Through my travelling adventures, and now living in Austria, I’ve spent a lot of time on aeroplanes, and not just short trips, but the long, nasty, boring 20+ hour ones. However, I’ve come to love them, or at least if not love, I’ve learnt to tolerate.
What you have to do, is acknowledge that it’s 15-24 hours out of your life, and then get over it. Use it to catch up on reading, movies, listening to music – just let it go by as easily as possible. Realise that it’s going to be long, it’s going to be boring, and by the end, you’re going to feel like crap. But at least you’re one of the lucky ones – with the opportunity and money to fly for that long.
So here’s my top 10 tips for long-haul flights:
Choose your seat carefully
Check the seating plan when your flight opens for check in, 24 hours before. Look where you’ve been seated and change it if you can find a better seat. Take note of how many other people are around you and proximity to toilets and babies. Yes, you get more legroom at the front, but this is also the place where people loiter waiting for the toilet. The back half of the plane, I’ve found, is generally a bit quieter. And most people want to sit on the sides, not in the middle seats. Flying solo, I’ve had plenty of occasions where I’ve been lucky to have no one next to me, and occasionally, four seats to myself. Having no one next to you means more room to spread out, and somewhere to put your bag so it’s not at your feet. Finding a seat with no one behind you means unlimited, guilt-free opportunities to recline!
Get an aisle seat, or at least have someone you know on the aisle
You’re going to have to go to the toilet, not only once, but a number of times during the flight. Having to climb over a stranger, or constantly ask someone to move is a hassle. So wherever possible, make sure you or one of your fellow-travellers is on the aisle. It gives you the flexibility to get up whenever you want.
Walk around & explore
For health reasons, and also so you don’t go crazy sitting in one place the whole time, make sure you get up regularly and take a walk around. I’ve had some great conversations with the flight attendants, who generally, when they’re not busy feeding everyone, hang out up the back chatting. Of course, you have to recognise when they’re too busy and when they’re just not up for a chat. Don’t forget that they’re at work, so don’t annoy them.
Take a bottle, find the filling place, find the food
I’ve heard people say that they don’t drink enough on planes because they feel bad pressing the button and asking the flight attendant to bring them water. Guess what, you can go and ask for anything yourself, any time. I always take an empty (to get through security) bottle on board with me. Then, when it’s a little less busy, I just head up the back of the plane and ask for it to be filled. It’s more convenient for everyone. And, you can also ask for snacks whenever you like – piece or fruit, chocolate? It’s there if you just ask. In fact, some planes have a section set up for self-service – with water, juice and food for you to take when you like.
Drink and pee a lot and always ask for two drinks
Drinking is very important to keep hydrated on planes. Along with having a full bottle with me, I always ask for two drinks whenever drinks are offered. Wine and water, orange juice and water, baileys on ice… and a water. And don’t be afraid to use the aeroplane toilets… they are clean… and they’re actually not that bad. If you do find one that’s a bit dirty, just let someone know. They will clean it!
Take wipes, toothpaste and a change of undies
Generally on my long flights there’s always a stopover of an hour or two. At this point, I always take a few minutes to freshen up. I carry wet wipes so I can wash my face, anywhere, anytime. I also carry my own toothpaste and brush, because the dodgy ones they give you free are generally just that… dodgy. And the other thing that’s useful is a change of underwear, and even a spare t-shirt. It’s amazing how much fresher you feel changing your undergarments. They also come in handy if you get stranded somewhere due to delayed or missed flights.
Don’t worry about the time difference
No, I can’t sleep on planes. Unless I have four seats to myself, for me it’s next to impossible. Of course I generally catch an hour or two here and there, but it’s interrupted and light. What I’ve learnt is that when you’re travelling these long distances, the time difference is so great that it actually doesn’t matter whether you sleep or not. You arrive at your destination and you’re tired. So when it’s bed time, most of the time, you sleep, regardless of jet lag.
Carry a small bag of essentials
I always take two bags on the plane: a backpack and a handbag. In the backpack goes all the non-essentials that I might need (spare clothes etc) and in my handbag goes everything I need for the flight. And honestly, you don’t need much. Book, ipod, some tiny toiletries… then my backpack goes up in the compartment while my bag stays with me. It’s small enough not to take up space, but it keeps all my essentials close by so it means I don’t have to keep getting up.
Recline when sleeping, but bring it up for food, and never do it suddenly
There are a lot of debates about reclining your seat on aeroplanes. My rule is, if you’re genuinely sleeping, it’s ok. And on long haul flights… you’re genuinely sleeping. But remember, when it’s food time, you should put yourself back in the upright position. And don’t do it abruptly with no notice… the person behind you could have a glass of red wine sitting on their tray… not nice!
Be courteous & tolerant
Everyone else in economy is in the same boat as you, and no one else is loving it. Be courteous – don’t get drunk and talk loudly when everyone else is sleeping, don’t bump into people as you’re walking down the aisles, don’t take your shoes off if you know you’ve got smelly feet! It’s just common sense, people. And on the same tack – try and be tolerant. Yes, a crying baby is no fun for anyone, but it’s not fun for the parent either, who has to listen to it and feel guilty about everyone around them. And the baby isn’t crying on purpose… pay attention to where the babies are when you pick your seat… and don’t sit near them!