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Regardless of whether you are a frequent flyer or only an occasional passenger, we reveal a host of simple techniques and, whisper it, tricks that will ensure you travel in more comfort and with considerable less stress. You might even discover your formula for that perfect flight.

Preparation Is Everything

Arguably the most important factor in planning your flight is to recognise that flying is actually only a small part of the process. We all talk about having to fly from A to B, but the reality is that the time spent up in the air is only one (albeit rather important) part of the overall flight experience. Choice of route, airport, airline and many other factors all play a crucial part in the process – and more of that later, but let’s start right at the beginning…

[Photo: Sarah-Rose/Flickr]

The Right Flight

Your general attitude to flying is likely to be influenced first of all by whether you feel you got a good deal on your flight. How to get that good deal, however, is a point of endless debate in the travel community and the source of innumerable rumours and myths. When is the best time to book in order to get the lowest priced flight? When is the cheapest (and most expensive) time to travel? Should I browse flights online in ‘incognito’ mode to stop prices rising? Should I use a flight booking engine or an airline’s own website or another site? Is it cheaper to fly on a weekday than at the weekend?

The simple answer is that there are merits to all these considerations. However, if there was a single golden rule to secure the perfect (and perfect value) flight, then everyone would be doing it already. Instead, the real golden rule is that there is no golden rule. Do your research, develop a feeling for what you personally consider to be a fair price and make your booking in advance to minimise stress and allow you to plan the rest of your trip other than just the flight.

Your Airport Transfer

Just as important as your flight booking though is considering the right airport and the ease and cost of your onward journey. How often have you booked a flight to City X only to discover that the airport is actually located a two-hour (or worse) journey through traffic-choked highways to the city itself. It is a classic mistake – particularly when visiting new destinations – to focus purely on price when making your booking. It could prove to be a false economy once you factor in the cost of those transfers, not to mention the rising stress levels and lost time due to longer journey time. No one wants a short weekend break to comprise huge journey times when measured door-to-door.

Airport Therapy

Take a deep breath. OK, hold, and release slowly. That’s it, slowly. Now again, please. Few if any travellers will claim to enjoy the airport experience. It starts with the buildings themselves. As the author Douglas Adams pointed out, there are no known languages with a word meaning ‘as beautiful as an airport’. While some modern airport architecture is at least striking with its soaring, arching spaces, the experience within is still, far too often, one of unremitting stress. However, does it really need to be so?

Pick a flight on the right day and at the right time of day and everything can be so different. We all know that rare and slightly surreal experience of occasionally turning up at an airport to a row of empty check-in desks and a quick and painless stroll through passport control and Departures. Why can’t it always be like that? Well, it could be if you choose to travel at a quieter time of day and select an airport and terminal that is less burdened than others. Avoid morning or late afternoon flights and you’re heading in the right direction.

[Photo: Walker Carpenter/Flickr]

Turn Left Or Turn Right?

The idea of turning left after boarding a long-haul flight is a tantalising one – particularly for anyone all too familiar with the ‘challenges’ inherent in turning right and heading for the Economy seats. Of course, you could splurge your hard-earned travel budget on more expensive seats, but would you want to? After all, save on your flight and you will have more funds spare for sightseeing, eating out and shopping – not to forget accommodation at your perfect hotel.

If you’re feeling confident you could even ask if there is a chance of an upgrade if you check-in in person at the airport. While this happens less often than people claim, it does still happen. Loyalty is a key factor here, if you’re a frequent flyer and have built up loyalty points and miles then the gods of upgrade are more likely to smile upon you. That or a chic outfit and a polite and courteous manner…

For short-haul flights the distinctions between Business and Economy are marginal at best. Yes, there is the supposed status accrued from being in Business, but does a hot flannel and a glass of bubbly really justify the extra cost? If the company is paying, the answer is possibly yes, but for personal flights probably not.

One final ruse for earning an upgrade is still possible on-board your flight. If you spot a defect on your seat such as a faulty seatbelt, tray or if your seat fails to recline or lock upright properly do alert the flight attendant. On a busy flight they may well upgrade you to Business (or better) to avoid safety hazards, discomfort or subsequent complaints.

[Photo: PhillipC/Flickr, Premium Economy, Air New Zealand]

Space, The Final Frontier

Yes, space is cramped if you do opt for Economy, but hunt around and there are options that are now offering passengers a lot more space than you might imagine. If you haven’t tried it already then look for Premium Economy flights and for a relatively modest additional charge you will be able to travel in comfort with room to stretch your legs – not to mention extra width and headspace in many cases. British Airways, Qantas, Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines, Air France, SAS and Air New Zealand are just a few of the leading airlines with attractive Premium Economy options on long-haul routes.

If all else fails, then think smarter: websites like SeatGuru allow travellers to review seat maps of pretty much any plane on any route. At a glance you can identify the perfect seats near exits with extra legroom and a higher comfort rating. The inverse is also true, allowing passengers to avoid seats with non-reclining seats or located adjacent to restroom and so on.

[Photo: Cathay Pacific Airways]

All Just A State Of Mind

OK, you’re confined to a cramped seat in Economy, a distressed baby is crying in front of you and your neighbour would like to talk to you about how they ‘love it when the flight gets bumpy’… So what’s the problem? Sit back, recline your seat as far as it will go, put your headphones on and enter a world of the imagination: that audio book you’ve been waiting to listen to, the perfect summer playlist you tracked down or even a meditation guide as you drift off to that calm space.

The reality is that you’re already so relaxed after booking a bargain flight at a time to suit you and having beaten the queues at the airport that you’re taking everything in your stride. The poor baby will calm down in a few minutes anyway and the annoying passenger isn’t there, as the seat is already free since you’re flying outside the rush hours on a quieter flight.

To enjoy the perfect flight there are a series of steps and decisions you can make to take control of your situation. Do this, and when things occasionally drift away from the plan, you’ll have a better perspective and your stress levels will be rising from a lower base anyway.

Flying might not be everyone’s ideal activity, but get it right and you will start to rediscover its inherent magic. The miracle of flight is a triumph of human engineering and, more than that, it’s the fastest way to discover our extraordinary blue planet. Buckle up and prepare for take-off!

[Photo: Muu-karhu/Wikipedia]

Article by James Lee-Tullis

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