Many years ago when I first traveled by plane, flying was a luxurious experience. Passengers relaxed in large, comfortable seats and were plied with food and drink by obliging cabin attendants.

Cabin attendants serving Scandinavian BuffetCredit: By SAS Scandinavian Airlines ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But that was in another era. Nowadays plane seats have shrunk in size and increased in number, while passengers have to squeeze their carry-on luggage into inadequate overhead storage bins and pay for their food. As a consequence, it takes some creative planning to enjoy a comfortable flight. But take heart. It can still be done.


1. Be Prepared

Consider in-flight comfort when you pack. Changes in air pressure can cause painful pressure on your eardrums.  Chewing or sucking helps to relieve this pressure, so always pack gum or hard candies to use during take-off and landing. If you plan to sleep during your flight, take along a neck pillow and eyeshades.

Travelmate Memory Foam Neck Pillow, Dark Blue
Amazon Price: $11.95 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 22, 2016)

If food is not provided on your flight, you will need to prepare a packed lunch and snacks.

Because of early check in requirements and possible flight delays, you also need to be prepared for long wait times. To avoid boredom, take along some portable entertainment options such as your favorite magazine, a puzzle book, a deck of cards or a hand held electronic game.

You should also be prepared for the weather at your destination.  If you are escaping from a northern winter to a tropical paradise, pack summer clothes, a sunhat and sunglasses.  If you are flying from a warm location to a winter ski resort, take a warm coat (which you can carry as a separate item), a winter hat, and gloves. If you are bound for a wet climate, remember a folding umbrella.

2. Pack Conveniently

As you make your way through the airport after checking your luggage, you will probably have quite a bit to carry. In addition to your carry-on bag, you are allowed a small handbag, a coat and a laptop computer.  By the time you go through the boarding gate you might also have bags of duty free purchases and the lunch you bought to eat on the plane. So when you need to fish out and present your boarding pass and other necessary documentation, you may wish you had more arms than an octopus...

Giant Pacific OctopusCredit: "Giant Pacific Octopus (Octopus dofleini) (7007259144)" by Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA - Giant Pacific Octopus (Octopus dofleini)Uploaded by Magnus Manske. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons -

... or that you could carry things on your head.

Members of an expedition carrying large loads on their headsCredit: "Carrying loads on Mt Kilimanjaro" by Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

You therefore need to do everything possible to keep your hands free. If you have a coat, tie it around your waist by its arms. Wear a roomy back pack as your carry on luggage, and use a fanny pack or waist bag as a convenient and safe way to keep your phone, cash, credit cards and travel documents conveniently to hand. Slip on shoes rather than lace ups are another hands free option which will help you to get through security in a timely manner.


3. Be Security Conscious

Check your airline’s carry-on size and weight allowance, as well as the most recent security regulations regarding the contents of hand luggage. While toiletry items should be in containers that are 100 ml. or smaller and sealed in a clear plastic bag, there are usually security exemptions for personal medications in their original containers.  However, some authorities may require a doctor`s letter concerning the prescribed medications.

Because suitcases may be subject to random inspection, travelers may be advised not to lock them.

Heathrow - suitcase in plastic with lockCredit: Flickr: Heathrow - attempted theft via Wikimedia Commons

But whether it is locked or not, do not pack valuables or irreplaceable items in your suitcase to tempt a potential thief. It is not a good idea to take expensive jewelry on vacation but, if you do, pack it in your carry-on. If you are taking gifts, these should also be in your carry on and, for customs purposes, should not be gift-wrapped.

Of course, you should also keep your hand luggage within sight at all times, and never agree to carry anything for a stranger.


4. Sit Comfortably

Each airline passenger has their own preferred seat. Some travelers prefer the extra leg room of a bulkhead or emergency door seat, or opt for the convenience of an aisle seat. Others look forward to enjoying the view from a window seat.

The interior of a new 737-800 jet from Southwest AirlinesCredit: "Southwest 737-800 interior" by Amadscientist - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons -

The best way to get your preferred seat selection is to book early and let your travel agent know your seating preference. Travelers booking online can generally choose their own seat, although some discount airlines may charge an additional fee for this. If your preferred seat is not available at the time of booking, it may become available later, so keep checking back.

If you cannot book the seat you would like, book one that might be attractive to another customer, such as an emergency door or aisle seat. This could be a potential incentive for a seat swap when you are actually on the plane.

On the day of your flight, check in as early as possible. This will give you the first choice of available seats.


5. Deal With Jet Lag

Jet lag results from disturbances to our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, which is attuned to regular and predictable alternations of daylight and darkness. Symptoms include a fuzzy-headed feeling, a lack of enthusiasm or a poor appetite. You may experience daytime sleepiness combined with night time insomnia and hunger at odd hours of the night.


The influence of dark-light rythms on circadian rythmsCredit: „Circadian rhythm labeled“ аутор National Institute of General Medical Sciences - Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet. Под лиценцом Јавно власништво са сајта Викимедијина остава - https://commons.wikime

The feelings of disorientation caused by jet lag may be intensified by the need to adjust to  circumstances at your destination. Simple tasks such as getting to your accommodation become challenging, especially if you need to adjust to a different accent or language. Loss of appetite or nausea may be intensified by the sight of unfamiliar food.

A secondary factor that worsens the effect of jet lag is sleep deprivation. Travelers who resist the temptation of the in-flight movie may find their seat too uncomfortable for a satisfying sleep. Other factors making in-flight sleep difficult include noisy fellow passengers, cabin lights, and interruptions from overly-solicitous flight attendants. To minimize the effects of sleep deprivation, be sure to sleep well the night before your departure. On long international flights some people take sleeping pills or melatonin, and use earplugs and eye shades to block out distractions.

Flying also has physical effects which can intensify the effects of jet lag. Cabin air can be extremely dehydrating so drink lots of water. You should also avoid alcohol, coffee, and other caffeinated drinks such as tea or soda as these will intensify the dehydrating effects of the cabin air. In addition, sitting virtually motionless in a cramped seat for an extended period of time can cause joints to stiffen and  feet to swell. Some experts warn that being cramped and motionless for extended periods during long international flights could cause deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clots in the legs. Therefore, try to move around. Walk up and down the aisle now and then, or at least do some chair exercises and stretches.

When I flew on Japan Air Lines a few years ago, they showed a short chair exercise video just before landing. Now Quantas has introduced an exercise video for its passengers which is specifically designed to prevent DVT.


In-Flight Exercises to Prevent Swollen Feet and DVT

Jet lag cannot be avoided, but you can minimize its effects and shorten your recovery time. It is also a good idea to take it easy on the first couple of days after arrival and to get as much natural daylight as possible to help your body clock to adjust.

Today's budget conscious airlines have made trouble free flights a challenge. However, advance planning, smart packing and a few health and safety precautions can help to make your flight much easier.