Flight attendants share their best travel tips

Observe airport and flight etiquette for a pleasant journey.
Observe airport and flight etiquette for a pleasant journey.PHOTO: REUTERS

(THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - How do you beat jetlag? What is the best thing to eat or drink when flying across the world on board a plane? How do you pack effectively when travelling? These are some of the questions that travellers often ponder. Five flight attendants give some answers.

Mr Andrew Scott, 25, Air Asia

Mr Scott has been flying for three years. For him, being a flight attendant is all about team work. “When you have to fly with a different crew every day, you have to trust them and they have to be able to trust you.”

Airport and flight etiquette
To beat the queues at the airport, Mr Scott says you should always be ahead of time. You can never predict how many people will be at the airport and immigration lines can get very long. If you are doing a transit, always book your connecting flight with at least four hours of buffer period so you have plenty of time to catch the second flight. “Most airports now have a lot of entertainment spots and restaurants, so the hours will pass by quickly,” he  says.

On the plane, do not dilly-dally. Mr Scott says that the aisle in an airplane is meant for only one person to walk through at a time. “When you board a plane, it’s best to quickly put your carry-on bag in the overhead storage compartment and grab your seat, so that you do not block other passengers.”

Alcohol intake
When you fly, you are in a high-altitude, pressurised aircraft and that elevates your blood pressure. If you drink alcohol, you will get drunk faster. Mr Scott advises that if you do drink on board, limit your intake to a maximum of two glasses. “Remember to drink lots of water and to eat food that’s high in fibre and protein such as salads, fruit or perhaps chicken. Juices are good too, especially those without a high sugar content,” he says.

He says it is always best to be prepared for emergencies – have your emergency contact numbers at hand at all times. “Keep photocopies of your passport and MyKad in your carry-on bag or pocket. I usually carry extra foreign currencies like US dollars when I travel – I hide some in my shoes.”

He explains that if your bag or wallet is stolen or lost, you will still have money and copies of your important documents to make a police report.

Ms Lilian Ooi, 30, Air Asia

Ms Ooi has been flying for 11 years and has wanted to be a flight attendant since she was young. “I have always wanted to travel and see the world, so I really love my job. Being a flight attendant widens my perspective on life – thanks to the places I’ve been to and the people I’ve met. I’ve also made a lot of good friends,” she says.

Jetlag and nausea
If you are going to a country with a different time zone, try to book a flight that arrives in the daytime to avoid being too jetlagged. “When you get there, keep busy and head out to explore the area. By night fall, you’ll be tired and can sleep better. This helps your internal body clock to adjust to the local time zone,” she says.

Re-set your watch to the destination time as soon as you board and then sit through your flight based on that time. For example, if it is 1pm at your destination, try not to sleep. Meanwhile, those who are prone to travel sickness should try to book a seat at the front of the cabin.

Earplugs and earphones/headphones come in handy at times because you never know who is going to sit next to you or around you (a baby, a person with a loud voice, a group of friends who cannot stop talking).

Baby on board
For parents travelling with babies and toddlers, Ms Ooi says that breastfeeding/feeding a baby before boarding will help him fall asleep during the flight. Take along small soft toys, colouring books and puzzles to keep young children busy but avoid handing them electronic devices. “Sweets help to pacify young children who get fussy and cry when their ears are blocked during take off and landing,” she says.

Bring your own pen
One of the biggest pet peeves for a flight attendant is when a passenger asks for a pen. But it is not for the reason you think. Ms Ooi says that while most flight attendants are more than willing to share a pen with a passenger, the simple gesture can turn into something disruptive.

“When we’re on a flight, we’re working. Sometimes, a passenger would ask us for a pen when we’re in the middle of serving meals. If we give it to one person, others might also ask for it and, in the end, the meal service would be delayed because we’re being interrupted with several requests for a pen.”

Mr Abdul Mudzaffar Abdullah Shan, 45, Malaysian Airlines

Mr Abdul Mudzaffar has been a flight attendant for 24 years. He says that it is important for a flight attendant to be focused. “Being a flight attendant has taught me to be very disciplined. As you grow with the airline and mix with the right people, you learn things, gain a better understanding of things and become a better person,” he says. “Once you step into your uniform, you need to leave all your problems behind.”

He adds that as a flight attendant, a lot of people depend on you for many things during a flight, so you need a clear mind and to be focused to help everyone.

No shorts, please
He says it is important for one to travel in comfortable clothing. “For long- or medium-haul flights, don’t wear shorts because the cabin temperature can get really low. And because you’re just sitting down, there is little muscle movement, so it would be difficult to ‘warm up’. Track bottoms are great for flights; you can change out of your business clothes and into your track bottoms on long-haul flights,” he says.

But if you are thinking of wearing something soft and silky for your flight, think again. “No satin pyjama bottoms, please. In case of an emergency, satin will stick to your body like glue, making it difficult for you to move swiftly,” he says.

His other tips include bringing clothing that do not require ironing and wearing thermal wear for “winter” holidays. “These are your best friends during winter because they are lightweight, easy to pack and will keep you warm without having to carry a lot of bulky winter clothing.”

For frequent travellers, he reveals that the best way to beat queues at the airport is to travel business or first class. “You will be given a fast-lane pass when you travel business or first class, so it really helps those who are always chasing for time.”

Mr Mohd Sharizan Ahmad Shukor, 38, Malaysian Airlines

When he is working, it is always safety first for Mr Sharizan. According to the flight attendant of 18 years, one of the joys of flying is meeting new people and learning other cultures. “I have three kids, aged 17, 13 and 11. My wife and I take them on our travels and make sure they learn about new cultures from other parts of the world.”

Create more space
Travel-sized toiletries and amenities are great, says Mr Sharizan. He also suggests rolling or vacuum-packing your clothes to save space in your luggage. “You can use vacuum-compression bags and travel storage bags to separate different types of clothing.”

If you are travelling with a baby or children, do not bring along too many carry-on bags or items. “Just pack what your baby really needs, like diapers, wet wipes, milk and baby food. If you have too many bags, you might accidentally leave something behind or find that you don’t have much space to put your own stuff,” he says.

Lastly, he says you should always complete your landing forms when you are on your flight and not after you land. This will save you a lot of time.

Ms Chai Tze Yee, 23, Malaysian Airlines

The thing Ms Chai likes most about being a flight attendant is the opportunity to see the world, and also to be part of the hospitality industry. “It has been my dream since primary school. I was seven or eight at the time and the flight attendants had always looked so glamorous and stylish to me,” she says.

She feels a flight attendant has a “glamorous” job, although there is a lot more to it than meets the eye. “A lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifice is involved,” she says.

Preparation is key
It is important to prepare yourself before a long-haul flight, says Ms Chai. Sleep and eat well before a flight. On board, do some reading or watch a movie to keep yourself awake if you need to. Stand up and stretch or walk around the cabin at intervals.

She suggests getting some sunlight once you have arrived at your destination to help your internal body clock adjust to the different time zone, if necessary. “Doing some light exercise helps too,” she says.

Trying new food is one of the best things about travelling, but taking care of what you eat is also essential. “Try to avoid food like baked beans, chickpeas, onions and carbonated drinks. These can cause gas in the tummy and make you feel bloated,” she says.

Save money
Travel during off-peak seasons if you want to get cheaper flights and accommodation, says Ms Chai. “If you’re going to several destinations, flying out from a different airport rather than going back to the original airport to fly home might be more economical,” she adds.

And for parents, here is her advice: “Book a bassinet seat for your baby. In the economy class, it might be known as ‘bulkhead seat’ or ‘bulkhead row’, and is usually located near the toilets, galley or cabin divider.”