How to have a perfect flight
Flying used to be fun but nowadays it's an ordeal for most.
Here's our expert guide on ways to make your flight a pleasure rather than just a pain.
Like most things in life, flying gets easier with knowledge and practice.
Knowing your way around check-in, airport layouts, security checkpoints and how to settle into a long flight can make the journey something to look forward to rather than to suffer.
MAKE A BOOKING
Getting the best deal comes down to two options: a trusted human or the latest technology.
An experienced travel consultant can help you find the best combination of airline, flight timing and pricing, or you can search by criteria on a website or mobile app.
Skip individual booking websites and use a "metasearch" site such as Skyscanner or Adioso to compare fares from a range of sources.
The manager of Escape Travel in Balmain, NSW, David Wicks, says pre-seating is essential but the "best" seat comes down to what is most important to you. Those further forward are likely to be served meals first but those towards the rear are further away from the baby cots.
If you're travelling with someone else, it can be a good strategy to take the aisle and window seats and hope the middle seat remains unfilled; anyone who does get it will be happy to trade.
For families, the four seats in the middle of twin-aisle aircraft can be a good option.
If you're serious about seating, the website SeatGuru shows aircraft maps, while FlightStats publishes booking loads.
Finally, double-check your passport expiry to ensure you have the six-month minimum required by many countries.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Aim for the recommended hour beforehand for domestic flights or three hours for international flights. It rarely takes that long to get through, but it gives you a margin for delay
Escape Travel's David Wicks says getting to the airport early will also boost your chances of getting your coveted seat, such as the exit row, which has more leg room.
If there's an airport train, it's usually the most efficient way to get to an airport. If you're planning to drive, book your parking ahead of time and look online for specials such as set-price weekends or valet parking deals.
There are often long queues at check-in while the online check-in channel is empty.
Online check-in - either via computer and printer or mobile check-in through your smartphone - can allow you to waltz to the desk like a first-class passenger.
You still need to drop your bags and sometimes collect boarding passes, but there is rarely a queue.
When checking in, it doesn't hurt to politely ask if the flight is full and if there are any empty rows or seats with spare seats next to them.
People often ask how to get an upgrade but unless you're a very frequent traveller or flying on an expensive fare, it is highly unlikely.
If you're desperate for a more comfortable flight, ask about the cost of upgrading for that sector, but be prepared for responses varying from the reasonable to the ridiculous.
GETTING THROUGH SECURITY
A handful of common mistakes usually accounts for the majority of hold-ups at security checkpoints.
Remember to empty your pockets and remove metal items such as belt buckles before attempting to go through scanners, to save backtracking.
Take laptops and aerosols out of your bag and if you're travelling internationally, put toiletries and containers of liquids (maximum 100ml each) in a clear plastic bag for separate screening. Most screening points will allow you to take an empty water bottle through to refill later, but put it out for inspection.
Tools, metal cutlery and scissors are the items most frequently detected in hand luggage at airports; make sure you pack these in your checked-in luggage.
If you're buying duty free, ensure there are no further checkpoints to go through, as in some countries duty-free purchases are taken away at the boarding gate.
Get duty-free purchases in a sealed bag or better still, buy them on arrival, where you might pay a bit more but won't have to worry about the vagaries of duty-free regulations.
Airline seating now offers more variations than ever.
ON THE PLANE
Frequent traveller Andrew Steele says he always takes comfortable clothes, warm socks, a blow-up neck pillow and noise-cancelling headphones or ear buds, to maximise his chances of sleeping on the plane.
He limits alcohol to a couple of drinks early in the flight and then sticks to water, while avoiding rich or spicy foods that can cause bloating or discomfort.
While Steele often goes online before a flight to find a seat away from bassinettes, galleys and toilets, other passengers are one thing you cannot always control.
If you find yourself next to a screaming baby or annoying drunk, go to the galley and explain the problem to the crew.
If they are unable to find you another seat, they may often offer compensation such as a duty-free voucher.
Comfort factor: Singapore Airlines double bed suites.
There are many fads and theories regarding jet lag but little that has been proven to work.
Some travellers swear by melatonin tablets, which are available from chemists, while others use sleeping tablets to ensure they sleep at the right time.
The Travel Doctor - TMVC - recommends arranging your flights so you are flying into the night and keeping alcohol and caffeine consumption to a minimum.
Only eat when you're hungry and consider skipping a meal or two on a long flight, while drinking two to three glasses of water per flight sector.
Steele says he sets his watch to the arrival time and starts planning towards it.
Once at the destination, he forces himself into the new time zone by staying awake during the day and only sleeping at night.
He says he usually hits the bed exhausted the first night but sometimes needs a sleeping tablet the second night, to keep himself in the new time zone.
Steele, who is a doctor, says he rarely takes sleeping tablets during flights and does not recommend the use of stronger tablets on planes.
For a scientific approach to jetlag, try a new app that allows you to monitor your circadian rhythms through your smartphone. The app, which was developed by mathematicians and is free at entrain.org, recommends a schedule of light exposure based on your journey.
STRESS-FREE TRANSIT STOPS
For many travellers, transit stops are the worst part of the journey, generating anxiety over where to go and what to do.
Bettiann Gain, a travel consultant with MTA Travel, says with every airport presenting a different situation, knowledge is key.
"You need to know if you have an onward flight, do you clear immigration and take your bags through customs, are the bags checked through to your final destination and whether you will receive all your boarding passes at the first check-in," she says.
Gain says it is better to have all your flights on one ticket, so you don't have to collect your bags and go through the check-in process again.
She recommends researching your transit airport, including facilities and walking distances.
If you need assistance, ensure this is made clear at the time of booking, then double-check with check-in staff and cabin crew.
Gain advises inexperienced travellers to avoid tight connections.
"The 'minimum connecting time' is definitely a minimum time and can leave passengers very rushed and panicked if their [first] flight is delayed," she says.
Personal travel manager Lian Scott from the TravelManagers group recommends a prepaid, private car transfer rather than relying on shuttle services after a long flight.
Having someone to meet you, help with your luggage and get you to your hotel quickly can make a big difference when you are tired and disoriented and it's also safer.
"Most group transfers stop at three to six hotels and you may be adding an additional hour to your already long journey," says Scott.
"This can tip you over the edge when all you want to do is put your head on a bed."
Scott says while private transfers cost more than group transfers, they are an investment in starting your holiday well.
Alternatively, check if your hotel offers a transfer service.
Scott says the quality of public transport options varies widely between destinations, so it pays to get advice.
In some cities, a taxi is the way to go, while an airport a long way from the city centre might make a train the best bet.
Whatever you choose, know what you're doing before you get off the plane and have addresses, maps and information ready to hand.
FLIGHT ATTENDANTS' TIPS FOR A SMOOTH FLIGHT
DENISE ABELAS, QANTAS INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT ATTENDANT
My trick is to have a big meal before the flight so I can eat as lightly as possible ... That way I can avoid that bloated feeling after a long flight. Before and after my flight, I always try to get my hands on some fresh coconut water, which is the ultimate natural hydration. During the flight, I drink as much water and herbal tea as possible.
I always wear compression flight stockings ... during the flight. When I arrive at my hotel, I elevate my legs for 15 minutes and run a bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil.
SYLVIA WONG, SCOOT FLIGHT ATTENDANT
I take daily antioxidant pills to restore my body's health and wellbeing.
To keep my skin moisturised, I apply a face mask every night for 15 minutes before bed and use body oil and lip balm to stop my skin drying out on the plane.
I avoid eating junk food and make sure I get some exercise between flights.
MARGARET LAI, CATHAY PACIFIC FLIGHT ATTENDANT
To minimise sleep distractions, make sure you put your blinds down before you sleep. Eye masks and earplugs are also a big help.
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine is not just about staying hydrated - they can also disrupt your sleep.
I'm often asked for tips about getting make-up to last for a long time: I always use a primer and choose waterproof eye make-up.
TO BREAK OR NOT TO BREAK?
"Stopovers aren't for everyone," says The Travel Authority Group's Peter Hosper. "For those who are nervous travellers or travel with a lot of luggage, having to transition through a stopover airport can be more trouble than it's worth."
Hosper says stopover passengers can be divided into two groups: those wanting to break the journey and those who see it as an opportunity to visit somewhere new.
"For those looking to break up the trip to minimise jetlag, it makes sense to travel during the day and sleep at night in a proper bed," he says.
"Pick your flights so you leave home late morning or midday, arriving in your layover destination in the late afternoon or early evening."
If you're taking a stopover to explore the destination, the focus shifts to maximising your time on the ground.
"It makes sense to spend a couple of days and have a proper look around," Hosper says. For those planning a shopping spree, he recommends taking the stopover on the way home, to avoid taking extra luggage halfway around the world.
Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment below.