A Flight Attendant's Secrets
Beating the lines, navigating security, and making it onboard your flight is half the battle, but with planes likely to be as crowded as ever this summer, there's still plenty of opportunity to get stressed out inside the cabin. U.S. News asked flight attendant JoAnn Kuzma Deveny, author of 99 Ways to Make a Flight Attendant FlyOff the Handle, to advise travelers how to make a packed flight as pleasant as possiblefor yourself, and those around you. Deveny has spent nearly 30 years working for a major airline based in Minnesota that does not officially endorse her advice, and she works on narrow-body jets like the Boeing 757 and the Airbus A320.
Some of her suggestions represent pleadings for basic civility: Don't stand in the aisle repacking your bag while 50 others are waiting to get by. If you're traveling with kids, don't let them practice their soccer kicks on the seatbacks in front of them. And save the muscle shirts and sandals for the beach.
Other insights will help travelers make the system work for them, even when it's stretched to capacity:
Underpackjust a little. Airlines recommend that carry-on suitcases be no larger than 9x14x22but you could still end up having to check a carry-on if there's no overhead storage room left, or if your bag is overstuffed. Aircraft bins vary in size757s have narrow but deep bins, for instance, while most Airbus jets have wider, shallower binsand the smaller your carry-on, the more likely a flight attendant will be able to find room for it. Passengers with bulging carry-ons, by contrast, often get a practiced eye-roll when they plead for help, while their bag gets escorted off the plane to join all the other checked baggage.
Deveny also suggests that if you need to pack a suit and keep it crisp, use a thin garment bag. Most planes have small closets that are reserved for the coats of first-class passengers. But sometimes there's extra room, especially in summer. "Your flight attendant will more likely try to accommodate a thin garment bag," she says, "than that $200 roll-a-bag-with-a-hanger that some luggage salesman claimed would fit on any airplane."
Use the bathroombefore you board. Remember the horror stories from last winter about planes spending hours on the tarmac? Well, bathrooms are usually off limits during such delays, and there are always summer thunderstorms or other unpredictable elements that can hold up flights indefinitely. Even without delays, the wait for the loo can be longDeveny estimates that on her flights, it takes 75 minutes from the time boarding begins until the pilot gives the in-flight all-clear that means passengers can hit the head. Can you wait that long? If you're traveling with children, can they?
Dress in layers. Airlines save money by cutting back on air conditioning while a plane is on the ground. "So before you board, the aircraft will be transformed into a greenhouse," Deveny explains. In the air, however, pilots tend to keep the plane very coolusually at the request of the flight attendants, who are working and moving regularly. If you ask, flight attendants can request that pilots turn up the heat, but it's probably better just to bring a light sweater.
Most airlines scatter a few blankets around the cabin, but usually there's only one for every five or 10 seats. So grab one early, while boarding. Or better yet, don't: "Those blankets don't get cleaned very often," Deveny says. "I prefer to bring my own layers."
Hydrate. The atmosphere inside an airplane has zero humidity, and flight attendants usually can't hand out water if the plane is stuck on the tarmac, waiting for takeoff. Deveny carries an empty water bottle that she can refill at will once she clears security. Just remember those limited bathroom breaks.
Pack headphones. If you're traveling alone, chances are good you'll be sitting next to a stranger instead of an empty seat. Headphones in your ears signal pretty clearly that you're not in the mood to hear about Suzy's dance recital. A book or laptop at your fingertips might do the trick as well.
Keep your kids nearby. With fuller planes, families traveling together are more likely to get split up. And flight attendants can't force passengers to change seats. "Once on board, your luck at changing seats will depend on the kindness of your fellow passengers," Deveny says."I wouldn't chance it."
Checking in early might help get the seats you want. If that doesn't work, Deveny suggests this tactic: "Approach your child, who will inevitably be seated in a middle seat on a full airplane, and exclaim, 'Here's a bag, honey. Let me know when you need to throw up again.' There are usually no guarantees in life, but this has worked for me every time."