I’ve been travelling a fair bit in the last 8 weeks and during that time have embarked on one of the longest haul flights you can take, twice! I went from New Zealand to London and back again, both times via Bangkok. That trip requires two 11 hour flights. With various other medium and long hauls over the years I think I have gotten pretty good at preparing and coming out of the other side of these flights in a reasonable shape.
You can never arrive at your destination 100% intact. Flying has a way of making me a little sick and with unavoidable jet lag you always have to endure some post-flight issues. However by following a decent routine and then tailoring the details to suit yourself you can greatly reduce any big problems.
A few days before the flight
The flight survival starts for me a few days prior to the flight. I know this sounds a bit mental but yes I do have some extreme tendencies. Ideally i’ll start to eat lighter a few days before. Salads and such things. I’ll also try and make sure I don’t have any large alcoholic benders and definitely will not drink the night / day before the flight. Arriving feeling healthy and fresh is a must. I’ll also try to get a few full nights sleep.
It’s also worth logging into the website and checking your flight details. You should also be able to choose a seat and your meal type. I have found vegetarian south east asian food to be pretty good with noodles / rice and veggies being the general type of thing you’ll get. You just want to make sure you don’t get any meals on the plane that make you feel like a lump of sludge or make you need to empty your bowels! The seating is really up to you but, as magical as flying is, the window seat isn’t a must for me anymore unless I know my flight will be half empty. An aisle seat makes a lot of difference for those times you need the bathroom. The amount of times I have had to call the hosts over to wake a large snoring man to get out of my window seat has taught me this!
Packing the carry on
It’s less likely you’ll be rocking the carry on only option with a long haul so you can be a little more selective about packing a light bag. I tend to pack an empty reusable water bottle to fill up past security. I’ve been allowed to take an apple and a few small snacks through security before too but that can’t always be counted on (but still worth trying). Next up you’ll be good to have a travel toothbrush, miniature toothpaste, small roll-on deodorant and some no water hand soap. A travel pack of wet wipes is a great addition too. I like to have a change of underwear and a spare t-shirt. Also a few pairs of comfortable socks never go a miss!
For entertainment if you have a tablet, smart phone or mp3 player then that will likely be all you need. The plane often has a fair few inflight movies and you can load your device with music, audiobooks and games. For me audiobooks are the most important and I take a mixture of informational and story books. Good old fashioned real books are also great and you should be able to fit a few in your bag.
What to wear
It’s essential to be comfortable on the flight. I find loose cargo pants or comfortable shorts that don’t bunch up around the waist are best for the bottom half. On top a v-neck or loose necked t-shirt. A hoodie is good if the planes air-con is being a little ferocious.
I also like to wear flip flops. If you get cold feet on the flight you’ll either have a pair of comfortable socks in your bag or they’ll give you some flight socks.
At the airport
It depends on my budget but generally staying away from airport food is the way to not empty out your bank account. That being said in some airports you can get a nice light meal for under $10 and depending on the time of day you may need something in your stomach to allow you to get on the plane and drift off to the happy land of sleep. If you really need to eat and you have the cash then do! A bag of nuts is also a fine meal substitute and at this stage make sure you are drinking plenty of water. There should be free water fountains near all bathrooms.
As tempting as it is I would suggest you stay away from the bars. Getting drunk feels great but 7 hours into an 10-11 hour flight with a hangover is awful!
On the plane
To get settled on the plane I suggest you take all the things you will need and put them in the pocket in front of your seat. This includes your entertainment, water and hoodie / sweater. Also Take the pillow and blanket they give you and stash them under the seat.
I’d take any footwear off and put on the comfy socks. Like I said I like flip flops as I can quickly slip them on to go to the toilet.
Ideally you’ll be awake at the times they serve the meals but if you are arriving at your final destination and it’s going to be morning you need to work out what times may be best to get some sleep. Sleeping the whole plane journey isn’t always ideal for your jet lag so I normally plan times that I am sleeping / resting and times I am engaging in entertainment.
Conversation can’t be beaten either to get through a flight and you may be flying alone. Just saying “hi, how are you?” to anybody seated near you is a good start and normally you can gauge if they are the type who wants a chit hat with you.
For entertainment I normally scroll through the movies and kind of mentally sort them into order of prefence. I love catching up on a few I have not gotten around to seeing and some I have never heard of. I also see what music albums they have as every now and then there will be something you really want to hear. On my last flight(s) I listened to Arcade Fire’s last album, watched Hurt Locker, The 5-year Engagement, Geoff Who Lives at Home, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Avengers, Hunger Games and a few more interesting movies. On top of this I managed to get through a large amount of my audio book A Thousand Splendid Suns and read some of my real book The Constant Gardener. You can get a lot of entertaining done when traveling long distances!
Every hour or so I try to at least do some seat stretches. Often the in-flight magazine has a good routine and people may look at you funny but you’ll never see them again so who cares? Also getting up and having a good old wander up and down the plane helps keep the blood flowing correctly and alleviate any aches and pains. This is another instance where the aisle seat comes in handy!
If you have planned your sleep / rest and awake time correctly you should arrive at your destination in at least a half awake state. I often don’t bother filling out the immigration forms until I am off the plane as it’s good to take your time and not arrive over rushed. If there is a queue at the passport booths so what? Enjoy the moment of doing nothing, your bags probably won’t be ready to collect at the belts anyway! In fact I often go to the bathroom and clean my teeth and wash my face first anyway before going through immigration.
If it’s overnight and you have a hotel in town then great, relax, get a nice meal, enjoy yourself (but avoid alcohol). If it’s 3-10 hours of torture in the airport then you have some work ahead of you.
I always make a point to first off get to a map and then plan to walk the whole airport. Find out if they have free wi-fi as some people may like to be contacted if you have access. If they don’t have free wi-fi sometimes they have online terminals dotted around. The people at the information desk will be happy to help you with this kind of thing.
Walking the entire length and depth of the airport is a great way to check out all the stores / restaurants. If you need a meal then sometimes something like spaghetti and sauce or a sub sandwich are easy to find without breaking your budget. If a bag of nuts will do then I suggest you grab those, ideally unsalted though.
Post-flight is always hard even with a lot of prep. The most important thing is that on day one you start right by going to sleep at the right time. If you have arrived in the middle of the night go straight to sleep and set the alarm for a reasonable time. You may not sleep but you must get up in the morning to start the readjustment. If you arrive in the morning or day time then you need to stay up until a good time. This time I arrived back in New Zealand with an effective 23 hour time difference. I arrived in the day time and forced myself up, with all my might, until 10pm. That started me on the right track and I was on a reasonable schedule within 2 days.
You’ll also feel sluggish and possibly a little sick from all the sitting down and bad sleep. A short run or a longer walk can help in the following days as well as keeping your diet high in the good stuff. Oranges and garlic are always on my post-flight menu!
Your tips and experience?
I’m one man with my own experience and obviously I can’t always be 100% right. I don’t always manage to follow all of my own advice either but I am trying to with each long haul I take. Anyway I would love to hear your experiences and additional or contradicting tips and anything else you would like to add.
Thanks a million.