40 Travel Hacks From Flight Attendants That You Need To Know Before You Jet Off
By Andrea Marchiano
No matter how often you travel, you’re almost certainly not at the airport as often as a flight attendant. Most work at least 10 days each month and sometimes twice that amount, in fact frequently racking up an average of more than 30,000 flight miles in that timeframe. In other words, they know how to fly – and here are 40 of their best-kept secrets.
Flight attendants hurry from flight to flight, which means that they don’t always have time to freshen up as they would in normal circumstances. So, be creative. One stewardess with three decades of experience divulged to Business Insider that you can “use your flat iron to touch up your clothes when you’re in a rush, and there’s no time for the ironing board.”
Planning is the key to smart packing – at least, that’s what stewardess Abagail Valencia has discovered. She told Reader’s Digest, “Lay it out before you pack it. You may find that you’ll be able to wear a pair of pants with two different tops.” And, with a little bit of smart thinking, you can easily pack what you need into a small suitcase.
Don’t squeeze everything into your carry-on. You never know how warm or cold the airplane cabin will be once you’re in the air. Typically, it becomes pretty chilly once you’re airborne. So, flight attendants suggest putting on a jacket or sweater to keep yourself comfortable during the flight. And, as a bonus, you’ll free up space in your bag when you layer.
By now, you’ve probably heard that you should use sanitizing wipes to cleanse your tray table, the arm rests and all other hard surfaces for any lingering germs. But flight attendants also recommend you wipe down the air vent and angle it at your body – rather than your face – to keep airborne bugs away.
Without the proper snacks and meals, you’ll feel hungry – and, therefore, cranky – while you travel. And as flight attendant Annette noted to Refinery29, “Plane food is high in sodium, high in preservatives and high in price.” She therefore suggested that passengers prep and pack their own snacks. Her favorite idea? Laying out all the food on your table and ordering an in-flight glass of wine to go with them.
If your head’s pounding on land, it will only feel worse once you’re flying in a pressurized cabin. One flight attendant learned the hard way to stay on land when your head is congested. “[Flying with a severe cold] can damage your eardrums, and you may lose your hearing,” they explained via Quora. “It happened to me once. I couldn’t hear properly for a week, and it hurt.”
Bulky footwear takes up a lot of space in your carry-on, but you don’t have to lose all of that real estate to your boots, heels and sneakers. Fold up smaller items and stuff them inside your shoes; think tights, socks, underwear and so on. And if you don’t like your clothes touching the soles, wrap items in a plastic bag or shower cap before packing them.
Another way to hasten the pack-and-go process is to have a designated airplane-travel kit at the ready. First, purchase travel-sized bottles of your favorite hygiene products and set them aside for away-from-home use. Then, stow a charging cable and rechargeable battery pack in your carry-on so that you’re always connected. A large travel scarf that doubles as a makeshift blanket is also a smart addition to the kit.
It’s convenient to swap your home currency as soon as you land, but it’s typically not the most cost-effective way to get cash in another country. Flight attendants suggest that you instead order foreign notes from your bank prior to your trip or get them from a local bank once you arrive. And don’t forget that most places will accept your credit card anyway, so you can squeak by with a small amount of money in hand.
Flight attendants don’t like carrying extras – drinks, earplugs, blankets and so forth – from the back of the cabin to the front. If they do, other passengers will see and request the same, and then cabin staff tend to run out of such specialty items. If you’re sitting in the back, though, “it’s much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine,” a flight attendant explained via Oyster.
Folding and stacking clothes seems like the logical way to pack a suitcase, but travel pros suggest an alternative method: rolling garments into compact cylinders and then lining them up in your bag. This method prevents your wardrobe items from wrinkling. Plus, it helps you fit much more into a suitcase, which is vital to flight attendants who are away from home for days or weeks at a time.
The seat-back pocket is certainly in a convenient location, but that doesn’t mean you should use it to store your personal items. Even if you think you’ll remember what you put there, flight attendants have found that you probably won’t. So, place electronics, books and IDs into your bag to save yourself the heartache of leaving them behind.
Obviously, flight attendants would suggest you be nice to them. But they also recommend that you treat all airline staff with respect. This works particularly well with check-in and gate agents – as they could give you a free upgrade or find you a faster flight connection just because you’re positive and polite.
The front row of seats, also known as the bulkhead, has two major disadvantages. Because there aren’t chairs in front of you, you have to store all your personal items in the compartment above, which can be annoying. Secondly, parents with babies typically sit in this row since it’s the only place to safely set up a bassinet on a plane. In other words, you’ll be more likely to hear crying here.
While you’re in your seat, you should feel free to take off your footwear and get comfy. When it’s time to go to the bathroom, though, always slip your kicks back on. Flight attendant Annette told Refinery29, “Wear your shoes when you visit the lavatory. That isn’t water on the floor.”
On a long-haul trip, you can still pack light so long as the hotel has laundry facilities. Call ahead to see if there’s an on-site washer and dryer that you can use. And should you receive the green light, pop some dryer sheets and detergent pods into your carry-on, and – voila – you no longer need to bring as many clothes.
With Global Entry, U.S. Customs & Border Protection permits pre-approved passengers to re-enter the country through automated booths rather than standing in line for customs. To earn the certification, you’ll have to go through a strict vetting process as well as a face-to-face interview. But one flight attendant told Business Insider that the process – and the price – were “totally worth it” for the convenience.
A parent can’t completely prevent their baby or child from crying while flying. But flight staff advise that they arrive well-prepped to travel with little ones in tow. Jane Frilicci, who serves on a flight crew that operates out of New York, informed a Reader’s Digest interviewer that moms and dads should bring along a brand-new toy to keep kids occupied for as long as possible.
Airline flights cause the skin to both dullen and dry, since the air within the cabin contains as little as 10 percent humidity. So, don’t be shy on your next trip: pack hydrating skincare products in your purse or backpack, and don’t be afraid to use them on board. Flight attendant Ally Lovett told Refinery29 that she regularly spritzes with rosewater to keep her skin healthy.
Wintertime travel means you’ll need plenty of cozy sweaters and perhaps a bulky jacket. But how will you fit all of that into your suitcase? Flight attendants suggest space-saving packing cubes, which compress your bulky items into easy-to-stow squares. You could also try compression bags that push the air out of your clothes to flatten them for packing.
Flight attendants know how to navigate new airports, and their best advice is to look up if you’re stressed, lost or both. There will always be plenty of signs at airports that will direct you to your gate, check-in desk or baggage-claim belt. To that end, you might even be able to download an airport-specific app to help you find your way.
Flight attendants’ odd working hours mean that they sometimes miss their hotels’ free breakfasts – but they’ve found a way around that. One airline staffer tipped off Business Insider, saying, “Check with the hotel to see if there’s some kind of snack or sack lunch they can provide before or ahead of time.” Many will happily do it for flight attendants – and for you.
A reusable shopping bag is compact enough to fit in any suitcase and comes in handy once you land. You can obviously use it to carry your groceries, which is great if you plan to shop and cook while you’re away. But if you need more space on the way home, the bag can also serve as a makeshift hamper for worn garments and as your on-board personal item.
On most flights, you can bring a carry-on and a personal item such as a briefcase or purse. Make sure you pack what you’ll need during the flight in the smaller bag, which you’ll stow under the seat in front of you. That way, you won’t have to open the overhead locker and take out your suitcase every time you need something – and your flight attendants will appreciate this, too.
Airplanes circulate low-humidity air, so you can easily become dehydrated if you’re not drinking regularly. Flight attendants suggest sipping water instead of sugary drinks, though, as they could leave your body feeling puffy post-trip. They also say that you should aim to consume plenty of water before even boarding the plane, to make a preemptive strike against dehydration.
Be aware that sites such as Kayak and Orbitz might offer you a discounted fare with a caveat: you’ll have to make a connection in under an hour. Flight attendant Annette told Refinery29 that on occasions this just isn’t enough time to travel from one gate to another. Plus, she added, it “takes a lot of stress away when you don’t have to worry about making your connection.”
Imagine your plane gets stuck on the runway. Are you prepared to hang out for a while? Flight attendant Michele Radon told Reader’s Digest that passengers should always have snacks, medicine, a refillable water bottle and device chargers to get them through such a delay. She also suggests bringing sanitizing wipes because “after a few hours, the bathrooms can become unkempt.”
Flight attendant Annette told Refinery29 that all passengers should “employ some situational awareness” when they fly. Consider others’ needs as well as your own – and always be ready to board at short notice by having the necessary items at the ready. Then, sit down as soon as possible so that everyone else can get situated, too. “Don’t be that person,” Annette advised.
After a long day of traveling, re-center yourself by spending some time outside. For one thing, the fresh air will re-energize you post-flight. The sunlight will replenish your vitamin D reserves, and it’s in fact a well-known method for improving your mood and outlook. And if you’ve had a particularly stressful trip, getting outside will have a soothing effect, too.
Airlines will upgrade your ticket to first-class – for the right price, of course. And on the day of the journey, there’s a better chance that you’ll get a great rate to fly in style. Your best bet for nabbing a coveted comfy seat is to arrive at your boarding zone early. Flight attendant Celessa Dietzel told Business Insider, “This is when you’ll hear the announcements for last-minute upgrade purchases you might be able to get.”
You might want to bring your phone, smart watch, tablet, laptop... but do you really need to travel with all of these electronics? If you decide you can leave a few items at home, great. If not, at least try to choose gadgets based on which ones charge via the same cable. Doing so will make organizing and packing much simpler.
Many members of the flight crew have assigned routes, which means that they might well visit your destination city as a matter of routine. As such, they know the location and all of its best assets very well. So, don’t be shy to ask them about their favorite restaurants, activities and sights. Just make sure that you do so when they’re not helming the in-flight service or helping someone else, though.
Your flight staff won’t fall asleep as soon as they arrive at your destination – unless, of course, it’s nighttime. Instead, they’ll likely ward off jet lag by gulping down plenty of water – and some coffee – to keep themselves up until they can go to bed at a reasonable hour for their new time zone. After that, they’ll wake up adjusted.
Your airline promised you in-flight movies and TV, but yours is the only seat without a working monitor. Now what? Seasoned flight attendants have seen these technical malfunctions happen, so they suggest taking along your own entertainment in the form of books or videos downloaded onto your smart device. You could even bring a to-do list and be productive during your downtime.
It’s your hotel’s job to make you feel comfortable during your stay, which is why they typically provide you with essential hygiene and personal items. So as long as you aren’t picky, you can rely on hotel toiletries and therefore save suitcase space. They’ll have toothbrushes and toothpaste if you forget, for example. And they might even have spare chargers for your phone and other devices – just ask.
Today’s travelers tend to dress comfortably, but this could cost you an upgrade. “Check your air carrier’s rules. There are still dress codes sometimes in first class,” flight attendant Celessa Dietzel warned Business Insider readers. So, your comfy outfit should have a bit of polish if you’re aiming for a better seat, especially if your airline mandates it.
You know that germs spread quickly on planes, but you might not have considered that the cozy airline blanket could carry them as well. Unless yours comes in a sealed plastic package, you should be wary of using it, then. Someone probably snuggled up with it before you, and their germs could spread to you while you snooze.
Flight attendants know that they’ll often be in one city today and a different one tomorrow. So, joining a local gym or fitness studio doesn’t really make sense even if they want to maintain a regular workout routine. Instead, they sign up with a bigger brand with multiple locations so that they can exercise in all of the cities that they fly to. You can do the same if you’re a regular traveler, too.
Attendants have the power to give you free airline points, food or seat upgrades if something goes wrong on your flight. So feel empowered to complain in order to get compensation – but only when it’s really necessary. Airlines keep records of such gifts, and it’s likely that they’ll notice if you try to exploit the system.
Most airlines’ on-board water tanks prove hard to wash, which makes them a breeding ground for germs and bacteria. And although many airlines have started serving bottled water, they still rely on the tanks when they brew big batches of warm drinks. So try to avoid these hot beverages and any non-bottled drinks from now on.