How I Protect Myself On Flights When I Travel Alone
Contrary to what seasoned travelers might think, flying is much more dangerous than it looks. And I’m not just talking about the crazy reasons people get booted off the plane for. I’m talking about both safety AND security incidents that may lead to huge inconveniences and disastrous effects.
When so many people are kept in a tight space for hours, there are bound to be problems. Lots of things can happen on a flight — aircraft failure, fire, health problems, cabin accidents, turbulence, theft, violence, molestation, discrimination, paranoia, and of course the most feared, terrorism.
The moment you board the plane, you are at the mercy of the airline’s employees and equipment. You can’t walk away from something unpleasant or disobey the Captain’s order, and whatever the crew writes in the voyage report holds more weight than a single person account. However, you CAN use a few tactics to protect yourself and make your experience (and others’) much better. As a former flight attendant, I’ve came up with several ways to safely fly solo.
1. Talk softly
When someone talks loudly or aggressively, not only does it disturb other passengers, it catches the attention of the crew immediately. And to confirm your long time suspicion, yes, when one flight attendant notices something unusual, the entire set of crew would know about it. They’re supposed to keep everyone in the loop and unfortunately sometimes, it’s just plain old gossip. But I digressed.
Flight attendants are supposed to keep a close eye on rowdy passengers, making sure they’re not drunk or disturbing other passengers. The purser has the decisive power to alert the authorities if deemed necessary, so you don’t want a misjudgment or an abuse of power to implicate you. Keep it down and don’t draw unwanted attention to yourself. And of course, never utter words like bomb, gun, ISIS, hijack on a plane or in the airport.
2. Stay low-key
Speaking of unwanted attention, I don’t carry luxury handbags or wear expensive jewelery aboard. If you have to, keep it hidden or locked in your bag. In-flight theft happens more often than people realized. Always keep an eye on the overhead compartment that your bags are in, especially during mid-flight when cabin lights are turned off and people are asleep.
Keeping it low-key also means wearing clothes that are a little more modest. Molestation often happens in corners of the aircraft where there’s no eye witnesses, such as the washroom area. Try to stay within sight of people if possible and constantly be aware of your surroundings.
3. Make small talk with a flight attendant at your aisle
Do it the moment you get aboard and a tiny bit of rapport is built at the beginning of the flight. This small gesture has many benefits — A) The flight attendant may be nicer to you. B) The flight attendant establishes that you’re not threatening. C) The flight attendant and passengers that overheard the conversation will know that you speak English. Somehow, as an Asian traveling on non-Asian airlines, this tends to pleasantly surprise people and puts them at ease. Probably a good way to avoid paranoia?
4. Walk to the galley for things you need
A good chance to stretch out any muscles that might have stiffened from sitting too long. Prolonged inactivity can cause Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – a blood clot formed in the leg that can be serious or even fatal. However, a little stretching and movement can easily prevent that.
Not only would the flight attendants appreciate one less call bell to answer, you can take the time to further build rapport. It’s always good to have the crew on your side. But avoid the times near meal services, when things get busiest in the galley.
5. Wear shoes
In case of emergency, keeping your shoes on might save you a couple of toes or even your entire foot. And even if there’s no emergency, accidents happen all the time in the cabin. We can definitely use that extra layer of protection.
There are tons of heavy equipment used in the aircraft that can easily cause injuries. A brief drop in an unpredicted air pocket could send everything flying and even the roundest spoon could do significant damage. If a meal cart that weighs over 100kg rolls over your bare toes, your next destination would be the hospital.
Passengers walk around the cabin in socks or barefooted all the time. But if someone were to drop something sharp on the carpet, they would be the first to find out.
It might be nice to treat the cabin like your home, kicking off your shoes and strutting down the aisles. But it’s even nicer to keep both feet intact the whole flight through. Priorities, people.
6. Keep your seatbelt fastened the entire flight
I’ve ever encountered a slightly stronger turbulance on my flight from Singapore to San Francisco. It wasn’t bad enough to send us bouncing off the ceiling but it did flipped my meal over. Even at that point, some passengers were grabbing on to the armrests while their seatbelts were hanging off the side of the seats. If anything can save you in a major turbulence, chances are, it’s the seatbelt and not your grip.
Again on my recent flight back from Japan, the lady beside me fell asleep with eye shades on the moment she settled down. I was eyeing her unbuckled seatbelt the whole time. Eventually, I woke her up to fasten her seatbelt just before the take-off as none of the flight attendants noticed it. We could have taken off without the seltbelt fastened (which is a breach of aviation regulations by the way). Let’s just say it was more nerve wrecking for me than for her.
I think not many realize the extent of consequences a simple air turbulence can cause. With so many loose items around in the cabin, sometimes the biggest danger is not how much the aircraft rattles, but how many things can hit you in the face when it rattles.
Have a safe flight
It might sound like a lot of things to worry about. But for me, these are just practices that seem natural to me after being aware of the dangers of air travel. Just like how there are risks in every mode of transportation, maintain good practices and most of the time, it brings you safely to where you want to go.
If you have other ways to protect yourself on flights, please share them with me. In the meantime, safe flights everyone!