In the first three months of this year, I've been in 10 unique cities, 4 countries and on more than 20 different airplanes. I travel mostly for work, generally long haul flights or day trips where I spend more time in the air than on the ground. The woman working the early morning shift at Camden Food Co. in JFK knows exactly how I like my Health'wich Panini.
While my mother can't keep track of my whereabouts and my friends think I'm crazy to consider a six hour plane ride a reasonable commute, I generally enjoy air travel because I've mastered a few key products and practices for Ryan Bingham level efficiency:
1. Stick to a Single Airline, or Alliance
Choosing flights based purely on price is tempting, but unless the price differential is massive, always pony up for a single airline of choice. Select a carrier based on availability from your home airport, carrier partners and loyalty perks. I'm a Delta person because I've always lived near their hubs, and my status gives me priority boarding and a premium economy seat for no extra charge. My boyfriend loves United for their Premium Service flights and selection of miles awards tickets. Pick your poison.
2. Download the App
No one under the age of 35 should use a paper ticket. Download your airline's app and you'll feel much less anxious about check-in, gate changes, delays, seat selection and upgrade status. More time for a drink at the bar where you can monitor everything from your smartphone.
3. Choose a Uniform
One less thing to stress about and you know you'll be comfortable and put together. For flights over 3 hours, I'm in leggings and a Kit & Ace long sleeve tee with a scarf. For shorter, a sweater and jeans. Both with clean, slip on shoes. Layers if I'm landing somewhere warm, and I always bring a pair of wool socks for the plane, which is usually freezing after takeoff.
4. TSA Pre-Check
Enrollment is worth every dollar and scheduling inconvenience - my bare feet never touch an airport floor, nothing is removed from my bags and while lines are regrettably much longer now than when the program first started, they always move faster than general security. Best $85 you can spend at an airport. Combine with Global Entry if you plan to fly internationally, and bypass the wait at passport control and customs.
5. Bose QuietComfort headphones, Nidra sleep mask, 3M Classic Earplugs
The comfort trifecta. After much testing, this combo blocks the most sound and light. (The Bose headphones are a bit pricey but make a great gift ask. Plantronics is my runner up.) Wear the earplugs under the headphones, and throw the mask on for redeyes -it's molded to completely seal out external light but still allow you to open and blink your eyes as in a pitch-black room. I actually manage to get a good sleep on a 5 ½ hour overnight from California to New York, unlike every other person on board.
6. TravelPro Crew 10
I'll never forget the morning my Dad gave me my first TravelPro, the Crew 5, and told me it's what all the pilots and flight attendants carried. I felt like a rather worldly teen. That 22" carry-on lasted me over a decade, and I almost cried when retiring it last fall. (I'd anthropomorphized my bag a bit as a travel companion; we'd been through a lot!) The Crew 10 is just as rugged, smooth wheeled and sleek. If you're worried about fitting in the overhead bin, particularly on overseas flights, stick with the 20" or 21". I'm a daredevil and take my chances with the extra inch.
7. Baggage Claim is Lame
You should never need to check a bag unless you're traveling for more than 2 weeks or doing an abnormal amount of shopping; a checked bag usually means you've over packed, and will probably be punished with a 2 day bag delay when you're halfway across the world biking through Southeast Asia (me, February 2014, the last time I checked a bag.)
8. Keep Travel Versions Packed
If there are certain things you always travel with, keep a dedicated set packed in your bag. For me, it's a flatiron, a bag of 3 oz. liquids (including mini Lysol for plane tray tables and hotel TV remotes) and a travel steamer.
9. Collect Amenities
Even domestic premium economic seats come with simple amenity kits now, as do all seats on international aircraft. Many hotels now have name brand toiletries. I personally collect the toothbrush sets and lotions, keeping a few in the front pocket of my TravelPro. You can never have too many travel size anything, and I never run out.
10. Consider American Express Platinum
While the $450 annual fee is hefty, the travel benefits are unreal: Centurion and Delta Sky Club access, Priority Pass membership, Boingo Wifi Hotspots, travel concierge, even a $200 airline credit (which you will inevitably need for a ticket change at some point). If you spend a lot of time in airports, do so like a boss.