How to survive a short-haul flight

This was supposed to be a generic “flight tips” post but as I started to write it, it dawned on me that I’ve never done a flight longer than four hours, and that was in 2002 when I was still at school and my two memories of the flight are feeling dizzy looking out of the window as we took off from London and the effect half a box of Weetos had on me on the flight home (I tried to eat them so a friend didn’t have to pack them).

But I’ve done my share of short-haul and I definitely have opinions.

First & foremost, minimise your luggage. If you can put it in the hold, do. I would rather lose twenty minutes at the carousel than lugging it around the airport and onto a plane. If the airline announces that due to overcrowding they’d like volunteers to put luggage in the hold at the last minute for free, go for it. Take out valuable, fragile and important things like wallets, keys, travel documents and anything you might want on the plane and then get rid of that bag. As a bonus, you might even be allowed to board first as a reward. When I was flying home from Tromsø in February, I had four hours to kill in Oslo and an inconveniently heavy small bag. I asked how much it would cost to put it in the hold and was told as the plane was pretty full and the bag was small, I could have it for free – and I leapt at it. I had a teeny-tiny 6l daybag in there so I decanted anything I would want until I got home into that and handed that bag over.

Whatever bag you end up taking onto the plane, try to put it under the seat in front of you. Squishy things like backpacks work better than solid suitcases for this. People will like you for saving space in the overhead lockers and you won’t have to get up during the flight to get anything out of your bag. I like to take five minutes when I first board to put away my passport and boarding pass and get out iPod, headphones, book and sunglasses. If I’m really organised, I’ll get them out and put them in my teeny-teeny-tiny belt-sized backpack while I’m still in the departure lounge.

I like to appreciate the fun of the take-off – being pressed into the seat by the acceleration as we race along the runway, seeing the view getting smaller and further away and then, long before the seatbelt sign goes off, we’re settled into a tedious flight where you just sit and wait. Short-haul flights don’t often have in-flight entertainment so I take great advantage if it does. Icelandair is good for that – I can happily pass a flight watching a film, two episodes of something or other and ten or fifteen minutes of Shaun the Sheep before we touch down. If not, I have my iPod and I find something nice and noisy to distract me from the plane – as an emetophobe, flying can be somewhat stressful, so it’s very helpful to have Them Crooked Vultures or Twin Atlantic making a racket in my ears. I have vampire eyes so I always take my sunglasses. I look like an idiot wearing them on a plane but it means I can look out of the window when we get above the clouds without getting my retinas burnt out. I always take a book and usually a notebook but I rarely touch them.

The next bit to survive is the landing. Well, not the landing so much as the disembarking. If you’ve got your bag under your seat, you can pack and be ready to disembark as soon as you land instead of having to wait until there’s space to get up and into the overhead lockers. After two or three hours on a plane, I like to stand up in my seat just to stretch my legs but I know there’s no space to move and I don’t try to. I get out my passport ready for passport control and I stand there until there’s plenty of room to move out into the aisle. There’s no point trying to shove or worrying about being the first off. You’ll meet everyone at the passport control queue anyway and I find that the people who are most desperate to be the first off are also the slowest walkers on the entire plane so you can probably overtake them in the corridors.

Smile nicely at the passport people and then follow the signs to luggage reclaim or the exit. Now good luck with your onward journey and try not to get on the wrong bus into town.