Have you ever watched those clips on YouTube about flying in the 1950s and 60s? The ones where ladies in big hats are served lobster at 35,000ft and the chap sitting next to her lights his Marlboro cigarette while charmingly blowing smoke across the aisle? Well, times have changed, but if you thought those were the glory days of travel, think again.
Yes there may have been more glamour back then, but that’s mainly because only a tiny fraction of people could afford to fly. It’s much more democratic now because prices have tumbled. Taking into account inflation, a flight from London to New York in the 1960s was the equivalent of thousands of pounds now.
Of course there can be times, when 400 of you are crammed inside a small aluminium tube hurtling across the jet steam, when it all gets a bit overwhelming. So here, as a 60-flights-a-year man, are my top tips.
Now that some airlines are bundling check-in baggage as an extra fee, it pays to pack thoughtfully. For example, you can ditch big bottles of shampoo, skin cream and SPF when there's a CVS or Walgreens pharmacy on pretty much every street corner in America, selling products that are significantly cheaper than back home. And if you’re going to be away for a while, take fewer clothes and use a launderette or dry cleaner every so often when on the road. Many budget-oriented hotel chains will have a laundry room.
Turn up early.
Yes, I’ve turned into my parents - but why stress yourself by rushing at the airport? Get there at least two hours before your flight, if not three, so you can have a leisurely browse in duty free and a coffee in the café before you stroll to the gate like the boss you are.
Choose your seat carefully
It can be lovely to look out of the window when you’re passing Greenland at 38,000ft...but less so when you have to clamber over two strangers to go to the loo at 3am. Which is why I always get the aisle seat!
Check in online
Check-in opens 24 hours before your flight leaves. Get online then to bag the best seats and print your own boarding pass. (Have your passport and ESTA details to hand.)
Is it worth upgrading to Business Class?
No. Business Class is beyond fantastic when someone else is paying but you’re betting off sucking up Economy for eight hours and spending all the money you’d otherwise have spent on food, accommodation and experiences once you’re there.
Meal sizes on board have really shrunk or even been done away with altogether unless you pay extra. I always bring my own snacks on board, whether it’s a home-made peanut butter and jam sandwich, biscuits or crisps. But don't, whatever you do, bring fresh products – even a humble banana – into America or Canada or you could be in seriously big trouble: Google the US Customs and Border Protection for more information. Eat any fresh products on the plane or bin them on board. In April this year a passenger who’d flown on Delta from Paris was fined $500 by authorities for bringing in an apple that she’d been given on the flight.
To recline or not to recline?
Be respectful but remember you have the right to recline your chair, just as the person in front of you does theirs, so be zen, don’t huff and puff. Put your seat up for meal times. If you’re the person who reclines their seat fully as soon as they’ve taken off and leaves it like that the whole flight, then you’re an inconsiderate muppet.
What’s on TV?
In-flight seat-back TV is pretty good these days, but eight hours across the Atlantic is also a good time to catch up on those Netflix, Amazon Prime and iPlayer shows you’ve been meaning to see, so get downloading. Or go old school and read that book you’ve been meaning to get off the shelf for ages.
Points make prizes
Sign up for the airline’s frequent flyer programme. Not only will you get points towards a future trip, but members get priority on upgrades if the flight is busy.
Avoid alcohol to avoid jetlag?
Oh please, you’re on holiday: have that glass of Malbec! Just don’t overdo it...
Will Hide is a London-based travel writer who spent 12 years on the travel desk of the Times before turning freelance. He still writes regularly for the Times as well as the FT, Telegraph and numerous magazines. You can follow his travels at Been There, Done It.