How not to fly: 10 mistakes to avoid on an airplane

by James Wysong on September 25, 2007

Air travel is full of mistakes waiting to happen. There are the errors in judgment we make at home while preparing for our travels, and the ones we make at the airport, and of course the ones we make once we get where we’re going. But the mistakes I’m focusing on in this column are the ones people make on the airplane. As a flight attendant, I seem to see the same passenger blunders just about every flight. I’d like to think that we can learn from our mistakes, so here is a list of the top 10 in-flight mistakes for your edification.

1. Running late. For heaven’s sake, allow enough time to go through all the necessary airport procedures, including check-in, security and arriving at the gate at the required time before boarding. When you leave everything to the last minute, not only do you become stressed and irritable, but there’s less chance your checked-in baggage will make the flight. I have never had a pleasant flight when I was running late from the start.

2. Cutting it too close. Tempting as it may be, booking connecting flights with less than an hour between them is just asking for trouble. Yes, if you miss your connecting flight you can go on standby for the next flight, but if that flight is full, you are out of luck. I see this mistake more often now that so many people are making their own travel arrangements; in the past, reservations agents and travel agents would warn travelers against it. My advice? Leave a minimum of 90 minutes for connecting with a domestic flight and two hours for an international flight. Otherwise, you’ll be staring at your watch the whole flight.

3. Spending too much time at the coffee bar. Sure, the coffee stands in the airport look inviting, but think about the long flight ahead of you. When you can’t get any sleep, you will remember that gallon latte you downed in the terminal. If you don’t want a trip to hyperspace, order the decaf.

4. Flying sick. It’s one thing to fly with a case of the sniffles but another to fly with full-blown flu. If you are truly sick, then stay home. Flying sick is not only uncomfortable and dangerous to your health, it is downright inconsiderate of your fellow passengers and the crew.

5. Expecting things. Don’t count on the airline giving you anything more than safe passage. Not magazines, blankets, a special meal, diapers, pillows, an infant bassinette, bottled water or even headache tablets. Cost-cutting programs sent these amenities packing years ago. If you really need something while you’re on the airplane, bring it yourself.

6. Going barefoot. The number of people who go to the lavatory in their bare feet is staggering. Other passengers with bad aims are just a small part of your worries. Feces, blood, mucus and germs are all commonly found in the lavatory, and they can make for a dangerous cocktail. Limit your exposure by keeping your shoes on.

7. Ignoring your body. If you know cabbage gives you bad gas, don’t risk it the day of a flight. Same goes for anything else your body can’t deal with: tight clothes, lack of sleep, dry cabin air — you name it. Believe me, 35,000 feet in the air is no place to pick a battle with your body.

8. Playing loose with your meds. People on antidepressants and other medications sometimes forget their label warnings when they find out the alcohol is free in first class and business class. This also happens with people who take a sleeping pill to help them sleep on long-distance flights. Alcohol and drugs are a highly dangerous combination, and I can’t tell you how many onboard medical emergencies have occurred on my flights because of it. So think before you swallow. Also, if you have an important medication that you need to take on the flight, don’t put it in your checked luggage. This happens more often than you might imagine.

9. Drinking too much. Yes, that double scotch may go down nicely, but making a scene and being greeted at the gate by the authorities will not. Know your alcohol limit, and remember that the effects of alcohol are quite a bit stronger in the air than on the ground; similarly, anxious fliers may find that alcohol only makes their anxiety worse. And take it from me, flying with a hangover is simply a horrible experience. Don’t even think about it.

10. Flying the wrong airline. Flying on an airline you hate never works out well. Just because it has a better schedule or you are a member of the airline’s frequent-flier club doesn’t mean you have to fly with them. Life is too short to fly angry.

While it is true that to err is human and to forgive is divine, it’s better to avoid these self-defeating behaviors altogether. Fly safe, happy and smart.

Got any in-flight mistakes that you want to add? Send them along and I will add them to the list.

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