11 Tips and tricks for packing your bag like a Flight Attendant

tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant

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When I travel,  I have this insatiable urge to pack everything I think I might need on a trip. It answers to my “let’s be prepared for anything” proclivities. Even though I’m going to a tropical island, what if I might need sweaters, multiple sweat pants, mittens, and beanies? Sure, I’m going to New York in winter, but what if I might need swim wear, sun screen, and flip-flops? Well, here are 11 tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant!

To be honest and fair, my perfectly zipped bag of order is in fact packed with winter gear, summer gear, and everything in between. But that’s because my job requires me to be prepared for all kinds of weather. I am flying between multiple destinations on a three-day work trip, like my last 3-day trip, where I spent one night in hot, humid Cancun and the other night in Chicago during the heart of winter.

Let me help you pack your roller-board in a sensible way that we Flight Attendants have learned from our travels and from each other. I am here to help you pack. If you’re one of those people sprawled on the floor in front of the ticket counter with your roller-board gutted like some freak dead body, dismembered body parts thrown haphazardly around—underwear there, shoes way over there, bras hanging on someone’s arm; these people who are walking question-hurricanes, “my bag fit the last sizer, I don’t know why it’s not fitting now,”  please focus on my voice and pay attention to these packing tips. Here are some nifty roller-board tricks flight attendants and I do to make traveling easier. They may help you get your life together:

1. Less is Best

Pack your bag according to your destination. Don’t pack winter gear for a summer destination. Pack only what you’re going to need. Also, think of multiple uses for your clothes. A sweater can double as something to wear when it’s cold at night, and it can keep you warm on a cold airplane. Surely you’re not going to need winter boots, mittens or beanies while vacationing in Cancun!?

If you’re itinerary takes you through multiple destinations with a wider range of temperatures variations consider what you can use in place of something else, or consider what you can actually wear during your flight. For instance, instead of packing huge winter boots, which can be pretty darn heavy and take up a lot of space, how about wearing multiple layers of socks with your normal shoes? Or instead of packing your winter boots, how about wearing them onto the plane? Instead of packing a bunch of dresses or pants that go with only one shirt, how about packing shirts fashionable enough to go with different pants? Instead of packing multiple shoes, focus on one pair for all occasions? And instead of a raincoat, why not pack a compact an umbrella that fits in your personal-carryon item?

Tip: less is best when it comes to packing your roller-board. Definitely be frugal with what you bring. Because remember, you have to lug this thing around. If it gets heavy and bulky when you prepare as if the world is going to end on your vacation, Flight Attendants, myself included, will not hurt their backs to lift your heavy bag. We will definitely get it gatechecked. Please, make it easier on yourself: less is best!

2. Fold your clothing or Roll them? What about Space Saving Bags?

I have to put a little more effort into arranging my bags because I have to be prepared for trips with weather at opposite ends of the spectrum, as in Cancun one night and Chicago the next. I have only one roller-board to get this right. Flight Attendants are not given storage lockers or extra space at the airport to store items. These tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant will help you do the same!

tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant

To maximize the space in my bag, I roll my clothing into little logs. I am able to pack three or four shirts, two pants, shorts, swim wear, undies and socks for 5 days, a sweater and a jacket. I’ve seen some flight attendants go a step further and roll their clothes with large rubber bands to compact those little clothing-logs even more.

There is this flight attendant I had worked with in Chicago who goes all out with her packing abilities. She purchases Space Saver Bags, no pump or vacuum needed, from Amazon. With these Space Saver Bags she does the same concept of rolling her clothing, but she places her clothes in these bags, rolls it, and seals the end after the air has been compressed out. She has 5 or 6 tubes of clothes that are full outfits! She told me it takes little effort to roll her clothes in the bag and with the amount of clothing she can put into these bags, she can bring her whole closet!

Tip: roll your clothes. Even if you don’t purchase these space saver bags, rolling your clothes frees up space that could be used for souvenirs, more clothing, or a lighter bag that you can lift it into the overhead bin!

3. Keep your clothing smelling fresh

My roller-board is always packed. At the start of each month, clothing from my bag is swapped out for freshly laundered clothing from the closet. Clothing will stay in my roller-board for the whole month. After half the month goes by my clothes start to pick up a stale, sometimes sweaty smell. Sure, some hotels have laundry, but I usually get to the hotel late at night with a minimal time to rest for the next trip. I don’t have time or the urge to do laundry when I get into the hotel room at one o’clock in the morning.

Heres a great tip: while a travel-size Fabreze or Lysol takes care of smells, these mini bottles can still take up space. Instead, use laundry dryer sheets. Place them throughout your bag and in between clothing, and make sure to have a few handy in ziploc bags to have access to a supply of them during your travels. It definitely helps keep your clothes smelling fresh without giving up a lot of space.

4. Make your bag unique

Most bags look the same! 

tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant

I’ve made my bag unique by attaching tags from the Airport Bases I’ve been stationed at—LAX, ORD, and MIA. My partner Zach attaches Disney pins and Disney memorabilia to his. This is just one of many tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant.

Tip: make your bag yours. If you don’t want to pay the big bucks for those designer bags with the cute prints or designs, how about you use iron-on jacket patches to adorn your bag? Or maybe using stencils to spray paint onto your bag the countries or cities you’ve visited. The thing to keep in mind is that your roller-bag might be banged around in transit, so don’t get too attached to your tags, pins, or your hard work of a spray job. My tags are glued together with KrazyGlue. I’ve definitely lost a few before.

tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant

5. Expandable Bag or not?

If you somehow made it pass the gate agent with your oversized, expanded roller-board and I see you coming down the airplane aisle with that huge bag, I’m going to laugh at you. “Um, sir, can you help me? My bag is too heavy.” Me, “Nope. You pack it, you lift it.” 

Or, that one passenger who overstuffs his or her roller-board and can’t seem to make it fit into the overhead bin no matter how many times he or she shoves and shoves and shoves. Then they look to me, the magical flight attendant, and ask how I am going to defy physics and somehow get their large item into that small space. Don’t worry, buck-o, I’m going to stand there and contemplate the notions of physical reality right there with you.

We flight attendants follow a beautiful rhyme taught to us by our Mothers, our seasoned Flight Attendant Senior Mamas:

If you bag it, you drag it – If you tow it you stow it – If I grab it, I tag it, and check it.

Think twice before you use the expandable section of your bag. Don’t get me wrong, though, about having a bag capable of expanding. You can really go to town by overstuffing it when you’re collecting souvenirs from other countries. But be forewarned that this expandable bag will be checked at the ticket counter, by the gate agents, or by your flight attendants if it is too expanded.

Tip: less is best!

6. Where’s my bag?

In the event that your luggage gets chucked off to Timbuktu, or sent on a vacation of its own, keep calm, it will be found. Lol, maybe. 

Make sure to have your name and phone number listed on the contact sheet usually found on the side of the bag. If there is no contact card or pouch for your contact information, type one out on  paper and place it in one of the outer pockets of your roller-board.

I’ve often heard from baggage handlers that the most common way for an airline to lose luggage is because passengers do not remove scanning tags from previous trips. The baggage carousel is a magical place of robots and scanning equipment. If today’s trip is to Las Vegas, but you have a scan tag from a vacation last year to Sydney, that wizard of a machine might read your old tag and, gueLas Vegasss what, while you’re spending money on expensive Las Vegas clothes instead of Black Jack tables, your bag is taking in the sights and sounds of hot guys with accents in Sydney, Australia!!

Tip: most airlines have an App that allows you to track your bags! The American Airlines app uses your PNR check-in code to keep track of your bags. Ingenious. Or, if your airline doesn’t have an app to keep track of your bags, there are these nifty little things called Rebound Tags, Luggage Trackers, or Tiles available for purchase on Amazon. These things are marvels of the world. I no longer have to suffer the idea of my pretty Andrew Christian undies in the hands of a stranger. I know where my bag is and I can help the airline get my shit back.

7. Baggage Insurance

When I was moving from Los Angeles to Chicago I checked a bag full of kitchen dinner plates my grandma had handed down to me for my new home. Upon arriving in Chicago, I found these plates smashed even though they were wrapped with protective layers. I called the airline’s reservation number, who put me through to baggage claim, who placed me on hold to get to Lost and Found, who put me on the right track to the Claims Department. Since I didn’t have a receipt or any proof that the airline destroyed my plates, there wasn’t much the airline could do other than give me some points for the Airline’s loyalty program.

Tip: Baggage Insurance. There are some travel companies who insure luggage. Some credit card carriers, like American Express, offer Baggage Insurance when you use their card to purchase tickets. Regardless, make sure to read the Conditions of Carriage for your Airline. Most airlines will do their best to help you. Keep detailed notes of your more expensive items that you place into your checked bags, like receipts and photos. But keep in mind the airline’s job is to get you from point A to point B, not to take care of your precious cargo.

Be prepared to get no assistance from the airline. Maybe consider shipping your precious souvenir items by using a reliable courier service, like FedEx or UPS. They are more readily prepared to transport your fragile, valuable items than you are, especially how you wrapped those Fabrige Eggs in a newspaper and stuffed them between your panties. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, now, does it? Spend the extra money on insurance or Cargo carrier.

8. Repairs and Up-keep

My roller-board is my home away from home. If you were to open my bag you will find a magical world of travel: neat and ordered clothing, an eclectic array of hotel toiletries, a morsel of chocolate from Japan or Paris caught between some crevice overlooked, and maybe even a map or two of subway stations and city sightseeing. My bag is everything to me. Without it, how the heck can I work? I keep it in top condition when I can, unscrew the wheel housings and remove hair and gunk, give them a good oiling with WD-40. I take it to the baggage shop to reattach zippers that have popped off. And if worse comes to worst, my airline provides me with new luggage every few years.

Point is, not everyone has a new bag like I do. You definitely want to keep your bag in good condition so you can keep using it for all your travel adventures. Your bag will definitely get banged around by you, by the airlines, and by everything else under the sun. Treat it a little better than your baby.

Or, if you don’t care about your bags and would rather spend that bag money on your trip, consider getting a cheap bag that won’t phase you if it were to bust apart like some poorly contained drag queen.

Tip: purchase a sturdy roller-board from a reputable company with warranties. Spend that extra dollar so that when you bag happens to wear down, it can be replaced by warranty.

9. Leftover food

My roommate brings a lot of food on her layovers, and sometimes she has food to-go boxes from restaurants she’s visited while on a trip. Or, have you been to a restaurant in London or at an airport restaurant eating a large lunch and can’t finish it? You may pack it up to go, take it on the plane or back to the hotel for a late night snack only to realize there’s no easy access to a microwave, or the flight attendants won’t allow you to heat up personal food in the ovens for Health and Allergy reasons? 

One of my most awesome discoveries from flight attendants and my roommate is the Hot Logic miniature portable oven. We are finally living in the year 3030. This little contraption is much like those insulated pizza carriers you see pizza delivery guys carrying. But this thing has a heating plate on the bottom. Just place your togo food onto the little gadget and WAHLLA! Your soggy fish and chips are now warm! Yay!

Tip: Hot Logic is by far the most amazing device I have ever seen. You can even put plastic on some of them! You can get through airport security with them! And with the extra space you saved by rolling your clothes, you now have a spot for this collapsible mini-oven!

10. Smart Bags

The new rise in Smart Bags have caused some confusion with the traveling public. Smart bags have these capabilities built into them: portable device charging, GPS tracking, Bluetooth and Wifi, and even electronic scales. These are some pretty awesome bags.

The problem with these, though, is that they carry Lithium Ion batteries. Lithium-Ion Batteries have the potential to cause High-Energy runaway fires. Remember some time ago the Samsung phone that randomly caught fire because its battery overheated? Yeah, that potential is too damn scary on an airplane, especially if you checked your Smart Bag and it catches fire while inside the cargo hold of the aircraft where no one can get to it. That’s why Gate Agents say to remove any lithium-ion batteries from all checked luggage. When you bring your Smart Bag onto the plane the battery can still be attached, but we have a better chance of combating a high-energy fire inside the airplane rather than in the cargo hold. Yep, your flight attendants are capable of doing such things as fighting High Energy Fires.

Tip: some Smart Bag manufacturers are changing their battery systems to use batteries that are not made with Lithium Ion, like Heys manufacturers. Also, maybe instead of all these fancy gizmos and gadgets at a hefty price, use Airport or Coffee Cafe wifi’s, or use GPS luggage tags as stated in above section 6. 

11. Which roller-board to purchase?

The airline employer I work for provides luggage from a company that mainly caters to flight crew members, flight attendants, and pilots. They are called Travel Pro. They develop bags that are meant to withstand the wear and tear of travel. Zippers are strong. Baggage casing is tough. Tires are well designed for easy pulling. These are superbly designed bags and they come with a warranty. Travel Pro makes large roller boards and smaller tote bags. Take a look at their bags. Travel Pro does sell flight crew bags to the general public. Like I said, a good strong travel bag becomes your home away from home. Make the investment if you’re a globetrotter.

Conclusion

These are just some tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant. Many of these tips have come from observing that peculiar species called Flight Attendants. We sure are a certain breed of people capable of magic. If there is one thing I will definitely say about us is that we are everyday McGuyvers. I have seen flight attendants do some crazy, amazing things when it comes to traveling. We can do about almost anything we want with what we have and with what we know and a little creativity.

I think to myself, as I’m pulling my highly organized roller-board and tote, I know more about luggage and packing because my career is centered on being able to up-and-leave at a moment’s notice. Hopefully, these tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant help you learn more practical ways to organize your bag so that travel is less stressful for you. I know a thing to two because I have seen and laughed at a thing or two.

Let us know how you pack and if you have tried any of these, and what you think! Also, sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know. And, after you have figured out these tips and tricks for packing your bag like a flight attendant head on over to figure out how to use wireless headphones with the airplane TVs, or better yet, what NOT to do on an airplane.

Thank you for your readership,

Johnny