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Ten Ways to Make Flying Less Painful

by , SmarterTravel Staff
Coach seating in 737 (Photo: Bert Van Wijk/iStockphoto)
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on October 30, 2008. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, Christine Sarkis, holiday.

Dread flying? Is it the inevitable delays, the cramped seats, or the expensive snacks? Or maybe it has more to do with the dehydration, recycled air, and chilly cabins? In the spirit of happy and healthy holidays, here are 10 ways to make your next flight more comfortable.

Snag a Good Seat

If you're taller than 5'9", you know that whatever the airlines may claim, those seats were not built for you. If you're tall and even a little bit claustrophobic, sitting in an airline seat for any length of time can feel like a punishment. This is why it's not a bad idea to strive (and maybe even pay a bit extra for) a seat with more legroom. In coach, that means seeking out the exit row or bulkhead seats. You'll get more legroom and a little breathing space as well, which can make all the difference in a space as cramped as an airplane cabin. SmarterTravel.com sister site Seat Guru can help you find a roomier seat.

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Wear Noise-Canceling Headphones

The overpowering drone of airplane engines can interfere with sleep and make for a more stressful flight. Noise-canceling headphones replace the cabin and engine sounds with white noise or music. You can also plug them into seat jacks and make in-flight movie or television watching more pleasant. On the downside, they're pricier than most headphones ($100 and up), but they last for years and are a great way to drown out sounds—babies crying or people having loud political arguments, for example—in other situations as well.

Carry a Water Bottle

Don't want to be at the mercy of flight attendants who you suspect don't really care if you're thirsty? Achieve hydration independence: Bring an empty bottle through security and fill it up on the other side. If space is at a premium, look into water bottles that can be collapsed when not in use. If you're concerned about plastic, there are options such as Klean Kanteen steel or Sigg aluminum bottles.

Fight Dehydration

Dehydration is a real issue in the air: It can increase the effects of jetlag upon arrival or just leave you feeling icky. The first rule of hydration is, of course, to drink enough water, which you can do whenever you want if you bring your own water bottle. But you can fend off stinging, dry eyes by also packing some moisturizing eye drops, and keep your skin supple with a little bottle of lotion. Both are allowed though security as long as the containers aren't larger than three ounces.

Pack Your Own Food

Which would you rather eat: a soggy, $10 day-old turkey sandwich or a $5 packet of broken crackers? Trick question! Plan ahead and you won't have to settle for either. Pack your own lunch (just beware the TSA restrictions and leave the soup at home) or pick up something in the terminal before you board. If it's a long flight, also pack low-salt snacks such as fruit, so that when boredom and hunger set in, you'll be prepared.

Bring Warm Things

More airlines are charging for blankets and pillows these days, and even when they don't, it's never totally clear how often those things get washed. And if you've ever seen a seatmate sound asleep and drooling ever-so-slightly onto that airplane pillow, you quickly recognize the downside of shared pillows. Bring your own without sacrificing too much space by packing a large scarf, pashmina, or wrap. That way, you can use your source of in-flight warmth as an accessory (or picnic blanket) once you land.

Don't Forget About Entertainment

Let's face it: Unless you're really good at sleeping on airplanes, boredom is likely to be a recurring problem on long flights. Nothing makes three hours feel like six more than staring at the seat in front of you while shifting uncomfortably and checking your watch every 15 minutes. Stave off boredom and turn flights into leisure time with books, magazines, or Sudoku. Bring a portable DVD player or laptop and watch movies. Or load up your mp3 player with podcasts or videocasts of your favorite radio and TV shows.

Exercise

Uncomfortable seats feel even worse when you sit still in them for hours on end. Give your muscles a break every hour or so with some basic stretches. Moving around also helps some people stay more relaxed on flights. Here's a list of exercises that you can do. Most of them are subtle enough that you won't even advertise yourself as that person who exercises in their seat.

Stay Organized

Does this sound familiar? You settle in, grab a book and some gum from your bag and stow it under the seat. Twenty minutes later you think of something else you want (your mp3 player or some tissue), but now the seat in front of you is reclined. A back-of-seat organizer, such as the Seat Pak from Flight 001, hangs from your tray table latch and keeps items you might want in flight within arms' reach.

Be Prepared for a Layover

Plan for any layovers by researching the airport ahead of time. Most U.S. airports have websites where you can find information about restaurants, lounges, and extra amenities such as showers, nail salons, or Wi-Fi hotspots. If there's a chance that bad weather may delay your connection, write down the phone numbers of airport hotels when you're researching–they could save you from sleeping on the airport floor.

Do you have more ideas for staying comfortable while traveling? Share them below!

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