7 Hacks for A Better Next Flight

This is dedicated to all those who are taking flights this holiday season. And of course, these don’t apply if you usually fly Business Class.


1) Avoid Queues. Don’t bother with queues. Either get in 4 hours early and be the first to check in or be content with being among the last few. Avoid them when possible.

The most ridiculous queue is the one that builds up at Boarding. Everyone seems to be in a hurry to get into the plane (and then do what?). Enjoy your music, keep calm and get in once the queues are done.


2) Avoid the cramped seats by booking an emergency exit row seat. At check in, ask for the window seat next to the emergency exit. This is huge value especially if you have long legs/prefer leg room. Emergency exit seats are usually always available on request.

The only downside is that these seats don’t recline. However, a seat by the window means the ability to rest your head on it. Pretty comfortable.

Non Budget

3) Enjoy the entertainment by carrying your own headphones. Aside from lesser microbes, the in flight headphones are typically bad quality.

Point to note: On most flights, there are 2 headphone inputs i.e. One for each ear which are built for the low quality inflight headset. Fret not. When you plug in your headphone, just plug it in any of the sockets and adjust it a little bit. Don’t insert it completely as that would mean one sided sound. A bit of tweaking and you’ll be just fine.

4) Choose window or aisle. Check in online. Be proactive and choose a window or aisle seat. Window is great because you are not disturbed and have the window as an additional option to rest your head. Aisle is great if you like to stretch your legs often and/or use the bathroom. The middle seat is good for neither, of course..

Also, on long/red eye flights when you expect to work the next day and need sleep, avoid picking the first few rows in Economy class. Unless, of course, the sound of crying babies puts you to sleep.

5) Special Meal Plans: If you are on long flights and need sleep, think about asking for special meal plans during check in. Asking for ‘vegetarian’, for example, means you will be served first and attended to long before the food trolley is pushed around row by row.

A quicker road to sleep.

6) Ask for an upgrade. No reason not to unless your airline has strict anti upgrade policy. (Singapore Airlines leads the way in this regard. Asking this question is futile. But it has worked well for me on other flights. The other interesting thing here is that getting a ‘no’ is a good way to make other requests. Basic persuasion tip.)

You typically get an upgrade when economy class is flying full. That said, I know, from experience, that asking for an upgrade can often be tough in our own minds since they involve stepping out of our comfort zone.

So, here’s a typical upgrade conversation.

<Exchange pleasantries>

“Is economy flying full?”

(If No)

Are there any empty rows in economy? (This allows you to sleep full length!)

(If Yes)

“Oh great! Can I have an upgrade then?”

The best part here is that if it’s a No, you can cash it in for another request Eg: Waive off excess luggage.

And if yes, well, you lucky dawg! :-)

Three vital things I’ve learnt about upgrades.

i. They teach you a lot about rejection. If you have a fear of hearing a ‘no’, this is a fantastic place for you to put your fears aside and just ask!

ii. You can test your persuasion skills and learn to ask. They are a great place for you to test your persuasion skills. And the most amazing thing here is that you never know what you can get unless you begin asking!

iii. You will have to remember the Yoda nugget. Of course, you have got to believe…

Special Tip

7) Stillness Speaks when you have difficulty sleeping. For many of us, sleeping on flights is an uphill tasks and we walk out feeling tired and exhausted.

So, here’s a special tip that always works for me. Get hold of the audio version of a book called Stillness Speaks by Eckhart Tolle. The ideal way is to buy a copy on Audible/Amazon and put in on your phone.

Put your headphones on. If you have gone the Audible way, put the app on 30 minutes sleep mode, and watch yourself waft into deep sleep.

Happy Flying! And look forward to other hacks that you employ on your flights in the comments..

Limited and Abundant

We often go through life making 2 vital assumptions.

1. Energy is abundant. This implies we have enough energy to say yes to many projects, commitments and ideas. This also means we have enough energy (and, as a result, time) to spend time with people we may not like, working with colleagues we don’t learn from and going through life surrounded by those who suck our energy.

2. Opportunities are limited. This implies that there isn’t enough out there for all of us. Everyone around us are competition for the same limited resources. Jealousy, envy and constant comparisons with others are all part of the game. It’s vital we hoard as much money as we can in comparison to our immediate circle of people because there’s only so much out there.

What if we flipped them around?

Suddenly, we realize that there is enough out there for all of us. We realize that we have a duty to share, to give and to develop. Perhaps, most importantly, we realize that we can’t spread ourselves out too thin when it comes to what we say yes too. And that realization is typically followed by one that emphasizes that we can’t afford to spend our limited energy on people who suck our energy. That we are much better off spending our time with people who fill us with energy, optimism and life i.e. the ‘No Asshole’ rule.

(In case you are worried about those who you might be walking away from, don’t worry. We humans are not too bad at taking obvious hints. We live and we learn.)

Inch wide and mile deep is what we need, and what the world needs. It takes focus to get to the inch and energy to dig a mile deep. Options to find that inch are in multitude. Our energy is limited.

When we do realize that the opposite to both our standard assumptions are true i.e. that it is opportunities that are abundant while energy is limited… our lives are never the same again.

We are transformed. Just like that.

Rolf Kuonen: Interview VII – RealAcad Mondays

While it is still Monday in Hawaii, I’m pleased to present a ‘Real Leader’ interview from Frederic Kuonen, a RealAcader from Stanford’11.

Frederic is currently doing his Masters in Banking and Finance at the University of St Gallen, where he also completed his Bachelors in Business Administration. Frederic has had a stint at the in-house consulting department at Credit Suisse. He discovered his passion for entrepreneurship while studying business models of Swiss Social Enterprises and led a market entry project in cooperation with a Swiss e-bike sharing start up.

Frederic is well travelled and spent a semester in Hong Kong. He was also an avid tennis player and was among the top 150 ranked players in Switzerland (i.e. from the land of Roger Federer!). He also has a great sense of humor!

Below is the interview with a note from Frederic.

Rolf Kuonen, born in 1950, grew up in Leuk, a small town in Switzerland. After spending 6 years in a Catholic residential school he completed his high school with a major in Greek and Latin. He graduated from the University of Fribourg with a licence (Masters) in Psychology and completed a secondary education in Psychotherapy. After his studies, he worked in Switzerland in different therapy centers. Currently, he is the director of a state-owned therapy centre in Visp focusing on youth’s problems in school and life. Through his work, he acquired a broad knowledge about people in different life stages, as he ha treated hundreds of people so far. Additionally, Rolf is very passionate about the 3rd dimension and was a private pilot for several years.

I know Rolf because he is my father ;-). I interviewed him because I think he has a different perspective on leadership, as he doesn’t work in a corporate environment. Also, he knows how people think and behave from experience, and I thought it was a great opportunity to understand his ideas of leadership.


1. What inspires/drives you?

As a psychologist, I’m in contact with people every day. Usually they come with some problem they have in their life, which is sometimes extremely difficult. I cannot give concrete examples, but I’ve had young people who’ve lost both of their parents within two weeks. So, in these situations my job is to stabilize the person and be a safe haven for them. At the same time I will have to encourage the patient to find their own solutions to their problem. So what I do is empower people to use their full potential and thus overcome their difficulties. This is a very rewarding and satisfying feeling.

2. What has/have been the most defining moment (s) of your life so far?

When I was 12 year old, I was sent to a Catholic residential school. This was one of the most defining moments of my life. Even though the education was very good, I lived through a difficult and (often) frustrating period during these 6 years. The main reason was the closed environment in the presence of monks and priests. We were seldom allowed to leave the campus to visit Fribourg (a Swiss city nearby). Also, the values, strongly influenced by Catholicism, were very conservative.

During this period, I discovered a strong drive of freedom and an urge to revolt against the institutionalized authority. For example, we fled from school once in a while, caught a Taxi on the street and went to Fribourg to watch a movie in the cinema. These movies inspired me and we started to produce our own movies, which were very critical of Catholicism. I believe this experience gave me a lot of self-confidence and a strong independence versus institutionalized authorities as well as social obligations. This independence has had a strong influence on my therapy style. After several years of studies, I started developing my own therapy style, which is a combination of different theories, as I don’t believe in one ‘right way’ to do it.

3. What advice would you have for future leaders?

As a director of a therapy centre, I have to be a leader. Like with everything else, I have my own personal leadership style and I try to empower people. It’s the same philosophy as in my therapy. In my opinion, there are three important factors on how to be a leader.

1. Being authentic. For me, this means accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses.

2. Self-responsibility of team-members. I give my team the freedom to find their own solutions and this means I take time for them and support them if necessary. In my experience, when people are given responsibility, they begin to feel that they are taken seriously, which is very motivating. It’s like being a guide with regular control so they stay on the right path to achieve their goals.

3. Humility: While you have to be self-confident, self confidence, for me, means being humble when interacting with team members. Thanks to my experience, I sometimes know better but I don’t have to show that off. Being humble to me means being respectful to my team-members, encouraging their strengths and giving them time to speak up.

I loved the note about being authentic. It’s often forgotten. Thank you Rolf and Frederic.

More to follow as always on RealAcad Mondays..

Segoe UI and Aaron Klein

Aaron Klein has been an inspiration, blogging and otherwise. He is one of those who makes me think, and act. And it’s not because of things he writes or says, it’s simply thanks to the things he does.

I find that to be a common thread among those that inspire me. Most of what I learn from them is not because of things they say or do but thanks to what I like to call osmosis. Just by virtue of seeing them live their lives as an inspiration, I find myself thinking about ideals that shape their lives and feel change seep through me. It’s not because they do, but more because they be. Maybe that’s why we say ‘Be an inspiration’ instead of saying ‘Do inspiring things.’

One of the visible changes Aaron has had me implement is a change of font. You might have noticed minor changes on these posts in terms of font type. I can finally confess to being satisfied with the current font – Segoe UI. I love the font so much that I’ve switched my default font on my emails and other Windows applications from Calibri to Segoe UI. Segoe UI is a font used by Microsoft on all their websites and I’ve been unable to find a font that’s easier on the eye.

I care about fonts and design. Making things look good, however, comes a distant second to making things and hence, the design of this blog (for example) has changed slowly and often incrementally simply because of other making priorities that take precedence. Discovering Segoe UI has been a big big bonus in this regard.

It is amazing how little things can give us inordinate amounts of happiness. Segoe UI, in my case, is one such example. I’m a happier blogger now. And I hardly thought that was possible. It’s a nice reminder that it’s the little things that make us happy. (Throw money at the problem, hence, is almost always the wrong answer!)

Aaron’s also gotten me thinking, and doing something about charity. More on that to follow as well.

Thanks Aaron! Do keep up the  great work.

Oh, and I guess I haven’t mention this yet, I haven’t met Aaron in person yet. We know each other entirely thanks to Disqus and the AVC community.

Now for someone to say the same about a friend they met here at ALearningaDay.. Smile

For fellow bloggers, Segoe UI is not a font available on the blogger system. Of late, I’ve been testing Windows Live Writer and been liking it lots. Windows Live Writer integrates well with all blogging applications and enables you to write posts offline and use the entire array of fonts. Essentially, I’ve been doing all my blogging on this application and loving it so far. This one’s thanks to KD.

On IQs and Fake Weathermen

    This week’s book learning is part of the ongoing series of inspiring learnings from ‘Switch’ by Dan and Chip Heath.

    A total stranger walks into a room and reads a weather report to the small audience. After he leaves the room, the participants are asked a simpe question – What is this man’s IQ?

    Of course, there is no way they can make an educated guess from just one interaction. So, they take a wild guess at the fake weatherman’s IQ. Then, the weatherman is asked to guess his IQ. And, here is the crazy part – the total strangers get closer 66% of the time!

    Think about that for a minute – the fake weatherman has all the information to make the right prediction. He knows how he thinks, he knows his aptitude, he knows the grade he has gotten in school, etc. But, the weatherman in this experiment consistently rated himself higher than he actually was.

    Other bits of research that illustrate this point are that college students do a better job predicting the longevity of their roommate’s relationships than their own, 25% of people surveyed believed they were in the top 1% in the ability to get along with people and that 94% of college professors report that they do above-average work.


    So, it’s a proven fact that we tend to vastly overestimate our own ability. This only further illustrates the importance of the people we spend time with and developing the habit of laughing at ourselves. Hopefully, we surround ourselves by those who call bullshit on us when necessary. :)

    And, hopefully, we lead the way by laughing at ourselves every once in a while!

    So, here’s to some self depreciating humor every day this week!

Never mind your time. Give me your energy.

My Mom taught me a great lesson a couple of weeks ago. And, like most great lessons, it came wrapped up as a disappointment.

We were planning out my trip in December and since I was going to be in Singapore this week, I really wanted my Mom to join in. I also have a close friend visiting from home in any case and it would have made for a nice trip.

My Mom, however, said no. She’s been pretty stretched of late with work at school as well as an additional course on weekends. So, the thought of all this travel was not enticing. She said she’d much rather be 100% when I’m home than feel stretched and irritable in the time she spent with me.

I was disappointed at first.

A few moments later, however, I saw the lesson – she was just watching out for her energy. She wanted to make sure I had 100% of her when we met. Quality. Not quantity.

It all made sense. It’s one of those things I feel we’ve gotten wrong over time. There’s too much time management flying around, and far too less energy management. Everything in life needn’t be king size. Often, less is more. And less done better is definitely more.

Her lesson came back to me an hour or so go. This close friend was raring to go out and I was just not ready. I needed a bit of time to blog, catch up on a few emails and get set for what promises to be a long night with lots of fun planned.

Now, I could have gone ahead and spent time with him but it’s unlikely I’d have been happy or given him my 100%. He would have had my time in full but not my energy.

So, I did the hard thing of asking him to carry on without me for the first couple of hours. I’m done now with all my catching up and I’m happier. All set to give the rest of the evening my 100%! Let’s hope he agrees (haha).

Some of the best learnings are those that deserve to be re-learned time and again. Short, but meaningful is definitely one of them. 

Thanks Mom, for the learning. Like many others things in life, you nailed this one!

3 Holiday Season Thoughts

After 3 weeks on a rather intense piece of work, I must admit that this moment has brought with it a touch of euphoria. It’ll be nice to go back to a more normal sleep cycle and get re-introduced to weekends again. That said, there is no better time of the year for such a re-introduction to life than this one. It’s the magic of December and the upcoming holiday season.
In my case, today marks the shift of priorities from work to personal life for me. I finally caught up on some much needed sleep and life on the other side feels, admittedly, very very good. For most of us, the holiday season is among the best times in the year. And I thought I’d share 3 thoughts for the upcoming couple of weeks.

1. Put yourself top of the holiday priority list. For many, this holiday season is anything but a holiday. We probably have more back to back ‘meetings’ with friends and family than we have on a normal day.

This is a lesson I’ve learnt from time to time. The most important thing during holidays is to make sure we have fun. And if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will. Besides, if we’re not happy, we’re not likely to be good company anyway. So, it’s definitely for the greater good.. ;)

2. It’s fine if it’s short. Make it meaningful. This is another lesson that I’m learning with time. As time passes by, quality time with those we love is likely to be short. Too short. That said, our memories are never about stretches of time. They are about moments. Meaningful times make for great moments.

And happy moments tend to be meaningful.  So, I hope we all spend time doing those things that make us and the people around us happy. And these are often little things – traditions that have stood the test of time. Lunch at small restaurant, a snack at that old haunt, a drive down places where you’ve shared great memories or even playing a fun board game.

These things generally don’t cost much and don’t take too much time either.

Ten years down the road, short won’t matter. Meaningful will.

Things. End. Fine. For many of us, this last stretch can hardly come too soon. There may be a few days of work left or it may just be the much awaited end of what’s been a not-so-good year. Or it may just be that we don’t have much of a break at all. In any case, for all those who are going through a difficult phase that only feels harder when you look at all the celebration happening around you, here’s a quote that I’ve found come true from time to time.

Everything works out fine in the end. If it’s not fine, it’s not the end.

Keep fighting the good fight. And here’s for a memorable end to 2011.

And, on that note, my god.. it’s the end of the year already. Time does fly!

It’s my life

A few truths I’ve learnt over time, at random.

We always have more choice than we think we do.

‘I can’t’ is an excuse.

There is a space between something that happens to us and our response. And, in that space, lies our growth, learning and happiness.

Live like you’ll die by midnight, I realize, is flawed. It’s short term. ‘Live Today’ is more like it.

Life is short. We need a reminder of this fact every once in a while. There’s too much negativity flying around.

Don’t worry too much about the markets. In the big scheme of things, these fluctuations will even out.

A down market is actually okay. That’s exactly where we ‘learners’ can differentiate ourselves  by staying positive, finding upsides and doing great work.

Character matters a heck of a lot more than reputation.

Seek counsel.

Mistakes don’t matter. Creative, constructive and corrective responses do.

Doing one thing at the time shows true mastery over the moment.

Replace ‘or’ with ‘and’ whenever possible. Leadership AND management. Great work AND great life. Work AND play. Love AND friendship…

At the end of the day, we travel alone. That said, having a bunch of great fellow travellers with whom we can have conversation makes the journey worth it.

The juice is generally worth the squeeze.

Failure is the best thing that will likely happen to us.

Hanging out once in a while with people who push us and make us feel uncomfortable is essential.

Eating well helps. A lot.

Life is never perfect. This moment, however, is a different matter.

Playing games and exercising keeps us young.

Love is not the greatest force in the world. Fear is.

That said, love is the most beautiful force in the world.

‘Please’, ‘Sorry’ and ‘Thank You’ matter.

Dressing for success is practical. We are creatures of first impressions.
Competition with others is bullshit. That’s like pitting eagles and horses in a swimming contest.

We can be happy. There doesn’t need to be discontentment.

Happiness lies within.

The success is the journey and a great present moment.

Learning doesn’t come in modules. We can learn from everything.

Most things are like marathons. We have to put one foot after another till we get to the end.

Dogs are gifts from God.

We realize family’s worth only when we fall really sick.

That’s when we thank god for a wonderful body too.

Not everybody can ‘do what they love’ every single day of their lives. They can, however, save some energy to do what they love every single day of their lives.

Hugs matter.

Feeling connected matters too.

Relationships are not like they are in the movies. They actually take work.

We do get better everyday. It’s just a matter of focusing on the right things.

Money doesn’t buy class.

Money doesn’t buy happiness either. It does help though.

Surrounding ourselves with people who pull us up helps.

Yoda is right. We often fail because we don’t believe… in ourselves.

Being a hero adds a lot to our life.

Doing our best matters.

Winning does, too. Especially in those things that matter to us.. and in a few things that don’t.

Have fun. Remembering that your definition of fun likely varies from others.

Everyone has a different path to happiness.

Judging others doesn’t help. At all.

Seeking to understand does.

Master Shifu is right. Inner peace matters.

We need organization and creativity.

The world is our family.

Most situations just require a change in perspective.

We are biased. And we operate through these biases. It’s what makes us human.

Loving the person in the mirror matters more than most other things in the world.

Doing great work makes us happy.

Charity does too.

We can choose to live life as an inspiration.

We can choose to be the best we can be.

We can choose to be happy.

We can choose to make the rest of our life average, or memorable.

So, what is it going to be?

It’s my life..

Trouble Tree Suggestions – Commenting Power

This morning, I asked for your help regarding ‘switching off’ following a challenging workday. Within the last 12 hours or so, I had a few thoughts from members of this community.

A couple of the regulars had suggestions like heading for some exercise or indulging in cooking, cleaning or a walk.

(On a connected note, Blogger doesn’t seem to be able to integrate Disqus into it’s mobile version. So, the mobile version comments aren’t here. Do you guys feel the mobile version helps? Else, I’d rather take it off and have all commenting activity here. Please let me know.)

Jack, one of the newer members of the community, rightly suggested that it ought to be the way we do things. When it comes to family, being fully present is the unselfish and right way to go forward.

And then, we had a fantastic comment by one of the newest members of our community, Bruno that inspired me to write a separate post. Here’s what he had to say.


Me and my wife created a painting with our core family values: Amor, Familia e Coragem. These are the Portuguese words for: Love, Family and Courage.

We have this painting in the wall next to the entry door of our house. This way the painting is the last thing we see when we go to work and it’s the first thing we see when we arrive home.

It’s a great way to remember us why we do what we do! Especially in those very challenging days.

Give it a try!

Best regards,
Bruno Coelho

I love it. The idea of having a reminder of family values on the door is very inspiring.

I find myself incredibly excited at the community we are beginning to see here. It’s intelligent and inspiring, all at once. We’ve begun to see comments practically on every post and most comments are thought through and meaningful. And we are slowly beginning to see comments (like this one) that end up being better than the post itself.

I know I’ve said this many times. But I’ll say it again. I can’t wait for the day when I look back at a string of posts and consistently see comments better than the post. Based on recent weeks, I’m very hopeful. The key would be creating an environment where you feel like sharing your learnings and thoughts. And most of all, where you feel welcome. I’m working on it (and myself!).

For now, I couldn’t be happier. Thanks Bruno, for showing the way and making my day!

Is the Trouble Tree Tale too idealistic?

Remember the story of the plumber who lay his troubles at his trouble tree?

David’s plumber had just had a rough day. He had a flat tyre on his way to work, his drill quit and his truck refused to start. David drove the distraught man home.

Just before they entered home, the plumber paused briefly at a tree, touching its tips. He then opened the door and underwent an amazing transformation. He hugged his kids, kissed his wife and was all smiles! Afterwards, when David was walking out, he asked his plumber about his behaviour and he said – ‘Everyday, I leave all my work troubles at the tree before walking in. The funny thing is when I come in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t as many as I left..’

It’s an amazing tale. But here’s the problem. It’s way beyond my capability level, at least for now.

I categorize work days into 3 kinds – The easy/smooth sailing, the challenging and the very challenging. Smooth sailing is, as the name suggests, smooth. During the challenging days, I have some difficulty not having the mood spill over after work. The after-work long shower generally does the trick. But, on the very challenging days, I find it impossible to contain my emotions/mood to work. It generally flows into my life.

This is not ideal. And I’d like it to not be the case. But, at this point, I don’t seem capable of switching off seamlessly.

Do you manage to do so? If so, are there any special routines that enable you to?

I’d appreciate your help. And I’d also appreciate your take on whether this is just overly idealistic. Look forward to the discussion!