Cows, People and Flying – A Second Look

Ralph found on a recent experience with airline travel that some people will develop a herd mentality in crowded situations. Another FedSmith author gives his take on the situation.

Ralph recently shared his thoughts about air travel, and since I too recently had to fly for the first time in a few years, I thought I’d see if my experience was as unpleasant as his turned out to be. The short answer is “no,” but you do have to be prepared, and some of it boils down to luck.

Air travel has indeed changed in the last decade.  Security is tighter, but I’ve flown in the post 9-11 world before, so I was prepared for it.  I had to check my bag anyway which helps you get around some of the security hassles that come with carrying liquid personal hygiene items on board.  I did have to pay Delta $23 for the privilege though which surprised me.  Last time I flew there was no additional charge for a checked bag.  Luckily one of my flights on the trip was on Southwest and it doesn’t require an additional charge.

Image - Up in the air

Ralph likened his flying experience to cow herding.  As I was making my way to my next destination several thousand feet in the air, I did feel a certain bovine confinement by being shoved into the middle of a trio of seats on a sold out flight as we all sat in ordered lines and rows of seats, waiting for our command to tell us that we were at our destination to then trigger the herd to reverse its movement back out the door.

Some of the unpleasantries are unavoidable – you are putting a sizable group of people into a tight space, so you have to expect some discomfort.  However, some of the airlines have presumably been looking for ways to put more people on board the same size planes as a cost saving measure.  I can understand the business reasons for this; gas prices have shown a relatively consistent upward trend, regulations are increasingly burdensome, and the cost of business can realistically only keep going up in the future.  I can only hope that there will be enough competition in the industry though to raise the likelihood of improving the comfort features in planes.  Onboard WiFi for instance is becoming more and more commonplace as the technology improves and competing airlines offer it to lure new passengers.  If roomier seats at reasonable prices become a competing factor, then presumably we might start to see more of them in the future.

A lot of the negative factors you are likely to encounter are based on luck.  I was lucky on some of my flights.  I ended up sitting next to an outgoing, pretty girl on the first flight, so we had a nice conversation which made the trip go faster.  Although it was full, I got beside two people on the second flight who slept most of the time.  If you get around screaming children (I did on one flight), people who are rude, sick and coughing, or wearing too much perfume, then it’s just plain bad luck and you’ll be in for a long ride.  All you can do then is put on headphones or bury yourself in a book and try to tune it out.

The bottom line is that flying is a hassle.  I agree with Ralph – I would prefer the comfort and freedom of being in my car when I can spare the extra travel time.  But if you must fly, try to make the best of it.  Here are a few tips gleaned from personal experience:

Go High Tech

If you don’t like computers, traveling by plane is a good time to warm up to them. Some of what you can do online now is amazing and saves you a lot of time.  You can check in and pay for your bags online, so when you get to the airport all you have to do is drop off any checked bags at a baggage drop off.  While you probably will wait in line to do this, it is still faster than going through the whole check in process at the airport.  If you aren’t checking bags, you skip the ticketing area completely and just go straight to the gate with your ticket printed from the Internet.

Even better – if you have a smart phone, the option will sometimes be available to have the tickets emailed to your phone. I tried this on one leg of my trip and it was fantastic. I got an email with a link to a web page optimized for viewing on a mobile device.  It had a bar code image and my seat/gate information.  The bar code image was able to be scanned right from the screen of my phone when going through security and boarding. I printed my tickets out as backup but never needed them. If you have a smart phone and are given this option when checking in, I would recommend using it as a time saver. The ticket on the mobile device will look something like this:

Some people I’ve talked to reported problems with the scanning from their phones, so you might want printed copies of your tickets as backup.

Many airlines offer flight reminders by email.  Again, use this if you have a smart phone that gets email.  When I was arriving at one of my stops, I turned my phone back on and had an email waiting for me that told me the status and gate of my connecting flight.  I was short on time so it saved me from having to stop and read the TV screens in the airport to figure out where to go.  If flights are delayed or changed, you get emails right to your phone with real time updates.  Huge time saver.

Other Tips

  • If you’re beginning your journey in a big city, allow more time at the airport. It takes longer to go through security at a bigger airport.
  • Early morning flights tend to be better in general if you can stand to wake up early. They are less likely to be delayed since they are the first ones running in the day, and passengers are often sleepy and therefore less apt to complain or be rude.  When you’re asleep you can’t curse at somebody.
  • Early morning activity at airports is better in my experience too.  If you are at the airport at 4 PM instead of 5:30 AM it’s more crowded and wait times everywhere go up.
  • For short flights, try window seats.  You won’t be out in the aisles getting whacked with bags as people board.
  • For longer flights, I prefer an aisle seat. I don’t have to climb over other people to get up and I feel like I have more room.
  • Exit rows tend to have more leg room. If you don’t mind the heightened responsibility of sitting there, you may get a little extra leg room.
  • Don’t talk on your cell phone when you’re onboard the plane. Seriously, it’s annoying. Just wait 5 more minutes until you’re in the airport.
  • Don’t fly when you’re sick; in that confined space, you’ll be guaranteed to share your illness with others. We don’t want it!
  • Don’t wear perfume or cologne on your trip. Believe me, other passengers will appreciate this, especially the ones who are allergic to fragrances.

Undoubtedly many of our readers are seasoned travelers – what other tips do you have?  Please share with everyone in the comments!  Happy flying!

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.