I wouldn’t mind betting that when you read that title, you raised your eyebrows just a touch. Enjoy? A long haul flight? Yeah, right.
In recent years, though, I’ve come to love the long-haul. Not only does it mean I’m probably going somewhere awesome, but I don’t get many opportunities to binge watch movie after movie whilst people bring me food. It’s a pretty good deal when you think about it like that.
The problem with a long-haul flight though, I’ll admit, is that there are an awful lot of things that can go wrong.
From ending up sitting behind the parents of a baby that will NOT SHUT UP to your in-flight entertainment freezing mid-film, there are an awful lot of variables that can turn a bit of tranquil you-time on your way to somewhere fun into the journey from hell.
As the old saying goes, forewarned is forearmed. My tactic on long-distance flights is to be as well-prepared for every eventuality as physically possible. That way, things are far less likely to go wrong.
It’s like leaving the house with an umbrella. You can be fairly certain it won’t rain, but if you leave it at home, it’s almost inevitable.
Here are a few tips for ways to insure yourself against the long-haul flight from hell… (but you should definitely get REAL insurance too…)
The Build Up
- Book well in advance, or check in online early.
If it’s an option, when you book your flight, reserve your seat in advance. That way you get the pick of the bunch and aren’t stuck in a middle seat between two people whose elbows keep protruding into your personal space.
If not, then make a note of when online check-in opens for your flight and try and get online as soon as possible to pick your seat.
- Choose your spot wisely.
Yes, it’s louder at the back, but everyone knows that, so most people pick seats at the front. If your flight isn’t full, the spaces are more likely to be right at the end.
When picking that all important seat, try going for one that has one space next to it, and someone in the third seat if it’s a row of three. Single travellers aren’t as likely to pick a seat between two people, so you’re more likely to have space next to you if your flight isn’t full. That extra bit of space to spread out into is like gold dust.
- Pick a team.
I think I can safely say that most of us fall into one of two categories, window or aisle. Window lovers are those that value having a surface to rest their heads on above all else, whereas us aisle people generally have long legs that need stretching out or often need to pop to the loo, and don’t want to have to climb over two sleeping strangers every time we want to get out… Pick your team wisely.
- Avoid flights that are bound to be child-heavy.
If at all possible, avoid flights that are, say, right at the beginning of the school holidays and flying from London to Sydney, as you’re just asking for trouble in the form of screaming toddlers.
- Use your air miles, cough up a bit more or blag an upgrade.
Got air miles? Stop hoarding them! Now is the time to use them for that upgrade to business class, or even experience the incredible feeling of turning left when you get on the plane. If you’re air mile-less (I feel your pain) consider paying that bit extra for premium economy. Money well spent. Another reason is that a lot of your air miles do have an expiration date, have a look and use them well!
If you’re not willing to pay the extra, and you’re flying alone, try dressing nicely and asking for an upgrade. It can’t hurt, and you can stick your comfy clothes in your bag for later. If you’re travelling as a couple, hide your left hands behind your back and pretend it’s your honeymoon. Unless it’s your honeymoon. In which case, congratulations! Cash in!
The Big Day
- Arrive well-rested and relaxed.
Some people seem to think that tiring themselves out before a flight will help them sleep better on it and deal better with jet lag. Oh, how wrong you are.
Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before. On the day, eat well, relax, and do some exercise to make up for the hours upon end you’re going to spend sitting, and, if you’re anything like me, gorging on oreos.
- Keep it comfortable.
Unless you’re going for the upgrade, make sure you’re in comfy clothes. It’s not a fashion show, and the days of dressing up for a flight are long since over. You’ll regret wearing anything tight, mark my words. The longer the flight the more comfort should take precedence.
- Come prepared.
On most flights, you get a flimsy pillow and a blanket the size of a postage stamp, a token gesture towards your comfort.
If you’re on a really fancy airline you might get a disposable toothbrush, pair of flight socks or flight mask, but using them is pretty un-environmentally friendly. You’re already flying halfway around the world, let’s not make it worse.
Don’t leave without a…
- A great neck pillow. You won’t look cool, but you’ll be comfy.
- Blanket or sleeping bag liner. Keep yourself cosy and protected against the cruelly cold air conditioning.
- Don’t make the mistake of dressing for the outside temperature. Even if it’s 30 degrees and tropical when you get to the airport, it’s always arctic conditions on a plane.
- Flight socks. Because no one can get to sleep with cold toes, and DVT (deep-vein thrombosis) is not pretty.
- Toothbrush and paste. Your fellow passengers will thank you.
- To freshen up a bit before arrival.
- Eye mask. Particularly useful for when you’re flying during the day, or when they insist on turning the cabin lights on for a meal you didn’t even want.
- You might not fancy the on-board food, or you might just get peckish between meals. Bring treats, but don’t forget the healthy stuff too.
- Leave the bad quality, single use ones alone, and bring your own. Noise cancelling is ideal, but good earphones will do to shut out the engine noise and the guffaws of that bunch of lads off on a booze cruise sitting in the row behind you.
- Have a backup
There’s always one in-flight entertainment system that doesn’t work, and sod’s law will dictate that it’s yours. It’s nearly always mine. Stick a few films on your tablet or phone just in case. Make sure it’s fully charged, so you don’t end up Netflix-less two hours into a flight to Australia, with nothing else to do.
- Download plenty of podcasts.
Films on your tablet are all well and good but they’ll drain your battery like nobody’s business. Podcasts, on the other hand, don’t have half as much of an effect on battery life. If you download them beforehand, you can binge-listen to your favourite comedy podcast or get the whole way through an audiobook. Take a power bank if you have to!
Related: 10 best powerbanks
We Have Lift Off
- Switch seats
Have you ended up in a seat you’re not quite happy with? Is the person next to you all elbows? If the flight isn’t full, have your eye on any spare seats. Once you’re in the air, the crew aren’t normally worried about you scooching. Try to avoid asking the flight crew before take off as they can be scrambling to get everyone prepped and might not have time to facilitate seat swapping.
- Go easy.
I’m not about to tell you that you have to say no to all of the free alcohol being served on board. But be reasonable. I generally stick with just the one glass of wine with dinner, and water for the rest of the journey, as there’s nothing more dehydrating, and more likely to make you feel jet lagged than getting drunk on a plane.
You also don’t want to have to be going back and forth to the loo, especially if you’ve picked the window team.
- It’s okay to socialize (sometimes)
This mainly depends on the people around you. While sometimes people who are too chatty can be annoying don’t hold back if you feel like striking up a conversation with the guy or girl next to you.
- Let your creative juices flow.
On a flight, you’ll generally find me listening to a podcast whilst doing a bit of mindful colouring. Make the most of the time to yourself by doing some sketching or some writing, or whatever floats your boat and relaxes you.
- Keep moving.
DVT can be serious, so do everything you can to minimise your risk of it. Even if you’re trapped in a window seat, keep your feet moving and make circles with your ankles.
Once you’re up to go to the loo, take the opportunity to have a walk around the cabin and stretch your legs out. Hang out in the galley and chat to the crew. Don’t hurry back!
Call me vain, but I do this more than anything to minimise the inevitable foot-swelling on a long-haul flight, which isn’t a good look with flip flops.
- Water, water, water.
Again, the dehydrated look isn’t one you want in your holiday snaps. Keep your water levels topped up to minimise the risk of DVT, to combat the effects of the wine you had with dinner and keep your skin glowing.
- Get in the (time) zone.
As soon as you’re on the flight, turn your watch to the time zone at your destination so your brain has an extra few hours to start getting used to the idea and adapting itself.
- Sit back and relax.
In this fast-paced world we live in, we’re constantly connected and always feel like we need to be doing something productive. On a plane for 13 hours, you have a wonderful excuse to not be checking your email or Facebook every 5 seconds.
Luckily, even if a plane claims to have Wi-Fi it normally doesn’t actually work, so we still get to escape reality for a while. Finally, a legitimate excuse to chain-watch films!
It’s also very relaxing to know that once you’re on the plane, you’re on the plane, and there’s nothing you can do about it. So relinquish control, zone out, and enjoy.
Related: 10 Best carry on Luggage
And Once You’re There…
Don’t let the jet lag get you down.
Hurrah! You’re there! But the fun isn’t over yet. Long-haul normally means jet lag follows you around for quite a long time. Stay hydrated, nap for short times only if absolutely necessary and push through the tiredness barrier until it’s a reasonable time to go to bed.
Don’t let yourself think about what time it is back at home, because you’re not at home. You’re on an adventure in a land far, far away.