This part of Wikivoyage's guide to flying focuses on what may be the most critical part of your journey – sitting in a chair for hours, perhaps many hours. While this may seem a tame exploit, the fact that the chair is hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour adds a welcome frisson to proceedings. So, with that in mind, this article seeks to make your chair-bound experience as safe and comfortable as possible. This begins as you enter your airplane.
Help the cabin crew
While you'll receive especially attentive service in first- and business-class, cabin attendants are not waiters. Their duties require many tasks as they try to make you and all others safe and comfortable while boarding. They ensure that all food and supplies are properly delivered and stowed. They also scan and help passengers who may be distressed, ill, unable to find seats, find their seats already occupied, are inebriated or misbehaving, or perhaps on the wrong flight. They do all this as they appear to just stand around. You can and should help at least in these ways...
- Use storage near your seat(s) for carry-ons. (1) Using space farther forward adds little convenience for you, but can create great inconvenience for others seated forward. Because you've helped fill storage in their locale, they may have to store bags near or behind you and go against the flow of others boarding to return to be seated. When disembarking, they again must go "against the flow" to get to their belongings...likely after everyone else has departed. And (2), if you store anything out of sight anywhere, it can be pilfered in-flight (yes, it happens; thieves watch to ensure no one else knows who your carry-ons belong to).
- Don't ask crew to put your carry-ons in overhead bins...many folks pack them heavily. Carefully close any nearby overhead bin once completely full if you're not already seated. Crew will often close others once finally and fully filled because you are already seated, and they're masters at (re)packing them for people arriving late.
- Put your items in bins or under the seat in front of yours so they take minimum space, e.g. wheeled luggage wheels-in or out, not sideways if possible (good pieces are designed to fit perfectly in standard overhead bins).
- Take your seat promptly after you've stored your carry-ons.
- Don't block aisles as others try to reach their seats, nor while in-flight.
- Use the call-button only if you need assistance only cabin crew can provide.
- Take care with food and liquids as you enter and get seated; eat and drink (after airborne at cruise altitude) to avoid unpredictable spills or (embarrassing) bloating/gas.
- Make your fastened seat belt visible to crew, e.g., fasten it over any blanket/jacket/coat you use, especially if you plan to sleep while airborne. Otherwise they'll wake you to check it.
- Even if the seat belt sign is off, keep your seat belt bucked when you are seated in case of unexpected turbulence. There have been cases of people being seriously injured, or even killed when the aircraft ran into unexpected but exceptionally violent turbulence.
- Use the lavatory facilities in your own cabin, and only when the seat belt sign is not illuminated.
- Follow crew instructions promptly and immediately.
Flying with children
- See also: Travelling with children#By plane
Children can get restless and irritable while flying and in airports. There are strategies you can follow to ensure your children enjoy the trip.
- Arrange entertainment. The best way is to bring a portable media player, books, or anything else they can use to stay occupied with themselves. Be creative. Phones, tablets and PSPs also play video these days, and are much easier to carry than a DVD player and DVDs. Kids don't seem to mind the fact that the screen is 1" square, and the batteries will last far longer than a DVD player for longer flights.
- Have something for them to suck on while ascending and descending. Don't give it to the child when you get onto the plane - wait until you are taxiing to the runway, or it will be finished before you take off. Similarly, wait until well into the descent.
- Bring favorite snacks for fussy eaters. If children don't like the airplane food and get hungry, irritability can increase. If flying to another country, ensure snacks not consumed won't violate its regulations.
- Aim for a window seat for the child, and sit by the window at the airport. Airports are a hive of activity, usually enough to keep any child occupied for a little while.
- Get an airport book. There are many picture books for young children that name the many things at the airport. For older children at a large airport, an airplane identification chart can pass some time.
Consider safety. If you are traveling with a child who is less than three, have them sit on an approved child carrier, not on your lap. (Approved or airline carriers may have special seat belts that improve their protection.) In the unlikely event of an emergency, a lap child may impede your ability to brace. Be aware of whether there is an oxygen mask for infants on the aircraft/row.
And generally, anticipate delays. Even the shortest flights can be delayed, involving additional time both in the terminal and on the aircraft. Ensure you have sufficient food, clothes, nappies, and entertainment to avoid turning a couple of hours delay into a nightmare. This will free them to do truly essential flight tasks.
Some airlines, rather controversially, do not permit male passengers to be seated next to unaccompanied children. If you are seated next to an unaccompanied child, you will be made to swap seats with a female passenger.
- Buckle up and strap your children, in safety seats as needed, then yourself.
- Count the number of seat backs between your seat and the emergency exits, keeping in mind that your nearest exit may be behind you. If you ever need to evacuate an aircraft in an emergency you may need to do it in a darkened cabin that could be full of thick black smoke. If the aisle is full of people you will at least know the number of seats you need to climb over to get out in that one in a million emergency.
- Put your mobile phone and any other transmitting device into flight mode or switch it off, preferably before you board the plane. Using a phone on board after the doors are closed (especially while the aircraft is taxiing, climbing or descending) is a violation of some air travel safety regulations; in some countries, switching the phone off is mandatory during the passenger's entire stay in the aircraft. Switching the phones off is intended to assure clear, effective and essential communication between pilots and air traffic controllers. If you refuse to comply, you will be escorted off the plane. You have been warned.
- If you wish to use Bluetooth headphones or the in-flight Wi-Fi service, you still have to place your device in airplane mode before takeoff to block the mobile phone signals. Once you are allowed to use your device in the air, you can individually turn on the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functions. For tablets and laptops with no mobile phone service, you can turn off the airplane mode altogether.
- If you need to make a call while at altitude, your aircraft's telephone carrier partner may provide in-flight service. This is very expensive. Consult your in-flight magazine, especially for details on charges. Typically these cost about $5/minute (plus connection charges) even if you are directly above the place you are calling. SMS on these in-seat handsets may also be available.
- Read the emergency instructions and watch the safety briefing even if you have ridden on the airline before as safety features may vary per aircraft and airline. It may be boring but if an emergency happens you will remember what to do, rather than having to read the safety card then and thereby saving precious time.
- Place anything containing items you'll use in-flight under the seat in front of you to eliminate obstructing the aisle, if they are small, in the seat pocket facing you. This will minimize disturbance caused to those sitting in aisle seats. If you later need the leg/foot room, and overhead space is available, you can then move to there what you no longer need.
- Keep within sight anything you put in overhead bins that contains valuables. As mentioned previously, thieves operate on flights. As necessary, put valuables under the seat at your feet.
- Once seated, and if you have them, use sanitizer/sanitizing wipes to clean your hands, tray table, arm rests and (when convenient) the handles on overhead bins.
- In cases of an open flight in economy class when nobody is beside you, feel free to put up the armrests (except in exit rows where the armrests can't be lifted) to claim the extra space to yourself. On wide-body aircraft, you can sometimes get a middle block to yourself and turn this into a flat bed of sorts.
- Wear your seat belt at all times while seated. Though it doesn't happen often, more people are injured (a few even killed) by failing to use "belts" than from all other causes of flying injuries. Severe air turbulence can occur without warning even in clear air, and it can violently throw you and others about. When the seat belt sign is off, it only indicates that you'll probably be reasonably safe to move about the cabin briefly.
- When getting up from other than the aisle seat, first ask seatmates to let you out, and try not to disturb people behind or in front of you.
- If you get up during the food service, you may have to wait for a while before you can get back to your seat.
- As a good neighbor, check in advance with the folks behind you if you may/must tilt your seat-back backwards...and just before you do so. The pitch of many economy seats has gotten so small that tilting seat-backs can greatly intrude into space they really need.
- On medium-to-long flights, drink lots of liquids without caffeine or alcohol because the latter will dehydrate you at an even faster pace than the airplane's very low humidity. That can worsen jet lag and may induce headaches. Don't hesitate to ask the cabin crew for water, or walk up to the galley to get it. Some airlines (e.g., Emirates, Qantas, Cathay Pacific) offer self-service water fountains (and more) at each galley for passengers to fill their own water bottles. If sanitation is an unknown, ask for bottled water.
- Don't sit still for the duration of a multi-hour flight. Your body isn't designed to stay that way for hours.
- Adjust your body position occasionally (you do this in your sleep anyway). On long flights especially...
- Stretch, flex knees, move your feet in circles...anything you can do in your seat. Some airlines now periodically show video programs showing how to exercise in your seat. Follow them, or do your own thing (or both). By changing position, and moving around a little, you make sure every part of your body gets the circulation it needs, e.g., to avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
- Consider walking around the aircraft occasionally during long flights. Feeling self-conscious about just walking around? Stroll off to the lavatory or galley, or stand up and pretend that you need something out of the overhead bin once an hour. If you have an aisle seat, stand up every time your neighbors want to move, instead of hoping that they'll squeeze past you.
- You might remove your shoes if convenient. On very long flights, better airlines offer slippers upon request, but you'll likely also need warm socks. Always wear shoes in the lavatory, where the floor may be wet.
- With the exception of some private charters, smoking (even electronic cigarettes) is not allowed on any commercial flight worldwide. Do not smoke at your seat, in the lavatories or tamper with the smoke detectors in the lavatories to avoid being caught – at minimum you'll be in trouble with the airline and in some jurisdictions subject to prosecution. In U.S. "flagged" aircraft (and many others), federal law prohibits tampering with, disabling, or destroying smoke detectors in aircraft lavatories. It's a felony, and violation can lead to fines of thousands of dollars, and even a prison sentence. Worried about how you'll survive? Try nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or other tobacco cessation tools. Plan for ways to handle anxiety, if that's one of your triggers. Also, plan other things to do. The immediate urge to smoke, even when it's strong, will subside while you're busy watching funny cat videos or listening to your favorite music. You may also take advantage of the long flight as an opportunity to quit smoking. If you resist lighting up and using other forms of nicotine for 72 hours since your last cigarette, the physical urges will have passed, and you'll be well on your way to staying tobacco-free.
- Stow any loose items before landing. Put magazines and books in the seat pocket. Don't leave anything lying on an empty seat or loose under your feet. Under heavy braking on landing, even light articles can slide/roll quite far forward. They can be difficult to find, and before you find them they may be accidentally damaged by exiting passengers.
- Always follow the instructions of flight attendants, as well as lighted and posted signs. They are there for your safety and for that of all passengers.
- Flight attendants are trained to be responsible for your safety. Do not argue with them. Resolve any conflict you may have with their orders later on the ground.
- If an "unruly passenger" becomes a serious problem, the captain of the plane may divert to a nearby airport where the passenger will be arrested by local police and escorted off the airplane. Diversions cost the airline a lot of money, and passengers may be forced to cover these costs.
- Flight attendants are often backed by law, e.g., in the US, interfering or physically assaulting a flight attendant is a felony. Short of that, you still can face severe fines and costs for disobeying.
- Most airlines (including all US flagged carriers, due to local civil aviation law) prohibit the use of mobile phones in flight, unless placed into "flight safe mode" or "aircraft mode" before departure. A few carriers (e.g. Emirates and Virgin Atlantic on some aircraft types) are now permitting the use of mobile data and even voice calls while airborne. Keep in mind that you'll need an international roaming contract with your carrier and rates tend to be very high (US$3-$5 per minute or $1 per megabyte is fairly standard.) Beware, a gigabyte is around $1,000! If voice calls are permitted, be courteous to your fellow passengers and keep conversations brief. Fortunately, many airlines also offer free Wi-Fi onboard.
- Other electronic devices are usually permitted once the aircraft is at cruise and the seat belt sign is switched off. Rules regarding when and which devices can be used vary by country and airline:
- In Australia and the United States, airlines typically list categories of devices that cannot be used on the safety card (cell phones, TVs, remote controlled toys, etc...) in their magazines.
- In Canada, however, aviation law requires a more precautionary approach. No electronic devices are permitted unless a crew member individually checks and authorizes their use.
- Laptops are the only devices that are explicitly stated in safety briefings as being allowed – as long as you check with a flight attendant and any mobile data capabilities are disabled before use. In the past, Air Canada used to state that the use of external laptop accessories (such as hard drives, mice, printers, etc...) was prohibited. The current safety video doesn't mention this, but always check first.
- Other devices such as tablets, iPods, and game systems are at the crew's discretion but are almost always permitted if you ask.
A short flight can be scheduled during the day, but for intercontinental flights you may have no choice but to fly overnight. Some preparations can help you get a little shut-eye.
Flying first class or business class helps a lot (but is much more expensive than economy), with seats that recline further (sometimes even to a flat bed) and maybe a little care package with a sleep mask, toiletries, etc. Even for economy passengers, airlines often provide a pillow and blanket, especially for long-haul flights.
Bring an eye mask, and consider earplugs, a pillow (some flyers love neck pillows; others find them uncomfortable), blanket, and relaxing music or an audiobook.
Avoid alcohol, which can disrupt your sleep, and sleeping pills, which can cause weird or embarrassing behavior if the less-than-restful atmosphere of the airplane stops you from getting to sleep. If you're on a long overnight flight and you really need something to help you fall asleep, try taking melatonin instead. If you take it in pill form, it takes 90 minutes to be effective; in sublingual form it's effective in less than a half hour. But if you're woken up too soon, melatonin may make you feel groggy. Mayo Clinic Dr. Lois Krahn recommends 3 milligrams of the short-acting version.
Even if you prepare, accept that you're unlikely to really get a good night's sleep. Most airline seats are uncomfortable and hard to stretch out in, and on most flights there will be noise, activity, and lights turning on and waking you up. A better strategy may be to plan accordingly. Give yourself time to recover when you arrive—which may be necessary anyway due to jetlag. To make yourself alert when you land, have a cup of tea or coffee, which the flight attendants will probably offer you when you're getting close to landing.
Eating and drinking on board
The range, price and quality of airline food varies a lot between airlines.
While meals, as well as generous servings of alcoholic beverages, used to be included with the ticket in the "good old days", passengers are usually required to pay for food and drinks; except in first and business class, long intercontinental flights, and flights of over an hour in length on full-service carriers within Asia and Australia. Scheduled meals (if any) will often be timed and typed to complement the time zone of the flight's destination. If you pass many time zones, early servings may not match your departure time.
For flights that promise no food during meal hours, consider bringing food with you or buying something at the airport; most airlines will allow you to carry it on board, though budget airlines are often an exception to this. Containers of "solid" food from home or a favorite restaurant can usually be run through the same security procedures as any other item of carry-on luggage, but you'll need to buy drinks and other liquids or semi-liquid foods (including peanut butter, jelly, or yogurt) inside the secure area. The food selection at some airports may be poor and/or overpriced. The crew would prefer that you didn't bring drippy or messy foods, and your fellow passengers would prefer that you didn't bring smelly foods, so leave the tray of barbecue chicken wings or that awesome curry on the ground. Especially if you or a travel companion have diabetes or similar health issues, always bring an "emergency" snack. A small bag of nuts, an apple, or a granola bar can be handy if your flight is delayed.
On-board meals for some airlines may be brought in from one of its base or hub airports rather than from a local source. This takes considerable time. Meals kept too long for any reason may have to be discarded due to safety. Scheduled meals may then be limited to packaged snacks/cookies and drinks. This is not the fault of the crew. If an airline only offers "buy on board" food, prices may well be outrageous to take advantage of a captive market, but the airline will likely make sure that something is available in order to improve their bottom line, as they can't make money on food not sold.
Special meals such as kosher, halal, Hindu and vegetarian food are available from most major airlines, but typically must be requested at least several days in advance. For some additional information, see Travel as a vegetarian#Air travel. Some airlines provide special meals for children, sometimes including jars of baby food. These also must be requested in advance.
Expect no service in general aviation, except in business jets.
During the flight, most major airlines, with the exception of US-based airlines, also provide inflight duty free shopping for international flights. Items on sale are rarely top-end luxury items, and are rarely bargains price-wise, though they typically include travel accessories and some airline-exclusive products.
Airliner toilets are infamously small, and the line might be long. On short flights, using the airport toilet before or after the flight is usually a more comfortable option. On some flights, most notably flights to and from the United States, forming a line at the front (near the cockpit) may be prohibited because of security concerns. If so, look at the lit-up bathroom sign and wait for an opportunity when it isn't already occupied.
- See also: Flying and health
Air pressure is much lower at high altitude, and while a commercial aircraft cabin holds much of the pressure, in-flight cabin pressure is still significantly lower than at sea level.
Air pressure can cause discomfort in the inner ear, especially for passengers with nasal congestion. This most often occurs during descent, and can be quickly remedied by closing mouth, pinching nostrils and trying to exhale, perhaps several times until landing.
Deep vein thrombosis
Passengers on long flights may be prone to deep vein thrombosis (DVT); blood clots forming in the veins. The elderly tend to have greater risk than the young. Early symptoms are pain or swelling in the legs. Some precautions are to stretch and/or walk at least every 2 hours or so, doing in-seat exercises, and drinking water, or other non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverages. High-risk patients could choose an aisle-seat, use compression-hose socks, and prescription blood thinners or over-the-counter aspirin with physician approval.
See a more comprehensive article at w:Deep vein thrombosis.
Landing might be delayed because of traffic or weather conditions. Applauding the pilot at touchdown is a custom that can be frowned upon in developed countries where flying is commonplace and exceptionally safe, but common in low-income countries.
Remain seated and buckled up until the plane has taxied all the way to the gate. Do not smoke until you have fully passed the terminal building or reached a designated smoking room.
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