There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to airlines lately, and we’ll be exploring the state of the industry during AFAR Conversations at the Four Seasons New York Downtown tomorrow evening. AFAR cofounder Joe Diaz will moderate a panel on “Navigating the World of Travel from 30,000 Feet” with Matthias Schmid, VP of Sales North America for Emirates, and Danny Cuellar, Global Director of Advertising for United. 

In advance of the panel, we put some rapid-fire questions to these airline insiders, who have 40 years’ experience and countless flights between them. Read on for their insights and tips.

Do you have any travel rituals? 
Danny Cuellar: Champagne before a trans-Atlantic crossing because travel should be a celebration. And I always touch the side of the aircraft when I board… no idea why.

Matthias Schmid:  I like to get to the airport at the very last minute.

 What do you always bring with you on a plane and why? 
DC: Headphones or earbuds, sometimes you just don’t feel like talking.

MS: My noise-canceling headphones.

What airline amenity do you think is most worth paying up for?
DC: Legroom for relaxing or working.

MS: On domestic flights: extra legroom seats.

Do you have any tips for combatting jet lag? 
DC: Short change yourself on sleep a tiny bit the night before a long trip so that you can actually fall asleep easily in-flight—and wake up feeling good having slept several hours.

MS: After years of traveling it still hits me from time to time. I always try to go for a run after a long-haul flight (even in the middle of the night) and I feel that this helps me to combat jet lag.  

What are some misconceptions people may have about airlines?
DC: That we don’t love our customers. 

MS: It’s still a very regulated and highly complicated business that involves a large number of stakeholders, systems, and processes. In summary: getting an airplane into the air on time is not as easy as you might think.

What can travelers do to help ensure a smooth flying experience? 
DC: Don’t set yourself up for failure at any point in the journey by not allowing ample time.  A lot of airports are experiences themselves these days, so arrive early, enjoy the retail/food/drink, or some of the great lounges if you’re lucky enough to have access. [Related: the 12 coolest airport experiences.]

MS: Don’t rely on things that you are supposed to get on the flight and be self-sufficient instead: bring water, a sweater, your own music, and reading material.

What innovation would you like to see in the airline industry?
DC: Product speed to market: everything currently takes two years from design to rollout. The industry needs to get faster and more nimble to keep up with technology and customer expectations in general. 

MS: Manage the turnaround from a mass transportation approach towards a more customer centric approach.

Follow #AFARConversations on Wednesday, May 25, 2017, for highlights and sound bites from the event.