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5 Idiotic Viral Travel Hacks You Shouldn’t Bother Trying When You Fly | Frommer's Shutterstock

5 Idiotic Viral Travel Hacks You Shouldn’t Bother Trying When You Fly

Don't believe everything you see on the internet. These viral travel hacks aren't likely to make flying better—and could make things worse. 

Some days, “air travel” feels like a shorter way of saying “global conspiracy to leave me bankrupt and bewildered.”

So it’s no wonder internet users go in search of travel hacks to save money, cut red tape, and ensure a modicum of in-flight comfort (you poor deluded fool). 

But while trying to satisfy those worthwhile ends, some hacks go viral on message boards, travel sites, and, especially, TikTok, by proposing solutions that may be, depending on the hack, ineffective, unproven, overcomplicated, against the rules, or downright dangerous.

Worse, the online popularity of such bad advice seems to earn it a weird legitimacy. Maybe this can be hard to remember in a world where views and followers are regarded as the be-all and end-all, but “viral” doesn’t automatically equal “good.” Just look at the milk crate challenge. Or Covid-19.

As a public service, then, here are five recent examples of viral air travel hacks you should ignore, along with some advice on what to try instead.

Questionable Air Travel Hack #1: Wear Red to Get Better Treatment

(An authoritative and appealing experienced traveler in red | Credit: Delta News Hub)

The hack: According to some psychological studies, people wearing red are perceived to be more authoritative and even more attractive (a result of the so-called “red dress effect”) than the beige-clad masses. Armchair color theorists (amplified by media enablers) therefore advise flyers to wear shades of red when traveling so that airport security agents, airline workers, and flight crews will subconsciously regard those scarlet-sporting passengers as important, desirable, and deserving of a seamless TSA experience and maybe an upgrade to business class. 

The problem: It’s unproven. Most of the scientific studies attempting to measure the “red dress effect” have to do with sexual attraction, not securing better airplane seats—and, in any case, other researchers have found “no effect of the color red on human mate preferences.”

Basically, the wear-red hack is a variation on the ol’ dress-to-impress advice for getting a free seat upgrade—advice that has become outdated in our era of strictly enforced, automatically deployed rules for granting upgrades based on factors such as credit card points and elite status with the airline. 

In most cases, gate agents and flight attendants do not have the authority to move you up into first class just because they like the cut of your jib. Or the cut of your red blazer. Or because it’s your birthday. Or because you dole out gift cards. Or because you say the words “revenue management,” as recommended in a 2018 Bloomberg piece rightly identified by View from the Wing’s Gary Leff as a “classically idiotic” entrant in the Travel Hack Hall of Shame. 

What to try instead: Sorry, but for airline upgrades, your best bet is to start racking up points and miles with a travel-friendly credit card and frequent flyer programs. 

Enrolling in TSA PreCheck will get you through the airport faster. Click here for tips on speeding things up even without PreCheck.

Questionable Air Travel Hack #2: Freeze Liquids to Circumvent the TSA’s 3-1-1 Rule

(TSA-compliant, apparently | Credit: Dasha Petrenko / Shutterstock)

The hack: The Transportation Security Administration’s 3-1-1 rule dictates that all liquids, gels, and aerosols in carry-on luggage must be in containers no bigger than 3.4 ounces apiece and gathered in one quart-size bag per passenger. But a popular TikTok video found a workaround: If you freeze liquid in larger quantities, it is by definition no longer liquid. So freeze that bottle of Dasani and you can take it right through the TSA checkpoint, avoiding the exorbitant prices of bottled water at airport shops on the other side of security. 

@kazsawyer We successfully snuck water past TSA!????????#fyp ? Mission Impossible Theme (Movie Trailer Mix) - Dominik Hauser


The problem: It’s too complicated. In the TikTok clip, the video’s creator is shown thawing his TSA-approved block of ice after getting through security by running the bottle under hot water in the bathroom and, later, by pouring steaming water on it from a to-go coffee cup in what appears to be a free water fountain that probably dispenses filtered water. Wouldn’t it have been easier to just bring an empty bottle and fill it up at that water fountain after going through the TSA line? 

What’s more, as Travel + Leisure points out, whatever you’ve frozen must remain fully solid by the time of its encounter with TSA agents. Slush is a no go—and a very real possibility if you’ve had to wait in a long line for check-in or security. And you’re not really going to try freezing your toothpaste and sunscreen, are you?

What to try instead: For heaven’s sake, pack an empty, reusable water bottle and refill after you get through security. 

Questionable Air Travel Hack #3: Stuff Everything Into a Pillowcase to Avoid Bag Fees

(Call it a pillow; see what happens. | Credit: Dragon Images / Shutterstock)

The hack: If your checked luggage is heavier than the allowed limit, or your carry-on and personal item are both already near overflowing, or you’re flying with an airline that charges extra for a carry-on bag and you don’t have any more room in your personal item, all is not lost.

To try TikTok's favorite travel trick, simply throw those extra clothes into a pillowcase or neck pillow cover and you’ve got yourself a stealth carry-on that gate agents are likely to overlook. Goodbye, excess baggage fees; hello, sleeping on lumpy dirty socks and your phone charger all the way back home to Fresno.

@dontbemike traveling with pillow cases from now on #pillowhack #airporthack ? Mission Impossible (Main Theme) - Favorite Movie Songs


The problem: It can get you in trouble if you’re caught. Even we’re guilty of having highlighted a humorous variation on this hack a couple years ago, but some social media–influenced travelers have taken things too far. It's not hard to find tales of attempts recounted on message boards, but the success rate of the pillow hack is reportedly low, owing in large part to gate agents not being stupid.

If you get caught trying to pass off a thin cotton sack full of your belongings as a pillow and dig in your heels, you could even get booted from the flight. That’s what happened recently to a passenger trying the pillow trick while boarding a plane at Orlando International Airport in Florida. 

The altercation was documented on TikTok, of course, in a video sagely captioned, “Stop listening to the internet.”

What to try instead: Learn to pack more compactly. Tried-and-true tricks include rolling clothes, using packing cubes, and editing your travel wardrobe wherever possible. 

Questionable Travel Hack #4: Velcro Your Toddler to the Airplane Seat to Prevent Squirming

(A novice flyer plots mayhem. | Credit: Irina Wilhauk / Shutterstock)

The hack: Got a toddler who won’t stay still during a flight? One mommy TikTokker has a widely viewed solution: Attach strips of Velcro tape to the seat and to the backside of your wiggle worm’s onesie (not directly on skin, of course), and then stick the little one in place. Et voilà! No chance of your pint-size passenger making a break for it and toddling about the cabin.

@ljflommom The best airplane travel hack #mom #momhack #hack #travelwithkids #kids #travel #baby #toddler #momlife #motherhood #momsoftiktok #fyp #momtok ? original sound - Lisa Flom

The problem: It’s probably ineffective and possibly dangerous. As pointed out by many of the video’s commenters as well as the Johnny Jet travel site, the Velcro’d youngster is liable to grow frustrated pretty quickly after the urge to squirm is thwarted, and when toddlers get frustrated, they’re not usually suffer-in-silence types. So you’ll probably just trade one problem (too much mobility) for another (shrieking). 

Further, the Federal Aviation Administration advises that “the safest place for your child under the age of two on a U.S. airplane is in [an] approved child restraint system (CRS) or device.”

And believe it or not, strips of adhesive Velcro do not meet those standards, which are designed to protect babies from turbulence and other in-flight dangers. You might also damage the seat with adhesive residue, or worse, ruin the pants of the next passenger.

Of course, an infant age 2 or under is allowed to travel for free on the lap of an adult passenger during a domestic flight and for a reduced fare on an international one—but with this hack, you’d have to purchase a seat for the kid anyway. Might as well use a safer and more effective restraint system, no? 

The child might still squall, but at least there’s less risk of your bouncing bundle bouncing into the aisle. 

What to try instead: Unless you want to go the lap-infant route, bring aboard a car seat that meets FAA safety standards. Here’s how to make sure the seat you have will do

Questionable Travel Hack #5: Buckle Up Over Your Ankles to Get Comfier in an Airplane Seat

(Airplane seat belts—or ankle restraints, depending on your perspective | Credit: Shutterstock)

The hack: The standard way of sitting on an airplane is notoriously uncomfortable. A TikTok video with millions of views devises an alternative (click here to watch) for passengers who’d prefer to snuggle up into a shape more reminiscent of a butterfly in a cocoon. Simply pull your feet up onto the seat so that your knees are up against your chest, and fasten the seat belt across your ankles to hold the position in place. 

The problem: Sorry, we can’t pretend to take this seriously. Don’t do this. It’s unsafe, uncomfortable, and so, so stupid. Fortunately, the hack won’t be doable for many passengers, requiring, as Australian travel journalist Finlay Mead points out, a degree of flexibility and diminutive stature many adult flyers do not have. But even if you are physically able to pull your feet up onto your seat with only 30 inches of space in front of you, why is it preferable to bunch your legs up even further than they already are on a plane? Don’t you want to stretch out?

Not to mention that wearing the seat belt in this way goes against FAA regulations, which call for wearing lap belts across, you know, your lap—specifically low across the hips, and not around the thighs, belly, ankles, or, Lord help us, neck.

The FAA’s reason for wanting passengers to wear seat belts properly—and it’s the best reason for doing so—involves safety. When “placed low on your hipbones,” the FAA explains, “the belt loads will be taken by the strong skeleton of your body.” 

But by fastening yourself into this inverted bowling-pin shape, you’ve put yourself in danger, should the plane encounter turbulence, of breaking your legs or flying headfirst into the seat in front of you or the ceiling above. That's an ouch at best, an RIP at worst. 

What to try instead: Literally anything. Buy one of those foot hammocks (though make sure the product you get is okay with the airline). Consider compression socks if you’re concerned about circulation in your legs. Read our 24 tips for sleeping on a long flight. Travel by train. ANYTHING.