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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Travel Secrets Only Flight Attendants Know

You'll want to pack these insider tips from airline cabin crewmembers on how to make the most of your next getaway.

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Bottle of water on clear sky from a plane. Travel concept.PJjaruwan/Shutterstock

Bottle it

While most of us are being mindful of Mother Earth these days and trying to reduce our waste, Southwest Airlines flight attendant Holly Hansen told Women’s Health that bottled water is best when flying for one very hygienic reason. “Drink bottled water to be safe,” she said. “The storage tanks for the jet’s tap water are difficult to thoroughly clean, and studies show bacteria like E. coli can linger in them. Skip coffee and tea—some airlines make it from that H2O. The ice is OK, though; it’s catered.” In case bottled water isn’t available, consider bringing a water bottle with built-in filtration, like this one from Epic Water Filters, which removes more than 99% of bacteria, viruses and other contaminants.

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Male flight attendant hands using mobile phones, soft focus.litabit/Shutterstock

Restaurant savvy

Hey, flight attendants don’t want to survive on airport food, either. When they’re looking for the best eats in whichever city they find themselves in for an extended period of time, they hit the Internet with a couple of specific keywords to zero in on the top spots. To instantly find the best of the best, google the name of your city plus “Food Network,” recommends one savvy flight attendant.

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Close up of airline checked baggage label on blue suitcase. Attached at the departure gate to carry on luggage that is too big for aircraft cabin. Horizontal view.lesapi images/Shutterstock

Baggage check

Those bag check fees are for the birds, but one clever flight attendant says there is actually a way to duck and dodge the cost of stowing your luggage, and it has nothing to do with stuffing it in an overhead compartment (though you can feel confident that the 22-inch carry-on from Speck Travel should definitely fit). “If you want to take your luggage into the airplane and not pay for check baggage fees, take your bags to the gate and just say you are willing to check your luggage at the gate to free up space. The gate attendant will almost always check it free of charge.” Don’t miss these other things your flight attendant won’t tell you.

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MOSCOW, RUSSIA - MARCH 30, 2015: Emirates first class Boeing-777 interior. Emirates is one of two flag carriers of the United Arab Emirates along with Etihad Airways and is based in Dubai. Sorbis/Shutterstock

For more options

First-class fliers, particularly ones who find themselves frequenting American Airlines, this is for you. “If you want your first choice of meals in First Class, book your seat in the first two rows when going north to south or east to west,” advises one flight attendant, who wants to remain anonymous. “If going west to east or south to north sit in the last two rows of first class.” Now that you know what to do, here are 18 things you should never do on an airplane.

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Apple, strawberry and banana in a transparent container. Two different lunch boxes. Dried fruits and nuts in a plastic containerOlga Bondarenko/Shutterstock

Pack ahead

And not just your clothes—we’re talking nutrition. When faced with the options available at the airport, you may not necessarily have the will power to say yes to something that’s actually good for you. “Healthy trip snacks: nuts, some small chocolate bites, dried fruit, instant organic oatmeal, and fresh berries,” suggests a flight attendant with Alerion Aviation. “It’s very easy to grab junk snacks when you’re tired.” Consider Bare Natural Apple Chips, Country Archer Beef Jerky, and Bubba’s Fine Foods Montreal Chophouse, a Paleo-friendly mix of banana chips, spices, and nuts.

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Businessman holds one round tablet with two fingers.OBprod/Shutterstock

Just say no to jet lag

Flight attendants are constantly on the move, and chances are they’re entering different time ones on the regular. This attendant prefers a natural solution to the lethargic feeling so much travel can often leave behind. “When we cross several time zones jet lag can be brutal. I found a homeopathic supplement that works for me. It’s called No Jet Lag,” she says. Here are more easy tricks to help you get over jet lag.

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Woman sitting in a flying aircraft and watching the monitor. Passengers relax on the plane.Milkovasa/Shutterstock

Keep calm and fly on

Fear of flying is very real and can be paralyzing for some. If this applies to you, try this visualization technique utilized by some flight attendants to help passengers cope: Compare flying to being on a boat. There are waves on the water and the boat rocks and goes up and down. Airplanes behave in pretty much the same way, riding invisible waves of air. Consider actually listening to a recording of waves—Amazon’s top pick for travelers is the lightweight Bose QuietComfort 25 Noise Cancelling Headphones.

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Young girl traveler walking with carrying hold suitcase in the airport. Tourist Concept. escalator, interior of the Indian pudong airport.diy13/Shutterstock

Dress for success

Now, this may not always work in your favor depending on availability, but flight attendant Joe Alvarado-DePalma says that wearing a well thought out outfit instead of those comfy sweats may just reap the rewards in terms of upgrades. “If you dress professionally you are more likely to be upgraded to other classes free of charge,” he advises. Check out these sleek, stretchy, pull-on dress pants by Ginasy that only look professional. Find out the craziest things flight attendants have seen on the job.

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hair iron with towelsgcafotografia/Shutterstock

Keep it neat

When you’re going from the airport to a business meeting with little time to spare, it can be difficult to keep from looking ruffled and tired. One flight attendant gave this tip for keeping your clothes tidy on the fly. “Use your flat iron to touch up your clothes when you’re in a rush and there’s no time for the ironing board,” she suggests. The one from BaByliss PRO is voted Best Overall on Amazon for being sturdy and reliable. Flight attendants always pack these essential items during the winter. 

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Close up, Woman's hands are pack suitcase, clothes in bag for travel. Top view.inewsfoto/Shutterstock

Pack smart

Checked bag fees are no fun, nor is trying to cram an overstuffed carry-on into the overhead compartment. “Limit the number of shoes you bring. These take up the most space in your suitcase,” an American Airlines flight attendant told Thrillist. “Then, fold all jeans and pants as you normally would and roll them up, placing them on top of the shoes next to each other. Then do the same for shirts. Lastly, all underwear and socks go on the top or in empty crevices.” Try it, it works!

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Aerated soft drink on the airplaneAfriramPOE/Shutterstock

Can do

While water and beverages with electrolytes are strongly recommended on flights over carbonated beverages, if you’re really jonesing for that entire can of soda (not just what is placed in the little plastic cup), you can have it. Just ask politely! “The reason we pour it in a cup goes back to the old days of service,” flight attendant Typhanie King told the Huffington Post. “It’s just good customer service to pour your drink in a cup. Many people prefer to drink out of a cup. But you can certainly ask for the entire can of pop.” Consider bringing your own reusable straw, which you can pull out over and over at your destination to avoid wasting plastic. Try Viski metal straws in a trendy copper finish.

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baby child sitting in car seat with safety belt locked protectionSuti Stock Photo/Shutterstock

Safety and security

If you’re traveling with small children, you’re probably already aware of the massive amounts of gear you need to bring. But flight attendants actually recommend lugging that car seat as well. “Car seats aren’t just safer for children,” Veda Shook, an Alaskan Airlines flight attendant told Real Simple. “They also help kids stay calmer, since they’re used to being in them.” This Airplane Travel Harness is the only FAA-approved child flying safety device. When flying, keep these flight attendant pet peeves in mind.

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Earns Plizer, Miramar, USA Chap Stick In this Jan. 30, 2012 photo, a row of ChapStick containers is on display at a Mirmarar, Fla. drug store. Pfizer Inc. said, that its fourth-quarter profit fell by half due to one-time charges and a drop in U.S. revenue, which was hurt by blockbuster cholesterol drug Lipitor losing patent protectionJ Pat Carter/AP/Shutterstock

Smooth landing

Long flights can dry out your skin, so staying hydrated is key. But packing a couple of little luxuries to use while you’re in the air and after you touch down will go a long way in helping to feel refreshed. “Pack hand moisturizer and lip balm to fight high-altitude dryness,” flight attendant Heather Sanchez told Forbes. “I always pick up some locally made lip balm at the airport shops before boarding, which also makes a great last-minute souvenir. If you want to plan in advance, Burt’s Bee’s was voted best value lip balm on Amazon. Next, find out the things airlines won’t tell you, but every flier should know.