Thanks to packed flights, crying babies, and that one guy who gets up every five minutes to recover some forgotten artifact from the overhead bin, plane rides can tread into tedious territory. The good news? Travel headaches aren't inevitable.
By hacking the in-flight experience, you can mitigate travel's little annoyances. You can even book a flight with a luxury airline like Emirates to eliminate them altogether (except for the ear popping thing. Pretty sure that's par for the course). Here's how to make the most of your time in the skies, wailing babies be damned.
Make Yourself at Home
There's nothing comfortable about being crammed in a row next to two strangers, but there are things you can do to make the experience significantly more enjoyable. Since no one wants to check a bag anymore, you're bound to compete with your fellow travelers for precious overhead bin space for your carry-on bags. Most flyers assume this competition is inevitable, based on what seat they've booked — but why not do some prep work and learn what order your airline of choice boards planes? That way, you'll know what seat to select when booking your flight, and you'll have no trouble stashing your goods.
Speaking of, hold onto your personal items like your tablet, smartphone, or MP3 player so you don't have to be that Keeps Getting Up guy. Same for your blankets, sweaters, and various comfort-inducing accouterment. Wear a light wrinkle-proof jacket or sweater so that you avoid looking like an unmade bed at the end of your flight. It'll keep you warm during a cold flight and can even double as a pillow as needed.
If you decide to work or view programming on your laptop, proper ergonomics are important for your comfort, especially on longer flights. Portable accessories like the Cool Feet stand can hold your laptop at an ideal angle so you don't have to hunch and strain your back. It also keeps your laptop — and you — cool during a flight. Accessories like the Targus Chill Mat can also help keep your laptop cool and off your lap, and you comfortable during your flight.
If you're using your flight to catch up on sleep, try the Northcube Sleep Cycle app. It monitors your movements to determine whether you're in REM sleep, waking you during your lightest phase so that you're not disoriented when you come to.
Wine & Dine
If there's time before the flight, go to your favorite food store and buy items like smoked meats, cheese and crackers. They're easy to carry, don't need refrigeration, and are a much more filling option than the free peanuts your airline is offering. If you don't have time to buy before you fly, apps are available that can help you find great food to bring aboard. Apps like GateGuru offer maps, menus and crowdsourced reviews of eateries in every price range.
Of course, if you're flying Emirates, this pit stop won't be necessary: with regional tasting menus and complementary wine to match, your dining experience will make you forget you're in the air and not at a five-star restaurant. Even kids have a great dining experience with Emirates — flyers from 2-12 years old have their own menu of children's favorites as well as vegetarian options.
No matter what you're eating, avoid germs by bringing hand sanitizer on the flight and blowing away pathogens by positioning the vent above your head directly in front of your face (so you can feel the current on your hands) at a low-to-medium setting.
On longer flights, entertainment is key. Emirates flyers have have access to ice, their state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system that boasts 1800 channels of live programming, movies, television shows, music and games.
But if left to your own devices, your smartphone or tablet can be your best friend. Spring for in-flight WiFi to surf the internet, read, or Netflix binge — and make sure your electronic devices don't die on you by carrying a portable charger. The Mophie Space Pack can quickly charge an iPhone and iPad at the same time.
Don't forget to keep your kids entertained, too. Packing a new toy they've never seen before is more likely to distract them, and most airlines have special amenities for kids that you should take advantage of. Emirates' Young Flyers program offers everything from kids TV programming and movies to interactive games, seat belt critters, and coloring books. They'll both keep your kids busy and your fellow passengers sane. Traveling with kids has never been easier for you and for those around you.
While most airlines pack us into our economy seats with a comfort level akin to a medieval torture device, you can go the extra mile to make it more civilized and comfortable. Or you could just fly Emirates, whose economy seating rivals the first class service offered by other airlines. The choice is yours.
Benét J. Wilson is an veteran aviation and travel journalist. She is working on her private pilots certificate and resides in Baltimore.