Whether you’re on one of these crazy-long-hauls or simply dreading your next trip halfway around the world, here’s a few tips to cope with that flight.
From booking to boarding and deplaning, here are coping strategies from frequent travellers who rack up hundreds of thousands of miles each year.
Plane type matters: “The Boeing 777 is a beautiful plane,” said Brian Kelly, founder of the popular travel blog The Points Guy, who logs about a quarter-million miles each year, “but the Airbus A380 is significantly quieter in the cabin, and the ride is so smooth you barely feel it.” Routes with frequent service are often flown on multiple types of aircraft, so check before booking.
So does newness: Latest-generation aircraft have made significant improvements with cabin humidity, noise levels, pressurization, and lighting. For instance, Kelly noted, “The air on the Airbus A350 is recycled every three minutes so it’s not that stale, disgusting plane air we’re all familiar with.” The models to look for right now: the A350 and Boeing 787.
Double-check seating configurations: Avoid waking up your slumbering neighbour (or getting woken up yourself) by booking all-aisle-seat premium cabins. Configurations can vary within a fleet—for instance, Qatar Airways’ 777s don't have all-aisle business-class seats, but its 787s, A350s, and A380s do—so check the cabin maps before you decide, either direct with the airline or with services like SeatGuru.
Red-eyes are not always best: Pick night-time flights only if you think you’ll sleep well. “I'll always pick a nighttime flight when I have a lie-flat bed,” said Ben Schlappig, who runs the loyalty program blog One Mile at a Time. “Otherwise, I'll shoot for a daytime flight. It's less miserable to be uncomfortable when I'm not painfully tired as well.”
White noise tolerance: The seats nearest the engines are going to be the loudest, so sit far away from them for a quiet flight.
Bulkhead before exit row: Why? Exit-row seats can have less padding, said Kelly, which (to some) can be a bigger inconvenience than sitting near galleys or lavatories.
Reconsider the back row: Seeing seat 84A on your boarding pass isn’t as bad as it seems. According to Schlappig, you’re most likely to get an empty seat next to you by “picking a seat towards the very back of the cabin, in a row with at least three seats.”
Do your homework: Consult sites like SeatGuru and Routehappy to steer clear of dud seats. “I am obsessive about using seat maps to ensure I get the latest interiors, try the newest seats, and am sitting as far from the lavatories and galleys as possible,” explained Mike Lundberg, a senior counsel with Miami-based World Services Fuel Corp., who regularly flies 13-hour-plus flights for work.
Dress for comfort, not looks: All our experts agreed on this point. Lundberg focuses on layers, “since no airline, airport, or Uber driver has ever managed to maintain a consistent temperature.” Schlappig will wear sweats when flying internationally, even in first and business class—sideways glances be damned. At the very least, if you are given the pleasure of airline pajamas, use 'em.
Workout before flying: Fit in a preflight workout to counteract the effects of being sedentary. Your exercise high will get you through TSA, and it’ll fade in time for easy in-flight sleeping.
Hack your legroom: Even if you’re not 6-foot-7 like Mr Brian Kelly, you should make every half-inch of legroom count. “Sometimes the seat-back pockets are full of magazines that take up space,” he said. His fix: Use them as a foot rest for better circulation.
Reset your mental clock: Get ahead of jet lag by changing your watch or phone to your destination’s time zone as soon as possible.
Take control of your environment: Don’t like that stale plane smell? Spray your favourite scent, aromatherapeutic or not, on a scarf or blanket. Mr Kelly swears by his noise-cancelling Bose QC35 headphones; here are some others. Ms Leila Janah, chief executive officer of organic skin-care company LXMI, puts on earplugs as soon as she boards her regular day long flights from San Francisco to Uganda, where she sources ingredients. The more you’re in control, the better you’ll feel.
Do eat: Even though airplane food can be saturated with sodium, you shouldn’t starve yourself. Plus, says Mr Schlappig, plane meals are a nice way to pass the time. (Some airlines with strong culinary cred: Turkish, Emirates, Singapore, and Air France.)
Don’t wake up for breakfast: “Airplane breakfasts are almost always disappointing. Instead of waking up an extra 90 minutes before you land, skip it and get the extra rest instead,” advised Mr Kelly.
Do speed things up: Ms Janah pointed out that many airlines offer premium passengers a lighter, quick-service meal (like a salad or sandwich) at the beginning of the flight in lieu of a full meal. Go that route, and you’ll get to bed sooner.
Do order ahead: You’ll get served first’and be guaranteed your choice if you request a special meal when you book, whether that means vegetarian or halal.
Don’t eat all the salty snacks: Two words: Dehydration and bloating. Instead, Ms Janah packs raw nuts and Numi tea bags, which hardly take up any space.
Do think twice before you drink twice: Caffeine and alcohol are both dehydrating and disrupt your sleep patterns. Limit yourself to one which is enough to help you relax (or perk up). Then balance it out with twice as much water.
Investigate the Wi-Fi situation: “I try to choose airlines like Lufthansa or Etihad that have reasonably priced Wi-Fi without expensive data caps,” said Mr Schlappig.
Don’t depend solely on in-flight entertainment: Before your trip, browse your airline’s website to determine how many movies you should load up on your iPad most carriers have lists of what’s playing on board. For binge watchers, Netflix recently changed the game by letting you download an expansive selection of movies and TV shows for offline viewing.
Power up: “I make sure all my electronics are completely charged before I fly, just in case the in-seat power ports don’t work, you’d be surprised how often this happens,” said Mr Schlappig. He also suggested bringing backup batteries or chargers, like the Anker PowerCore 20100, which can simultaneously recharge two gadgets multiple times.
Permission to disconnect: “Being on a plane is one of the only times I don’t feel guilty for not working,” said Ms Janah, who reads fiction or draws when she can’t sleep. Also helpful to pass the time: iPad Pro coloring book apps like Colorfy and all-you-can-read magazine apps like Texture.
Spritz every few hours: Using a sinus spray can help you fight viruses and bacteria, keep you from feeling dry, and make it easier to adjust to pressure.
Wipe that tray: Your seat-back tray table is said to be more germ-infested than the airplane bathroom, so clean it off with a baby wipe or a squirt of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before settling in.
Rethink the amenity kit: Ms Janah says travellers can be more reactive to new or synthetic ingredients when dealing with the stress of travel. Instead, she said, “Use products with just a few natural ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, or almond oil.”
Make it all look easy
Stepping right off the plane and into a meeting? Pick an airline with a full-service arrivals lounge so you can get a coffee and a shower before heading into town. Valets at British Airways’ arrivals lounge at London Heathrow’s Terminals 3 and 5 will even press up to three items of clothing for you while you have a shower, so you arrive at your appointment wrinkle-free.
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