There’s an art to being a frequent flyer, and many have their airport routines down to a neatly choreographed dance.
By the end of 2017 some 3.7 billon passengers will have taken to the skies, according to the International Air Transportation Association. That’s a lot of travel – and a lot of jetlag, lost hours and timezones to be juggled.
But those who fly hundreds of thousands of miles a year develop certain routines and hacks to elevate the experience. Four frequent travellers tell BBC Capital their secrets for a better flying experience.
Occupation: environmental advocate, filmmaker, author (and grandson of Jacques Cousteau)
Home base: Beverly Hills, California
Time in the air: Logs more than 200,000 miles a year
Routine: If Cousteau is on an expedition, he wears his hiking boots on the plane. “It’s a pain to go through security with big shoes, but I always wear my biggest shoes on the airplane so I can pack as lightly as possible,” he says. Cousteau always brings his own healthy food and something to drink. “I don’t eat airplane food as a strict rule.”
Tips: Loyalty matters more than you might think – Cousteau suggests always joining frequent flyer and hotel loyalty programmes and using them as much as possible. Having status with an airline helps a lot when there is a problem and it also means that you have a better chance of getting upgrades, he says. “It may seem basic, but I am shocked at how many travellers don’t bother.”
Occupation: co-founder of Swedish podcast platform Acast
Home base: Stockholm, Sweden
Time in the air: 140 days a year, almost exclusively on international flights
Routine: On the day Rosander leaves for a new destination, he starts eating his meals for the time zone he is heading to, even if that means skipping one. He never eats on the plane, and he drinks lots of water. “Making sure to get some rest on the flight means I can hit the ground running when I land to make the most out of my time with my team,” he says. As soon as he gets to his hotel, he immediately goes to the gym. “It usually helps me fool my body and to get in the right mindset for the day.”
Tips: Rosander takes a Monday flight from Stockholm to New York so he can take meetings with two teams in the same day: Stockholm in the morning and New York in the afternoon. He recommends developing a routine for when you land. “There's a coffee shop in NYC on the Lower East Side called El Rey,” he says. “I always grab a coffee there when I’m in town on my way into the office, after a run down the East River. The routine helps me focus, shake any jetlag and get my synapses firing.”
Occupation: senior content analyst with app marketplace GetApp
Home base: Bethesda, Maryland
Time in the air: Recently took seven round trips in nine weeks – the first half of her year’s travel equalled a trip around the globe
Routine: Maffeo packs everything she needs into carry-on luggage. “This takes time and patience to get right, but I haven't checked luggage in nearly two years after reading travel blogs and learning how to take less clothes with me,” she says. She recently packed for a 30-day international trip to the UK and Spain and didn’t check a single bag. The trick? Using a backpack as her extra carry-on bag to go under the seat. “Travellers should bring carry-on suitcases that can fit in the overhead compartments. But using a backpack as your personal item allows you to pack more clothes along with your wallet, passport [and] laptop.” She also checks in online the night before her flights to change her seat if she sees an empty row or an upgrade available.
Tips: The best travel investment Maffeo says she ever made was to apply for traveller programmes that shortcut customs and security checks. In the US, these are ‘Global Entry’, which speeds up the customs process, and TSA pre-check, which lets approved fliers through security more quickly. “I can't count the number of hours – and flight connections – that these have saved me,” she says.
Occupation: founding partner of Innovative Dining Group (IDG)
Home base: Los Angeles, California
Time in the air: Roughly 12 weeks of the year, both domestic and international
Routine: Maen’s trick is to always wear all black, usually a black t-shirt and hoodie. “With black casual attire you can still look upscale,” he says. He packs light and tries to minimise time at the airport by arriving as close to departure time as possible – while still making the flight. “I have my transportation down to a science so I don't have to wait.”
Tips: Maen recommends knowing what type of airplane you are travelling on – different planes have quirks to them, like larger overhead storage or better seats in different places. With that information, he can go to a site like SeatGuru (which reviews different planes and rates the best and worst seats on them) to find the best place to sit.
To comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, please head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.
If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter called "If You Only Read 6 Things This Week". A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Capital and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.