Frequent flyer? Here’s the ultimate travel checklist
You have to take a long look in the mirror when you realise you spend more time on the phone with Delta’s Diamond Medallion service than you do chatting with your loved ones; when you may even consider Delta’s Diamond team your nearest and dearest — indeed, they’re wonderful.
In 2017 I flew approximately 92,000 statute miles on Delta or one of its SkyTeam partners (everywhere from Bermuda to Tokyo Narita, and from Seattle and Shanghai to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast). I racked up tens of thousands more miles on other carriers, some on all-expenses-paid, business-class adventures and others in the very last rows of economy: Miami to Los Angeles; Miami to Havana; New York to Helsinki to St Petersburg; even tiny Pineapple Air from Nassau to North Eleuthera in the Bahamas.
I’ve tried Delta’s new open-air suites on their factory-fresh Airbus A350 aircraft and Etihad’s on-demand food service in business class (the steak sandwich is delicious). I’ve sampled American Express’s mellow-modernist Centurion Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport and the eggs benedict at Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class lounge at London Heathrow. I’ve come to admire the sheer scale of the lounges at Los Angeles’s Tom Bradley International Terminal, the outdoor terrace at Delta’s Terminal 4 Sky Club at JFK, and the quaint simplicity of Palm Beach International Airport in Florida.
As a regular traveller, I’ve developed habits designed to maximise travel efficiency: “Please, benevolent air traffic controllers of JFK,” I silently plead. “Slot this plane into a lower-numbered B gate at Terminal 4, otherwise the walk to get out is, like, four kilometres long.” If on Delta and going to Asia, I always connect through Detroit because that airport is lovely compared with most of what we have in the US. I urge US citizens to download Mobile Passport; it’s much faster than Global Entry, and it’s free. Additionally, I’ve come up with a go-to travel uniform designed to maximise my comfort — I’m 6ft 5 and, believe me, it’s a challenge. What to wear on a plane, what luggage to bring, and what toiletries to use have become personal obsessions. Here’s my checklist of in-flight essentials that make the art, act and burden of travel a little bit easier.
If you’re going to check a bag, nothing outdoes Tumi’s Extended Trip expandable packing case. It’s good-looking, soft-sided but also quite sturdy; it somehow seems to hold everything even as you keep adding more; it rolls along well, and looks even better with your monogram stamped on the front (a service done in-store by the company). Even if you’re not into monograms, it does help in identifying your bag when it comes to the inevitable sea of black luggage on the conveyor belt upon arrival. Tumi, extended trip expandable packing case, £735; tumi.com
I recently flew from Detroit to Seoul Incheon wearing this jacket, and it was the most comfortable layer I’ve ever used on a long-haul flight. Also: the zippered pockets are key (and thin enough so that they’re not annoying and prodding when you’re tossing and turning). Paskho cotton travel jacket, $98; paskho.com
For a carry-on, many would recommend a roll-aboard. Which is fair and reasonable. However, if you’re one of those voyagers who needs, for whatever reason, to get in and out of your luggage while in flight, roll-aboard baggage can be tricky. If you want to travel with a bit of fashion-y panache (and don’t mind a shoulder strap), there’s no better-designed bag than Louis Vuitton’s Keepall Bandoulière 55. It fits a perfect amount of weekend clothes, or whatever complementary contingency you need for longer jaunts. Don’t overstuff it but let it have some room for malleability (the way overhead racks are these days, you may be fighting for space). The model I use is a special edition made from when Kim Jones was still in charge of Louis Vuitton men’s, rendered in collaboration with artists Jake and Dinos Chapman (I had to save up for it). It’s a little flashy for most, but a classic monogram is universal enough to satisfy most tastes. Louis Vuitton Keepall Bandoulière 55, starting at £1,270; louisvuitton.com
This is my “baggage claim-to-boardroom” blazer, courtesy of Savile Row’s Richard James. It is made of “high-twist” yarns, which make the garment crease-resistant, and, better yet, it has a loose weave — which makes it very breathable and easy to wear. It’s always a pleasant sensation to sport this after a red-eye flight when you’ve been sardined in a pressurised metal tube for hours on end. Richard James Hyde blazer Hopsack, £595; richard-james.com
I like to keep my shoes on during a flight (unless I’m on a long enough flight where I’ll sleep because there’s literally nothing else to do). The best flying footwear are Common Projects’ Achilles sneakers; they’re long in the body, easy to put on and take off (handy for security lines that require shoe removal), and, in my opinion, the most attractive, cleanly designed tennis shoes on the market. Common Projects original Achilles sneakers, £290; mrporter.com
This is obvious. But besides texting, emailing, WhatsApping, Instagramming, Facebooking, and whatever other things one does on their phone, I find the iPhone X to be a good travel companion for entertainment in particular (big screen, strong battery). I recently enjoyed the entire second season of Netflix’s Santa Clarita Diet, curled up in my seat, watching from whatever angle I pleased. Also: I just use the earphones Apple provides with the phone; the big, over-the-head types are too bulky. Apple iPhone X, £999; apple.co.uk
These Nike sweatpants are very comfortable for sleeping (not too tight, but not overly pyjama-esque), and they have a convenient, deep pocket on the right side that can be zipped up to contain valuables, just in case you might want to snooze with your wallet and your passport on your person. Nike Tech Fleece Jogger Pants, £79.95; nike.com
Under the seat in front of you
The best thing about Bottega Veneta is that when it does something well, it keeps it in production. I bought this exact briefcase during London Fashion Week a few years ago, and it has served beyond well. (Plus, after heavy usage, it softens up and becomes even more appealing.) From a MacBook Air to an iPad, to chargers to medicine, to headphones or whatever else you might need within quick and accessible reach, this bag is the answer. I like that it finely balances the line between casual and formal; you can wear it as I do, with sweats and a hoodie on the plane, or as I do less often, to formal business meetings. Bottega Veneta Intrecciato calf briefcase, $2,850; bottegaveneta.com
A new piece, every hour. I hate “aeroplane mouth”. Wrigleys Extra, £2
I purchased this green Rolex Submariner after landing my first big copywriting job. Even then, I probably couldn’t afford it, but it is the only watch I own and I love it as much now as the day it came into my possession. The green might be a little too unusual for some (it comes in standard black as well, in the stainless steel model) but whatever colour you pick, it is very, very durable. I’ve crushed mine up against the metal of the aeroplane door when walking in, dropped it on the pavements of Regent Street in London, and gone free-diving with it off the walls of Maldivian reefs. It gets scuffed and nicked, but it works flawlessly, and the wear and tear makes it look nicer, I think. Rolex Submariner, approximately $10,000; rolex.com
App, app and away
The Flightradar app is great for two types of people: frequent flyers and aviation geeks. Often, frequent flyers are aviation geeks, so I spend a lot of time on this program. It lets you track flights in real time, and shows you exactly what aircraft you’ll be flying on (and what airport it is arriving from before your flight, which is handy for checking on delays).
For example, on March 24 of this year, I flew from Seoul Incheon to Atlanta, on N507DN, Delta’s seventh Airbus A350. It had, at that point, made fewer than 10 commercial flights. It was so fresh and so clean. The app then told me that its next flight was going back to Seoul, but, for whatever reason, it diverted to Osaka.
In a weird way it’s a little crazy that this much information is available to the public, but it’s addictive all the same. Another notable feature: say you’re somewhere remote and you see contrails high overhead. Open the app and, using its geolocator, you can see what’s in the proximity. You’ll be able to identify the plane, as well as where it’s heading. I once was fishing a few miles south of the Florida Keys. Those thick white lines started to arc across that specifically Florida-blue sky. It was a Tui Fly Boeing 787 Dreamliner heading from Manchester to Cancún. I can’t explain why I think that’s cool, but I do. Flightradar24, $9.99; flightradar24.com
When you have to clear a steamy-hot, cacophonous customs area to get to a domestic connection at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, and then have to sprint because the train linking the terminals is malfunctioning, do your seatmate a favour if, indeed, you make the flight: have deodorant at the ready. (This happened to me in March, and it prompted at least three people to ask if I was “OK,” to which I replied, “Not sure.”) Speed Stick Ocean Surf deodorant, Pack of 6, £24.93; amazon.com