Smooth Sailing In The Sky

Round trip ticket to Melbourne, Australia: $2,000.

Gummy worms for a snack: $1.

CDs to pass the time on the flight: $40

Sitting beside two inebriated men while pondering how to hurl myself out of the emergency exit: priceless.

Fresh out of my first semester at university, I boarded United Flight 202 in San Francisco for the 16-hour flight to Sydney, Australia. After a few hours of sleep, I awoke to a profound discussion between the Englishman and the Canadian beside me about the finer points of Australian alcohol.

It looked much brighter outside, so optimistically, I checked my watch. Nine more painful, mind-numbing hours to go.

Flying may have been a grand wonder 80 years ago, but its glow has faded somewhere between cranky flight attendants, stale peanuts, endless flights, crummy bathrooms and pathetic in-flight movies. But whether we’re going home, vacationing or taking business trips, flying has become a necessity for many of us. However, flying with ease is still a skill that most have not mastered.

So leave behind your childish flying ways; there’s no need to live in the glory days when you repeatedly pushed the call button just to get on the flight attendant’s nerves. Open up your suitcase and pack it with these tips that will make your flights less turbulent in the future.

[PLAN FOR AIRPORT SECURITY]

Before you begin packing and think about what to wear and about flying in general, you must—and I can’t emphasize this enough—you must plan for airport security.

Let’s start with the basic wardrobe. Wear shoes that are easy to remove in case you have to put them through a scanner. If you’re worried about cold feet on the plane, take socks in your carry-on.

As a general rule, if there’s something you love dearly that could be questionable, don’t take the risk. Don’t carry pointed, metal objects with you, and yes, they will confiscate your toenail clippers. Once, I managed to get a crochet needle on board, but I was flying out of Northwest Arkansas (not exactly a terrorist hotspot).

Legal forms of identification are also crucial. For domestic flights, a driver’s license will suffice, but make sure you have a passport for your international flights.

[DON’T OVERLOAD THE CARRY-ON]

Once you’re sure that no security check will stand in the way of you and the plane, it’s time to decide what you want with you on the flight.

When you pack your carry-on, take only the items you are sure to use on the plane. On my flight to Australia, I crammed every conceivable thing that would fit in my Reebok duffel: a U.S. history textbook, CDs and a Discman, a Bible, two journals, food, a sweater, a camera, a mini pillow and makeup. I lugged the 40-pound bag on the flight and pulled every muscle in my lower back trying to shove it into the overhead bin. Besides the music and food, everything remained stored during the flight, and I was forced to walk with a limp for the rest of the Christmas holidays.

A heavy carry-on also severely restricts one’s mobility in airports. Instead of being able to inspect kiosks and Duty Free shops or read the latest Time magazine, you’ll be forced to sit in a stuffy, uncomfortable lounge talking to Granny May about the wallpaper in the nursery of her 15
th

great-granddaughter whom she’s going to visit in Saint Olaf, Minn.

[GRASP THE GOODNESS OF AISLE SEATS, SLEEP AND CDS]

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Now that your back is intact and your mind is at peace because you don’t have to worry about footing astronomical chiropractic fees for the rest of your life, the challenges of the actual flight await.

If you’re on a long flight, an aisle seat is a must. Sure, it’s lovely to be able to gaze out of the window, but after 30 minutes, every cloud will look the same. And you’ll be cursing yourself when you have to go to the bathroom at 3 a.m. and have to climb over two large, slumbering Norwegians.

You can get in and out of your seat when you want; you’ll have more room for your legs, and you can even walk up and down the aisles for exercise. And if your heart begins to pine for the ocean, you can always walk to one of the exit doors, which have windows.

Sleep is often a distant dream to many who find it next to impossible to drift away when there’s a screaming baby in front, or a snoring octogenarian behind, or a garrulous Frenchman across the aisle. The night before I flew from the Philippines to the U.S. (a 13-hour flight), I made myself stay up as late as possible, getting about two hours of sleep. The result? I was sound asleep before the plane took off and remained unconscious for the majority of the flight.

If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s always the medication route. Many resist prescription sleeping pills. However, Melatonin tablets, which can be bought at a natural health food store, are fabulous non-prescription sleep enhancers.

Take your own music. Entertainment systems on planes can never be trusted. Most have five categories of music programming: oldies, top 40, country, blues and classical. Each program on every channel of music will repeat at least 20 times during your flight from Boston to Los Angeles, and unless you’re particularly enthralled at the idea of hearing Mya’s “My Love is Like … Wo” more than once, take control of your happiness. A few CDs that will calm you down and put you in a good mood are a worthwhile investment.

Now you can happily lean your seat back, fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a smooth flight in the friendly skies.

[Devi Abraham is a junior history and journalism major at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Ark. She wants to visit Florence, Barcelona, Athens and Thailand before she dies.]

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