10 Game-Changing Travel Hacks We Learned From a Flight Attendant

written by LAUREN BLUE
Source: Dupe Photos | Celena Riley
Source: Dupe Photos | Celena Riley

Memorial Day Weekend has come and gone, which means summer is officially here, bringing with it an influx of travel plans. You may think that once you’ve booked your flight and hotel, you’re in the clear—all you have to do is board the plane and get ready to relax, but that’s not necessarily true. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sometimes travel days take unexpected turns, and if you aren’t prepared, your vacay starts on a stressful note instead of the pure bliss you’re hoping for. So with peak travel season upon us, it’s time to brush up on all the best travel hacks.

Luckily for you, we asked a flight attendant with eight years of experience flying for American Airlines for her best travel hacks, so you can be prepared no matter what comes your way on your travel day. Read on for a flight attendant’s go-to travel hacks to ensure your trip is smooth sailing (or, in this case, flying).

1. Always buy your tickets directly from the airline

While there are many great third-party websites for tracking flight prices, like Google Flights or Kayak, it’s in your best interest to buy plane tickets from the airline, according to our flight attendant source. This way, if something happens and your flight is delayed or canceled, you can easily rebook or get refunded by the airline. It removes the looming possibility of losing money if plans unexpectedly change.

2. Download your airline app before your trip

If you’re still printing out your boarding pass in 2024, trust me: There’s a better way that doesn’t waste time and paper. With your airline app, you can easily access your boarding pass, track your flight for any delays, check your gate, and access in-flight entertainment. It’s essential to download the app and log in before you leave for the airport. That way, you aren’t scrambling last minute to download it and remember your password when you’re about to board.

3. Bring snacks and a water bottle onto the plane

You never know when a flight may experience ground delays, resulting in you being stuck on the tarmac and unable to leave the plane. These delays are never ideal, but having a snack and some water can make sitting there a little less painful. If you don’t want to pay sky-high prices for a tiny bag of chips or bottle of water, pack a snack bag and a refillable water bottle in your personal item. Just remember not to fill your water bottle until you get past security so you don’t add unnecessary time to your TSA screening.

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4. Pack a fully charged portable battery for electronics

You may think you’re in the clear if your plane has charging ports, but take it from a flight attendant: These plugs are often faulty and rarely fixed. Bring your own backup battery pack so you don’t have to suffer through your flight with a dead phone and no entertainment. Double-check that your portable charger is fully juiced up the night before your flight so you can actually use it if needed.

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5. Give yourself plenty of time between flights

Airlines may let you book short layovers between connecting flights, but according to a flight attendant, “Just because your airline will let you book a 40-minute connection doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.” Give yourself at least two hours on the ground at the absolute minimum. I know, I know—you want to get to your final destination as quickly as possible, but missing your connecting flight will only delay your arrival. So, take a longer layover, and if you have time to spare, grab a bite to eat at the airport to make the time go by faster.

Source: Dupe | Lotte Nielsen

6. Pack layers in your carry-on

The temperature on an airplane either feels like the Sahara Desert or Antarctica—there’s rarely anything in between. Plus, it doesn’t always correlate with the weather at your final destination. Just because you’re headed out on a tropical vacation doesn’t mean your strapless sundress will be comfortable on the flight, no matter how cute your OOTD is. Even for long-haul international flights, airlines only provide a light blanket, which may not be enough to keep you warm. Packing layers in your carry-on will make sure you’re not shivering or sweating your entire flight.

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7. Bring over-the-counter medicine onto the plane

Nausea and gas can turn a quick, easy flight into a torturous experience, where you’re suffering while trapped in a tiny seat or worse… the airplane bathroom. To ward off disaster, bring some over-the-counter medicine for both. Before a long flight, it’s also best to avoid big meals or heavy drinking (all you need is one hungover travel day and you’ll never make that mistake again). Instead, opt for light meals, stay hydrated, and bring plenty of snacks.

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8. Download entertainment before getting to the airport

There’s nothing worse than having nothing to do on a flight but stare at the seat in front of you or try to force yourself to sleep. It’s all too easy to forget to download something to watch or listen to ahead of time, leading to a last-minute attempt to download entertainment with the notoriously slow airport Wi-Fi to no avail. Avoid added frustration and in-flight boredom by queuing up some entertainment on your devices (or grabbing a book!) before leaving your house.

9. If you’re flying in for an important event, budget a buffer day

Never, and I repeat, NEVER book a flight that arrives the day of an important event. Flying in mere hours before your best friend’s wedding, for example, is a recipe for disaster. Flight attendants witness countless meltdowns of travelers who won’t make it to their event because they didn’t give themselves adequate time to get there. So, heed their advice and book your flight for the day before. As our source said, “It’s more expensive, but the peace of mind is priceless.”

10. Expect the unexpected

Not to be a pessimist, but airports have so many moving parts that it’s nearly impossible for a travel day to go over without a single bump in the road. Be ready for unexpected changes, whether that’s as simple as a gate change or a full-on flight cancellation. If you experience travel anxiety, watching the weather or tracking your flight on the FlightAware app can make you feel more informed and at ease. The FAA website also has a real-time rundown of all flight delays and can even predict future delays. Arming yourself with as much information as possible can make pivoting plans easier and less anxiety-inducing.