Look, babies, the fact that we can take a miraculous airborne bus across the entire world if we want to should feel MAGICAL, not all panic-attack-y.
There are many ways to make air travel into a PARTY IN THE CLOUDS. Basically, the key is treating it like a break from any and all personal/professional responsibility: no cell phones, no work, no nothin' except the wide-open sky. Because for the next few hours, you're about YOU and you only (except maybe free peanuts — you can also be about free peanuts if you want).
1. Plan out your ideal flying outfit in advance to avoid last-minute clothing crises.
If you look like a schlub, you feel like a schlub, so get together an outfit that's both appropriate and comfortable in advance. As it turns out, racing through security check in sagging Snoopy pajama bottoms isn't that great of a look, so have your real-person clothes ready to go.
Here's a good plane outfit template: slip-on shoes (but NO flip-flops — no one wants to look at your toe hair for a whole danged flight), your coziest socks, jeans, a well-fitting tank top or T-shirt, and a cardigan. Done and done. Snoopy will be there when you get back.
2. Get together all the stuff you'll want on the plane in your carry-on or "personal item" (aka "another carry-on, but smaller") the night before too.
Here's what you'll want with you on flights longer than a couple hours: Advil (did you know that sometimes babies can cry really loudly on planes? They can!), a book or magazine, a notebook and pens, pre-moistened cleansing towelettes (for wiping down seat rests or whatever), headphones, gum for ear poppage (enough to offer some to your neighbors too), and a bottle of water filled up or purchased after you get TSAsered. And maybe a stuffed animal if you get nervous on planes.
3. Pack the right book.
I swear to god, if you're, like, trying to freshly crack the spine of The Magic Mountain on a plane, you deserve everything you get. In this case, that means misery in the form of not being able to concentrate on a dense German novel that weighs more than everything else in your bag combined. Do you understand life at all, like, even a little bit? If so, keep that page count low.
While you can make an exception to this rule if you're in the middle of an especially engrossing epic, don't start any long-term book projects on a plane. Instead, stick to short stories or essays — you can dissolve into a few without drink-cart-related interruptions or boisterous children tripping up your concentration too badly, plus you don't have to fully commit to another book if you're already involved in reading something else.
4. If you wear makeup, figure out your toiletry situation.
While you don't want to lug your entire makeup kit into the vast azure horizon, it's nice to have some mascara and other assorted beautifiers on hand — plane air can get kind of gross and stale a few hours into your journey and make YOU feel gross and stale in turn.
Choose multipurpose cosmetics where possible, like BB cream and lip/cheek stains, and then pick a few more easy-to-apply products that will help you look refreshed and put-together when you slap 'em on just before deplaning. The idea is to reach baggage claim looking like you just landed on the ground, but as a freshly birthed angel from heaven rather than a sunken-faced slouch with a butt cramp.
5. If you have a smartphone, download some totally absorbing adventure game in advance.
Pick something with a story line in which you can get almost too immersed — the type of game you might normally feel a little guilty about sinking hours into. Since time isn't real in the sky (ask any scientist), make sure to select one with reviews that say, like, "THIS GAME RUINED MY LIFE I COULDN'T STOP PLAYIN IT," or are otherwise borderline deranged/in all caps, for maximum effect.
6. If you're flying internationally, go into the duty-free store with all the nicest cosmetics and go buck with the fancy testers.
Slather some La Mer moisturizer all over your grill, feel how many dollars are currently sinking into your face-skin, and pretend you're fucking Oprah. Let loose, ignore the stares of the clerks (h8 you, judgmental duty-free clerks, yes, I already know I'm broke without you narrowing your eyes like that) and allow yourself to luxuriate in all the nice stuff you can't afford otherwise.
Bonus: Using a lotion that costs a third of your rent will ensure that your skin doesn't get all weird and dry when you're cruising at 40,000 feet later on—it's a practical and fun as heck way to spend your pre-flight time. Such an Oprah move of you, really.
7. Do you drink? Get modestly tanked on two fantastically dumb drinks from a chain restaurant.
The fact of the matter is, it's rarely a great idea to take down a thousand-calorie, $15 vase of food coloring, mint, triple sec, and rum on the regular old ground. But airport rules are very different indeed, you see. Airport rules allow you to take two Twizted Pear Tom Collinz Blenders to the face and emerge from a TGI Friday's bar feeling like a fearless champion. Get into it, and pick one with an entire produce section's worth of gross fruit lurking in the depths. Healthful!
8. Try to sneak into the Captain's Lounge!!!
OK, or, you know, just ask politely. An essential truth of traveling: People who work at airports aren't used to good manners. Politeness confuses and disorients them. If you are kind to a person who spends their day being screamed at by entitled business-class monster-humans who HAVE BEEN A CLIENT OF THIS AIRLINE FOR YEARS AND WILL HAVE YOU FIRED FOR THIS, they will pretty much offer to name their next child after you, or at least look the other way on your hanging out in the "nice" part of the airport as long as you're flying on the club's airline. Aren't you glad you didn't wear those Snoopy pajamas now?
9. Scope out regional delicacies instead of eating regular old fast food.
If you're going to eat at an airport, which you definitely should if you're drinking, don't spend $9 on some deflated bagel. Instead, hit up a restaurant specializing in the area's best food, like barbecue at Brookwood Farms at North Carolina's Charlotte-Douglas airport or fresh oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar in Newark, New Jersey (which sounds like a revolting way to spend your life, but I promise it's lovely). This is an especially effective way to make layovers feel more like actual visits to the cities you stop in between planes.
10. Write in a journal about where you're going and why.
You know how you NEVER HAVE TIME to keep up with your diary? Now's your chance, and it's kind of a prime moment for record-keeping, too, since you're ostensibly going somewhere important (or at least distant) enough to warrant hopping on a plane to get there. In the future, you'll appreciate that you spent part of the flight taking inventory of what was happening in your life FAR more than you would a memory of, say, passing out on Xanax and unwittingly drooling on the guy next to you for four hours.
11. Take in the beautiful views.
Clouds, cities, and the ocean seen from above = all seriously so pretty, and there's no better time to appreciate that than during your flight. The sky is simply gorgeous as hell when you're all up inside of it, so take a break from staring at the gray seat back in front of you to relish that properly.
12. Order the dang snack box, for Pete's sake.
Go ahead and get rude on some hummus, olives, Pretzel Crisps and chocolate-covered acai blueberries—you are not going to encounter this bizarre assortment of foods on the ground, so you may as well enjoy some barbecue-flavored almonds while you've got the chance.
13. Go through the SkyMall catalog and pick the thing from each page that you'd most like to own.
Or, at least, the thing that you hate the least. CRUCIAL NOTE: Despite what those Pineapple-Pomegranate Piña-Ritas may be whispering in your ear as you peruse the catalog, DO NOT ACTUALLY ORDER ANYTHING. FOR REAL. You DO NOT NEED that floating pool speaker shaped like a Rastafarian frog, seriously, even if the copy guarantees that it'll "bring a smile to all your guests at your next backyard bash." You've never even had a backyard bash, dude!
14. If all else fails and you still feel like a complete stressball, just go to sleep.
Still hate planes? OK, that's fine, you're wrong but whatever — I've got a Holy Grail that'll change your mind if nothing else can. Here's the thing: You can almost always use a flight to kick back and snooze your weary head off for a few hours. Bring a sleep mask, earplugs, and maybe a little pharmaceutical helper, be it those handy little Nyquil capsules or another pillow pill of your choosing (this advice only applies if you're not drinking, though, for real).
See? Even if you hate taking planes, it can totally be the best if you do it right. So take heart, take flight, and when all else fails, take a goddamn nap. Happy travels!