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16 Air Travel Tips to Follow for Smooth Flying

Updated: Nov. 30, 2023

With inclement weather delays to in-flight problems, anything can happen when you're traveling via airline. The good news is, being prepared for the unexpected can be simple and easy. These travel tips for airline travel will show you the best way to handle a canceled flight, how to take a shower at the airport, and everything in between.

Air travel

Air travel tip #1: Don’t wait at the gate desk when your flight is canceled

Don’t get discouraged over a canceled flight just yet. The best way to handle an off-schedule flight is to call the airline as you wait on line at the ticket desk. There’s a good chance you’ll reach a phone agent first. Equally as important, you won’t have to negotiate with the same frazzled agent who’s dealt with dozens of similarly disgruntled fliers. These are the things airlines won’t tell you, but every flier should know.

Air travel

Air travel tip #2: Don’t expect non-peak crowds on peak days

Larger crowds lead to more chaotic parking and drop-off situations and longer wait times at security checkpoints. Plan accordingly. In general, airports are most crowded on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons, as these days bear the brunt of business travel. Expect Fridays to get even busier in the summer months as recreational travel peaks. You’ll find the biggest crowds of the year on Thanksgiving Eve as well as the Sunday after it. And unsurprisingly, the busiest week to fly is the one that falls between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day; the Department of Transportation found that the number of long-distance travelers during this period rises by 23 percent.

Air travel tips

Air travel tip #3: Don’t accept the first voucher on an overbooked flight

If your flight is overbooked, don’t accept the first voucher that comes your way. Airlines typically increase their offer until there are enough volunteers willing to give up their seats. If the airline bumps you involuntarily, insist on cash compensation instead of a voucher.

Psst! Planning on flying standby? Here’s how to go about it.

Travel tips

Air travel tip #4:  Visit the airport lounge during a long layover

For infrequent flyers, it’s hard to justify the several-hundred dollar annual fees that are associated with airline lounges. But if you’ve got a long layover, it might be worth it to purchase a daily pass. Here is your guide for getting into the best airport lounges that too for far less than what you had expected to pay! One-day passes are available for Admirals Club, Sky Club, and United Club, all for $60 or less. Amenities include everything from complimentary snacks and drinks to Wi-Fi and shower suites. Here’s how to make the most out of your airport layover.

Travel tips

Air travel tip #5: Check in to your flight ahead of time

Along with saving you valuable time at the airport, checking in to your flight ahead of time can earn you bonus miles and help you score a better seat.

Airline travel

Air travel tip #6: First class isn’t where you’ll escape motion sickness

While a last-minute upgrade might seem like a good idea—especially if you often find yourself falling ill on flights—the seats in the middle of the plane are best for those with motion sickness. “A plane is like a seesaw. If you’re in the middle, you don’t move as much,” Patrick Smith, pilot and author of Cockpit Confidential, told Reader’s Digest. Here are some more secrets your airplane pilot won’t tell you.

Airline travel

Air travel tip #7: Measure your carry-on ahead of time

Because carry-on requirements vary by airline (9″x14″x22″ is standard for Delta, United, and American Airlines; Southwest allows 10″x16″x24″) it’s best to confirm space allotments and measure your bag before you pack. And if you stuff it to capacity, measure the suitcase again before you leave. Make sure you’re following these golden rules for stress-free air travel.

Airline travel

Air travel tip #8: Check airport monitors for flight information

While it’s great to subscribe to flight-status updates on your smartphone (sign up for these when you check in to your flight), don’t use them as your only source of information. Airport monitors are still your best bet for the most up-to-date information. Double-check your gate before you get on the trolley that takes you to the other side of the facility.

Airline travel tip

Air travel tip #9: Don’t pack liquids deep inside your carry on

Make security checkpoints a breeze by packing liquids (which are all 3.4 ounces or smaller and zipped into a 1-quart Ziploc bag, of course!) into an outside pocket of your carry-on. Laptops and tablets fall into the same category. Check out the TSA’s website for a full list of items on the no-fly list, as well as tips for getting through security quickly. Learn some more secrets TSA gate agents aren’t telling you.

Airline travel tip pen writing on paper

Air travel tip #10: Always bring a pen on an overseas flight

You’ll need a pen to fill out immigration forms onboard. And your flight attendant will appreciate not having to supply the entire flight with extra ink. Here are some more things you should never, ever forget to pack when traveling internationally.

Airline travel tip man's suitcase packed

Air travel tip #11: Keep the essentials in your carry-on

If your checked bags get lost or delayed, it’s important to have your essentials packed into your carry-on. Start with prescription medications and medical supplies, a cell phone charger, a change of clothes, and the necessary paperwork to get you through security and into your hotel. What you can pack in a carry-on is different than what you can pack in a checked bag.

Airline travel tip mom with baby on her lap on a plane
Tomsickova Tatyana/Shutterstock

Air travel tip #12: Don’t fly with your baby on your lap

Although most airlines will allow you to fly with an infant on your lap for free, it’s extremely dangerous. “If there’s any impact or deceleration, there’s a good chance you’re going to lose hold of your kid, and he becomes a projectile,” the pilot Patrick Smith told Reader’s Digest. “But the government’s logic is that if we made you buy an expensive seat for your baby, you’d just drive, and you’re more likely to be injured driving than flying.” The safest place for a baby to fly is in an FAA-approved car seat. Watch out for these other things you should never, ever do on an airplane.

Airline travel tip man listening to phone on airplane
Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock

Air travel tip #13: Wear sunblock

Wearing sunblock is one of the things every smart traveler should do. Flying the friendly skies isn’t so good for your skin. One study found that pilots flying for an hour at 30,000 feet get the same amount of radiation as if they had spent 20 minutes in a tanning bed. Another study found that they were ten times more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The fix? Load up on sunblock.

Airplane travel tip bathroom sign

Air travel tip #14: Use the bathroom at the terminal

A poorly timed pre-takeoff bathroom break could hold up the entire flight. “There’s a sequence to taxiing and getting in line for takeoff,” Sara Keagle, a veteran flight attendant and blogger at TheFlyingPinto.com, told Woman’s Day. “If somebody gets up to use the restroom, we have to tell the cockpit, and they have to stop the plane and wait until the person is back in his or her seat and buckled up. During that time we could lose our spot in line.” Learn some more secrets flight attendants won’t tell you.

Airplane travel tip woman with coffee and boarding pass
Istock/Abel Mitja

Air travel tip #15: Pick up your coffee at the terminal

Better to pick up a coffee, tea, or water bottle at the terminal—the stuff onboard can be downright dirty. For one Wall Street Journal piece, reporters packed samples of water from the galley and lavatory taps of 14 different flights and tested them for quality. “The results of our water-quality snapshot: A long list of microscopic life you don’t want to drink, from salmonella and staphylococcus to tiny insect eggs. Worse, contamination was the rule, not the exception: Almost all of the bacteria levels were tens, sometimes hundreds, of times above U.S. government limits,” they wrote. Eek.

Airplane travel tip: Baggage claim
Istock/Anastasy Yarmolovich

Air travel tip #16: Don’t be a pushover on lost luggage

Airlines are able to pay up to $3,400 on lost bags and their contents. In order to receive a full payout, report lost luggage as soon as possible—many airlines have tight deadlines for filing claims. Submit your report before you leave the airport and keep all receipts related to unexpected expenses caused by the loss. You might be able to get a refund on those, too.