Five Steps to Healthier Plane Flights

St Martin plane

Halfway to Chicago, I paused while squeezing cheese out of a plastic tube onto a packaged cracker from my $16.00 “Tapas Box” to wonder if there isn’t a better way to fly halfway across the country.

I’d learned to endure getting dehydrated, cramming myself into a coach seat with my knees banging into the seat in front of me – oh gezundheit, man across the aisle, and thank you for flying with bronchitis – smelling the hard-boiled-egg sandwich the woman behind me brought for her dinner – and why is it that hard boiled eggs smell so bad when you’re not the one eating them? – noticing the woman next to me side-eye-reading what I’m typing on my computer (hi there ma’am, yes I’m talking about you!), and all the other wonders we all experience when we fly.

But should plane flights be something you have to endure? Could there be a better way?

The happy answer to that question is YES. It just takes a little bit of planning – and I’m here with a handy five-point checklist you can use to help make it even easier for you to make your next flight your best flight ever.

1. Entertainment

Flights can be pretty boring. Airlines count on that to get you to slide your credit card and pony up six bucks or so for a slew of TV reruns and ads. So –

Be prepared with the things that you find most interesting. If it’s movies and TV, load up your iPad or laptop with really good stuff. Or – have you been trying to find time to read a good book? Here’s two (three, four, etc.) hours of uninterrupted you-time; a gift to you from the friendly skies. Grab your story in paperback (it’s lighter) or the e-format of your choice.

For me, a flight is a great chance to read a really good magazine. Knowing I’ll be picking up Fast Company or another mag I don’t usually get my hands on is almost enough to make me look forward to flying.

And of course, there are always games. You’ve probably got a few on your phone that you like to play, but don’t overlook those on paper. I’m a big fan of Split Decisions in the New York Times Magazine. It only shows up every few months, but I put them away for when I fly because they’re such great brain-teasers (don’t forget to save the answers from the following week as well).

2. Nutrition and hydration

The “Tapas Box” cannot be allowed to win. At the very least, buy a decent salad or sandwich in one of the many take-out spots that have popped up like mushrooms around all the gates. Even better, make something healthy and delicious at home and bring it with you. Keep in mind that anything considered to be “gel-like” may not make it through security, so leave the heavy mayo at home (it’s not good for you anyway) and be cautious about things like peanut butter or hummus as they may get confiscated – again leaving you to the dreaded Tapas Box.

Some great choices for foods you can carry through security include nuts, dried fruits, whole grain crackers, hard cheeses and raw vegetables. Fruits may or may not be allowed through – the agents have a lot of discretion and you don’t want to be getting into an argument with them.

You won’t ever be allowed to bring a bottled or boxed drink through security. Don’t annoy them by trying (it’s never a good idea to annoy a TSA agent). Buy a giant bottle of water on the other side of security, or – moneysaving hack – bring a big empty bottle and fill it at a water fountain by the gate. Prefer it flavored? Bring some drink powder along and tap it into the bottle.

3. Comfort

Nothing says comfort like a narrow seat with 8 inches of legroom and a shared armrest. But it doesn’t have to be total misery.

Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers. The same flight can be both cold and hot, and you’ll be ready for both. And while your skinny low-rise jeans are cute, after three hours in that narrow seat you’re going to wish you’d worn stretchy leggings and a big soft shirt. Just saying.

For the trek through the airport and on board the plane, comfort extends to your feet so be sure whatever shoes you wear are kind to you. You might want to think about slipper-socks for the plane too – that way you can take your shoes off and give your feet some freedom while keeping them warm.

On the topic of shoes, anyone who flies knows the annoyance of having to remove them to go through security. My number one recommendation to circumvent this (and it comes with a lot of other benefits) is to get TSA pre-approval. It’s a fairly easy process, and that green checkmark on your boarding pass gets you a fastpass through security with your shoes on your feet and your laptop in your bag (at most airports).

4. Slumber

If you really can sleep on a plane, you are a lucky human. For the rest of us, you can improve your chances by giving your head a place to rest and gaming the light and sound issues a little bit. A neck roll pillow will let you rest your head without getting a major neck crick. You might also really appreciate having earplugs and an eyeshade along with you.

Also – you didn’t hear it from me, but if a wee drink helps you nod off, you can save money by bringing your own. The tiny bottles available at most liquor stores are 1.7 ounces each. The TSA allows each person to carry on as many 3.4 ounce bottles of liquid as fit “comfortably” in one quart-sized, clear plastic zip-top bag. Cheers!

5. Interaction

There are some people who love getting to know new people, and others who fake sleep on planes purely to avoid having to say a word to anyone. Whichever camp you fall into, your neighbors will appreciate it as much as you do if you thoughtfully accommodate them. If you just want to sit and think quietly, it’s a good idea to bring a book or magazine just to have open on your lap to show you’re not in chat mode.

And there you have it! Just a little planning before your flight will help make it a much better experience.

(Written from my seat on board United 1159, service to Newark NJ, with a big bottle of water and a bag of smoked almonds to keep me going.)

p.s. The image at the top is real, and I took it with my iPhone. Google “Maho Beach” (it’s in St. Martin) and you’ll see a hundred pics just like it. The KLM 747 comes in every day at 12:30 and the airport is 50 feet from the beach.)

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