The One Nerve-Racking Aspect Of Writing Airline Trip Reports

I love trying new airlines, and I love writing airline trip reports. While I loved the years of flying first class on Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa, etc., over and over, I’ve been having a blast trying new airlines this year in business class.

While I enjoy the flights themselves, equally I enjoy being able to write about the experiences on the blog. It’s so fun to make these experiences interactive, and to have a reason to pay attention to every little detail of the service.

One comment I get all the time from others who write trip reports for the first time is “oh my gosh, it’s time consuming.” It’s true, writing trip reports takes a lot of time. First you have to select the pictures you want to use, then you have to edit and resize them, then caption them, and then starts the process of actually writing the report.

It’s a labor of love, though I enjoy it, despite how time consuming it is.

On the trip I’m currently taking I’m trying four new types of business class products, and am also only flying each type of plane once. So I have one flight to get my review of each product right.

Once I’m actually seated I love the process of documenting every aspect of the journey. But there’s one part of writing a good trip report which I don’t enjoy, and it actually makes me sort of anxious.

Specifically, I’m talking about wanting to be the first passenger to board.

That’s not something which is generally in my nature. Left to my own devices, I’ll be the last person to board a plane, and instead maximize my time in the lounge (when flying domestically within the US it’s a bit different, since carry-on space is limited, and I don’t want to check a bag). However, when I’m reviewing a flight I want to be the first aboard so I can get pictures of the entire cabin empty.


I know some other bloggers inform the airlines they’ll be writing a review so they can board a bit early, which I suppose is one solution. That’s not something I want to do, since I want to fly under the radar and get the real experience, and I feel like letting the airline know I’ll be writing a review in advance would take away from that.

The challenge becomes being the first person aboard without being that person. You know, the person who shows up at the gate 30 minutes early and camps out at the priority boarding sign.


So what’s my strategy?

  • When reviewing an airline for the first time, I usually get to the gate about 20-30 minutes before boarding is scheduled to start
  • I take a seat, but as close to the priority boarding lane as possible
  • I scout out my fellow passengers, and will rush to the priority boarding lane if I see another passenger who looks like they’re about to line up there; in practice that usually means I’m being that guy, and standing at the priority boarding lane 5-10 minutes before boarding actually starts (yes, that makes me really uncomfortable)
  • The moment my boarding pass is scanned I jog to the door of the plane, so that I have a further 10-15 second advantage over the next person; that’s really all I need to get a couple of good cabin pictures
  • This all has to be balanced with not startling the crew, because you don’t want to show up breathing heavily with your camera already out to snap pictures of them; so I usually first say “hi, how are you?” and then ask if it’s okay if I take a couple of cabin pictures

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Speaking of the jogging to the plane part, I realized how strange this looked at LAX the other night. When I jog towards the plane I only do so when there’s no one else in sight, since I don’t want it to look suspicious. Once my boarding pass was scanned I saw no one in the jet bridge area. Then someone suddenly appeared out of nowhere and sort of said “whoa, slow down, let me see your boarding pass.” Then he proceeded to look at it for about 10 seconds.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone has different methods, but I figured I’d share my “trick” to usually being the first person aboard. The process as such makes me uncomfortable since I don’t want to be the guy standing at the gate way in advance, but having a 10-20 second head start in front of other people really makes a big difference, and it’s a small price to pay for good cabin pictures.

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To those of you who write trip reports/like to take cabin pictures, what’s your trick to getting pictures of cabins as empty as possible?

  1. I know a couple who does this:

    The first person runs to the plane and takes photos.
    The second person pretends to have misplaced his boarding pass, and takes 30 seconds trying to find it, holding up the queue.

    That will give you an additional 30 seconds to take photos.

  2. Have you tried waiting until the end and being the last to deplane? I’ve had a few “laggers” that said they wanted to take a few pictures without all the people in it after landing.

  3. Hi Ben- I can see where you are coming from I usually travel business 2-3 times a year (lesuire travel) I always try to get some photos for friends and family to see but have been told by some cabin crew I am not able to take photos of the cabin with other passengers on board- I also now try to race to be the first to board! I was once very embarrassed when removed from a flight prior to departure (I won’t say which airline or location) and subjected to a search and ion scan of belongings when I asked why I was told “your behaviour is suspicious” the flight was delayed 25 mins for this search!!! I can see why you have to be careful, what are your thoughts Ben? Do you think a fellow passenger reported me as suspicious?

  4. ” since I want to fly under the radar and get the real experience”

    What do you think the odds of this are if your airline has a social media team that’s on the ball? It’s not like your name’s “John Smith”.

    (I’m thinking of Anthony Bourdain’s comments on how New York restaurants could identify New York Times reviewers…)


  5. Snapping on-board photos is a tricky art. But I almost feel as if I get more stares when I take photos in the airline lounges.

  6. If you’re traveling with someone, do you have them line up 2nd and go down the jetway really slow, while you sprint ahead, thus gaining you a few extra seconds since your companion is delaying everyone else?

  7. Totally feel your pain! I’m totally “that guy” lining up way too early for all of my TPG flight reviews. Usually jog down the jetway, hurdling the pre-boards. Only time I’ve ever had an issue is with American Airlines – where the purser tried to throw me off of the flight for taking photos of the empty cabin.

    Ahhh, the things we do for our readers 🙂

  8. Etihad onboard chef told us he’s not allowed to take photos with passengers in uniform. Is that true?
    Not that we asked him for a photo. LOL. We actually asked if he could help us take a photo, not to take a photo with us.

  9. This is a bit of a “White whine”, no? Trip reports (i.e. blog posts) are part of your job, they contribute towards paying your mortgage. You’re basically complaining about your job on your blog?

  10. @Mangoceviche
    I have several pics of the chef posing with us, as well as the nanny. he liked being photographed.

  11. I’m sooo with you on this. I too would normally wait to get on the plane if I didn’t want to get as many photos and as much video as I could before everyone else boards. I don’t quite run, but I’m usually one of the first on. It gets tricky when I want to do something that takes extra time. For example: I like to get most of my seat shots (video) during the boarding process while there’s natural or brighter cabin lighting. This can be problematic when adding time to put a lie-flat seat into bed mode or if a window-seat neighbor wants to get past me.

    I flew with my wife and kid the other day in economy and was kind of relieved to not have to take a bunch of pictures…but then there’s getting settled with a 1 year old.

  12. “It’s a labor of love, though I enjoy it, despite how time consuming it is.”

    Aka your job which you presumably are making a very nice 6 figure salary from???

  13. I don’t rush onboard…I like boarding last.

    I do stay behind after the flight, tidy up the cabin (make the pillows nice and fold the seatbelts) and take my pictures then. No stress, no rush.

  14. I tend to just board whenever and make my trip reports. I admit its nice to have a clean photo, but one or two people in it also works for me.

  15. I wouldn’t have a problem with being “that woman”, personally. It gets the job done, no?

    Then again, standing in a queue is second nature in the UK.

  16. Based on the comments here, taking photos on airplanes and writing trip reports is more of a cottage industry that I apparently realized. I feel like I’m in the minority for not doing these things!

  17. Lucky, thanks for sharing your strategy. I really should do the same but I always get caught up with airport shopping. It’s amusing to read (in the comments) the extent others would go to be first to board! One really must develop a thick face doing trip reports, especially in lounges, business or first, where noses turn up when you are seen taking photographs (mostly from passengers) so I try to do it as quickly and as discreetly as I can. Having a compact and responsive camera helps too.

  18. I got a gigle out of this sentence: “It’s a labor of love, though I enjoy it, despite how time consuming it is”

    I enjoy my job, and find it’s time consuming, but it’s my job, you know – it’s supposed to be time consuming – that’s what I’m getting paid to do 😉

    Likewise, although this is your “blog” and your “hobby”, it’s also your source of income from what I understand, which makes it your job 🙂

    I haven’t taken photographs of the interior of planes for my blog, but I do take photographs of hotels. I try to get photos without people in them, and also without arousing the suspicion of any of the staff at the hotel; that’s sometimes tough to do, too.

  19. Talking of lounges I once entered the air Mauritius business lounge in Mauritius sat down and ordered some red wine- a gentleman in a suit kept looking at me and said “excuse me this lounge is for business class panagers” I said “sir I am a business class ticket holder” his reply……”your too young and wearing shorts I wish they wouldn’t let people like you in here”my reply to that was “sir my cold hard earn cash paid for my ticket…..I suggest you tell your company you want to travel first if you don’t like young men wearing shorts in the lounge!” What do you guys think… wearing shorts in a lounge in a hot country unacceptable????

  20. May I add these were long baggy shorts well below the knee not a tight pair of hot pants lol

  21. @Christopher: if he waits to everyone deplane you will get pictures of a “trashed” cabin instead of a nice one.

  22. With all the traveling I do I am surprised I haven’t run into Ben (I have seen some of you other bloggers though). Now I know when and where to find him if he’s on the same flight. 🙂

  23. @Lucky please take your time with the trip reports. I come here for your thoroughness and appreciate you being detail-oriented and correct.

  24. Being uncomfortable while acting like a jerk…not sure that makes it any less crummy.

    Stalking another passenger and rushing to cut in front is….sigh.

    I pay most attention to the food / service photos. Cabin photos you can find on any airline website.

    It’s the soft product that tends to be less well documented by airlines.

  25. I usually take my pictures at the end of the flight after all the passengers have left the aircraft. The flight attendants tend to accommodate such picture-taking request at the end of the flight. The only downside to doing this, the cabin might be a bit messy, but it is usually good enough to show what the cabin looks like.

  26. @Brad: I would have responded “well you’re right, I don’t, but the first class lounge ran out of smoothies…”.

  27. Still loved your response, though! What a tool that guy was! He’s probably got a fun and exciting life…

  28. ” know some other bloggers inform the airlines they’ll be writing a review so they can board a bit early, which I suppose is one solution. That’s not something I want to do, since I want to fly under the radar and get the real experience, and I feel like letting the airline know I’ll be writing a review in advance would take away from that.”

    From what I remember you have hypothesized that you have received preferential treatment in the past while not indicating to the airline that you were reviewing the product. People have speculated that certain people may have certain indications in their FF profiles. I would be interested to know what percentage of the time do you think you receive preferential treatment.

  29. Yeah, I’m usually “that guy” that’s waiting to board at the gate. I try not to be there too early, but I do try to be the first person on the plane quite often. For some products though, you can get away photographing after folks have settled in, like Emirates, since the walls are so high.

  30. Who cares if you’re first in line? I do this all the time so I can get overhead bins by me. I have medical conditions and cannot chance gate checking (or checked to your final destination) for my carryons which contain medical devices.

  31. Please don’t do this. Everything else is fine, but not this:

    “The first person runs to the plane and takes photos. The second person pretends to have misplaced his boarding pass, and takes 30 seconds trying to find it, holding up the queue. That will give you an additional 30 seconds to take photos.”

    Not cool.

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