No matter what class you’re flying – First, Business, or Economy – air travel is a draining experience. I mean, you can’t fault your body for acting out, how natural is it for us to zip across the world in less than 24 hours? In the number of years that I have been traveling by air for a vacation or heading home for a visit, I’ve picked up a few things here and there that make my trip easier – from before I fly to the time that I land.
Skip the Queue
Many airlines now offer online check in which simply means logging on with your airline booking reference. Those who booked with travel agents may run into some problems but if you booked directly through the airline and don’t have any codeshare flights – then you are probably good to go. Checking in online simply consists of inputing your passport details and selecting seats. Once at the airport, you’ll likely find an empty internet check in counter where they’ll just tag your bags and check your travel documents.
If you’re lucky enough to be traveling through some of Asia’s first class airports (Hong Kong, Seoul Incheon, Abu Dhabi to name a few) you will find that select airlines offer in town check in plus a convenient transportation service to the airport. So you can drop your bags off in the morning, explore the city for the day or enjoy a leisurely lunch, before heading to the airport and straight for security, with just your hand luggage in tow.
In Hong Kong, there are two centrally located stations that both offer in town check in when you use the Airport Express service. At these stations you can collect your boarding passes and drop your checked in bags. When it’s time to leave, simply board the train and arrive at the airport – missing the long check in queues.
Seoul Incheon also provides a similar service for passengers travelling on Korean Air and Asiana Airlines. This ‘AREX’ service departs from Seoul station. As well as checking in your bags and collecting your boarding passes, you also have the option of clearing immigration for your departure from South Korea. This is an advantage because once you arrive at Incheon Airport you will be able to use all ‘crew’ marked paths to clear security and immigration.
Get First Dibs on Food
I find that selecting a seat at the front of the cabin will often guarantee your first choice of meal. In Business they usually take orders from the front to the rear of the cabin (with the exception of high tiered frequent flyer members). In Economy service, this usually commences at the front of each cabin section. So choose a seat nearer to the front or the middle of the cabin if you know you’ll be feeling those hunger pangs soon after take off, or if you want to guarantee a particular menu choice, as the cart may have run out by the time it reaches the back rows.
Ask for Onboard Amenities
Even though we’ve seen some massive cuts to the service on airlines in recent years, they still carry amenities onboard (they just aren’t shouting about it). Remember the days when everyone was given an amenity kit with socks, eyeshades, ear plugs, lip balms, hand creams, cologne – it seems like history now. However, many airlines still carry this stuff onboard on request and you can often find the toiletries in the washroom of the toilet – though you can’t take them home unless you’re a true airline aficionado. Asking for an extra cushion or blanket is no problem for most established airlines, but note that on some very budget airlines, even these amenities might be charged.
Select Your Preferred Seat
If you’re traveling a long way (in any class) you may want to consider contacting the airline early or accessing your booking online to choose your seat. Often towards the rear of the aircraft is where you will find empty seats (if there are any), however you will be the last to leave the aircraft and often asked to board first.
If you’re after extra legroom, you might be tempted by the exit rows in Economy – unfortunately most airlines make us pay a little extra for these seats. However, often you may be thoroughly disappointed as these rows are often aligned with no window, or worse, a bassinet row. As you can imagine, a bassinet row will seat a crying new born or a snippy toddler – and they won’t be the only ones crying before the flights over.
Bag That Upgrade
Unfortunately for most of us, dreams of bagging a First Class upgrade are getting further and further beyond our reach. But that’s not to say it’s never going to happen. If you buy a regular economy ticket, you’re probably never in for a shot so your best bet is to go for the Premium Economy ticket. These are the passengers who will be asked first to climb up the scale into Business if a plane is over booked. If you are a frequent traveler, you should definitely consider joining an airline loyalty program. If there’s a progressional membership scheme (e.g. Bronze, Silver, Gold), it’s these Gold level passengers who will be flagged first for upgrades.
Access the Airport Lounge (Even if You’re Flying Economy)
Whether you’re flying short or long haul, the pre-flight hassle can be lengthy and draining. If you can access an airport lounge, you’ll find the service, complimentary food, comfort and general experience to be the boost you need for your journey. And these lounges aren’t just reserved for the First and Business classes, there are a number of ways you can get access on your own.
- Join an air miles scheme and trade your points for lounge access
- Check out the benefits from certain credit cards, some offer airline lounge access as part of the offerings
- Get a Priority Pass membership for access to lounges across the world
- Buy your way in – it might just be worth it. You’ll find it cheaper if you purchase online in advance and compare costs on price comparison websites
- My personal favorite (if you have the confidence), is to strike up a conversation outside the airport lounge. Most members are allowed to have a plus one at no extra cost. If you’re charming enough, many people won’t mind getting you in for free!
These are my most useful takeaways over my modest few years of air travel. If you have any more to add, please comment underneath.