Most of the questions I’ve been getting from readers lately concern how to get refunded for a canceled flight. As you may know by now, some of the U.S. airlines had been until recently playing games with passengers (ahem, United and JetBlue). The Department of Transportation (DOT) received so many complaints that it had to come out with an enforcement notice. If your canceled flight was operated by a U.S. carrier, the DOT notice applies to you.
In fact, if your flight was supposed to fly to, from, or within the U.S., it doesn’t matter where the operating airline is based: If it canceled your flight, it needs to give you a full refund, according to the DOT.
But what about flights within Europe? Reader Simon L. asked this question on our “A Trick to Get Your Money Back From Airlines That Canceled Your Flight” post:
“What is the situation with dealing with European airlines? We had one-way tickets from Dubrovnik to London Gatwick with EasyJet for early April. The flight has been canceled. I have requested a full refund from EasyJet citing European regulation 261 but on their website, they are saying they are giving credits only. The tickets were purchased more than 60 days ago so disputing the charge with my CC probably won’t work and, at this point, a voucher is not going to do much good if we don’t get back to Europe this year. Any suggestions?”
Can you get refunded for a canceled European flight? I have to say that I wasn’t 100-percent sure of the answer, so I went searching. I found that the latest on this question—how to get refunded for a canceled European flight—is encouraging.
As written in a recent Reuters story: “Airlines must reimburse customers for flights cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Union transport chief said on Wednesday, rejecting calls by carriers to relax EU rules and allow an EU-wide waiver of refund obligations.”
It seems that the airlines are concerned that issuing so many refunds will drain them of money. For now, that isn’t enough to get them out of their obligation to refund (not issue credits to) passengers on flights that have been canceled due to the COVID-19 situation.
Have you tried to get refunded for a canceled European flight? Did the airline give you a hard time? Here’s JohnnyJet.com’s previous advice on pressing for a refund:
2.If the representative still won’t budge, you can hang up and call your credit card company as long as you purchased your flight in the last 60 days. As Joe Brancatelli, a veteran business-travel expert, recently tweeted: “Credit cards WILL process refunds. Airline rules and DOT boilerplate are irrelevant now.”
The 2020 coronavirus, or COVID-19 pandemic, has been a moving target when it comes to travel.
Nobody knows how long it will continue, whether and which areas it might hit next, when and where it will plateau and start to ease off, or when the travel world might return to something like normal. The time frame for cases to begin diminishing is unknown. And even once a decrease occurs, it’s worth considering that the virus could return.
The first place travelers should look to for advice on the virus as it relates to travel plans is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) via this page on destinations with COVID-19 alerts or warnings in place. It’s a good idea to bookmark it for updates, as the situation changes frequently.
Governments and travel suppliers have reacted by imposing rolling responses, with new cancellations and rule changes often. And with the U.S. State Department assigning a Global Level 4 Health Advisory (do not travel), existing travel plans for the next several weeks (or possibly months) poses a major quandary for many consumers.
Travelers face three main areas of risk to think about:
Many countries have halted at least some flights, or closed their borders entirely. There are no indications about when normal activities will resume. The U.S. State Department currently assigns a Global Level Four Health Advisory (do not travel) for all international travel. The State Department also said Americans “should not travel by cruise ship.”
If an airline cancels your flight(s), no matter what the airline proposes you can get a full refund on any ticket (see our guide to air passenger rights here). But if you have a ticket for a future flight that is not canceled or you haven’t yet bought a ticket, most major domestic and international airlines are offering some combination of postponement and refund options. Again, see our sister site Airfarewatchdog’s breakdown of airlines’ waiver options during the pandemic for more.
Generally, the options for canceling airfare will include:
Deadlines for making such changes are rolling; they’ll change from week to week and month to month depending on how the pandemic progresses. See our sister site Cruise Critic’s guide to cancellations for more.
Major hotel chains Hilton, Marriott, Hyatt, Choice, and Wyndham are refunding travelers and waiving change fees. Travelers who booked through third-party online travel agencies (OTAs) will likely need to go through those agencies’ websites or help lines for refunds. Travelers who booked through independent hotel-type properties will need to go to those properties for refunds. See our guide to which hotels (and airlines) are changing their points and loyalty membership terms to accommodate the pandemic.
If you haven’t yet made any payments and set up any firm arrangements for a spring or summer trip, one obvious choice is to refrain. Given the elevated chance of complications for older COVID-19 victims, if you’re 65 or over and/or have an existing medical condition, according to the CDC it’s smart to wait out new COVID-19 developments at home.
If you need to travel, even domestically, despite the pandemic, you can protect yourself physically by taking CDC advice about hand washing, wearing a mask, employing general hygiene like washing your hands often, and avoiding crowds. You can protect yourself financially by:
If you can’t use or don’t like the refund/reschedule options your suppliers offer, your rights to legal recourse are limited:
In general, any refund you’re due should typically come from the agency where you made your arrangements. Getting refunds from some suppliers may be tough—especially those in foreign countries that don’t have a presence in the U.S. or Canada. Don’t be surprised if you lose some money when you cancel; that loss might be better than the risk of traveling.
Travel is full of major decisions — like which country to visit, how much to spend, and when to stop waiting and finally make that all-important airfare purchase. But beyond the big picture, it’s the little things that can make a trip easier and less stressful. Following are 10 simple but clever tips to smooth the way on your next vacation.
In the rush to catch the parking lot bus, it’s easy to leave an interior light on; I’d guess that more travelers I know have had dead batteries at an airport than in any other situation.
If you return to your car to find a dead battery, broken windows due to thievery or any other potential problem, you’ll want your car to be parked nose out for easier access to the battery, or for an easier hook-up to a tow truck.
As airports expand, they need more parking spaces; those spaces are ever more frequently found in parking lots that are off-airport in every respect but name.
You’ll also find that these lots are often significantly lower-priced than other lots. As a result, they’re the best place for economy-minded travelers, especially for longer trips where you’re racking up several days’ worth of parking fees. Also, these are the last lots to fill up; if you’re flying during peak travel periods, you may have no choice but to use these distant lots.
I’ve found that buses and monorails run regularly to these lots, but I invariably need up to 20 to 30 minutes more than I might in less remote parking lots. If you’re looking to save money, or are traveling over a major holiday weekend, leave extra time to get from the lot to the terminal.
Recent stats indicate that, on average, at least one bag on every flight is lost or delayed. If there’s anything you can’t live without, pack it in your carry-on. This is especially true of items that are not easily or inexpensively replaced, such as running shoes or a lightweight raincoat.
And you’ll get through airport security faster if you pack your carry-on more efficiently. For example, have your quart-size plastic bag with liquids and gels packed in an outside pouch or right near the top of your bag so that you can easily pull it out for screening. See Packing Tips and What Not to Pack for more ideas.
If a) your baggage is lost or delayed; b) you miss your connection and will be late checking in; or c) you are going to a destination you’ve never visited before, you’ll want to have complete contact information for your hotel on your person. Before you leave home, print out the hotel’s name, address and phone number, and program the latter into your cell phone. It’s also a good idea to print out a map of the hotel’s neighborhood, whether for your own use or to show to a confused cab driver.
Exchanging foreign currency after you’ve returned home is a hassle, especially since almost no one spends any time in an actual bank these days. Why else do so many travelers have so much funny money lying around?
If you travel abroad with any frequency, and have any stray foreign currency laying around, take it with you the next time you cross international borders. Then, when you get some local currency, you can exchange the money from any other country at the same time.
Do you usually toss your boarding pass as soon as you step off the plane? You might want to reconsider. Your boarding pass can serve as proof of travel if your airline fails to give you the proper credit for frequent flier miles; this type of problem is particularly common if you’re flying on a codeshare partner of the airline in question. Your boarding pass can also be useful as a receipt for tax purposes, particularly if you’re self-employed.
Skycap upside: You check-in at the curb, lose the bulky luggage and head straight to your gate.
Skycap downside: They don’t give you a seat assignment, and they cost a few bucks. (Don’t forget to tip; skycaps often aren’t paid a full wage and depend on tips to make their living.)
So when is it best to use the skycaps, and when can you skip them?
First off, if you’re running late, the skycaps could get you onto a plane you’d miss otherwise. If it’s really tight, there’s no guarantee that your bags will make it onto the plane, but I’ve seen some skycaps work near-miracles in this department.
I do it this way: I walk inside the terminal and take a look at both the length of the line for check-in, and the clock. If the line isn’t too long, and I have enough time, I head for the check-in; I get your seat assignments, can make any special requests, get credit for frequent flier miles, and can best address any problems with the flight such as delays or cancellations.
If the line is long and time is tight, I walk back out to the skycaps, tip them well and sprint for the gate. As I mention above, your bags may not move as quickly as you do, but the skycaps will make the effort.
One other scenario: you have plenty of time, but know that your flight is nearly full, and the line is long. Every minute you spend in line is another minute that the window and aisle seats are given away. If you check in with the skycap, then sprint to the gate for your seat assignment, you’ll often find that the line at the gate is much shorter than at check-in, and you’ll actually get your seat assignment more quickly.
As I mention above, every minute you pass without a seat assignment is another minute that your aisle or window seat is given to someone else. Your best bet is to check in online, which can typically be done up to 24 hours before your flight. But note that not all flights, airlines or classes of travel permit advance check-in (or seating assignments).
The days of flower-pattern steamer trunks are long gone; now we all buy our bags at the same stores from the same manufacturers.
The result: an endless stream of nearly identical bags on the baggage carousel. The solution: mark your bags by tying a colorful ribbon, stitching a unique patch or putting a large sticker on your bags. You won’t see other passengers pulling your bags off the carousel to check for their tiny name tags, and you’ll be able to see your suitcases come out the door from miles away.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but knowing your flight number can make your life easier in small or foreign airports that do not list the full names of destination airports, or list by flight number alone.
When you travel a lot, it’s natural to develop habits that work for you. For me, the few days before a trip tend always to follow the same pattern: I review my itinerary, make a mental list of what I want to pack, plan accordingly, and make my bed before I leave the house. Unfortunately, I’ve also developed a few bad travel habits along the way.
One habit that’s proven particularly hard to break is refusing to splurge on cabs when I’ll be out all day. Because I try to walk everywhere to save money, my feet are the ones paying the price at the end of the day.
We’ve all got our bad travel habits, but the good news is that you can break them with a little bit of effort. Whether you’re a workaholic walker like me or a packing procrastinator, here are some ways to break even your most persistent travel habits.
If you frequently land in a new country and realize you never learned how to say hello or thank you, you’re probably with familiar with how silly it makes you feel. Learning new languages is difficult and might not seem worth it if you’re passing through many different countries or staying for a short amount of time, but knowing the basics can make all the difference when it comes to how comfortable you feel and how well you connect with local people.
Solution: Of course, there are plenty of language apps and tutorials you can use to learn a language, but there’s an easier solution if you don’t think you’ll have time to practice. Instead, make it a point to look up the basic words of the new language at least once before your trip and write them down. Keep them somewhere handy, like saved on a note on your phone, and when you get there, you’ll have them at your fingertips.
You can tell yourself that you’re waiting for the prices to drop, but unless you’re very flexible, that can backfire: The longer you wait, the fewer options you’ll have. Whether you’re booking flights, accommodation, or a tour, you’re almost always better off booking well in advance and having everything organized before your trip.
Solution: If you still want to hold out for low rates, set a “book by” date for yourself at least a week or two before you leave for your trip. Consider it a self-imposed deadline and do whatever you need to do to hold yourself accountable. I like to schedule my personal deadlines into my calendar to make them feel more official.
If you’ve got packing problems, it’s likely you’re a repeat procrastinator. This is one of the most common travel habits and it can be tough to break when life is busy. If packing lists have no effect on you, there’s one thing you can do that you probably have to do anyway.
Solution: A few days before you leave, do your laundry. Instead of putting your clothes away in your closet, pack the fresh clothes right into your suitcase. Not only will this ensure that the clothes you wear most often are fresh and clean, but it will also help you get a start on planning your outfits before and during your trip. After you put in your first load, pull out your luggage and start researching the essential items for your destination.
If you’re a chronic overpacker, you’ve probably had your fair share of struggles with the check-in luggage scale and bags that just won’t close. You might think you need to take advantage of your airline’s full luggage allowance, but the truth is you shouldn’t be filling up your luggage just because you can.
Solution: Use a smaller suitcase. Take into account how long you’ll be traveling and how many of your outfits can be reused, and then find the appropriately sized luggage for the length of your trip. You’d be surprised how little you’ll need.
This one varies from traveler to traveler, but everyone has that one thing they hate to spend money on. Personally, I’m very stubborn when it comes to paying for cabs or public transportation and often choose walking instead. The downside of this is that I’m often too tired to enjoy a night out or I suffer from aching feet. For others, being too stubborn to spend might mean booking accommodation far from the center of town or missing out on a special food because it’s a little pricey.
Solution: Give yourself a budget to splurge. This small act of premeditation can make a huge difference in your travel experience. Knowing you’ll have a little money set aside to live a little will help you feel more comfortable spending spontaneously. Remember, this should be a set budget totally separate from your emergency fund to remove any guilt you might have.
If this is one of your bad travel habits, you’ve probably found yourself wondering over and over again if you’re paying a fair price whenever you’re confronted with a new currency.
Solution: Keep a currency exchange app on your phone. Take out all the uncertainty at the cash register by keeping a reference ready. What’s great about the apps is that they are constantly updating, which means you’ll always know the most recent rate.
Ever feel like you need a vacation after your vacation? It’s probably because you’re signing on for too much. When you’ve only got a set number of days somewhere, it’s tempting to try and do it all, but that’s no reason to treat your vacation like one long to-do list.
Solution: Make peace with not being able to see everything. And if you can’t do that, make a list, identify your priorities, and book only those priorities. Leave everything else up to the moment. Trust me: That cooking class probably won’t seem like such a good idea after you’ve actually completed the three-hour walking tour.
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid paying more than you’d like for airfare, but there are a few things you can try to keep from paying more than you should. To help you sidestep the most common errors that even sophisticated travelers make, here are seven flight booking mistakes to avoid before your next trip.
Many major cities have more than one good-sized airport, but by searching only on a specific one, you won’t see potentially better fares to other nearby gateways. A couple of classic U.S. examples are Newark vs. JFK vs. LaGuardia, or Long Beach vs. LAX; overseas a good example is Gatwick vs. Heathrow in London.
To get these airports into the mix, choose the “All Airports” option shown on many airline and flight booking sites that includes a city code instead of an airport code. So when traveling to or from New York, sites like Expedia allow you to use NYC instead of JFK or EWR, and will return fares from all area airports. In Los Angeles, the code for all airports is QLA (instead of the more limited LAX).
In the case of densely populated areas, you can sometimes fly into an entirely different city altogether. For example, San Diego is about a two-hour drive from Los Angeles (depending on traffic, of course); that makes it a somewhat reasonable alternative to Los Angeles, especially if your trip takes you to areas south of L.A. like Newport Beach, San Clemente, and the like. Similarly, Chicago and Milwaukee are about 90 miles apart, and Tampa and Orlando are separated by about 85 miles.
If your booking site does not allow this (for example, CheapFlights.com seems to accept NYC, but not QLA), or you’re not sure what your other options are, another way to discover nearby airports is to do a search on Kayak and select the “Include nearby” option, which will show results for other airports within 70 miles of the one you entered. You can also consult this cool chart from Johnny Jet that lists nearby airports in the U.S. by miles from your departure or destination airport.
It’s long been suspected that airlines and booking engines may show higher fares on routes that you have previously searched. If you are researching an upcoming trip from Chicago to Paris, for example, and have checked airfares on the route frequently in recent days or weeks, the site “knows” you really want these fares, and “guesses” that you might be willing to pay a bit more for them.
I have not been able to duplicate this myself, and Ricky Radka, an airfare analyst at Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site, hasn’t found any evidence that airlines raise fares if you’ve previously searched for a given itinerary. A recent study found that fares do differ on occasion, but you’re actually more likely to see lower fares if you’re logged into a given booking site rather than searching on a browser with no previous history of researching that route.
Because of this uncertainty, it’s worth trying your search both ways—on your normal browser (preferably while logged into your favorite booking site) and on an incognito browser where your searches aren’t tracked.
Unless you are booking travel for work, it is obviously most convenient to shop for and purchase airfares over the weekend, when you have more free time. However, Airfarewatchdog reports that many airlines release sales early in the week, making Tuesday and Wednesday a good time to catch low fares.
FareCompare narrows it down even further, reporting that the best time to book U.S. domestic flights is Tuesday at 3 p.m. Eastern.
This varies somewhat for international flights, as might be expected with airlines based in a variety of countries with different fare updating patterns, so you will want to be a bit more vigilant for international fares. I recommend checking prices throughout the week or signing up for fare alerts from Airfarewatchdog.
Keep in mind, too, that prices for last-minute flights are almost always higher than those booked further in advance. You’re typically better off booking at least six weeks before a U.S. domestic flight, and even further in advance for international itineraries.
Airlines tend to jack up airfares for Friday and Sunday flights for the simple reason that these are the most likely days leisure travelers and vacationers are going to travel. The number of travelers also gets pushed up on Fridays by business travelers racing home, so this can be a particularly pricey day. Mondays can also be pricey thanks to their popularity with business travelers.
The cheapest days to fly tend to be Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with Thursdays and Saturdays costing a little more. That means that if your departure or return flight falls on a Monday, Friday, or Sunday, you’re likely paying more than you need to. It may take some creative use of your vacation time—such as a trip that runs Tuesday to Tuesday rather than Sunday to Sunday—but what you lose in flexibility you more than make up for in savings. For more on this, see The Best and Worst Days to Fly.
Like a lot of us, over the years I have accumulated some booking engine loyalties, but they’re not strong enough to keep me from checking fares on multiple sites, especially as I get closer to making the actual booking. There are some great search engines out there that allow you to compare flight prices on multiple sites at once. But relying on any one of them alone would be a mistake. Each site employs slightly different search algorithms, and as a result can sometimes return different prices—and flight times and combinations as well, which certainly adds value.
A good starting point is our list of The Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare. To make this easier and semi-automated, you may want to set up multiple email alerts, too. It can take significant time to check a whole heap of sites every day, but if you sign up for fare alerts, you’ll be notified when a price goes down.
And unless you’re aiming for elite status on a specific airline—which generally requires a minimum of 25,000 air miles flown per calendar year, as well as a minimum amount spent—it doesn’t make a lot of sense to base your purchasing decisions around loyalty to an airline or its frequent-flyer program. Shop around on all of the major online travel agencies (OTAs) and directly with the low-cost carriers (like Southwest) whose best fares are nowhere to be found on OTAs.
Fifty minutes might seem like long enough to get from one gate to another on a domestic flight, but what happens if your first flight is delayed by half an hour? On international flights, have you allowed enough time to go through customs, reclaim your bags, and wait through another security line—even if your first flight doesn’t arrive on time?
Avoid booking domestic connections that are less than an hour, particularly if you know your connecting airport is large and has terminals spread out, or if you’re flying different legs on separate carriers that may not share gate areas and/or terminals. On international flights, allow at least two hours.
Sometimes the money you save on a cheaper airfare is absorbed almost instantly by other expenses you incur. Make sure you check to see if the rates you’re excited about include all taxes and fees, including baggage fees for checked or even carry-on bags. For example, a $200 round-trip flight on American will cost you $260 if you check a bag. That same $200 flight on Southwest will cost you … $200.
Consider other sneaky travel expenses as well: the need to stay in an airport hotel for a really early flight, seat selection fees on a discount airline, or gas and tolls to a more distant airport. Other potential costs might include an extra day in a kennel for your pet or more expensive airport meals on the road when saving by booking connections.
You may also want to check whether one airline has better entertainment options, seatback screens vs. overhead (or none), a better seat layout, more legroom, or better meal service. Price aside, these are all factors that can make a big difference in how pleasant—or miserable—your flight might be.
A good friend recently booked his family on a very early flight out of San Antonio, and at around 7:00 a.m. posted a photo on Twitter of his bleary-eyed teenage daughter dragging herself through the airport. The caption: “Thank you to my daughter for getting up at 3:30 a.m. so we could save $30 on airfare.” Ouch.
When we board a plane, the goal is simple: to get to our destination as safely and pleasantly as possible. But sometimes we get in our own way. To be a safer and more courteous traveler, don’t make the following 11 airplane mistakes.
Avoiding some of these behaviors will keep you from getting on your fellow flyers’ nerves; avoiding others could even save your life. Read on to learn what not to do on a plane.
Where would you rather be when you discover that Ambien makes you hallucinate or that you’re allergic to your new iron supplement—at home, with easy access to your doctor and a local hospital, or in a metal tube hurtling 35,000 feet above the Pacific? Never take a medicine in flight that you haven’t already taken for a test run at home.
I know—the briefing is boring, you’ve heard it a million times, and you already know how to buckle a seatbelt. As tedious as it seems, though, the information could save your life one day. At the very least, take a few seconds to figure out where the nearest emergency exit is and how many rows away it is from your seat. (In a dark or smoky cabin, you’ll want to be able to count the rows by touching the seats as you make your way toward an exit.)
No one is going to laugh at your one-liner about guns, weapons, or anything else that could be taken as threatening—particularly not the flight attendants, who have the power to remove you from a flight if they think there’s even the slightest chance you might pose a security risk. (Note: The same advice goes for customs people and TSA agents.)
One of the biggest debates in the travel world is whether it’s okay to recline your seat. Whichever side of the issue you take, I think all of us can agree that once the food and drink carts start rolling down the aisles, it’s only courteous to make sure your seat is upright so the person behind you can have full access to his or her tray.
No one will complain if you have a glass of wine with dinner, but over-indulging in alcohol can have consequences ranging from dehydration to even getting kicked off the plane for disorderly behavior. Remember: No one wants to sit next to the guy who reeks of alcohol, passes out on your shoulder, or throws up on your shoes.
Speaking of mealtimes, give your seatmates a break—don’t show up for your flight with a tuna sandwich or a plate of onion rings. Not only will they stink while you’re eating them, but they’ll also ensure that you have bad breath for the rest of the flight.
The flight attendants’ first priority is to keep you safe, not to cater to your every whim, so use discretion when deciding when to hit that call button. If you’re feeling ill, or you’re thirsty on an overnight flight when the lights are out and getting up would wake your sleeping seatmates, feel free to hit the button. If the flight attendants are already serving dinner and you decide you need a drink right now, suck it up and be patient.
As pet peeves go, this is one of my biggest—when the person in 33A puts her carry-on in the bin above row 16, ensuring that there won’t be enough space for the people actually sitting in row 16 to stow their own bags. This means people in the front of the plane end up having to put their bags toward the back, which leads to passengers trying to go against the stream of traffic when it comes time to deplane. Do everyone a favor and use your own overhead bin space unless there’s no alternative.
In other carry-on shenanigans, please don’t be the person who puts your rolling suitcase and your backpack and your coat into the overhead bin on a full flight. Leave space for other people’s stuff by putting your personal item under the seat in front of you, and squeezing your coat into the empty spaces left after everyone else has fit their larger bags into the bin.
I have no problem with people slipping off their shoes to be more comfortable on a long flight—with a few important exceptions.
First, your feet should be as unobtrusive as possible to everyone else (so don’t prop them on top of a seatback, or wriggle them into the gap between the wall of the plane and the poor person in the seat in front of you who just wants to lean against the window without getting a faceful of your bare toes). Second, put your shoes back on before you go to the lavatory (because ew). And finally, if you know you’re prone to bromodosis—the polite scientific term for smelly feet—be considerate of your fellow passengers and leave your shoes on.
With airplane seats getting smaller and smaller, passengers with broad shoulders or long legs almost can’t help spilling over the bounds of their seats at some point. But I’m speaking out against intentional (and obnoxious) behaviors like manspreading, hogging the armrests, or flipping your ponytail over the back of your seat so it obscures the video screen of the person behind you. Your neighbors paid for their space, too; respect it.
Using sleeping pills or supplements for the first time can seem like a scary prospect—especially when you’re in an airplane cabin, closely surrounded by strangers who’ll witness your every sleep-induced move. But using the right ones can make you a more confident achiever of plane sleep: Over-the-counter or natural (read: non-prescription) options are unlikely to cause you a Bridesmaids moment of sleeping pill-induced panic that sends the flight into a tizzy.
Over-the-counter sleeping pills have only a few distinctive active ingredients—some of which you might prefer over others depending on your health needs and preferences. Here’s what to know about the best over-the-counter sleep aids out there, so you can ask your doctor about the kind you think you’d prefer.
If you’ve ever taken common sleep or allergy medicines like ZzzQuil, Benadryl, Aleve PM, or Tylenol PM, you’ve taken diphenhydramine. The active ingredient is an antihistamine that quells allergic reactions, with the added side effect of sleepiness that makes it common in sleeping pills.
As someone who’s used antihistamines for both unexpected allergic reactions (thank you, sensitive skin) and for sleep, I’ve been told by doctors that diphenhydramine is generally safe but shouldn’t be overused by those who need it for anti-allergy purposes. Overuse can lead to a higher tolerance to the active ingredient, which would mean needing to take more and more for it to continue working. My rule of thumb is to only use diphenhydramine-based medicines when I really need them: when I’m having an allergic reaction, or on a plane when it’s all I have and I really need some sleep. At home, and whenever else I can, I use something a little more natural (more on that next).
About as natural a sleep aid as you can get, melatonin is the hormone your brain naturally releases when it’s tired, to trigger sleepiness. It also happens to be available in pill form, so you can introduce the sleep-triggering chemical when it’s not naturally occurring, like on a cramped plane or for fighting jetlag.
Like most sleeping pills, it can have some negative side effects if used long-term, but it’s generally the lightest sleep aid you can take, and will usually do the trick for sleeping pill newbies.
If you’ve tried the natural stuff and found that you need something stronger to get to sleep on the plane, another antihistamine called doxylamine is a common active ingredient in stronger sleeping pills like Unisom sleep tablets and NyQuil cold medicine. The same antihistamine qualms apply, but if you’re not allergy-prone and not using antihistamines often, then sleep tabs like Unisom will offer a stronger effect. NyQuil has the added benefit of a pain reliever, fever reducer, and cough suppressant if you’re feeling sick and need some rest.
My personal solution to sleeping on the plane isn’t quite a sleeping pill, but I’ve found it to be about as strong as one. Valerian root is a potent herbal supplement that causes surprisingly strong sedation and calms anxiety. Even the coated, pill version of this supplement usually has a strong smell that’s reminiscent of funky cheese—but it’s worth it.
Called “nature’s Xanax” or “nature’s Valium” by some doctors, valerian root can instill sleepiness and relaxation within about 30 minutes, and it doesn’t have the same after effect of drowsiness that I’ve experienced hours after taking other sleeping pills.
Want to make hundreds of people hate you? It’s easier than you might think! Try any of these seven airplane etiquette violations and you’ll have some instant enemies.
We won’t get in to the recline vs. no-recline debate (that’s a whole other article), but we can all agree that people who slam their seat straight back immediately after takeoff, without even sparing a glance behind them to see if they’re about to smash a laptop screen or send a drink flying, are the absolute worst. We can all agree on that, right?
The poor middle seat passenger should at least get some pity armrest space from the aisle and window seat flyers. Don’t agree and want to passive-aggressively elbow the person next to you the entire flight? Congratulations, you’re a terrible human being.
The on-demand entertainment screens on the seatback don’t always function the way they should, but when you’re pounding on the screen trying to get it to work, don’t forget about the person sitting in front of you who’s feeling his seat shake with every selection you make. Be gentle or, better yet, use the remote.
Is the sense of relief you feel after removing your shoes stronger than the smell of your feet wafting through the cabin? There are reasons you might smell bad when traveling that can be beyond your control, but if you’re tainting the cabin air on purpose by going barefoot or eating something odorous, your fellow flyers are justified in their hatred towards you.
The tiny overhead bins are a huge minefield of airplane etiquette. Major violations include: throwing your stuff in the first overhead bin you see even though your seat is at the back of the plane, utilizing it for small items like a sweatshirt, or taking up all the space with oversized carry-ons.
You have amazing taste in music and movies, so why wouldn’t you want to share your selections with the entire plane? Turns out the people two rows ahead of you may not want to spend the entire flight listening to bleeps and bloops from the game you’re playing on your phone, so please do us all a favor and plug in headphones or entertain yourself on mute.
We get it, you can’t always control a screaming baby. But if you’re pretending to be engrossed in your book while your kid is kicking the back of a seat or running wild down the aisles, be prepared to make some plane enemies.
Getting comfortable on long plane rides is easier said than done—and it’s different for everyone. Depending on your height, medical history, seat preference, and other factors, you’ll need particular adjustments to maximize comfort. Frequent-flying travel experts, however, have just the airplane seat hacks for you.
From minor, on-the-fly adjustments to packing your own seat-comfort accessory, here are the airplane seat hacks that work for experts including a traveling sports medicine chiropractor and SmarterTravel’s own travel editors.
The unsung hero of long flights for many travel experts is makeshift lumbar support. Simply placing a rolled up jacket or blanket across the lower seatback can support the natural curve of the spine in a way that C-shaped airplane seats don’t. And Dr. Norman Eng, Olympic sports medicine chiropractor to Team USA during the 2016 Olympic Games, tells me it’s his airplane seat hack.
“I always try to roll up a blanket or towel and place at the low back region to give some low back support that’s needed,” Eng said. He also advises travelers to “try to get a massage and adjusted before a flight, as it can lessen the potential for neck and low back pain.”
The best way to ease through airport security is to dress for success. Certain garments and accessories could get you flagged for extra screening, slowing down your progression through the airport.
Want to roll through the security line like a pro? Avoid wearing the following attire.
It’s best to wear slip-on shoes in the airport security line. You’ll have to take your shoes off and put them in the screening bin before walking through the metal detector, and flyers fumbling with tangled laces or strappy sandals could hold up the line. Plus, if you’re in a hurry to catch your flight, slip-on shoes will be easy to put back on and thus hasten your transit from the end of security to your gate.
Note that travelers aged 75+ or under 13 may leave their shoes on during screening.
If you set off the metal detector, you’re in for additional screening—or at least a little extra attention while other travelers stream past you. Everything from metal clothing fasteners and body piercings to keys in your pocket could cause an alarm in the security line.
If you are wearing metal body piercings that cannot be removed, you may request a private screening in lieu of a patdown. (Note: Most wedding rings get through the scanners without setting off alarms.)
If your pants fall down the moment your belt comes off, don’t wear them to the airport. You can probably imagine why. Flyers must remove belts before walking through metal detectors, so choose a belt-free outfit, or at least be prepared to remove your belt if you want to wear one.
Belts aren’t permitted through airport security because their metal clasps set off the metal detector. However, even if you are wearing a belt without a metal clasp, an agent might request that you remove it anyway. It’s standard procedure.
It’s airport screening 101: Travelers must remove coats and jackets—this includes outerwear like hooded sweatshirts, vests, and such—before going through the metal detector. It’s perfectly fine to sport a jacket in a chilly airport. Just remember to take your outerwear off and put it in a screening bin before proceeding through the checkpoint.
Offensive clothing may get you kicked off a plane, but it could also draw extra attention from TSA agents (though it’s more likely that airline staff, rather than an airport security agent, will ban you from flying due to inappropriate or offensive clothing). Stories of flyers prohibited from planes due to poor wardrobe choices abound, and, for most of them, the trouble occurred after they made it through the screening process. Still, agents may pull you aside for additional screening if they perceive a threatening or questionable message on your T-shirt. Bottom line: If you wouldn’t wear it to a family-friendly restaurant or even to church, don’t wear it for air travel.
Loose clothes aren’t prohibited. But travelers sporting baggy apparel, such as droopy pants, flowy skirts, bulky sweatshirts, or even loose garments worn for religious purposes, may be subject to a pat-down inspection if the agent thinks your clothing might be concealing prohibited items.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the insane immigration lines at the screening 13 airports where passengers waited hours in cattle-like lines, which definitely didn’t follow today’s protocol of social distancing. If I was scheduled to fly home, I would probably wait a few days until airports worked this chaos out.
If you’re considering canceling or still need to fly, here’s one rule TSA is changing, and another thing to consider:
Per the TSA website, “TSA is allowing passengers to bring liquid hand sanitizer containers up to 12 ounces to be permitted in carry-on bags until further notice. Passengers can expect that these containers larger than the standard allowance of 3.4 ounces of liquids permitted through a checkpoint will need to be screened separately, which will add some time to their checkpoint screening experience. Please keep in mind that all other liquids, gels and aerosols brought to a checkpoint continue to be allowed at the limit of 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters carried in a one quart-size bag.”
2. If you’re trying to cancel a future flight, hold off:
More importantly (as hopefully most people aren’t flying unless they truly have to), if you’re trying to cancel a flight and it’s not in the next couple of days, don’t call the airlines. They’re swamped with people scrambling to get home from Europe. Instead, wait a few days if you can. Many airlines are even accepting cancelations online.
“Our phones are busy. We understand it’s frustrating to wait, but if you’re not traveling in the next 72 hours, please wait until closer to your trip to call. You can cancel your flight online now and call any time before December 31, 2020 to rebook. Please contact your travel agent for help if you didn’t book directly with us.”
Hawaiian Airlines shared a similar message in an email and on its website: “Due to the high call volumes we’re experiencing, we ask that you please refrain from calling us unless you are traveling within the next 72 hours so that we may focus on guests with the most immediate travel needs. For guests who would like to only cancel their flights and are traveling between March 1 – April 30, 2020, you may do so by completing” a form online at HawaiianAirlines.com.”