Flying is an integral part of the travel experience for many of us and while I personally love a long flight, I realize that many people do not. I think that’s because they just don’t know how to prepare for spending multiple hours in a long metal tube. Many folks go into the experience with a fiercely negative attitude, which of course colors the entire flight. Instead of dreading the long flight, learn to embrace it and make it more enjoyable for yourself by taking a few extra steps. With a little preparation anyone can enjoy the flying experience and do so without being a jerk to their fellow passengers.
Prepare a long-haul kit
This is an essential travel item for me and I keep it packed in my carry-on bag no matter where I go. While it’s convenient for any style of trip, the components of my prized kit are key when I’m on a long-haul flight. In the bag I keep: an eye mask, plenty of earplugs, disposable prepasted toothbrushes (like Wisp), hand lotion, compression socks, travel sized deodorant and a few other goodies. You get the concept though; the idea is to bring things that will give you a better chance to rest on that long flight and to leave the plane looking and feeling refreshed. After spending a night on a plane, there is nothing better than being able to feel slightly human. The toothbrush, deodorant and lotions all help with that. No matter what you pack in your survival kit, it’s a good idea to have one.
Organize that carry-on bag
There is nothing worse than waiting hours for a flight, schlepping an oversized carry-on bag on your shoulder as you meander around the airport. While you need to make sure you bring the essentials, don’t overdo it or you will regret it. The most important items to pack in your carry-on are those items that you frankly can’t check in a suitcase. My carry-on bag is essentially an electronics bag, housing all of my gadgets that I can’t leave out of sight. Cameras, iPad, phone, battery charger, and so forth are all in my bag. I also make sure to pack any medications I might need, from prescriptions to over-the-counter remedies. Plane cabins are dry and I almost always get a headache, so I keep a stash of ibuprofen with me at all times. Of course you also need to include that long-haul kit we just talked about, as well as any extras you might want. This includes magazines, e-reader, pens, notebooks, snacks and so on. This is where most people go crazy though, so don’t overdo it. Just pack enough for the next flight and not for a year of travel.
I recommend this a lot and while not everyone will want to comply, they should. There is nothing worse that you can do to yourself than consume too much alcohol during or before a flight. As I said, flying is an inherently dehydrating experience, which has negative effects on the body. Alcohol further intensifies the dehydration, making you feel even worse and making the jet lag almost unbearable. Instead, drink lots and lots of water; as much as you can handle. While alcohol may help you fall asleep momentarily, it won’t last; but if you’re properly hydrated you’ll feel better and sleep should come more naturally.
Compartmentalize your flight
This is my own personal way of coping with a long-haul or ultra long-haul flight and it might work for you too. Thinking of a flight as one chunk of time is almost too much for us to handle. The idea of spending 15 hours next to The Snoring Guy or Miss Likes To Talk is a huge mental weight to bear. Instead, think of the flight in segments. First of all, eating will take a considerable amount of time. On a ten hour flight at least 2 hours will be spent waiting for or consuming meals. That leaves 8 hours. Watching one movie will take another two hours, leaving you with six. Figure on trying to sleep for at least 5 of those hours and you’re left with one hour to read, watch a TV show or stare aimlessly at the seat back in front of you. Or, you could divide your time between: eating, doing work, sleeping, watching a movie and reading equally. No matter how you decide to divide your time, it’s a useful mental exercise and will help make your long flight seem like less of a challenge.
A healthy traveler is a happy traveler, and this is especially true on a long flight where deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a very real concern. DVT is the formation of blood clots in deep veins, the chance for developing them increases with the length of the flight. One of the best ways to minimize your risk of developing DVT is to exercise throughout the flight. This can be simple leg exercises done at your seat, or a walk around the cabin followed by some stretching. In recent years I have noticed more pain in my ankles, so I recently started wearing compression socks that have seemed to help. Aside from DVT, getting up and moving about the cabin is a great way to feel better and hopefully arrive at your destination in a better state of mind.
I feel like getting in and out of airports and even the flying process is a community effort. We’re all in this together, so why not help others make their process go more smoothly and in turn, yours as well. It’s simple human kindness really, if someone needs help with their bags, then help them. If someone is confused about security, politely give them the rules of the road. If everyone did this, then airports might actually be an enjoyable place to be. I remember once as I was boarding a plane, there was an elderly couple a few rows ahead of me in line. As we boarded, they struggled to get their bags into the overhead compartment, but the person behind them did nothing expect huff and puff, seemingly oblivious to the plight of the people a few inches away. I stepped in, asked if I could help and got them situated easily and quickly. Rather than be obnoxious about the time the couple were taking in boarding, the guy in front of me could have sped things up by being helpful and offering to aid people in obvious need. None of us knows each other, but for several hours we have to depend on each other in order to get through the flight as painlessly as possible.
Putting a couple hundred people from all walks of life in a narrow metal tube and then flinging it thousands of miles through the air is not an inherently pleasant process. Add into the equation basic human emotions like stress, anxiety and fear and you have a recipe for disaster. That’s why now more than ever it’s imperative that we’re all as patient as possible. The guy in front of you WILL recline his seat all the way back for some reason and the person next to you will unfairly claim rights to your armrest. Rather than let this send you down a spiral of anger and frustration, just try to go with the flow or, if necessary, politely talk to the offenders. We’re all in this together, and if the time is spent getting angry at each other it’s not going to be an enjoyable process for anyone.
It shouldn’t shock me at this point and yet it does – most people are oblivious to the world around them when they travel. I don’t know what it is about airports and aircraft in particular, but the average traveler exists in their own little bubble of self-centered entitlement. I’m tall and for me the aisle seat is preferable. Within a few years though I’m sure I’ll have permanent shoulder injury from all the people who whack me with their bags as they board the plane. After years of this I now pay attention and try to dodge them, but at no point are they even aware that they’re maiming dozens of people as they board, much less actually apologize for the pain inflicted. This is just one example of how inconsiderate people are of others around them. A few things to keep in mind as you fly: keep your kids under control (crying babies are one thing, but 5 year olds climbing over my seat isn’t acceptable); don’t get drunk; don’t bring super smelly food onboard, don’t get drunk; do look behind you before reclining your seat and finally – don’t get drunk.
Get the best seats
I’m nearly 6’3” tall, so for me selecting the best seats possible on a long flight isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. There is a big difference in my comfort and ultimately my health when I have the ability to choose a great seat. What does that mean? For me it means an aisle seat, preferably in an Exit row or a spot where there isn’t a seat in front of me, like the bulkhead. Having the seat in front of me reclined into my knees for ten hours is my own personal version of hell. To find these seats, I usually use SeatGuru.com that has a handy guide to every plane/flight in the world, detailing the best and worst seats along with their attributes. The site will tell you if a chair doesn’t recline and whether or not there is another seat in front of you. I use it all the time and I swear by it.
Ok, so this may not be for everyone but believe me, there is no better way to make a long flight enjoyable than by upgrading. Whether you pay for it out of pocket or you use those hard earned frequent flyer miles, I strongly recommend it. If Global First Class isn’t in your budget, consider a more modest upgrade to Premium Economy. These seats have more legroom, usually better service and even enhanced menus. Some airlines are better at Premium Economy than others, so be sure to do your research. Business class though is attainable and an amazing way to travel the world. I only use my frequent flyer miles on long-haul business class trips because they’re just that amazing. Imagine unlimited legroom, a chair that turns into a lie-flat bed, great food and amazing service and that is the average business class experience. I will usually only seek an upgrade though on a truly long flight. This is a matter of preference, but if the trip is 8 hours or less in length, I’d rather save my miles for another time. To start earning those miles make sure you’ve signed up with your airlines frequent flyer program and stay loyal to them! That’s the best way to accrue miles and achieve elite flying status.
I don’t know many people who look forward to spending more than a few hours locked in a plane with a couple hundred strangers. But if you go into it with a bad attitude, then you will always have a miserable experience. Thanks to modern technology, there are myriad ways in which we can amuse ourselves while en route, as well as ways to make ourselves as comfortable as possible. More importantly, you are traveling! Whether you are on your way to a new destination, or returning home, there is always excitement to be found. Rather than complain and moan about the flight, enjoy the fact that we can be almost anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours and not days, as was the case just a generation or so ago.