By Alyssa Weston
Flying on an airplane can be a stressful experience; however, traveling solo is an opportunity to enjoy some downtime and prepare for the trip ahead or the journey home.
If you told me last year I would be giving advice on flying alone, I would’ve laughed. After all, I’m still afraid to ride in an Uber alone. But, after taking roughly 10 solo flights between 2017-2018, I can honestly say it’s my favorite way to travel.
By flying solo, travelers can make their airport experience more seamless than if they were traveling with friends or family. In my opinion, it’s much easier to be responsible for you and you only.
Although I’m still fairly new to solo traveling, my cousin’s fiance, Bobby Burns, is a flight attendant for PSA airlines and he let me pick his brain to provide the best flying tips possible.
Here are a few tips for preparing before your solo flight:
1. Pack like a ninja
Don’t weigh yourself down with unnecessary items while packing and run the risk of having to check a bag last minute or paying extra for luggage. If possible, pack carry-on only or just a personal item such as a backpack or large purse to take with you on the flight.
Airline websites will have information on the specific luggage measurements for carry-on, checked luggage and personal item sizes. Review this information before your trip to ensure a stress free check-in process.
2. Download the airline’s app and boarding pass before arriving at the airport
Don’t wait until you get to the airport to check into your flight. By checking in within 24 hours before your flight, you can go straight to security.
Traditionally, travelers have printed their boarding passes. Although I suggest this as a back up, it is easy to lose papers while traveling. Instead, download the airline app on your phone and the boarding pass.
You can also add your boarding pass to your iPhone Wallet, email or text the boarding pass to yourself or screenshot the boarding pass.
I usually use the airline’s app and my iPhone Wallet. But airport WiFi is not always reliable, so it’s smart to have your boarding pass in more than one place to ensure you can get through airport security as quickly as possible.
3. Look at a map of the airport ahead of time
This may seem silly, but I’ve reduced travel jitters tremendously by looking up the airport map before my flight, especially if it’s a connecting flight.
By doing this, you can see how far your gate is from security, restaurants and shops in the airport, how big the airport is, if there are trams between terminals and much more.
Sure, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport isn’t too stressful, but have you flown out of the John F. Kennedy International Airport? Or the Chicago O’Hare International Airport? It’s a completely different experience.
4. Inform friends or family
Let someone know your flight number and expected arrival time in case of an emergency.
“Do a little research before you buy your tickets. Where are you going and coming from, how much money you want to spend and what are you looking for,” he said.
He said all airlines are different and a flight attendant’s goal is to get the passengers “from Point A to Point B as safety and quickly as possible.”
“If you’re flying alone plan your ‘day of travel’ schedule,” he said. “Don’t wake up at 4:30 a.m. to make a 6 a.m. departure. Give yourself time and expect delays.”
Now that you’re ready for your journey, you will have to spend time in the airport before and after your flight (hopefully not too much time, though).
Many people associate airports with stress and confusion, but with planning and an optimistic attitude you can use your time at the airport to enhance your travel experience.
Here are some suggestions for navigating the airport alone:
1. Be ready for TSA security check
Before you fly, especially alone, read up on what isn’t allowed to go through security so you can get to your gate as quickly as possible.
Travelers should be prepared to take off their shoes, belts and sometimes jackets and wear minimal metals, as well as place larger electronics and laptops visible and in a separate container while passing their things through the security scanners.
In addition, only liquids of 3.4 ounces or less per container can go through security in a quart-size plastic bag. So, leave your full-size sunscreen and bottles of water at home or packed in your checked luggage.
Have no fear, if you forget these things there will be plenty of TSA agents reminding you what to do as you go through the security line. But if you’re prepared ahead of time, you can relax a bit as you go through the tedious process.
2. Ask for help
Airport employees, TSA agents and airline workers aim to make your traveling experience go as smoothly as possibly and are there to help.
If you can’t find your gate, need directions to baggage claim or any other airport questions, do not suffer in silence. Grab the nearest airport worker and if they can’t help, they will know who can.
3. Try something new
I’ve made a habit of trying a new coffee drink everytime I’m at the airport alone. Even though I drink coffee daily, it’s fun for me to experiment with coffee shops that may not be near my hometown or try flavors I’m not use to.
Maybe go to the airport bar and try a beer from a local brewery.
Sometimes trying new things makes the airport experience fun and less of a drag.
4. Create a tradition or ritual
Making an airport tradition can make the whole process more familiar and relaxing.
For example, everytime I’m in Cleveland I grab a bagel from Bruegger’s Bagels, and when I visit San Francisco I always stop for Sushi at Sankaku.
These minitraditions always have me excited for the flight ahead and although this isn’t necessary, having a routine can settle your mind.
“I cannot stress planning enough. The airline industry runs a very tight schedule and each step is counted down to the minute,” he said.
According to Bobby, although a 45-minute connection may seem like an efficient way to get to your destination quickly, it’s better to give travel time some wiggle room.
“Give yourself time. Delays happen and Mother Nature has her own agenda,” he said.
Now that you’ve mastered planning for your flight and can get through an airport flawlessly, being prepared for your flight itself is essential for getting to your travel destination with no hiccups.
Although every flight is unique, here is some general advice that could apply to any flight.
1. Have something to do
Don’t rely on sleeping or chatting with your seat buddy the entire flight. Bring more than one thing to do even for a short flight.
Whether you work on your laptop, play a handheld game, read a good book or watch movie downloads, your flight will go by so much faster if you keep busy.
Unless your flight has televisions, I suggest having the Netflix application on your phone and downloading a few movies or television episodes shows before the flight. This way, you can watch your favorites while in airplane mode.
If you plan on sleeping, I suggest bringing a neck pillow and eye mask. It may seem over the top and glamorous, but I’ve found I sleep more comfortably when I can block the light and I don’t feel watched by other passengers.
2. Wear comfortable clothes
I know it may seem like a good idea to wear your best outfit to the airport for an Instagram-worthy photo op, but don’t wear your Sunday best for your flight unless you absolutely have to.
Dress in layers. If the airplane’s air conditioning is on full blast, have a jacket or pullover easily accessible to keep warm. On the other hand, don’t dress in a wool sweater just in case your aircraft is warm.
My go-to airport look is all jewelry off, hair in braids, leggings, a workout shirt, a cardigan and sneakers.
3. Have devices prepared
Don’t board your flight with one percent battery on your phone. Charge up ahead of time, find an outlet in the airport or bring a battery pack charger on your flight.
Don’t rely on the aircraft to have outlets, even if the airline advertises they do.
Have your electronic device loaded up with games, movies, music and more before your flight.
4. Be especially kind to the staff
One thing I’ve learned from Bobby is that just a simple hello, smile or thank you can completely make your cabin crew’s day.
Their job is to make your flight as safe and effortless as possible, so show some them some much deserved appreciation.
If you show your flight attendants some love, they may return the favor with a few perks (but only maybe!)
“I personally make sure I greet each and every passenger, each and every flight, every time they enter and leave my aircraft. So [when passengers give a] simple hello and goodbye it really goes a long way with your cabin crew,” he said.
If you are uncertain of where to find your seat, Bobby said to ask the cabin crew and they are happy to point you in the right direction.
“After you’ve had a seat just relax and go from there. We have an announcement for every step of the flight. So just follow relax and go with the flow,” he said. “In no time at all we’ll be landing and you’ll be on your way to see friends, family and your loved ones.”
Bobby also reiterated the fact that by showing your cabin crew some TLC, there may be something in it for you too.
In addition to smiles and thank yous, Bobby said bringing snacks for the cabin crew is always a special treat.
If you really want to wow the cabin crew, Bobby suggested bringing “goodie bags” with things like protein bars, homemade cookies and other small snacks.
“Little thank yous here and there go a long way with your cabin crew and more often than not we’ll try to repay the favor,” he said.
Bobby said on a recent flight he and my cousin took each crew homemade chocolate chip cookies and they were excited.
“As a result we never saw the bottom of our glasses, the first class purser snuck us a few first class deserts and entrées and a nice bottle of Italian wine,” he said.
“Many of us [flight attendants] really enjoy the customer service side of the job and we love showering our guests with little things here and there.”
Flying alone doesn’t have to be scary or stressful. Use the short time away from friends and family to relax and prepare for the journey ahead.