Travel Tips from a Flight Attendant

Travel Tips from a Flight Attendant

Khai Johannes

By Khai Johannes \ February 26 2024

I have been in the airline industry for over ten years. The first two years were spent below wing as a ramp agent, and the last nine have been above wing as a flight attendant. Some may assume I’ve stayed in the industry this long to enjoy free flights and see the wonders of the world. It's possible. Far more likely is that I spent those years doing the research needed to write this blog. I’ve suffered through Moroccan sunsets, Japanese sushi and Hawaiian surf simply for you, dear reader. 

Over years of crossing time zones and collecting passport stamps, I've picked up a tip or two. Here I pass along five of my most important tips from my years in the airline industry. 

Below I’ve listed five of my rules to live by when it comes to domestic travel. I hope in sharing these I can help make your trip to the Wasatch easy and memorable.

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Carry-on is king

Standing at the end of the belt loader, I watch a diverse collection of bags make the mechanical crawl toward me. Situated behind me are a pair of carts in which I’ll organize the suitcases and begin delivering them to their corresponding gates. The tag on the first bag reads SNA, the airport code for Orange County. Next is another for SNA…or was it SAN for in San Diego? And now this other bag, is it SJC or SLC? Bags cascade downward, decisions are made within seconds and then I have to deliver the bags to gates before the planes parked there need to leave.

How does a bag get lost or left? I once heard risk management compared to a block of Swiss cheese. Each slice of cheese has its holes, but so long as the next slice doesn’t have the exact same holes, the risk stops there. With baggage handling, there are a few attempts to close those holes. Bag runners know how many bags are expected for each gate. Gate leads know how many bags are expected for the total count and from where these bags should be arriving (i.e. 50 originating from DEN, two transferring from RNO). All it takes for a bag to be left or sent to the wrong city is a little extra pressure from managers to push early or confusing DFW (Dallas) for DTW (Detroit).

Now let's cut away to you, dear reader, standing at baggage claim. You’re looking like the only one who wasn’t asked to dance at prom as all the other passengers have cleared out. It’s just you and your carry-on. Customer service has confirmed they’ve located your bag. Instead of arriving in SLC (Salt Lake City), it ended up in SCL (Santiago Chile). It’ll be delivered to you in two days. But what do you do until then? Yes, your travel insurance or the airline may cover the cost of gear rentals until your bags return to you speaking fluent Spanish, but do you have the things you need to get through those two days? If having your boots is a make or break, why did you check them under the plane? If you know you can’t sleep without the scent of lavender, why isn’t your essential oil in your backpack instead of your roller bag below? When possible, I make sure my most important items are in the cabin with me. 

Fewer flights = fewer stresses

Salt Lake City International Airport services 98 cities and counting. Airports are all ecosystems with their own difficulties and weather systems. The more cities included in your route to The Greatest Snow on Earth®, the more room for error there is. When possible, keep the number of connections low to increase the likelihood of you and your bag arriving on time. 

Time is a local construct

When working flights from the east coast returning back to the pacific time zone, I’ll hear co-workers doing what I call spherical math (because there’s no point to it). They’ll complain, “This van is at 5am EST… that’s 2 a.m. at home!”

No matter how many time zones I cross, whichever one I have to wake up in is the time zone I adjust to. The faster you can adjust to a time zone, the better your trip will be. 


Be picky with your people

You can cook an entire meal using a magnifying glass, and you can travel with that person who gets hangry. To both of those I ask, “why would you?” Travel is special, and trips of a lifetime only come around once. You must protect your trip at all costs! Not everyone travels well or for the same reason. Before starting that group chat named “Go-Go Powder Rangers,” take a serious look at the names on that list and ask if they’ll be seeking the same things out of the trip. If the answer is no, then you have to ask if they’re independent enough to do their own thing while you get what you want out of the Wasatch.

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Travel is a great way to get to know someone. It is by way of an Airbus 330 and a nonstop to Paris that I realized my then-friend could be my now-fiancé. On the other side of the spectrum, travel is how I learned that mixing two things you love isn’t always the best. Steak and ice cream shouldn’t be mixed, and neither should Chris and travel. Choose your travel partners wisely. 

Comfort over cute

My aforementioned fiancé swears “some girls will never care about this advice,” but it would be sacrilege for me not to mention this. Everyone wants to be cute until some discomfort hits. Pressurized cabins cause swelling, cabin temperatures are coin flips and distances from gates to baggage claim can be lengthy. Dressing for comfort first and cute second will ensure a much more enjoyable commute. Brands like Stio have first-class looks with custom fit comfort, supplying travelers with the best of both worlds.

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