Living On Planes

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Do you live on a plane?

It’s a question I get asked almost as much as, "how do you blog so often?" I do not live on a plane. I don’t feel like I blog all that often. The reason I am on a plane so much is because I refuse to stay out "on the road" for an extended period of time. If I can get in and out on the same day, this is my preference. If I must stay out for a night or two, I will. Begrudgingly. One day on the road is fine. Two if I must. Three if it’s completely out of my control. This all nets out at one thing: I’m on a lot of planes, because I’m always flying back home.

It’s not a hard life.

People whine and cry about their lot in life. As stressed out as work makes me, I try not to complain. I’m not fighting a life threatening disease. I don’t have to dig holes in the freezing cold. I’m not going to cry because I have to take a lot of planes. That being said, when I watch my peers (mostly online) talk about travel, it is rarely pleasant. There are so many uncontrollable factors that make air travel impossible, it’s a miracle that anyone has anything nice to say about the experience. We have turned complaining about air travel into the new, "how’s the weather?" It’s as easy to complain about air travel as it is to have a conversation about the weather… or your local sports team… or a band that you like. Living on planes is easy, so long as you take the appropriate measures. 

How to improve your life when you travel by air:

  1. Before you go. Make sure that your briefcase, knapsack, whatever is your new home. Be self-contained. I usually travel with my MacBook Air fully charged, a magazine (for the moments of flight that you’re not allowed to have something electronic on) and enough wires, headphones, chargers and more to keep me occupied. I also travel with my trusted Moleskine notebook if I ever feel like writing. On top of that, I travel with both a stomach and cold kit (trusted medicine and remedies should a cold or stomach issue arise).
  2. Loyalty. If you fly on a plane with any semblance of frequency, join a loyalty program. As most of my travel starts in Montreal, I’m part of Air Canada and Star Alliance program. Having access to the lounge helps take away some of the grind of gate-waiting. You can even use certain credit cards that grant you lounge access. It is worth it. As you gain status, it’s less about the accumulation and redemption of miles and much more about the concierge services, food, wi-fi access and comfortable spaces to relax, work or lose yourself in.
  3. Meditate. The entire process of air travel is about lines and waiting. From the parking or taxi cue to checking in to security to boarding to deplaning to waiting on luggage. Everything is about line-ups, pecking orders and waiting. Know this. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that the second you step into the airport, the only thing you can be sure of is waiting in lines and waiting for things to happen. I meditate by taking some strong, deep breaths before entering the airport. I’ll do this in the parking lot in my car or in the cab ride over (you can learn a great breathing technique right here: Take A Breather). Once I’m inside, I shut off from lines and waiting by keeping myself busy with my iPhone. Not email, Twitter of Facebook but long-form copy. I use Instapaper to read long articles that I have been saving up or my Kindle app to read some book pages. Trust me, when you have long copy, lines move faster. 
  4. Embrace the wait. You will be delayed. The flight will be cancelled. Something will go awry. It happens all of the time. So, reverse your thinking. Marvel at an on-time departures and arrivals. Don’t book important meetings that can’t be missed too close to the time that you are scheduled to land. It’s not the airline’s responsibility to organize your agenda. If you’re on the plane and it’s delayed for two hours and you suddenly realize that you’re not going to make that meeting you planned, don’t blame the airlines. If it’s really important go in the night before. If you can’t do that, let your client know that if the flight is delayed or cancelled, you won’t be seeing them. In short: you create the air and buffers to make airline travel as stress-free as possible.
  5. Catch-up. Travel time equals catch-up time. I let everything pile up before a flight: emails, movies I would like to watch, articles I want to check out, books that I want to read. This way, when I finally get to sit down in a lounge, at a gate or on a plane, I hardly know where I’m going to find the time to catch up on all of the amazing and interesting things there are to consume. If I’m due to write a blog post, article or book, the airport and the plane are the perfect environment to catch-up on that too. We all spend so much time wishing we had more time to watch movies, TV shows, read a book or magazine… or whatever. Airports! Planes! To the rescue.
  6. When you get down. It’s going to happen. You’re going to get down. You’ll miss a connection. A flight will get cancelled and leave you stranded in a not-so-fun city. Airports and planes really will (and can) drag you down. When that happens, look at pictures of your family and friends. If I’m really getting anxious about air travel, I go through the thousands of photos and videos on my iPhone of my family and everything is right in the world. It makes me realize why I’m doing this in the first place and what is truly most important in my life.

Travel well.

I am anxious by nature. I only started flying much later in life (I was in my late teens when I took my first flight). I see how stressed out and angry people get at airports and on planes. The system is flawed. It’s designed to be passive-aggressive and because of the intensity that people bring to air travel, I do one extra, little thing: I amp up my niceness by twenty percent. Open doors for people, say "please" and "thank you" all of the time, before you speak to anyone make eye contact first and smile and be overly sympathetic. I travel over 120,000 miles every year by air (and have done so for close to a decade), the only thing that makes being on a plane pleasant, fun and effective is my ability to make a very cold situation warm… at every point.

What are your tricks to making airline travel tolerable?


  1. I don’t travel nearly as much as you, Mitch, but I try to take a similar attitude. I have also started packing minimally so there is less to lug around and manage.
    Hopefully I will run into you en route one day!

  2. Great advice. I find just being resigned to being in an airplane for 2 or 12 hours and making the most of it. Great place to catch up on things without distractions.

  3. I second the advantage of NEXUS especially now that it provides Trusted Traveler status at some US airports. I also strongly recommend adding a package of moist towelettes to your carry on bag. They can be used to clean sticky hands, airplane trays as well as a quick refresh during a long flight.

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