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Philip Duncan: 10 ways to make air travel more enjoyable

With all the gales in Wellington recently a conversation started on Twitter about turbulence when you fly in to the capital.  As someone who loves flying almost as much as he loves the weather, it’s no surprise that turbulence rarely gives me much concern.

“Just pot holes in the sky” I’ve been telling my friends for years.  “When you’re in the car and it’s bumpy what happens? The kids fall asleep.  Bumps can be relaxing, it’s all a state of mind”.  And I really do believe this mantra. 

On Friday the Dom Post had a story up about gales delaying flights and Twitter user Brent Robinson wrote a reply “I landed just over an hour ago. It was fun 😀 Lady next to me didn’t seem to appreciate my giggling”.

I replied: “Bumpy flights are the best, especially if you fly domestically a lot! #createyourownfun”

His reply: ‏@BrentfromNZ “Oh yes!! Being a weekly flyer, I need some excitement in the journey”.

A lot of us have a legitimate fear of turbulence – I certainly still do if we’re flying over the equator and hit some and it’s the middle of the night.   However when you stop and think about it, turbulence rarely makes the news headlines. 

If you’re worried about the bumps just look at the flight attendants.  90% of the time they don’t even appear to register what you may be fretting about.  As you think this is about to be a repeat of the opening scene to the movie Castaway, they think it’s just an annoying bump to briefly slow them down as they carry out their busy job.

On holiday recently, while struggling to truly switch off my brain, I worked out I’ve flown 240,000kms in my lifetime.  I thought that was an impressive number until I discovered it’s still only 2/3 of the way to the moon, not even a one way ticket.

I really do love flying – I always wanted to be a pilot but an annoying inner ear problem (Meniere’s Disease) means that my balance isn’t the best sometimes….and um, that’s kinda important if you’re flying a plane. 

The speed of take off, the views unseen by humans until last century, the closeness to space… it’s always a thrill to fly.

With all this talk of flying – here are my top 10 ways to make Air Travel more enjoyable…

1 – Pack Light
Unless you’re heading off to a third world country you can probably buy what you need if you suddenly need it from a cheap place like the Warehouse or Walmart. The lighter you travel the faster the experience will be for you – and many airlines charge for bags now. I spent five days flying across the US and had just a backpack.  Also had clean underwear and socks for every day.  I figured if the weather suddenly changed I would go to Walmart and spend $10 on a jacket.  Still cheaper than $25 for another bag on the plane.

2 – Breeze through Security, don’t sweat it
Going through Security can be intimidating and confusing to some people who don’t travel often.  However most frequent fliers will tell you it’s usually smooth sailing.  A couple of tips to speed things up:  Don’t act like you haven’t flown post 9/11.  You still can’t take bottles of water, pocket knives and bottles of alcohol through security – don’t realise this at the actual x-ray machine and then loudly act surprised about these “new rules”  Also – remove laptops before you get to the security area.  Every airport is different – some don’t care, but many do – so follow the rules at each airport (as they differ).   I was pulled aside in Atlanta for having 1 tissue (kleenex) in my pocket – I kid you not I was loudly told off.  You just smile and do as you’re told – vent about it another day. (which for me is hard!).

3 – Pick your seats wisely.  
Chose different seats for different occasions.  I do get some extra flexibility as a frequent flier but I still had this same policy when I was a student flying on standby!  

  • If you’re drinking alcohol – take an aisle seat. Easy access to the toilet and you don’t bug the people sitting next to you each time you get up.
  • If you want to sleep go for the middle seats (longhaul) or window-seat (where people are less likely to bump you). If you’re in an aisle seat you can expect to be bumped/slammed into about once every 60 seconds during peak aisle traffic.
  • Avoid the first row of seats.  It’s like sitting at the front of class.  Not only can teacher (in this case two or three flight attendants who sit directly opposite you looking back at you on some Airbus aircraft) see everything you do but you also can’t watch TV like a normal person as your TV must be stowed away for take-off and landing. On some international flights you can lose 45mins to an hour of viewing time over other passengers as you can’t use it when taxiing.  These seats often have no window too.

4 – Be friendly to flight attendants.
You’ll stand out from the many rude passengers.

5 – Don’t over think the bumps and sounds on a plane.
Cargo doors, wheels up and down, flaps up and down – they all can be quite noisy with thuds and bangs.  It’s all normal.  Some of the new planes creak and rattle a lot on take off too (due to the lightweight materials) again, all fairly normal.

6 – It’s safer to fly than drive
You’re statistically safer flying in a plane than you are driving to the airport to catch that plane.

7 – NZ has very high air safety standards 
Again, if you’re having doubts while in the air over New Zealand just remember our government has very high standards for our planes.  NZ has a very good safety record for flying and our pilots and engineers, especially with Air NZ, are world leaders in my view.

8 – Look out the window – humans couldn’t this 100 years ago.  
I don’t care how many hundreds of times I’ve flown love the view everytime and act like a first time flyer, taking photos out the window and watching the world zip by.  Don’t be afraid of flying – be in awe that human beings have only been able to travel like this for a little over 50 years – and before the 1900s no human ever.  I’m still amazed that I can eat a meal, drink bubbly and watch a movie from 40,000 feet above earth travelling at 1000km/h. For those who want it – they can pay to have a bed too, or take a shower.  Amazing!

9 – Take a book to read.  
Not every plane has entertainment on board.  You can get lost in a book for hours but rarely can you get lost in a movie for as long – especially when all cabin announcements freeze the screen.

10 – Make Turbulence Fun
If you hate it, try this trick – look at the backs of everyones heads with each pocket of turbulence (especially when flying in to Wellington on a windy day).  You’ll find all the heads bob and bounce at the exact same time.  Like it’s choreographed.  It may not make you laugh like it does to me sometimes – but it may just distract you from that death-grip you’re giving the armrest.

– Image / Taken from my window seat over Alberta, Canada during their Spring this year.

– Safe travelling this long weekend – and this summer – By head weather analyst Philip Duncan.



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