Advice for people who thought flying was fun and then realized how awful it is

I really enjoyed Craig Mod’s How to survive air travel and Cennydd Bowles’s Advice for people who aren’t exactly afraid of flying but aren’t exactly unafraid of flying either. That said, I don’t agree with all their points, so I thought I’d keep this thing going by writing about my own self-imposed list of travel rules. If you learn one thing from all these lists, let it be this: people who spend time on airplanes think about being on airplanes a lot.

In my opinion the main ingredient to a reasonably bearable flying experience is to spend as little time in the airport and on the plane as possible. Anything you can do to minimize the time you spend getting from origin to destination will have a direct effect on keeping your rage levels under control. So that’s the lens through which my advice should be seen. It’s all about minimizing the pain.

So, here we go.

If you travel in the US, sign up for TSA Pre. It costs $80, it lasts 5 years, and it lets you get through security without removing any clothes or laptops. The line is also always shorter than the general security line, so it rarely takes more than 5 minutes to get through.

Set an alarm to remind you when it’s time to check in online. That way you can usually get a reasonable seat (more on seats later), and you can avoid lines at the airport (more on that later, too).

Never check luggage. If you have a long trip and don’t think you can fit everything into a carry-on bag, make a plan. Go to a laundromat half-way through the trip. Wash clothes in the shower. Just do whatever it takes to avoid standing in check-in lines. Remove the ability for an airline to lose your bag or make you miss a connection. Don’t wait 30 mins at baggage claim when you could have been at your destination already. People who check their luggage is where the phrase “sometimes bad things happen to good people” comes from. I use a Tumi Alpha 2 International Expandable Carry-On and I really like it.

There is one big area where I diverge from Craig and Cennydd’s advice. They tell you to get to the airport way early. I’m telling you to get there dangerously close to your flight. I aim to be at the airport 45 minutes before the flight leaves. That gives me just enough time to get through security and walk up to the gate without standing in any lines (remember: you’re checked in already and you have TSA Pre). This is a dangerous art, but worth pursuing. The holy grail is getting out of the cab and walking straight on to your plane without having to stop or run once.

Bring your own food. Airport shops always have lines, and airplane food is gross.

Choose an aisle seat, always. As far to the front as possible, always. The photos you get from the window seat will get you over the “20 likes” barrier on Instagram, but it’s not worth it when you have to go to the bathroom and the person next to you has their 17″ Dell laptop open and is working on an intricate Excel spreadsheet. Also, aisle seats get you out of the plane faster.

Noise-canceling headphones are more magical than they appear. It’s amazing how the lack of constant droning in your ears helps to reduce fatigue. I like the Bose QuietComfort 20i headphones because they have a button you can push that lets you hear announcements/flight attendants without removing the headphones.

And finally, the most important piece of advice I can give you: If at all possible, avoid flying altogether.