The Art of Flying

Having spent some years travelling around the world and predominately using air travel, I am going to pass on some of my experience and wisdom regarding “The art of flying”.

This isn’t going to be an attempt to levitate or zoom out of the room but how to use air travel without getting too stressed or frustrated, feeling refreshed and having enjoyed your travelling experience; without sounding like a tour operator!

My experience is based on flying 100+ (lost count basically) flights with British Airways, Virgin, Japanese Airlines, Air Canada, Quantas, South West Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and American Eagle – essentially quality airlines which are mostly reliable and professional.

I will focus on three key areas, before the flight, during the flight and after the flight. I will basically be referring to air travel in excess of 5 hours, but I follow these guidelines regardless of flight time.

I will not be going into detail with respect to destination research and doing your home work. It goes without saying it is highly recommended that you have a good idea of where you are going, the culture, dress code (in some countries albeit less well off or for religious reasons), basic laws and regulations visiting the country. There are many resources available which I use before going to a new country and these are just some:-

United Kingdom Foreign Office

CIA Factbook

United States Department of State

Rest your wings

Before your flight it is important to rest your wings. It is very tempting even for early morning flights to stay up all night especially if you coming back from holiday. My advice is, just don’t do it! Your recovery time is seriously impeded the less sleep you have and you will simply feel awful for between 1 to 3 days. In some case if one has been excessive it can take weeks when you take into account jet lag and post-trip colds/flu.

Keep your packing simple both for your main and hand luggage. I see so many people travelling with so much stuff it is unreal and I know they aren’t going to use half of it. My rule of thumb, is only take what you really need. Have no back up or doubling up as you simply won’t use it in my experience.

There are a few exceptions, 1) if you are travelling with a baby or young child it is always best to have a backup of clothes, nappies, wipes, water etc, 2) electrical adaptors if you are taking electrical equipment e.g. laptops, chargers and 3) essential drugs of the legal kind both in the country you are staying and the one you will be returning to.


Be friendly and courteous to the ground staff and security as it is a good idea to start on a happy note. It is in your interest in so many ways and what people don’t realise is the check-in staff usually become the flight crew. When checking-in make sure you have all you documents available before you reach the check-in desk. Fumbling for bits and pieces will test the patience of any weary check-in staff and reduces your chances of upgrades to a zero.

Casually asking, “How busy is the flight today?” – is an indirect way of asking if there are any chances of an upgrade? This is slightly sneaky (all ground staff are aware of all the tricks by the way), but it is surprising how many times this works.

You chances of an upgrade are increased if you look and speak the part – be confident but not cocky. To be fair you need to be either in a situation, broken leg or toe or a gold member at the top of the list for upgrades. By the way I am not recommending or condoning breaking your or other people’s limbs to get an upgrade, but it does actually work. Babies and toddlers ( 3-18 months) are good as well but I suggest you take your own!

Other reasons why you might get an upgrade, you are full fare (flexible ticket) customer, silver(emerald) or gold (diamond) frequent flier member, the flight is over booked, flight configuration has changed (they have moved the business seats) and you happened to be in the right place at the right time.

One word of caution, don’t look too disappointed when you don’t get an upgrade. It is great when it happens, but don’t always expect it as you can get a black mark put against your travel profile. The greatest times are when it happens when you least expect it.

Off we go

Once the engines have started roaring there is no turning back. Except if you hear a worrying banging noise under your seat you might stir up enough interest to turn back. Which happened to me once on a flight to Greece, I heard this hydraulic banging noise which was louder than normal. I informed the stewardess and within 60 seconds the plane had turned back to the terminal. 3 Hours later I was back on the plane after they had fixed a major flaps hydraulic fluid issue. To put it in perspective we wouldn’t have been able to land reliably if the problem hadn’t been fixed.

By the way things do go bang and clang (hydraulics and flap trimming – apparently) on planes and in most cases is completely normal but if you are worried you should inform one of the crew.

Once the plane is taxing, please refrain from screaming, it tends to put the other passengers on edge! I had one flight where a woman sat down next to me seemed very nervous at the time and even before the doors had been closed decided to go to the toilet and scream.

At first I thought nothing of it as you often find people screaming in the toilet prior to the flight. When she sat back down, the engines started and so did she and for the next ten minutes until sedated and at 30,000 ft. Fortunately, this has only happened to me twice and unfortunately once you get a screamer on board it’s the same in reverse on the way down. I suppose my tip really is not to sit next to a screamer!

Now the long bit, especially if you are doing 6+ hour trips it best to have a charged iPod, book and I really do recommend some comfortable noise cancelling headphones/sets. I use them for both listening to music/videos, but also to get some sleep.

It is amazing how quickly time will fly when you run down your laptop, watch a couple of movies, have dinner, go to the toilet 4-5 times, speak to the crew, eat more nibbles, sleep, read a book and generally stare out of the window.

Whatever you do on the flight, the most important thing is to drink water, lots of water. The air in plane has a very low humidity to almost the same levels as a desert. So it is important to drink water and will also make you feel a lot more refreshed when you do have gulp your first breath of fresh air.

Alcohol, I will leave you to decide, but as you probably know it dehydrates you as well – so drink more water if you are drinking alcohol as well. If you are not used the volume of liquid then it is best to either do some bladder training before hand or sit in an aisle seat, which is my personal preference.


Ah the landing my favourite part for so many reasons, getting out of tin can and being able to breathe again or simply something to wake me up and say that I have arrived.

If you are still conscious prior to landing, try not to be concerned about the wings wobbling or landing in what would be appear be sideways or what sounds like the engines are about to explode. Let’s look at the wobbling wings situation – if they didn’t wobble the plane would simply full apart and just assume that it goes back to the Wright Brothers ironing out some minor issues with flying. When you sit next to the wing one will notice it will go up and down rather dramatically during parts of the flight- the wonders of flexible composite and aluminium materials.

Landing sideways and cross winds are great fun once you know at the last minute on most occasions, the plane quickly corrects itself before touchdown. Look at YouTube and landings in Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport and you see what I mean – this is routine so don’t worry! Did you know that most landing and take-offs are done by a computer with fly-by-wire technology and so we are in safe hands – well 3 computers can’t be wrong can they? Usually, the bumpy/rough ones are done more traditionally and manuallyJ.

Finally, what sounds like exploding engines is actually the plane switching to reverse thrust to actually stop the plane. Over the years due to fuel usage concerns using reverse thrust, many operators now use the wheel breaks instead unless you are landing on a particularly short runway.


So, I have briefly given you an insight into some of my tips or re-assurances to flying and hope I haven’t put you off.

Douglas Adams was so right, and my ultimate conclusion to flying is, DON’T PANIC whatever happens there is usually a way out of the predicament. Obviously, there are exceptions, snakes on a plane, crash landings and been squeezed in between two rather large gentlemen on a ten hour flight. And remember flying is the safest form of transport in the world – in fact statistically you are in greater danger by staying at home having a nice cup of tea.

And finally, for the green among you – when buying a ticket try and buy the carbon offset donation as even the most modern of planes belch out more carbon dioxide (CO2) than you and probably your family do annually.


2 thoughts on “The Art of Flying

  1. This is good advice! From my years flying I’d add one or two more tid-bits of advice:

    1. Listen to and watch the safety briefing. Aircraft (and airlines) vary and it’s too late to start reading the safety card when the engines are on fire and everyone is panicing!

    2. Count the number of seat rows between your seat and the nearest exit – both in front and behind. If the cabin fills with smoke you won’t be able to see much.

    3. Don’t worry if you see people with gold braid on their hats walking through the cabin. All aircraft carry spare pilots 😉

    4. Ben is absolutely right about being polite and pleasant to the check-in staff, but you should also be polite and plesant to the security staff. And remember, they have no sense of humour, especially concerning security issues!

    Thanks Ben, this is all good stuff……!

  2. Extremely sane advice, Ben.

    As a former hypnotherapist, I have worked with many people who experience a fear of flying. However it may not have anything to do with flying – the fear might be claustrophobia, heights or other control issues. Distracting a screamer might be a good plan though make sure your tone of voice uses the major key and sounds very certain.

    One former client who worked as a flight attendant on United said that she felt utterly safe on board even though statistically she would be far more vulnerable than the rest of us to air accidents. She said that every single nut and bolt was accounted for and each mechanic had a direct responsibility that was traceable. This encouraged individual accountability. It reassured her and should reassure us.

    Really enjoyed your thought-provoking blog, Ben. Thanks for the hard acquired wisdom. Much appreciated.

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