Still, we have no option but to make the best of a bad situation, and there are a few tips and tricks you can employ to foster a better flying experience the next time you intend to head into the skies. We sought advice from travel expert Gilbert Ott, founder of the fare-hacking site God Save the Points, as well as seasoned cabin crew members. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Don’t be an early bird
Amid queueing chaos, UK airports this summer actually had to reverse the usual rhetoric and ask passengers not to show up too early for check-in. This is sage advice too at the best of times, and was echoed when we asked Lauren Alcorn, a flight service manager at Virgin Atlantic. “Get a good night’s sleep at home instead,” she says. You will achieve nothing but prolonged boredom by arriving any more than two to three hours ahead of an international flight, and matters will be even worse if there are delays.
Ott, who typically flies more than 200,000 miles a year, keeps abreast of this using Flightradar24 to track his inbound aircraft. Its information is generally much more up-to-date than that provided by airlines (flightradar24.com). The same goes for getting to the gate early and rushing to board the aircraft first, unless it is absolutely necessary that you have your hand luggage directly above you in the overhead lockers. “Unless this is a must, I try to be the last person on board,” Ott says. “There’s no reason to fold like an accordion a second sooner than you need to.”
2. Be clever about flight times
Fly when business people don’t; so midweek and on Sundays, to find the airports at their quietest (and flights cheapest). “If you’re keen to minimise the risk of delays and even cancellations, avoid evening flights,” Ott says. “These are the ones most likely to be scrapped, leaving you stranded overnight, should there be a backlog. The first daily take-offs, on the other hand, generally at about 6am, are safest, since your plane is likely to have been parked at the airport the night before, ready to go.” If you’re pushing for the quietest time of day to travel, opt for midday, when airports are at their least busy, recommends Alcorn.
3. Get the must-have app
You can always spot a frequent flyer at security; they’ll be dressed for speed — no belts, coins in pockets or lace-up boots — with their liquids in a smart see-through case and an empty re-usable water bottle for later. Invariably they’ll have the ExpertFlyer app on their phone, which has free alerts that display up-to-the-minute seat allocations on any flight.
“Many times, I’ve ended up with an entire row to myself using this,” Ott says. It might not cost extra either; spot a seat with extra legroom that isn’t occupied and you can always ask at the gate staff, or cabin crew once on board, if you can move.
There’s no need to arrive at the airport three hours early
4. Seek out the best seats
Absolutely nothing is more fundamental to a pleasant flight than your seat. It’s easy to forget this at the booking stage, when you scoff at the option to pay extra for a chosen seat, but it can be worth the additional outlay. “The best seats in economy will be those with the additional fee; bulkhead and exit seats towards the front,” Ott remarks. If you bag one of these, always go for the window option: the extra legroom will enable you to creep past your neighbours when you need to get up without bothering them, removing the only typical downside to the window seat.
Travelling with someone? Book the window and the aisle. The miserable middle seat will either be empty leaving a row to yourselves, or whoever ends up there can swap.
Avoid the back of the plane if you’re nervous or prone to travel sickness, advises Alcorn. “It can get a little bumpy at the back should we encounter turbulence,” she says, “and you’ll usually be last to disembark.”
● The best cabin bags for your short-haul holiday
● New flight routes from the UK for 2023
5. Aim for the best aircraft
Plane geeks will tell you that the aircraft model you opt for when booking will make a real difference to your flight. “The Airbus A380 remains one of the most spacious in terms of seating dimensions,” Ott explains. “But assuming you’ve got a great seat, the newer generation Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 both have better cabin pressure, the humidity is more natural and the noise suppression is miraculous. All this leaves me feeling genuinely less jet-lagged.”
6. Try this trick for an upgrade
Obviously, the best way to get a great flight is to book into business class. And despite every airline we spoke to insisting that free upgrades these days are about as common as unicorns, Ott says they are not unheard of. “Premium economy is a sweet spot for upgrade opportunities,” he says. “It’s often good value, but as the smallest cabin it’s also the most likely to get oversold. When it does, getting bumped further up is always possible and you’ve got yourself that unicorn.”
Do you have any tips for flying? Let us know in the comments below