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Stop Expecting Your Flight to be Great…You Will Enjoy It A Lot More

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“Isn’t it amazing that we can fly?” That is what my dear husband says as we sit in a crowded miserable air terminal waiting for a delayed flight…or eating our knees on board a plane where the seat size has shrunken to baby-bear size. I don’t even think Goldilocks would think they are “just right.”

Yet every time we are preparing to fly, we think that things will be different—that the passengers will be patient and kind…and that the flight attendants will look like they are enjoying their jobs…or that the TSA line won’t be long…or parents traveling with children whose seats are scattered around the plane won’t be desperately trying to trade with someone during the boarding process.

The sad fact is that air travel often is stressful and not fun. It is what we have to do to get from here to fun and back again. (Yes, I know that much travel is for business, too.)

Early on, air travel was the arena for only the rich and famous. It was glamorous and indulgent. Now it’s a constant stream of YouTube and Instagram videos of brawling passengers, grumpy flight attendants and passengers doing stupid things, like the recent video of a passenger who simply could not figure out how to fit his suitcase into the overhead bin—apparently his parents had not given him a shape sorter when he was young—or the Twitter storm last week about the passenger with peanut allergies who was told, “We’re not a nut-free airline,” when she told the flight attendant about her allergy.

Since I travel frequently, there are all sorts of tips I can give about my secrets to make flying less stressful, but frankly, it’s all pretty obvious stuff and has been written about by pretty much everyone…

  • Bring your own food.
  • If you are a frequent traveler, stick with one airline as often as possible in the hopes that your loyalty can get you free checked luggage or an upgrade to a row with a few more inches of space.
  • Go carry-on wherever possible.
  • Never connect unless absolutely necessary. Connections increase the risk for problems.
  • Bring your own entertainment. I estimate that planes’ entertainment systems work only about half the time.
  • Wear noise-canceling or even basic headphones—it keeps you calmer, and you can be distracted by music, an audio book or even calming meditations.
  • Register for GOES so that you can qualify for TSA PreCheck and move far faster through security.

My big Sarah Hiner secret: When traveling with children, make sure that they are clean and dressed in cute clothes. Why? Because flight attendants want to befriend and help cute clean kids and their parents—but they avoid dirty, grimy kids with messy hair and runny noses. (By the way, I think the same holds true for adults. The better you look, the better you will be treated. I am fascinated to see people on airplanes who look like they’re wearing pajamas—and I don’t just mean on international overnight flights.)

All that said, the most important thing to avoid misery when traveling is to stop expecting it to be great. Simply expect it to be somewhat stressful and difficult. The lines will be long, and the crowds will be annoying. Then you will never be disappointed! That doesn’t mean that you should join the grumpy people or that you should be a jerk to argumentative passengers. It just means that you should enter the process fully aware of what the process may be like.

It’s all how we frame things…and then how our experience lives up to our expectations.

When I attended personal-development sessions at The Landmark Forum many years ago, I learned an important lesson about personal responsibility in the context of timeliness. I will truncate the lesson for the point I want to make. The team at The Landmark Forum didn’t allow any excuses for being late—your lateness was a function of poor planning and preparation. And the stress related to your lateness was also the result of poor planning and preparation. That meant that to ease the stresses caused by lateness, all you had to do was plan and prepare properly.

So to bring it back to travel, I simply prepare myself mentally for the experience and then plan things so that I can minimize my discomfort—food, entertainment, headphones, etc. That also means that when I travel with my dog, I make sure to check and follow all the rules for traveling with pets. And if I had serious allergies or special needs, like the peanut person on Twitter, I would be certain to check the airline policy before making my reservation.

By focusing on calmly getting through the process, I am able to avoid upsets and strain. I greet the flight attendants with a hearty hello and always thank them and the pilots when deplaning. I’m gracious to seatmates and patient with those struggling with baggage.

As with everything else in life, it’s your choice to create the situation and your choice how to react to it.

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