Foto: Robert Couse-Baker I Flickr I CC BY 2.0

How to really survive air travel

There are actually two secrets to surviving air travel. Caroline Drucker explains what they are.


Keep calm, don’t carry on 

The web is awash with secrets for easy traveling, the most recent sensation being to arrive four hours early. As someone who has also travelled extensively, I appreciated the sentiment, but arriving four hours early is an a-type personality kink, not the secret. There are actually two secrets to surviving air travel:

1. Comfortable underpants. Trust me on this one.

2. Small onboard luggage. Keep it tiny. Just the essentials.

“I have to have my trolley, what do you know about flying?”, you may say. I’ve done the miles. I was stuck in Newark once for three days, Philadelphia for two, survived an Amsterdam-NY flight that got grounded in Albany for five hours, Montezuma’s revenge struck me mid-flight from Mexico City to Berlin (with a layover in Heathrow) and finagled a hand-written boarding pass to get onto an Aeroflot flight after check-in had closed. I know about travel adventures so bear with me.

Traveling is stressful – you’ve got a lot on your mind. It’s ok to be anxious, especially if you don’t like flying. But these days it seems people travel with a defensive mindset assuming everything will go wrong from the get go. This is not helpful. Traveling with a massive carry-on is literally preparing for the worst. Please excuse the pun, but lets unpack this:

Have faith

„I don’t have time!“ – you really don’t have time to wait for your bags at your destination? If that’s the case, you should really consider your schedule. If you can arrive 4 hours early for a flight, you can wait at baggage claim. Arrive a little later at the airport and calculate the time after you land. Yes, you may be tired after the flight but you don’t have to do anything but just be, literally, just exist in front of the baggage claim and keep your eyes open, check your email, Twitter, whatever. You could use the time to practice mindfulness if you need to feel like you’re accomplishing something (which sort of defeats the purpose of meditation, but heck, whatever gets you through the night). If you do have extenuating circumstances where if you miss the meeting, funeral or the train the whole trip / vacation / business travel is ruined, then yes, travel with just on-board, but how often is this actually the case? There’s almost always another bus, train, meeting. It will work out, maybe not as you planned, but it will. Have faith. Truly be mindful.

„They’ll lose my bag!“ you cry. My bags have gotten lost in the past. They have always come back to me in a pretty timely-ish manner. Really. As I mentioned before, I’ve been through some pretty bad travel ordeals. I showed up to my sister’s engagement party in clothes I’d been wearing for three days. You know what? People understood, because your friends, family and colleagues are people too and they understand that shit happens. Even after all of that, I still have faith that my bags will return to me. They always have, and if they don’t one day, it’s only stuff. Of course it’s easy to write this in hindsight, and I’ll admit I’ve been very stressed about lost bags in the past. Now I see it as a blessing in disguise. I live in a walk up and the airline delivering my bags means I don’t have to carry them up the stairs, they do. If you are really worried, invest in some insurance. (if you travel without insurance, why for the love of God?) If it’s irreplaceable, by all means bring it onboard.

Another argument is cost. If you can’t afford to check your bag, think about your general trip budget. Do you have to take a cab on the other end? What about public transport? Do you have to eat breakfast in the hotel? Isn’t there somewhere you can squeeze 40 bucks to check the bag? I’d gladly pay a few extra bucks on top of my fare if it meant there weren’t fees for everyone’s first checked bag. Unfortunately, most US Airline carriers don’t agree with me.

The plane is not yours

So why small onboard? Let’s start with the basic premise of flying commercial. The plane – it’s not yours. You are not flying on a private jet, you have not paid to sit in an e-z boy lounger and get your feet massaged while listening to Brian Eno play live ambient music to an audience of you. You have purchased a ticket to do something miraculous – you will fly hundreds, if not thousands of miles IN THE AIR at an incredible speed. Sadly, you will not do this alone – there are other people on the plane. They have to be. Considering the multitudes of people it takes to get you onto the plane, keep the plane in the air plus the raw materials needed, it’s amazing how cheap the ticket is. Let’s take a moment to accept that we will be flying in the company of strangers, but still be amazed and grateful for the privilege.

The bottom line is there is simply NOT ENOUGH ROOM for everyone to have large carry on. You are sharing the overhead bins with all people aboard the plane. When each person has a big bag, it gets worse for everyone. It makes each passenger stress as they line up way too early to get onto the plane so that they can get a spot for their bag near their seat. It massively increases the time it takes everyone to get on because people are blocking the aisles shuffling around the plane trying to make their onboard fit. Multiply that when you get off the plane. It’s borderline dangerous when people attempt to lift and take down their bags stuffed with bullion and rocks from the overhead. There are only a few people who genuinely need a lot of onboard: people with kids or those traveling with fragile things that cannot be checked (we’re talking family heirlooms, not your Game of Thrones box set). Think hard: do you *really* need everything on board? Will you use it during the flight? Is it irreplaceable or extremely valuable? If not, checkity check it. You don’t need it onboard with you. Flying with less makes it easier for those who absolutely have to travel with more, and everyone one else as well.

A small onboard is worth it

Still not convinced a small onboard is worth it? A small carry-on will significantly reduce your own stress. Security is a breeze because you can quickly pull out your electronics and liquids. Repacking after the scanner takes just a few seconds. Getting to the gate is a snap – if you have to run for your connection, you’ll be *so happy* you don’t have a trolley that people trip over, doesn’t do corners well or a heavy backpack that starts to feel as though it’s pulling you in the opposite direction. Stuck for two days in Schiphol? You can meander through the airport in peace and marvel at the whimsy of the Dutch (seriously, that airport is a hoot if you have time to take notice). You are free, light as a feather and nimble as a jack rabbit. Once you’re at the gate, you don’t need to find somewhere for your onboard to be without being a nuisance to others, it can sit on your lap or easily under your seat, plus you’ve still got leg-room. No seats left at the gate or stuck on a bus? No worries, your bag isn’t heavy, you don’t mind standing for a while with it, or having it nestled between your feet. Check your bags at the gate? Nope. Not you. Boarding the plane is a cinch – you don’t worry about getting space for your carry on, you can sit and wait peacefully until everyone else is onboard, meander to your seat and get ready for the flight. Ditto for de-planing. Just sit and wait until it’s your time to get off. You should try it. It’s more than worth the cost of the checked bags, the worry about delays and boarding chaos. It is bliss.

If you don’t want to travel with small onboard for the greater good, do it for yourself. You’ll be glad you did.


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