Christine Negroni is the very definition of "frequent flyer." The writer and television commentator specializes in aviation and travel, contributing to major outlets like ABC News, the New York Times, and Travel & Leisure, in addition to her own blogs: Flying Lessons and GoHowKnowHow. Plus, she’s the author of The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters, which includes her theories on what happened to the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
So from whom to learn better about how to fly right — and maybe even survive a crash? Here, the aviation expert shares her safety advice and in-flight pet peeves — and explains why leggings are a bad idea (and not just sartorially speaking).
You discourage wearing leggings when flying. Why?
I’m old enough to have a (very dim) recollection of the days when people dressed up to fly. But that’s not why I have an issue with passengers who wear leggings on a flight. I don’t think it’s wise to wear artificial fibers when flying for safety and health reasons. Synthetics don’t breathe, so stretchy, chemically-processed fabrics are going to make you feel clammy and confined in an environment where clammy and confined are already at pretty high levels.
Most air accidents are survivable but these unhappy landings can trigger fires, in which case a polyester, skin-hugging garment is about the worst option out there. I dress in loose-fitting, natural fiber fabrics that won’t encumber movement or feel too confining even during long flights.
What about shoes?
I always opt for comfortable flats with a substantial sole that are easy to get off and on. That’s helpful beginning at airport security and really becomes important in the — yes, I’ll say it — unlikely event of an emergency evacuation from the airplane. Depending what prompted the evacuation, the ground outside the plane could be cold, wet, icy, or hot or covered in glass, fuel, or airplane debris. If you are using the emergency evacuation chute, you’ll have to remove high-heel shoes that might puncture the slide, which explains why flats are the best shoe choice.
It’s not covered in the Federal Aviation Administration’s rules but it’s just smart to make sure your shoes are on for takeoff and landing. Flip flops, stilettos, and lightweight shoes like Toms should be saved for arrival at your destination.
What’s the best seat on the airplane for safety?
The best seat on the plane is any seat with a window because the best thing to do when flying is enjoy the view of the world from above. But many people seem to think some locations on the plane are safer than others and that’s the case depending on what happens. Logically, you’d want to be sitting by the emergency exit or the door. But if that particular exit is blocked or that’s where the fire is raging then you’d be out of luck.
My point is that there is an infinite variety of ways a plane can come to grief, and each variation shifts the geographical zone of hazards. That said, the seat, any seat, is the safest place to be in an air accident. The place you park your butt, the belt around your lap, the seat back in front of you, and the structure holding everything to the floor is all part of an integrated safety system. Each component has been designed and tested with your survivability in mind. It may not be the most comfortable place to spend a few hours, but we’ve seen many accidents in which the plane was totaled and the passengers walked away. That’s how airplane seat designers earn their salaries.
Is it OK to drink a cocktail (or two) during the flight?
Lots of people say it’s better not to drink during a flight. Really, how realistic is that? By the time I get to the airport, I’ve been on a steady stress ascent for hours. Finally seated on the plane, if someone offers me a drink, I’m going to say yes. I do advise stopping at one. The elevated altitude inside the pressurized cabin means you’re going to feel the effects of alcohol sooner and not just the happy, relaxing effects but also the dehydrating effects too, so moderation is key.
What are the biggest traveler no-nos you often see on flights?
Mostly, bad behavior is a result of people failing to appreciate that, while occupying the same small metal tube seven miles above the earth, they are not in the privacy of their own homes with all the rights and privileges thereto. They are part of a cooperative community, which demands thoughtfulness and consideration. I know some people don’t understand this because I see them using profanity, speaking loudly, getting into fights and arguing with the flight attendant, and leaving the bathroom and the seats they occupied in worse condition than they found them. And that’s just the civility aspect.
When it comes to safety, many people acknowledge some apprehension about flying and yet it’s rare to see anyone pick up the safety card and give it a glance or note the location of the nearest exit to their seat. These simple acts increase situational awareness, which is key to responding appropriately in an unexpected event.
What would cause you to freak out on a flight? When do the warning bells go off?
I talk to pilots often enough to worry about what they worry about — fire and smoke in flight. Always pay attention when charging electronic devices during a flight. If traveling with loose lithium ion batteries, keep them near you at your seat, not in the overhead bin and — for heaven’s sake — don’t pack them in your checked luggage.
What are some of your in-flight must-have items?
Every beauty product I tote with me on the plane is intended to counteract the dry air of the cabin. I use moisturizer, body lotion, and lip balm early and often. I also travel with a toothbrush because I know how much better I’ll feel if my teeth are clean and flossed when I arrive at my destination. And the immigration officers I encounter probably appreciate that too!
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