How to deal with in-flight stress

Let’s face it, air travel is stressful.  A lot of the time we just want to get to our destination and out of that cramped airline seat as fast as possible. 10-23-14-2 There are tarmac delays, crying babies, loud talkers, chatty neighbors, smelly food, tight carryon space, small seats, middle seats, slow WiFi, no WiFi, few outlets, dry air, germs, cold airplanes, hot airplanes, and who can forget the drama from this summer with the knee defender! First class can solve some of these problems but that’s not always an option for many flyers.  So here are my tips for coping with in-flight stress when flying coach.

Delays.  Delays happen, and sometimes they happen once you’ve already boarded due to things like weather, mechanical issues (that one was a doozy), and a number of other reasons. The first thing that stresses me out when there’s a delay is not knowing if I’ll make my connection.  As soon as a delay is announced I immediately start looking for a plan b on my phone.  I ask myself ‘what will I do if I miss my connecting flight?’  Then if I know I’m going to miss my connection I’ll have plan in place that I can quickly relay to a customer service agent.  If the delay is the fault of the airlines (such as mechanical and not weather) ask for a concession such as an upgrade to first class on the next flight or miles.

Another stressor with delays is not being able to eat.  After being delayed on a plane for certain period of time airlines are required to provide refreshment, but I prefer to have something that I know I’ll enjoy if I’m hungry.  I usually have a couple of KIND Bars to hold me over just for these situations. I’ll also eat the KIND Bars if the airplane food isn’t looking awesome.  Something is better than nothing! Be sure to also stay hydrated in the air.  I always have my Contigo refillable water bottle with me on flights so I don’t dry out.  But be sure you release pressure before popping open the straw with this bottle!

Noise.  There are all kinds of noises on a plane.  You could end up with a seat right by the plane engine, you could end up next to a loud talker, screaming baby, chatty neighbors, etc.  Don’t leave home without your noise canceling headphones. Seriously.  I preach this a lot because it works.  Use something like these Bose Noise Canceling headphones along with a white noise app (or a classical music app depending on your preference).  If you have a chatty neighbor and want to get away politely tell them you have a work assignment due, put the headphones on and hopefully they’ll get the picture.

Smelly food.  Nothing is worse than having your stomach turn because someone has stinky food.  When someone opens a can of tuna I want to open a can of whoop ass on them.  Just kidding.  If the seatbelt sign is off this is normally when I take the opportunity to stretch my legs, or go to the bathroom to literally freshen up.  If that’s not an option I pop a peppermint candy in my mouth to try and drain out the smell. On particularly bad occasions I’ve held my scarf up to my face as a sort of mask.  No perfect solutions but it usually gets me through the torture.

Small spaces for carryon.  When you board a plane people move fast and patience can wear thin.  I’m one of the people that move fast, but as a blogger that tries to help first time flyers I tend to be more patient than a lot of folks. However, just because I’m patient doesn’t mean others will be.  A lot of first time business flyers overpack and stress whether or not their bag will fit in the overhead bin, then they stress if their personal item will fit under the seat.  Here is some luggage that will fit within the carry-on size airline guidelines.  For your personal item consider either the Tumi Voyageur Cortina Boarding Tote or The O.G. from Lo & Sons (which is what I use).  Can you start to feel the stress subside?

Small seats.  We all know how small seats can be on an airplane.  When ordering your ticket you can choose your seat assignment for some airlines.  Try to choose an exit row or bulkhead seat (just remember in a bulkhead seat your personal item must go in the overhead compartment during takeoff and landing).  If you’re not lucky enough to get one of those seats obviously try to avoid middle seats.  If you end up with a middle seat both of those arm rests (in a perfect world) should be yours.  I’ve written several times for flyers to give up the armrests for the middle seat passengers, but not all passengers follow this etiquette advice.  The best way to handle it when you are not being given the armrests is to simply engage your neighbor.  Say to them something like “Hi, I’m sorry to bug you but would you mind if I have the armrest during the flight? This middle seat is cramping me up (or say you’re claustrophobic)”.  I would be shocked if they said no (they might say no, but again I would be shocked).

In addition to seat placement there are ways to be more comfortable during a flight regardless of where you sit.  You can use a neck pillow for resting, a pashmina if you’re cold (travel blanket is good if you’re flying internationally), slippers for long flight comfort, compression socks to prevent swelling (for longer flights), and an eye mask for sleeping. Of course if your flight is hot (don’t count on your overhead blower to save you) it’s nice if you’ve dressed comfortably.  I prefer slacks with a bit of stretch in them and pullover blouses, not button downs, as well as flats (always flats!). Ponte or jersey knit dresses are another great option.

Productivity. Trying to be productive during a flight can be a challenge.  Wifi can be slow, disconnect without notice, or not even be available.  Outlets aren’t always available.  I wrote recently about how to stay productive on a flight, but in short go in with a plan before your flight.  Many airlines will tell you ahead of time if there will be wifi on your flight, but to be honest I wouldn’t count on it. Just in case, have offline work ready to go on your computer before your trip.  Find out if software you’ll be using can be used offline.  To deal with slow Wifi avoid downloading as much as possible, and to avoid losing work save save save!

Many sites like SeatGuru will tell you what kind of outlets are on a plane. But just like Wifi, these outlets don’t always work. I ways bring a Jackery Mini Premium Phone Charger and an extra pre-charged battery for my laptop, just in case. Tip: Dim your screens to a reasonable brightness to save juice.

Entertainment.  Don’t forget to bring some sort of entertainment when you fly.  That alone can eliminate your stress.  I’ll bring my Kindle to read, will have movies preloaded on my phone or computer, use Netflix if there’s WiFi, knit if it’s an international flight, or listen to music.  And don’t forget your headphones! Plenty of flights offer some sort of in-flight entertainment, even for shorter flights.

Dry air.  The air in planes always dries me out.  I combat this with facial moisturizer, hand lotion, and sometimes will use a water spray if it’s a longer flight.  If it’s an international flight I have a slightly longer list.  You can find more on preparing for international travel here.

Germs.  It can be really stressful to think about all of the germs out there when you’re flying. The last thing a business traveler (or any traveler for that matter) needs is to get sick.  I’m not a doctor but I’ve found the best way to keep myself from getting sick is to wash my hands constantly, get a flu shot, use a Clorox Disinfecting Wipe to clean my tray table, and keep my immune system up I take some Emergen-C almost every day.

Medicine.  Again, I’m not a doctor, but having Ibuprofen and Pepto-Bismol in my carryon sure does give me peace of mind when I’m on a plane.

Rude passengers.  There are always going to be rude flyers in the skies, there’s no avoiding it.  I’ve never run into someone using the knee defender before (which you probably won’t either), but there’s going to be someone on a flight at some point that will stress you out in one way or another.  Someone might recline while you’re eating on your tray table, someone may make it difficult for you to get up from a window seat, someone will blare their movie without headphones, and so on.  The best way to deal with rude passengers is to take a deep breath and engage them politely.  It’s possible they may not be polite back (and when that happens either disengage and/or call a flight attendant), but in my experience nine times out of ten they’ll respond appropriately. Nothing beats a little polite communication to ease tensions.  When I’m engaging a rude person I usually start sentences off with stuff like “Hello”, or “I’m sorry, but…”, or “I hate to ask this, but…”, or “I don’t mean to bother you, but…”.  I know you shouldn’t be the one apologizing when someone else is being rude but I’ve found it to be the least stressful and combative way to engage.

So people, there you have it.  In-flight stress can be managed, you just have to do a little planning.  I’ve already written about dealing with stress before a flight. Next up will be the final piece to the stress series, how to cope with stress at your destination.

Readers, what tips do you have for dealing with in-flight stress?  Anything you would handle differently? 

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