Top travel tips for making your journey better, from celebrity-style transfers to sushi at 33,000ft

Modern-day commercial flight leaves plenty to be desired, but there’s lots you can do to stop the experience from ruining your holiday, says Richard MacKichan.

It’s about this time of year when we try to banish that cooped-up wintry feeling and those start-of-the-year stresses by escaping these shores for sun, slopes or, well, different shores. The irony being, of course, that doing so involves a highly concentrated dose of being cooped up and stressed — and generally wishing you’d booked a longer break to get over it.

Of course, it’s a very human achievement in itself to take something as awe-inspiring as commercial air travel and reduce it to a tedious series of administrative tasks, queues and upselling opportunities, but we are, as they say, where we are. 

A KLM purser serves the meal during the flight in a KLM passenger plane c.1950

It was a playboy pilot called Tony Jannus who flew the first ever commercial passenger flight in 1914, zipping the local former mayor from St Petersburg in Florida over the bay to Tampa to the delight of watching crowds. 

But flying really came of age in the 1950s and 60s when planes were capacious, had lounges with soft furnishings, fully stocked bars and served the likes of roast beef, lobster, even carved-at-your-seat charcuterie, on china plates with real cutlery. Imagine! 

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So, although we might pine for crockery and crustaceans, there are a few little travel enhancing steps we can take to make getting there seem less of a nightmare. (Oh, and they’re starting to relax the 100ml rule this year, too.)

Take more tranquil transfers

We’re all too frequently reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s claim that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey — so, this year, let’s resolve to heed it, particularly when it comes to getting to and from an airport. If you’ve tired of unreliable Ubers and absent Addison Lees piling on added travel pressures, steer your attention to Wheely

The slick chauffeur service, currently operating in London, Paris, Dubai and beyond, will dispatch an S-Class Mercedes, complete with signature Acqua di Parma scent and soothing hot towels for the most restful of rides. 

Your exit at the other end can be equal parts efficiency and elan, too. If you’re flying to New York, Blade (above) can chopper you from JFK or Newark into Manhattan from a very reasonable $195. Land in Venice and let A-listers’ favourite Blitz (pictured top) whisk you across the water in a Riva Aquariva 33.  

Go backstage at the airport

More than 79 million passengers passed through Heathrow last year and there are times when it feels like they’re all there at once. The airport’s discreet Windsor lounge, a terminal comprised of multiple lounges) a terminal comprised of multiple lounges , however, offers a crowd-free VIP experience

Put your feet up in a stylish suite, tuck into three-course meals and summon a personal shopper, all before the most pleasant security check you’ll ever encounter and a private electric vehicle ride to your plane.

Engineer your in-flight menu

Flexjet source their sushi from the Little Fish Co.

Ever wondered why a Bloody Mary seems like such a good choice at altitude? So did the people at Flexjet (industry leaders in fractional jet ownership), who did some digging and discovered that, scientifically, it is. 

Although we’ve never quite got to the bottom of why, research has shown that although our sweet and savoury receptors are dulled when we fly, our umami ones (think tomatoes, mushrooms, fish, cheeses and soy sauce) are enhanced. Pass the Worcestershire sauce…

Best of the rest top travel tips

  • Flights arriving into London’s major airports nearly always come in from the east so you should pick a seat on the right hand side of the plane for the best views of the capital
  • Talking of picking seats, before you do anything, head to the SeatGuru website and enter your flight information to see which seats they recommend avoiding and which ones are rated the most comfortable 
  • Malcolm Young, Country Life’s Managing Director uses Timeshifter’s jet lag app. It uses advanced science to create a highly personalised plan to get your mind and body feeling and working their best, whatever time zone you find yourself in
  • If you’re flying through London Gatwick — especially at peak times — it’s worth paying £7 (or £5 if you book in advance) to use the fastrack security queue  
  • Michael Randall, one of McClaren’s Formula 1 Team trackside transmission specialists, swears by blue light glasses — which can help ease sleep disruption. If you’re travelling ‘forward in time’ e.g east keep them on early evening until you go to bed; if you’re travelling west put them on as soon as you wake up. His other top tips for feeling healthy and rested include using Vicks First Defence every few hours of a long flight or train journey and avoiding caffeinated drinks for the five to six hours before you want to go to sleep
  • Jules Perowne, founder and CEO of Perowne International, says that if you travel a lot, choose an airline and be loyal to them. Ideally, one that is part of a good alliance, such as BA and OneWorld. If you constantly shop around for the best deal, saving a few pennies here and there, you will never build a relationship with an airline and benefit from it. Oh, and always pack a pair of knickers and a swimming costume in your hand luggage, in case you arrive somewhere and your luggage has gone astray!

This article appears in Country Life’s annual luxury travel issue, published February 7, 2024 and on sale until February 13, 2024. Available at all good newsagents and WHSmith stores or online from Magazines Direct.

Additional research by Rosie Paterson