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Unexpected fees, lack of personal space, screaming babies, scant entertainment. For most passengers today, flying is hardly a luxury experience. Seasoned travelers know the tricks for dealing with air-travel irritants, but if you're a less-frequent flyer, here are seven of the most common headaches and how you can head them off before you get in the air.
1. The Wi-Fi is too weak to stream (if there's Wi-Fi at all)
Even good onboard Wi-Fi — which usually costs money — might not be strong enough to handle streaming media. If you rely on streaming for entertainment, take advantage of Spotify Premium and Netflix’s capabilities to download music and movies to your phone or tablet beforehand — and don’t forget your headphones!
2. Your ears won't 'pop'
Simply swallowing might not be enough to help your ears adjust to the changes in air pressure that accompany changes in altitude. For some adults, taking a decongestant pill before the flight helps; ask your doctor if that's appropriate for you. Chewing gum can be effective as well, so bring some along. For those traveling with infants, who can’t intentionally pop their ears, bring along a pacifier or bottle for the baby to suck on during major altitude changes. You may also want to keep them awake during ascent and descent so they don’t wake up to ear pain.
3. There's no food — or only meager food — on the flight
Airlines don't feed people like they used to. Nowadays you're lucky to get a small bag of pretzels, if anything. Food and drink purchased after you go through security screening can usually come on the plane with you, but it tends to be expensive and not especially healthful. So bring your own. The Transportation Security Administration allows passengers to carry solid food items (that is, not liquids or gels) in their carry-on bags, although agents may ask travelers to separate those items from the rest of their luggage for easier X-ray screening. Opt for something filling and good for you, like carrot sticks, sugar snap peas, cheese, crackers, sandwiches, trail mix or fruit. Bonus: Munching on these kinds of snacks during ascent and descent can help your ears pop!
4. There's a noisy little kid next to you
Pack noise-canceling headphones, a sleep mask and a pillow for yourself, and consider keeping a sheet of stickers or other distracting bribes in your carry-on for any kids you encounter. If worse comes to worst, be prepared to ask a flight attendant if you can change seats. But above all else, be kind to the parents. Their stress level from traveling with small children is probably 10 times higher than yours. Politeness goes a long way and will generally make your flight much smoother.
5. You're looking at a checked bag fee
Consider going light: See if you can get away with packing only a carry-on for your trip by taking versatile clothing, using packing cubes to stay organized and seeing if you’ll have access to laundry services at your destination. If you absolutely must check a bag and you fly several times a year, get a credit card that lets you check for free.
6. Your phone battery is down to single digits
Even if you're at 80%, you can't be sure when you'll next get the chance to charge, so use airport waiting time to top off your battery. If that's not possible, find a charging station or a battery booster pack. Many airports have stores and vending machines that sell phone-charging accessories. If you’ve exhausted all other options, look for a kindly stranger with the same device as yours who will let you juice up your phone for a few minutes using their charger. When your battery is low, don't use your phone except for essential activities — like calling for a ride at the airport — and switch to an offline entertainment.
7. Nature calls, but you're in the window seat
Make a pit stop at the restroom before you board your plane, and try to avoid drinking any beverages until the second half of your flight. If you absolutely must go, be polite to your seatmates and try to give as wide a berth as possible as you move past them. Regardless, don't wait until the captain says, "We're making our final approach," because once the fasten seat belt light goes on, the crew may not let you be in the aisle, and you'll just have to hold it.