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9 Secret Travel Hacks Flight Attendants Always Use

When you fly for a living, you know how to jet-set in the best way possible. Steal these pro tips!

If there's one group of people who are privy to the best travel hacks above all others, it has to be flight attendants. Not only do these professionals spend an average of 75 to 100 hours a month in the sky, but they've expertly packed a suitcase more times than you can fathom, weaved their way through countless terminals, and know the intricate ins and outs of any airplane. So, they know a thing or two about traveling well, inexpensively, and comfortably.

If you're looking to book tickets, board a plane, or navigate any new destination like a pro, here are the best secret travel hacks from four real flight attendants who have made jet-setting their careers… and way of life.

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Roll your clothing instead of folding it.

packing cube with clothes in it

"Tightly rolling your clothes increases the amount of space left in your roller bag, making room for bulkier items such as hair styling tools, jackets, and shoes," says Triniese Thomas, a flight attendant for Frontier Airlines based in Orlando, Fla. "This tip works even better when you plan most of your outfits ahead of time before rolling them into the bag."

As a bonus, rolling your clothes reduces wrinkling and helps keep everything neat, compact, and easily identifiable.

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Pack some older items in your suitcase.

A couple packing their suitcases for a trip

Raise your hand if you've ever had to make some hard choices when repacking your bags after buying one too many souvenirs. Nicole Padellaro, a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline who's based in Boston, Mass, says one of her best travel hacks is to pack a few older items that are on the brink of being retired from your closet.

"By ditching some clothing and accessories along the way, it'll open up the space in your luggage to bring home new goodies from your travels," she says. "[Plus], you can beat up some older items while doing activities along your travels and then you don't have to worry about packing the dirty items to bring home."

Bring a compact reusable bag.

canvas tote bag, what not to wear

Add a lightweight, but durable bag (think: a cloth tote or a reusable shopping bag) to your packing list and bring it with you every time you travel, says Michelle Lee, a Phoenix-based flight attendant who works for a U.S.-based airline.

It will come in handy once you're exploring your new destination. "You can use it to carry souvenirs, groceries, water, food, and an extra layer of clothes and necessities for the day," says Lee.

Pack a snack box with a frozen water bottle.

Water bottles in refrigerator

Being 30,000 miles in the sky with a grumbling tummy is the worst. And with reduced staffing at airlines, you can expect longer wait times at airport eateries and convenience stores.

Packing your own food in a small, collapsible lunch box spares you the headache of rushing around to get a bite to eat and saves you money, too. Plus, you can bring your own water bottle… as long as it's frozen.

"A frozen water bottle can be brought through security and keeps your food cool all day," says Pedallaro. "As it starts to melt, you can drink the water." It also allows you to pack a greater variety of foods, including those that taste better when kept cool.

Always download the airline's app.

Hand holding a phone with Delta Airlines flight booking application. Delta logo blurred on a blue background. Delta Airlines is one of the major airlines in the US

The thought of downloading yet another app might induce a few sighs, but having the airline's app on your phone is a must.

"With the advancement of technology and app use, airlines have really stepped up with what they're offering travelers," notes Padellaro. "Checking in, tracking your bags along your journey, having onboard entertainment and Wi-Fi—and gosh forbid, the need to rebook a flight—can easily be at your fingertips at any given moment with the app."

Many apps also keep you updated on current COVID protocols for airlines, airports, and destinations.

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Wear layers on the plane.

woman drinking on plane

If you're not checking a bag, one way to bring a few more items with you to your destination is to wear a variety of layers on the plane. Do this within reason, of course—you want to be comfortable on your journey and not look totally ridiculous.

"The heavier outer jacket can be held. Wear your tank top, shirt, and sweatshirt or sweater, plus the bulkiest of your shoes," says Lee. "You might be a little warm through the airport, but once onboard, you can take them off. This will allow a couple of extra days of clothes in your carry-on."

Bring some herbal tea bags.

weird facts

"Drinking herbal tea is an excellent way to decompress during your flight, especially after an exhausting trek through the airport," says Thomas. "They're usually decaffeinated, helpful in reducing anxiety, and provide hydration."

Most airlines won't have a nice variety during the beverage service, and it's a small enough item that you can pack into a backpack or even your pocket. Just ask your flight attendant for a cup of hot water.

Give your flight attendant a "Thank You" bag.

flight attendant talking to male passenger things that horrify flight attendants

One of the quickest ways to get on the good side of your flight attendants is to bring them a goody bag. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture—a quick thank you note and a small item (like lip balm, hand lotion, chocolates, a $5 coffee gift card, or facial mask) aptly convey your gratitude.

"This small sentiment means a lot, and you will get preferred treatment—even when in coach," says Lee. "[That might include] a welcome cocktail on the ground, the complimentary bag from first class, and many thank you's from the flight attendants. Just make sure to research the plane size and number of attendants and pilots."

Don't waste money on smart device holders that attach to the plane.

asian woman using her phone on the plane

Mikey Tongko, a Los Angeles-based flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, says that not all airplanes are equipped with inflight entertainment systems, though many airplanes do allow you to stream entertainment for free on your own devices. The problem is that some inventions possess features that don't comply with current regulations.

"Unfortunately, we see a lot of travelers bringing in phone or tablet holders that either attach or screw onto part of the plane—like the tray table—which is not allowed under FAA Regulations," explains Tongko. "Don't be surprised when Flight attendants ask you to stow those away." As an aside, many airline tray tables have built-in features that do allow you to easily prop up your devices.

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Wendy Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a veteran freelance lifestyle reporter based in Phoenix, Arizona. She covers travel, wellness, pets, and beauty. Read more