Notes from a frequent flyer

Posted by kdow on Dec 16, 2015 10:25:04 PM


Thanks to a hectic work-based travel schedule (which will ramp into overdrive in 2016) alongside a marriage happening in foreign lands, I’ve become something of a frequent flyer. I do enjoy some perks, though. I get access to lounges in the main airports I travel through (namely Heathrow & Dublin), priority seating & so on. Next year, my flying schedule will involve far longer flights than Dublin to London, which is as exciting as it is tiring.

So with these many clocked hours in the air I thought I’d jot down some observations. These notes are mainly based on my observing of those who don’t fly that often (people who only fly when going on holiday, etc.).

And so, without further adieu:

Checking-in

You don’t need to fumble with an A4 sheet containing a 150px x 150px QR code. Nearly all major airlines in nearly all modern airports handle most check-ins with these QR codes. Most decent airlines have neat apps that sort that for you, too.

This means you don’t need to queue up at the desk to check-in. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve seen people who are already checked-in go up to the queue to talk to the lady. She’ll just point you to security. If you’re not a frequent flyer, it feels weird to just walk over to security — but trust me, that’s how you get through to the aircraft the fastest!

Most airlines have an app that’ll let you check into a flight 24 hours before take-off. This is true of all domestic flights, anyway. Transatlantic flights won’t allow this because you need to go through an extra layer of security in most instances. Aer Lingus, for example, have an app that’ll text/email you the QR code for check-in. Once you have that all you need to do is go up to security and use that to go through to the x-ray scanners. Other airlines use iOS Wallet integration to do this kind of thing properly.

Speed

Know that everyone around you hates how slow you are. I know it’s a chore to get everything in order for the increasingly frustrated & often scary security staff, but there isn’t a new set of travel axioms. I’m always flabbergasted that there are people flying who don’t know about the 100ml rule on airlines.

No, under no circumstances can you bring that 2ltr bottle of vodka and 500ml hair gel bucket with you! And yes, the only place for it is the bin. They’re not going to ship it over to you.

Only bring 100ml items or less in your carry-on (larger stuff can be in checked luggage) and put them in a zip-lock bag. You can get re-usable ones in xmas gift sets easily these days.

If you fly more frequently or if you simply don’t want to buy lots of small toiletries for a once-off trip, simply save moisturiser/make-up/etc. containers and fill them before you leave. Security don’t need the 100ml items to be fully sealed as if they were new. I always clean & fill the same 100ml bottle for shampoo, but fill it with a shampoo from a normal Head & Shoulders bottle, for example. Same thing with hair gel, toothpaste, etc.

There is a bit of a weird set of rules around laptops & iPads. No two airports have the same policy. But you’re almost always better off taking them out for a screening, just in case. UK & Ireland airpots, for example, almost always need a laptop to be screened in its own individual tray.

Carry-on

Your weirdly shaped duffle bag cannot fit into the overhead bin, so it needs to be checked. This is because of the limited space the overhead bins have. They’re almost universally designed for wheelie bags. If your flight is particularly busy, the airline is likely to want to take that bag off you before you board anyway. In fact, checking-in online with a large duffle bag & bringing it through security is a great way to get free carry-on. The only real inconvenience is that you’ll need to wait for the baggage carousel on the other side.

Moreover, nearly all airlines allow a carry-on plus a laptop bag or larger ladies shoulder bag of some sort. This gives you a lot of flexibility in what you get to bring for your trip without needing to pay for checked luggage.

If you have a wheelie bag to bring on, when you’re stowing it remember to put it wheels first into the overhead bin. That maximises space for everyone on board. More on that below!

Getting on the plane

Most travel in Europe takes less than 3 hours. In fact, in Northern Europe most of it takes less than that (aside from layovers etc.). One of the busiest routes in the world is Dublin to London (and vice-versa); a journey that takes all of 1 hour.

Despite the short travel, though, many flyers seem to have a huge desire to empty items from their bags before the plane takes off. This delays everyone behind you from getting on, getting seated and getting the plane to push back from the gate.

Even worse, people who use the overhead bins for anything other than proper carry-on bags (e.g. the wheelie bin type). Laptop bags, jackets & everything else should always be stowed under the seat in front of you. It’s not a filthy cesspit so nothing’s going to get unduly dirty. Filling the overhead bins leads to cabin staff desperately trying to fit everyone’s bags on before the plane can go. It delays everyone.

My pro tip is to put anything you need/want for the flight in your laptop bag (bring one even if you’re not bringing a laptop). Put your bottle of drinking water (purchased after security), headphones and whatever else in there. Once the plane is up in the air you don’t have to fumble with overhead bins. You have everything you need right in front of you; and you didn’t irritate anyone!

Once Seated

Most airline configurations involve rows of three or four seats. There are simple unwritten rules about what privileges these seats get:

Window: You get one armrest and a window.
Middle: You get two armrests.
Aisle: You get one armrest and you can stick your legs out for extra comfort.

No one wants to be in the middle, but needs-must.

If you happen to be in a window or middle seat, before you board the plane go to the toilet. There is nothing worse than being in an aisle seat and constantly having to get up to assist you in your bladder control issues.

There is a huge virtue in sitting there reading/watching a movie/whatever and just keeping to yourself. This is an expensive bus journey in the skies. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself.

Of course, if you’re in the aisle seat your job when the plane parks itself is to get up and pull your bag from the overhead asap. I know lots of casual flyers find this phenomenon weird & useless. But as much as the boarding plan (as mentioned above) needs good execution to get the plane in the air, the exit plan needs good execution to ensure everyone departs to their destination on time. This helps everyone get to where they need to go, especially those who are looking to run to their next flight in the next hour or so!

Leaving the airport

A weird one, but one I think non-frequent flyers miss all the time. Before you depart, as you’re checking-in 24 hours before the flight time, it’s worth making sure you know the transport links. Know the bus number, train line or whatever else before you go. Most major cities have some sort of app that’ll help you connect the dots between the airport and your destination. Do that before you hit the airport.

This is because airport wifi is often unreliable, and airports are never actually near the city centre (apart from glorious London City Airport) so you’ll likely need to do some navigation. Don’t leave it to the last minute. Also note that if you’re in a group of 4+ people and are trying to figure out what to do/where to go, a taxi fare split between you all is likely not going to be that much more than an actual rail fare (depending on destination, of course). Most people, upon landing, just want to get to where they need to be rather than fumbling with French rail staff or German DFB machines.

Hopefully that was useful, a little informative and somewhat entertaining for someone out there. For me, it was just a nice way to have a bit of a rant!