Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Flighty Gal's Guide to Flying

It just occurred to me, suddenly, that not everybody is like me.

(cue audible gasp)

Not really. What I mean to say is, not everyone has once been on 9 airplanes over the span of 6 days, and not everyone has 7 international flights coming up, and not everyone maniacally drives cross-country several times a year, and not everybody is so unstable that these things actually sound appealing.

That said, I kind of adore these things about me, and plan to exploit the instabilities until they stabilize, eventually. And while exploiting them, I might as well help some of y'all (Stephanie and Hannah) figure out this whole airplanes and airports and flying thing. Sometimes it's complicated, but it doesn't have to be.

I've compiled a list of the things I've learned while flying. Enjoy.

1. If you don't have to check a bag, don't.

Seriously, don't. Pack light, or learn to pack efficiently. There are so many neat tools to help you accomplish this (cubes, air compressors, the roll method, etc.) Often times on domestic flights, having a checked bag means pretty hefty fees, and if it's not a long trip, there's really no need to bring so many large items. You're allowed a carry-on and a personal item on the plane, and carry-ons are certainly large enough to outfit your weekend in Miami. Also, having my stuff safely shoved either above my head or in front of my feet during the flight gives me a sense of satisfaction, knowing that I don't have to guess whether my checked bag made it into the cargo holds on the right flight, or accidentally on a flight to Tokyo.

2. If you do check a bag, mark it.

Literally everybody on your flight has an Earth-toned roller bag that is exactly the same size as yours, but fear not. Bandanas (thanks, Mara), stickers, personalized tags, colorful duct tape...these are ways by which you can mark your territory (without peeing on anything) and avoid waiting for the baggage carousel to revolve several times before mistakenly picking up a bag that actually belongs to somebody else, and then probably getting tasered by TSA.

3. Check in online, and use your phone as a boarding pass.

This is an amazing time to be alive! You can check in online 24 hours in advance of your flight (most likely, your airline will send you an email) and you can even use a special bar code sent to your phone as a boarding pass. Forget standing in line to print one at the desk, or even at a kiosk. Forget trying to figure out how to scan your passport through the most awkward scanner in the world. Forget looking like a lost turtle in a sea of turtles who know what they're doing. Forget actually having to talk to people! We're independent! We've got this! Thanks, technology.

4. Keep your ID on you, and your shoes off.

Security is annoying. It's getting better and better, but post 9-11, it's still annoying. The more prepared you are, the faster it'll go. Depending on where you're traveling, you may be limited to a quart-sized bag (who even uses those) of maximum 3.4 fl oz liquid containers, so don't try to bring your industrial-sized jug of lotion, or even a water bottle. Have your ID and boarding pass ready to show TSA, have your baggie of liquid things ready, your laptop out of its case, your jacket off, and your shoes in your hands. It's ridiculous to try and hold all of these things with only two hands, but everyone is in the same situation. The comedy breeds camaraderie. Revel in it. But, if you're in front of me and wearing every piece of jewelry that you own, I hate you.

5. Learn to speed-read.

You'd think I wouldn't have to say this, but reading is important! There are signs everywhere directing you where to go, what gates are where, where the baggage carousels are, where the taxis there should be no excuse to accidentally exit the terminal and then have to go through security all over again. Seriously, learn to selectively identify what it is that you're looking for, and follow that arrow. 

6. Keep your stuff with you.

Obviously. Bring it into your bathroom stall (and definitely use the bathroom before you board.) Shove it underneath your legs. Sleep on it. Just keep it with you.

7. Traveling alone is dope!

With the exception of having to keep your stuff with you at all times because there is nobody with whom you can leave it, traveling alone is top-notch. You have nobody to worry about except yourself. If you want to stop at the pub, you can stop at the pub. If you want to tune everybody out and listen to music, do that. Take care of yourself, and yourself alone. It's liberating and exciting. It forces us to be aware, to be good stewards of what we have, and to take responsibility for everything going on while everybody around us is running by on their way to somewhere. Take some time to observe. You are a participant in the great human experiment. Enjoy.

8. Pay attention to your boarding zone, seat number, and seat letter.

This is another easy one, but many people get confused. When in doubt, refer to your boarding pass.

9. Prepare for an emotional, existential crisis.

I don't know why this happens, but it almost always does. Maybe it's being in a confined space for hours on end, maybe it's being suspended between the troposphere and the stratosphere, maybe it's the change of perspective and the twisting of time zones...but I usually cry on airplanes. It's pretty awkward. But at the time, it seems founded. There are so many metaphors associated with flying, so feel free to pick yours. On long east-west flights, there are plenty of sunrises and sunsets to watch from mid-air, mountains and oceans and cities at night. Instagram if you must, but I usually just let my feelings run the show for a while. There's nothing else to do. Sorry, seat mates.

10. Bring your own headphones.

Airlines want to keep us quiet and content, so most of them have loaded tons of movies, TV shows, music albums, travel maps, and games onto our own personal screen in front of our faces. For longer flights, I recommend those super long movies that don't make sense to watch in any other setting. Out of another vein, I recommend watching sci-fi films like Gravity or Interstellar. Watching Gravity mid-air while flying from Lima to Atlanta one night was unbelievable. Choose your own adventure. Also, although bringing your laptop and "getting work done" sounds like a great idea, it isn't. Your laptop won't even fit on your drop-down tray. Your arms are not T-Rex arms, and you won't be comfortable typing with your laptop on your chest. Bring headphones, or a book, or your Kindle instead.

11. Everything is a phase change.

That is to say, the pressure and temperature up there can change at any moment; especially during takeoff and landing. For temperature changes, dress in layers. Most folks are okay during pressure changes, but if your ears are sensitive, chew some gum. Regardless, being in a pressurized, dry, air-controlled tube is only temporary. Even if your ears start to pop and you're freezing cold, you'll be okay once you land.

12. Follow the crowd.

This is one instance during which it's not a great idea to stand out as an individual. If you're closing in on an unfamiliar airport and you have no idea where customs/baggage/transportation is located, follow the crowd. You're all going to the same place, until you set foot outside of the airport. You'll all figure it out together. When in doubt (again) read signs, or ask TSA.

13. Relax!

Flying is awesome! You get to experience, first-hand, the miracle of human flight. Whether or not Wi-Fi is available, or your favorite season of The Office is loaded, or even if you don't get your coveted window seat, you're in an airplane. That's awesome. Chill out. You're in the capable hands of a professional who understands things like the Bernoulli Effect so that you don't have to, and you can travel great distances in short amounts of time. You don't have to drive. You just have to relax, and you'll be there in no time.

So, fear not. Flying is pretty incredible. Keep your important documents close, be aware of your schedule and your surroundings, and remember that getting there is part of the fun. Don't forget your toothbrush, and enjoy your flight!

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