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Now reading Just the Tips: How to Win at Airplane Travel

Just the Tips: How to Win at Airplane Travel

Advice from our globe-trottingest friends.

This story comes from Lucky Peach #7: The Travel Issue. For more great stuff like this, subscribe to the magazine!

In the issue, editor David Chang gathered advice from his globe-trottingest friends. We pulled the most Money Month-esque answers for your perusing pleasure.

What do you really carry and use while traveling?

Aziz Ansari: Laptop, thumb drive with a bunch of movies, a book or two (only to take up space and make my bag heavier, never actually read), a Ziploc bag with energy sheets (they’re like Listerine strips with caffeine and vitamin B, absorbed faster that caffeine you drink because it goes through your tongue), cough drops, tea (Throat Coat and Gypsy Cold Care), sleeping aid, and an eye mask. Don’t hate on eye masks by the way. They help a lot.

Corey Lee: The advancement of the mobile device has totally changed what I need when I travel. I have a camera, reading material, itineraries, and communication all in one. Now, all I bring other than my phone is a five-inch by 8.5-inch Moleskine notebook that’s big enough to sketch in and small enough to fit in my pocket, and plenty of Uniball 0.5-mm pens.

Pat Nourse: Books and magazines—as in, actual printed material on paper. I think there’s a real art to choosing the right book to fly with. Too short or too light and it’s gone before the lights go out; too heavy and it’s a pain to pack. You want a fair bit of bounce per ounce, but go too dense and it might not be absorbing enough to make the hours and the flying metal tube disappear. David Foster Wallace: no. George Saunders: yes. Dickens: yes. Dick: no. The Anatomy of Melancholy: no. The Godfather: yes. And I think it almost always ought to be fiction. You want to have already read enough before leaving to have become engaged, too. There’s much to be said for the disposable book: the Hunger Games books got me through a fairly evil twenty-four-hour stretch of travel; they were cheaply bought and I felt no qualms about leaving them in the airport for someone else when I was through. Kindles and tablets are fine, but you need real paper for takeoff, landing, and texture. Also: pen and paper.

Michael Abbott: Bucky eye masks; it’s like wearing a bra on your face, except the surface protrudes and leaves your eyes free of contact. Incredibly refreshing and they are blackout. JBL Flip speaker: essential for impromptu room parties (connects to anyone’s iPhone through Bluetooth). Ipad mini: download every magazine conceivable prior to travel, plus the New York Post each morning to read the trash talk.

How do you beat jet lag?

Paul Chevariat: People only focus on how to battle jet lag after the fact, but a bit of preparation can go a long way. I like to induce a “confused sleep pattern” a couple days before long-haul flights by staying up late, waking up early, taking strange naps—anything to throw my body off its routine. This helps you sleep on the plane, and when you arrive you’ll be able to adapt to a new schedule more quickly. When you do arrive, stay busy, stay outdoors, and don’t nap. Naps are a handicap for the weak.

What is/are your favorite airlines?

Aziz Ansari: The times I’ve been on international flights where I’ve been lucky enough to be on business/first class were the shit. First off, the people are so nice to you. They actually act like you’re a customer and you’ve paid money to use their airline. Basically, they treat you nicely, as opposed to domestic flights most of the time, where I just feel like, What the fuck? Does this lady think I beat up her children or something? Also, on really long flights, they give you pajamas. I throw those jams on ASAP. They are comfy and when you land you can change back into your regular clothes and they won’t be sweaty or anything. I even kept some jammies I got from Cathay Pacific and wear ’em on the reg at home. I’ve gotten several compliments on them. Unfortunately I washed them and the top shrank. Damn, I was bummed. This is way deeper than we need to get about these jammies.

Mario Batali: Singapore, Lufthansa, and Japan Airlines. I love Virgin as well but do not get a chance to fly it very often. I love Cathay Pacific because the food is delicious and they give the choice of Eastern or Western (I choose Eastern every time), and they have fine wine and good sake (I choose fine wine every time). Last flight, I had a perfect white burgundy and enjoyed every drop, followed by a glass of Lynch-Bages with some sesame cookies, and dreamed the dreams of a dynasty emperor.

Corey Lee: The domestic options are pretty dismal. I fly American Airlines mostly, but mainly because I’m a victim of the mileage rewards program, which keeps me loyal with only nominal benefits. Singapore Airlines is probably the most comfortable. But overall, when considering service and quality of flight-attendant uniforms, I would have to say my favorites are Korean Airlines and Asiana.

What are the perks/drawbacks of flying first class? Or business? Or coach? Do you have any classist opinions on classes of flying?

Mario Batali: Although I am a huge fan of aviation in general, I do not actually love the travel part if it’s even slightly uncomfortable or sticky. I try to fly first on planes that have both coach and business for the simple reason that they really make the front feel better. A business/first hybrid is really not anything like first at all. I cannot think of a single drawback to flying first except that I may get accustomed to the comfortable seat and the drink the second I sit down. Actually, I never like the fancy PJs they offer me, although I sometimes wear the footies.

Corey Lee: One thing I won’t do is fly business or first and have the rest of my crew sit back in coach. I hate when events propose flying you business and your sous chefs coach. Makes me feel like an asshole.

Pat Nourse: The drawbacks of flying coach are pretty well documented, but there’s something to be said for it when the planes are empty. I remember having four seats to myself on a regular basis during that first big SARS freak-out. Good times.

Aziz Ansari: I feel like a dick talking about flying first, etc., but the truth is I travel a lot for work and I fly first. The best part is when you fly American from New York to LA—near the end of the flight, they bake fresh cookies on the plane and serve them with milk. What’s also weird is that no matter how dead asleep I am, as soon as those cookies start smelling good, I immediately wake up. My inner fatso overpowers my body and is like, Wake up!  Cookies!

Here’s the issue, though: over the past few months they haven’t had chocolate chip. They switched over to oatmeal-cranberry or some shit. Look, let’s just keep chocolate chip as the standard one. No one has ever gotten excited about a stupid oatmeal-cranberry-walnut cookie. I don’t know how to get the word out about this very important issue, but hopefully this is a start.

What was your best airplane food experience?

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Rick Bayless: Flying on Kingfisher Airlines from Kerala to Mumbai, India—vegetable curry with rice. My experience has always been that the Indians do the most delicious and varied vegetarian food, but who would think they could reach those heights on an inexpensive and cramped coach flight? I asked for seconds but was turned down.

Robert Bohr: If we exclude private flights, where I’ve seen Daniel Boulud and Michel Troisgros do some amazing things with microwaves, I would say that, in general, airline food is a lot better than it was, but is still not worth getting worked up about. One tip I received from a flight attendant that has proven to be reliable is that the fish option is usually the better choice. I know it’s counterintuitive, but since everything is overcooked to hell, the fish doesn’t seem to suck as much as the hockey puck that is served as filet mignon.

One food experience I have to give a shout-out to is the ice-cream trolley in business class on United international flights. No matter if I’ve just eaten a ten-thousand-calorie tasting menu at Per Se, I’m still eating the ice cream sundae that comes about two hours into the flight. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not Grom pistachio gelato, but I grew up eating trashy grocery-store vanilla ice cream and this is my Proustian memory, so cut me some slack.

Pat Nourse: I was pretty happy climbing into a Qantas business seat at LAX on the way home from a longish assignment to be greeted by the option of “a large bowl of pea-and-ham soup.” I don’t want to get all Tyler Brûlé on you here, but something big and hot in a real earthenware bowl with a proper spoon is restorative in a way that tortured bits of smoked duck salad will never be. Apart from that, the best times have always been strictly BYO. I’ve been very glad to have had Torrisi heroes and a box of Doughnut Plant’s finest when I’ve been stuck for an hour on the tarmac at JFK. I’m also pretty keen on the fact that Qantas stocks Bundaberg ginger beer in all classes. It mixes with every known spirit and is also excellent straight up.

What’s your prescription for flying?

Aziz Ansari: I use Xanax but I’m thinking of switching to melatonin gummy bears. I would be down to try Xanax gummy bears, but I doubt they exist, because that would be a very dangerous idea.

Mario Batali: I stick with a red beer at the airport, followed by a bloody mary once aboard, and then a bottle of fine white with supper, and out I go!

Paul Chevariat: Zopiclone, which is a generic for the sleeping pill Lunesta. It makes everything taste strange, but somehow scotch still tastes good. After a double dose of each I play a little game called “How long can I watch this movie before I start drooling?”

Corey Lee: For the eight-to- ten-hour, eye-crusting, Princess Bride fairy-tale dream kind of sleep, nothing works better than a glass of whiskey followed by a shot of NyQuil.

How do you navigate a room-service menu?

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Mario Batali: Unless I know the chef I would rather hit the street food in the middle of the night than order mediocre “Western” food from the twenty-four-hour menu. During the daytime hours I cannot imagine using room service except for rehydration purposes.

Rick Bayless: I read every room-service menu. I’m curious to see what the hotel chef thinks his visiting clientele want to eat privately in their rooms. It’s rarely what I want, so I usually go out or just skip eating. If I find something listed that’s really local or specifically geared toward one visiting ethnicity (usually Japanese or Arab), I can be tempted. I usually learn something when I spring for it, though it’s rarely memorable. Eating Middle Eastern food at the Dorchester in London, though, was an exception. As was sukiyaki prepared for us in our room at a ryokan in Kyoto. The latter was one of the best meals of my life.

Massimo Bottura: The club sandwich is my measuring stick. As soon as I arrive in a hotel, I order a club sandwich at the bar/lounge. It could be six a.m. or midnight. I could be in Bangkok or LA. If the sandwich is right—crunchy, not soggy, perfectly dressed, juicy inside, full of flavor—then I’ll think about eating another meal in the hotel. If not, no room service for me.

Graham Elliot: For some reason, when staying in a hotel, I’m convinced I will starve lest I order everything on the room-service menu. I reckon it’s a defense mechanism, but I tend to order a bunch of shit, finish half of it, and store the rest just in case.