This year thus far I’ve taken a number of ultra long-haul flights; one trip to Sydney from Denver, and another to Capetown from New York. On one hand they are miserable affairs, on the other it’s pretty amazing how you can be on the other size of the world in less than a day. Here are my tips for surviving them the best way possible:
- Seat choice.
This is critical in my opinion, although on some flights (in particular Sydney to LA) there’s not much you can do to avoid a full plane. People employ the same mindset flying long-haul as they do a short commuter flight, i.e. they all want to sit near the front. This makes absolutely no sense though when you’re talking about being on the plane for 16 hours and 10 minutes vs 16 hours and 18 minutes. Knowing how the general public behaves I booked seat 70D (a few rows from the very back) on a recent flight from Johannesburg to New York. The front and middle of the plane were jam packed on the 16 hour flight, the back had empty seats all over. I clinched the holy grail of economy class flying and got the entire middle row to myself. A lie-flat bed for $600!
- Hydration before you get on the plane.
For some reason, perhaps deliberate, it’s impossible to get more than about 200ml of water in one go while on a plane. You get tiny cups or tiny bottles, none of which are adequate to quench any real thirst. Being hydrated helps your organs function, get better sleep, and arrive in a better state. Make sure you start your flight with your body being fully hydrated so you are not playing impossible catch-up whilst in the air.
- Think about timezone change.
When you fly to the other side of the world your body is going to arrive in a bit of a daze. You’re dealing with changing timezone, seasons, language, culture, and a loss of balance from the motion of being on a ship for so long. You can minimize jet-lag by following a few simple things. Firstly think about the time you arrive at the destination and plan when you will rest on the flight accordingly. On my 15 hour flight to Sydney from LA we left at 11pm LA time and arrived at 7am Sydney time. I knew I wanted to arrive with enough sleep to last a full day in Sydney so I stayed up the first 6 hours of the flight so that I would a) be super tired and be able to sleep on the plane, and b) get about 6 hours of sleep before being awaken by the sunlight and breakfast service. When you arrive make it through as much of the day as you can and perhaps take an afternoon nap of no more than 2 hours. You’ll be tired but make it until at least 8pm, but try 11 or midnight. Get a full night’s sleep and then wake up the next day and enjoy!
- Red wine and drugs.
After you’ve factored in your arrival time and amount of sleep you’d like to get take two small bottles of red wine and a Tylenol PM or other mild sleep aid. The red wine and Ibuprofen do wonders for relaxing your muscles and helping you sleep in an otherwise uncomfortable position.
- Ear plus and eye mask.
Pack these! They help dull your senses and in combination with the wine and Tylenol will help you sleep.
- Befriend your seat mate.
This one might seem silly but a little bit of small talk with your seat mate at the start of the flight can really help. Whether it be helpfulness moving so you can get out, preventing an arm-rest border dispute, or as I did on my flight from JNB to JFK, asking him to relocate to another row so that we could both have spare seats, gaining a bit of good grace from your neighbor can really improve things. You might even have some good conversation that eats up a few hours.