Passengers who fly on my airline often have never flown before, or only fly every few years. I thought I’d make a list of some things I’ve thought of that infrequent fliers should keep in mind when preparing to fly internationally.
1) Bring a pen
This is the most common thing I get when at 35,000 feet. “Excuse me, do you have a pen I can borrow?” I personally try to carry at least 5 spare pens on me when I board a flight for this reason (Side note: some of our crew hotels have stopped leaving pens in my room). But most flight attendants don’t carry a pen in their pocket.
Be aware that airlines don’t offer a “pen service” (Yes, I’ve been asked why we don’t have one). When flying internationally be sure to keep a pen on you or in your carry-on luggage for easy access when it’s time to fill out your customs declaration card[s].
Related topic: What Luggage Do Flight Attendants Prefer and Really Use?
2) Know your itinerary
Chances are your customs form will ask for your address at your final destination. Usually, all you really need is the name of your hotel. Some countries will also ask for your flight/train/vessel number on your outbound trip. For those reasons, you should keep your itinerary with you.
3) Know your airline’s cabin payment policies
Most airlines won’t accept cash in the cabin these days (I think mine might be the only one in Canada that still does). No airlines accept debit in the cabin. Be sure to have the correct payment type with you on board.
4) Bring a Blanket/Sweater/Jacket and/or Pillow. Wear Layers.
At my airline, I see a lot of pax board for their southern vacation wearing beach clothes, and then they ask me to turn up the heat when they get too cold in flight.
Here’s the problem: Aircraft are funny things. Their climate control is controlled in zones, much like many SUVs. The 737 has two zones, one for the back half and the other for the front. Unfortunately, the cabin tends to get warmer over the wings and stays cooler towards the front and back. Essentially what that means is no matter what we do, someone somewhere isn’t going to totally comfortable.
SO! Wear layers in case it gets too warm, and have something in case you get cold. If you can bring a pillow, that’s good too. Airplane pillows are gross.
(On a side note; I’ve seen other FAs complain about pax bringing their own pillows. Why? I don’t see any issue with that, so long as the pillows are properly stowed for take-off and landing.)
5) Packaged food isn’t food
I’m commonly asked “The customs form wants us to declare any food we’re bringing in. Do I declare this bag of chips?” The Answer: No*. Anything that’s been processed and packaged (Like chips or granola bars), by technical definition, isn’t considered food. At least by customs agencies.
When they say “food” they mean unprocessed natural foods like fruits and vegetables. Foods that are in an unaltered state. If you have an apple on the plane, eat it before you get off or throw it away. Chances are you won’t be able to bring it into the country.
*Except in Australia! See comments the comments section for details
6) Toothbrush, Toothpaste
This isn’t such a necessity as it is a nicety. But during a long flight, you might start to feel gross. If this happens; brush your teeth. I’m not kidding! You’ll feel super refreshed and so much better!
(Note: Be sure to pick up a travel-sized toothpaste for this; regular sized tubes are too large to clear airport security)
7) Emergency Clothes
For passengers who check baggage; you should also have some emergency clothes in your carry on. Just in case the handlers lose your bags. That way you still have something to wear while the airline tracks down your luggage. This is another reason why it’s good to keep your toothbrush, itinerary, and all the other important stuff in your carry on.
8) Pack 3 days in advance
When you pack in advance, it gives you time to remember things you might have forgotten. For each of those three days, You should take a few minutes to go through what you’ve already packed and decide if you really need that. By the last day, I’m sure you’ll have found a couple of things you don’t need. Also; use a smaller bag. When you use a bigger bag, you’ll end up putting things you don’t need in it, just because there is extra space that needs to be filled.
(Note: I’m guilty of almost always failing to do this. I tend to pack last minute quite often, so now I just have a checklist.)
9) Bring some individually package sanitary hand wipes
Unfortunately, the tray tables only get cleaned once a day. There is just no time to clean them in the 10 minutes the groomers have between flights. Wipe down your tray table. I try to catch the particularly bad ones as they occur, but most of the time there is no way of knowing what was on that tray before you got there. Clean it just to be safe.
10) Smile and Stay Positive
Sometimes things go wrong. You’re entering an industry that relies on mechanical devices to move you from point A to point B, C, and D. All within tight schedules while there is literally a world of factors playing against you. Eventually, something will go wrong.
Remember; stay positive and stay pleasant. Your flight crew and the other airline representatives will do their best to help you. Look at it from the FAs point of view: Nothing makes it harder to be able to help (or to want to help) someone when that person is arguing and yelling at you.
And when everything goes according to plan; being ultra-friendly might land you a free drink or an upgrade if you’ve got the right flight attendant.
So there we have it! Jet’s ultra-fancy non-exhaustive list of helpful hints for easier international travel! (J.U.F.N.E.L.H.H.E.I.T. for short).
If you have any additions you’d like to make to this list, please feel free to comment on it! I’d love to see your suggestions.