To Survive Long Haul Flights
I hate to fly, and that hatred hasn't diminished one single iota
in my years of hauling myself around the world. This abhorrence
doesn't stem from anxiety, or from fear of crashing. It's the almost
unbearable hassle involved at every step in the process.
trek to the airport, which tacks hours onto travel time; the circus
at security (where I once had a stuffed lizard confiscated
true story); the inevitable delays; the Las Vegas-like affect of
artificial time and air; and the worst part: whiling away 15+ hours
at 30,000 feet, trapped in cattle class with people I'd rather not
know so intimately.
the thing: there's simply no other practical way to see the world.
If you want adventure, it's the ticket to see the show. And I promise
that the rewards far exceed the cost of admission.
you'll hear most often from experienced long-haul travelers is to
upgrade. Business class makes a long flight bearable, and first-class
makes it enjoyable, say the jet-setters. I don't disagree, but not
everyone has an endless supply of frequent-flier miles, and I prefer
to get the most mileage out of my, er, miles. If I can get two economy
class round-trip fares or one round-trip business class ticket,
I'll always opt for two trips. More adventure is always the goal!
Each tip that
follows is geared towards the economy class (coach) traveler.
Gone are the
days of (most) airlines handing out kits containing hydrating sprays,
toothbrushes, and masks misted with essential oils. You'll need
to bring your own eye mask, earplugs, thick socks, and noise-cancelling
headphones. Trust me that these are not pansy accoutrements, they
are survival tools. With the exception of the headphones, they don't
add bulk to your luggage, and you'll be thankful for every small
require some explanation. As a frequent flier with an uncompromising
"no checked bags" policy, it took me years to make room
in my system for such an indulgence. I knew I wouldn't use them
outside of the plane, so I couldn't justify the spend, the space
in my bag, or the additional weight. But the truth is that you can
barely hear the dialogue on movies you watch with airline headphones,
and anything that quiets the din of crying children, pilot announcements,
engine noise, and the clanking meal cart is worth it.
Aisle vs. window
vs. exit: consider that your answer is probably different for a
long-haul flight than it is for a shorter one. Each has its drawbacks,
but consider each scenario carefully. In an aisle seat, you'll be
disrupted by row-mates who are antsy for the toilet, and they might
not be considerate enough to wait until you're awake. Sitting by
a window, you could be trapped by a snorer when you've hit your
breaking point and are desperate for a leg stretch. And an exit
row doesn't always mean more room: sometimes the thick exit doors
just encroach on what little space you would have had.
you'll be most comfortable (or the least uncomfortable), research
your aircraft on SeatGuru, and call the airline ahead of time to
secure your seat preference. If you're not able to get the seat
you want when you call, try asking at the gate. If the flight isn't
full, the gate agent can make last-minute seat reassignments.
trick to surviving any flight longer than 8 hours is to minimize
Let's say you're
on a 15-hour flight from Newark to Hong Kong. If you're very lucky,
you might manage 7-8 hours of patchy sleep, leaving another 7-8
hours in which you're trapped, strapped into a seat that does not
respect your spine's natural curves, your limbs folded like a praying
mantis, possibly driven to drink and to check the flight path every
usually parents of small children enjoying the luxury of
solo travel simply relish the time to themselves, and can
rest peacefully the entire trip. But for most of us with a twenty-first
century attention span, battling hours of boredom in the air requires
an arsenal of lowbrow entertainment. That's right: muscle mags and
gossip rags, rom-coms, episodes of 30 Rock that you've already seen.
When you flick
through the on-board entertainment guide, you'll most likely notice
that they're offering a documentary on the Tsukiji fish market,
or that obscure Japanese drama about children trapped in an apartment
that you couldn't get anyone to watch with you. You'll probably
feel very strongly that you should use these 15 hours to catch up
on culture, after you've composed responses to every aged item in
your inbox and tidied up that Powerpoint presentation. Take it from
me: this is about survival; it's not a time to be high-brow. Do
plan to do some work, but don't expect spreadsheets and business
cases to see you through the merciless middle hours of this ordeal.
Sleep is critical
to getting through a long-haul flight, and it also plays an important
part in adjusting to your new time zone. How much you should sleep
and how to achieve it (sleeping pills or all natural?) depends on
a few factors: the duration of your flight; what time you leave
and the local time at arrival; and, most importantly, how you react
to sleeping aids. Don't knock yourself out just to get through the
journey. Consider all of the inputs, and then formulate a sleeping
a few more of my long-haul travel maxims.
- If possible,
fly overnight rather than during the day. You're more likely to
sleep which means less time being bored and, while
your first day on the ground will be a long one, you'll suffer
less from jet lag.
- If you carry-on
your luggage (which everyone should do), pack your toiletries
in the bag that you'll stow under your seat, so you can freshen
up without the hassle of removing your suitcase from the overhead
- If you wear
contacts, take them out during the flight and wear your glasses,
even if you don't intend to sleep.
- The old
adage about staying hydrated is perfectly true. After you go through
security, buy the biggest bottle of water you can find, and take
it with you on the plane.
- Drink up
but be careful what you drink. No alcohol or caffeine,
and no airplane food.
And the most
important tip of all: don't be intimidated by a long itinerary.
That time you wasted last Saturday catching up on TiVo and nursing
a hangover? You could have been halfway to Australia.
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Murphy is an American expatriate who has lived, worked and/or studied
in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia and now Australia.
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