Secrets to Flying More Effectively

Hopefully, we will all get to the place in our careers where flying to gigs becomes a regular thing. When it does, here’s how to do it well.

1) Pre-Check is extremely important. Aside from the benefit of not having a stranger’s hands all over your body or having to go through the radiation machines, it also saves you time. Instead of waiting in line for 30 minutes, why not breeze through security in three? The way to easily get pre-check on every airline is to join a program called GOES (Global Entry). It costs a one-time fee of $100 and requires a 15-minute interview at a participating airport. In addition to pre-check, you get to skip the line at customs coming back into the US and go straight to the machines – which once saved me four hours.

2) It is hard to sleep on planes for most people. To ease that, I bring a pillow with me. Yup – a regular pillow designed for a twin bed. The cushion it creates between my head and the wall (or my lap) makes it worlds easier to sleep through the awfulness of air travel. If I am stuck on a layover, I can usually sleep on a bench or the floor of an airport. And security lets you carry a pillow through in addition to your carry-on bag and your personal item.

3) A sleep mask is a valuable asset. And you can get a very comfortable one from Amazon for around $10.

4) Never check a bag if you can avoid it. Aside from the time (and money) carry-on saves you, checking bags also leads to lost bags (and damaged bags). Even if they lose your bag once every 100 times, that once is way too many. It typically takes ten flights of checking a bag for me to need to buy a new bag, but I have never damaged my own while carrying it on.

5) Stay loyal to an airline. When I started touring, I bought whichever flight was cheaper. But now I am exclusive with Delta (whenever possible). Had I done that from the beginning, I’d be a million-miler by now, with all sorts of fun benefits. When you get status on an airline, upgrades can be common, rebooking is easier, and frequent flier miles get multiplied. If you are going to be flying at least 25,000 miles over the course of the year (i.e. 5 cross country trips), stick to one airline. The extra miles you get will be worth the occasional difference in price – and if you fly as often as I do, you end up with fun things like being able to change your flight with no penalty, first class upgrades more often than not, access to the free food in the airport lounge, free companion tickets, etc, etc. I also have the Delta credit card to rack up more miles and make my status come even faster.

6) Wear slip-on shoes. Having to untie and tie sneakers in the security line is a huge pain. Come dressed to breeze through.

7) Dress in layers. Airports are typically freezing, no matter the weather outside. And planes can be unpredictable – even the same plane can have different temperature zones. As I write this, I am shivering on a flight to LA, but three rows down from me, someone is sweating.

8) Bring an empty plastic thermos, and fill it with water at the airport after you get through security. Flying dehydrates you and airport water is unreasonably expensive. Those 6 ounces at a time the flight attendants give us aren’t going to do the trick. And don’t bring a metal one – the x-rays don’t do well with those.

9) Go shopping ahead of time. Airport food is crazy expensive. If you can arrive with some fresh fruit or a sandwich (depending on your dietary restrictions), you’ll save $5-$10 every flight. It’s also difficult to find healthy options at an airport. But be mindful that security often doesn’t know their own rules regarding what is an acceptable liquid, etc. So avoid anything separate like hummus, sauce, etc.

10) If you have a carry-on to put in the overhead, board as soon as possible as overhead space disappears quickly. But if you do not have a carry-on, wait. Be the last one on the plane. You have to sit on that cramped plane for hours – why not reduce the time as much as possible?

Flying can be a miserable. If you plan ahead, you can make sure it’s only a little bit miserable.