airport lounges are to create a calm environment for people to relax, don’t be loud and obnoxious.
Be courteous to everyone, be calm, talk quietly, turn the sound off on your devices, and go to the side if you’re on the phone, so basically, how any gentleman would behave anywhere.
So, how do you get in to the lounges?
While having a Business or First Class ticket is often the easiest way, it’s also the most expensive, and usually not necessary.
Believe it or not, even though almost all of them have signs saying by invitation only (or similar wordings), a lot of them do accept payment at the door without an invitation, especially during off hours.
A lot of airlines will also sell access to economy travellers as an up-sell item. Look in their app or website.
The cost of a single entrance ranges from $35-$50, and while this might seem expensive, a couple of beers and a sandwich will not cost much less.
If you travel more than once or twice per year, a lounge access card, such as Priority Pass, is the way to go. They range in price from $100 and up depending on if the number of visits are fixed or unlimited.
The best way to get them, however, is by getting a premium credit card. Personally, I have a Mastercard Black, that cost me roughly €200/year, and apart from the usual premium credit card benefits such as excellent travel insurance and conciërge service, it also includes an unlimited Priority Pass, that also allow me to bring guests for an extra fee of €25 or so.
2. Be prepared
Be prepared before check-in, security, passport checks and boarding.
Always keep your travel documents in the same place, easily accessible. Personally, I always keep my passport and (when applicable) paper boarding passes in my right inside pocket, but find the place that suits you.
Before security, look over the signs. Wether you need to take belt and shoes off, or if you need to take laptops and liquids out differ from airport to airport, but they always have signs or screens with the information.
On boarding, make sure you have everything you need during the flight in a small bag, so that you can quickly put your main carry-on in the overhead compartment without having to dig through it, toss the small bag by your feet and be seeted within a few seconds, so you don’t create a traffic jam.
And, which shouldn’t have to be said – ensure that you have your documents ready for inspection on boarding and in passport controls.
3. Obey the armrest etiquette
The armrest etiquette can be tricky, but the rules are simple.
On a 3-chair configuration, the middle seat has priority for both armrests. This is because both the isle- and window seats are more comfortable, and you have the possibility to stretch out towards the isle or window.
In all other configurations, you have priority to your right armrest, while the neighbour to your left has priority to the armrest by your left arm.
4. Dress appropriately
It’s not comfortable to fly on a long haul-flight in a business suit. It’s also not very good for the suit. If you have a meeting where a suit is required after a long flight, take the suit in the carry on and switch in to it before descent.
While comfortable, also don’t wear your home pants, that you throw on for lazy Sunday mornings.
Instead, opt for loose (but well) fitting pants, jeans or chinos. Stretch can be your friend here, to retain comfort while not looking like you’re wearing a tent. Pair this with a polo shirt and make sure you have a sweater to put on if it gets cold, and you’re good to go.
Unless you have an odor problem, it is OK to remove your shoes.
Also, make sure you are newly showered and that your clothes are clean before you get on that 10 hour flight, and that you wear deo but take it easy on the cologne before boarding. Take advantage of the shower in the lounge if you have a layover and enough time.
5. Be courteous but also understanding
While it’s not pleasant to be stuck for hours within inches of strangers, common courtesy goes along way. Greet them, assist them if they need something. Chat if you want, but be mindful of their body language and stop if it seems like they want to be left alone.
If you opt for an alcoholic refreshment at the lounge before the flight, do it in moderation.
Also, be patient, understanding and helpful to people who are not aware of proper etiquette, who have disibilities, are overweight or are travelling with children.
Remember, as bad annoying as that crying baby might be for you, it’s ten times worse for the parents…
Bonus tip: Compensate
Yes, flying is bad for the climate. But flying also has a lot of benefits. It brings people and cultures together in a way that would be impossible without flying.
It helps you grow as a person, meet new people and explore the world. I am also an expat, so flying makes it possible for me to maintain the relationships with my family and friends back home.
I am not willing to fly less. But I am willing to pay for my “climate sins”, so I always compensate.
Compensating for flights are not expensive. It adds a couple of dollars or euros to intracontinental flights and perhaps ten dollars or euros for intercontinental flights. It might not be as good for the environment as staying home, but it’s a lot better than doing nothing. You should do it.
Enjoy your flight
Follow these simple rules, and your flight will be much more tolerable, both for you and those around you.
Enjoy your flight!