5 tips from frequent flyers to make traveling way easier

Three brothers--all frequent flyers--share their top 5 tips for surviving holiday air travel.

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  • This year I logged more than 50,000 miles on airplanes. After my final flight of the year, I deplaned and ran headlong into a guy stopped right in the middle of the jet way. Oblivious to anyone else around him, he had dropped his duffle bag and was looking down at his phone, checking his email.

  • This scene is repeated far too often in airports across the country. My fellow sojourners of the skies and I encounter inconsiderate travelers whose behavior results in delays, irritation and discomfort for fellow passengers. I've lost count of the number of people who inexplicably believe they can defy the laws of physics and force an oversized suitcase into the overhead compartment-Einstein's very definition of insanity.

  • So with the busy holiday travel season upon us, I decided to channel my frustration and observations into a more positive pursuit-compiling a few helpful hints for fellow flyers. Perhaps in doing so I could tutor those who don't fly as much in the often unspoken code and cultural norms that govern air travel, thus making the experience much more enjoyable for others. Paying it forward, if you will. My gift to the masses.

  • First, I needed to conduct some research, and for my frequent flyer focus group I looked no further than my family-two of my brothers, to be exact.

  • Joe is a product manager for a big lifestyle brand based in California and a member of United's elite Million Miler club. This year he logged more than 135,000 miles on dozens of flights to Europe and Asia.

  • Steve is an advertising executive based in Colorado who flies mostly domestic on Southwest.

  • I earned Gold Medallion status this year on Delta traveling for my healthcare public relations and marketing gig. Between the three of us, we have a pretty good understanding of what constitutes the friendly skies, and what doesn't.

  • After much discussion (via email, of course, as we were all traveling) we came up with our top five frequent flyer tips. Some require behavior modification. Most are just common sense.

  • Read on and perhaps your own holiday travels will be much more merry and bright.

  • 1. Plan ahead

  • If you're taking your first or fifteenth flight of the year, it always pays to plan ahead. Double check your departure schedule and allow yourself plenty of time for parking, shuttle service, weather delays and security checks.

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  • Rather than printing your boarding pass at the airport, download your airline's app and check in online, that way you can head right to the baggage drop or to security if you're not checking a bag.

  • If you're traveling with children, take some time to condense supplies, snacks and toys before you get to security.

  • Generally speaking, bring as little as possible on the plane. Anticipate delays, so that when they occur, you don't get stressed out and take it out on others (see #5).

  • 2. Be aware of your surroundings

  • Steve compares walking through airports to driving on a busy freeway. "You can't just suddenly stop in the middle of the road, or you can't just wander off into another lane without first checking your blind spot," he advises.

  • To prevent a pile-up on the concourse, step to the side if you need to fetch something from your bag or use your phone. On moving walkways and escalators, stand to the right so that others may pass by you on the left.

  • All three of us agreed that bringing food on a plane is a major no-no, particularly if the plate is pungent. The odor of a chile verde burrito, or beef and cheddar sandwich is magnified tenfold in the close confines of the plane.

  • Likewise, loud phone calls are verboten. "Keep your business to yourself, or find a way to lower your voice if you're making a call before take-off," adds Joe.

  • If you're watching a movie on a laptop or tablet, by all means wear headphones (same goes for kids playing games). Prior to takeoff and landing, discontinue the use of all electronics so you don't have to be reminded by the flight attendant. Everyone else is being compliant. So should you.

  • 3. Avoid alcohol

  • Air travel can leave you dehydrated, so consuming alcohol on a flight only compounds the problem. Opt for water or juice instead.

  • Flights are frequently diverted due to unruly passengers who, while under the influence, harass other passengers and the crew. "Getting into an argument with a flight attendant can get you removed from a flight and possibly arrested," notes Steve.

  • Joe recalls preparing to land in Las Vegas when a tall, intoxicated man suddenly jumped up and yelled "Let's land this thang!" as he waved his arms. The pilot aborted the landing and had to circle the airport because a fist fight broke out among the enraged passengers, causing many to miss their connections.

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  • Consuming too much alcohol, when combined with unexpected turbulence, can lead to vomiting, which tends to stink up a plane (see #2).

  • 4. Take advantage of perks

  • Sign up for programs that reward you for your business and make getting to and from your destination as pleasant as possible.

  • Due to his frequent international travel, Joe joined Global Entry with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. "The benefits have been huge. It allows me to take a quick pass line at immigration and saves quite a bit of time in the process."

  • Steve touts Southwest's Rapid Rewards program. "I've earned a companion pass, which means my wife can fly free with me anywhere I go for an entire year."

  • TSA Pre-Check allows me to go through a much shorter security line without removing my shoes, belt, laptop or other belongings from my bag. At $85 for five years, it's a bargain.

  • 5. Be polite

  • With millions of people heading home for the holidays, airports and airplanes will be more crowded than usual. "Everyone is in a hurry," Steve says. "Understanding this will make you a better traveler and more considerate of others. The worst thing you can do is lose your cool."

  • Inevitably, someone's going to bump into you or recline their seat into your lap. I can't tell you how many times I've been whacked in the head by an oblivious traveler's bulky bag as they search for their seat. My mantra is, "serenity now, serenity now."

  • On the long international flights, Joe appreciates travelers who keep the window shades down so others can catch some much-needed shuteye. If someone is struggling with a bag, lend a hand. If a child is fussy, offer to help, or at least reassure the parent that it's okay.

  • Years ago we took our infant son on a cross-country flight, and despite offering him a bottle (and Benadryl), he cried the whole time. I'll never forget the grumpy guy across the aisle who let out one loud sigh after another, finally putting both hands over his ears and slamming his head down on his tray table in frustration!

  • As any veteran traveler can attest, this short list is just a start. Noise cancelling headphones work great, antibacterial gel will help keep you germ-free, and while draping yourself in velvet might be overkill, wearing loose-fitting clothes can bump up your comfort level on the plane.

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  • I'm not traveling for the holidays, but once the New Year arrives my brothers and I will be once again flying the skies. As you get ready to fly, consider these tips so that you-and your fellow passengers-will arrive at your destination ready to enjoy the holiday season.

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Mike Babcock has worked in healthcare public relations for 15 years. He teaches writing for strategic communication, public relations and advocacy courses at the University of Utah. EMAIL:

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