I’d been on the plane for around 4 hours and it was time to go to the bathroom for the third or fourth time. I drink a lot of water when flying so that I’m well hydrated, but this has the rather negative side effect of a constantly full bladder. On this occasion I was pretty desperate and the nearest unoccupied bathroom was the one beyond the curtain.
I dived into Upper Class – went about my business- then returned to my seat so as not to disturb the sleep of the people resting soundly after the evening meal.
*Sleep. Wouldn’t that be nice*
4 hours later I’d managed little but a light snooze for 20 minutes or so, and with another 3 hours to go I was beginning to feel an unusual amount of resentment towards anyone who had managed to fall into a reasonably deep sleep – even those outside of the luxury of upper class.
That flight was my first long haul flight as a 5’10” adult. I hadn’t been prepared for the nature of the task ahead of me when I sat on the tarmac at Heathrow, eagerly awaiting our landing at Hong Kong International Airport.
I had several more long haul flights ahead of me in the 3 weeks that followed, so I had to come up with a strategy to tackle the boredom, lack of sleep and general feeling of entrapment before I boarded the next flight.
Having done a few more long haul flights – in economy and premium economy but never first class- I have a few tips of my own to share with you which might make your long haul flights more bearable!
Bagsy a Spare Row
“For weight distribution reasons (and for organisation) passengers must remain in their allocated seat for take-off and landing but for the rest of the flight, passengers and crew are free to move around the cabin.”
That’s what you’re told when you’re boarding. I don’t know the science of it all, but I’d like to think my 10 stone didn’t have that greater impact on the safety of the plane, otherwise we would have to spread out the babies and evenly distribute the morbidly-obese as well, right?!
If you can, ask a member of the crew if there are any spare rows where you could stretch out and have a sleep. On low occupancy flights there’s a chance you could get 4-5 hours of shut-eye across the middle 4 seats, which believe me is an absolute luxury if you can manage it!
If you don’t want to ask – board as one of the last passengers so you can assess the cabin, looking for which seats remain empty, as you could bag those later.
What if someone else wants 1 or 2 of the 4 seats you’ve bagged? If you’re lying down it’s fine – you’re either asleep and not to be disturbed or pretending to be asleep therefore not to be disturbed. If they ask, it’s up to you whether you want to rudely decline, pretend not to understand or give in.
Personally I think the equitable thing to do is to offer to give up all 4 seats after you’ve had a proper sleep. Neither of you will be able to stretch out on 2 economy seats so 5 hours of proper sleep each is better than 10 hours of shuffling from one bum cheek to the other.
Pack Indigestion Tablets
Settling comfortably in economy isn’t always the easiest thing to do – nor is sleeping upright. Add to that the mix of free drinks and eating outside of your normal eating pattern (due to time zone differences) and it’s easy to suffer some unintended stomach consequences.
Pack an array of stomach settling tablets as a precaution. They weigh next-to-nothing, can stay in your hand luggage and will be indispensable when your pretzels start repeating on you at 33,000ft.
Pack a ‘Refresher’ Kit
There’s something about travel – especially across several time zones –which can leave you feeling pretty gross. Make sure you take something with you to allow you to wash your face, moisturise, brush your teeth and re-style your hair (which will be a mess after wriggling around trying to sleep against those little pillows).
If you’re doing two back-to-back long flights, pack a change of top and a change of underwear so you can start the second leg of the journey feeling refreshed, having changed in the airport. This also has the added benefit of killing a bit of time between flights!
Drink Up (But Not The Wine, or the Coffee)
One of the mistakes I used to make was to have a couple of glasses of wine to ‘knock me out’ for the rest of the flight. The plan was flawed, given that two glasses of wine isn’t really enough knock anyone out and alcohol actually makes me suffer from restless sleep (if I can sleep at all). Avoid coffee too – drinking a known stimulant probably isn’t the best way to prepare for a sleep.
A friend of mine works for Virgin Atlantic as Cabin crew and recently advised me that she drinks as much as 3-4 litres of water on each flight. The crew actually swear by maintaining hydration to reduce the effects of jet-lag and keep your skin and body feeling at least part-normal after such a long time in recycled air. I tried it, and despite 13 bathroom trips over 9.5 hours I did feel much better than when I have alcohol and managed sleep for several hours – even when upright!
Wear Your Best Gym Gear
Hear me out. Whilst this might sound a little bit strange, I’ve found that the best travel clothing is actually my smartest running tights and a vest, a breathable but warm zip up jacket and my most flexible comfy shoes: my Nike Frees. I don’t look particularly glamorous when I travel, but I dress like that for the following reasons:
- They’re flexible and designed not to be irritating to wear. They basically feel like pyjamas!
- Gym leggings typically don’t have buckles or zips that could dig in when you sit down
- They’re warm enough for whilst on the plane, but usually made of breathable sweat-wicking material, so will remain comfortable if you’re landing in a hot place (like when we flew to Vegas from Manchester in July)
- A zip jacket is much easier to remove than a hoody
- You can wash and dry them quickly (because of the quick drying fabric) so you can use them again for the return journey (leaving more space for holiday purchases in your luggage allowance!
- I’ve learnt the hard way that heels are not an option when I have to walk / stand for so long in an airport (cheers, Atlanta)!
Can’t Sleep? Channel Yoda and Meditate
Ok so maybe you can’t actually meditate – or at least not knowingly – but you can try shutting your eyes and thinking of nothing for at least 15 minutes. Creating a peaceful silence in your own head will more than likely either lead to sleep, or leave you feeling a little bit more rested than before. Either way, it’s worth a try!
Take Breaks Between Films
Films are a good way to pass a couple of hours at a time, but if you binge watch 3 films you might find yourself disappointed by how long there is left until landing time.
Instead, watch a film – do something else – then watch another film. You’ll appreciate the second film more after a break, and if you give yourself chance to realise you’re tired then might even manage a nap.
Avoid Exotic Foods
For obvious reasons, avoid unusual foods in the run up to a long flight. You don’t want to spend the journey locked in the loo.
Give Yourself Meaningful Tasks to Complete
Many of us will know the feeling of running out of time to compete a task. When we focus on getting something done rather than the passing of time, suddenly time flies.
When I’m flying, I typically give myself a target such as writing a chapter of my book or writing a blog post. If I’m not writing, I’ll try and finish a book I’ve started at home and never completed. I’d also recommend downloading and listening to some interesting podcasts such as TED talks. You might as well learn something whilst you’re sat there… right?!
Avoid Becoming a Default Babysitter
It’s very important to set the boundaries early-on if there’s an inquisitive child sat in the seat in front of you. If you’re too friendly and encouraging of them leaning over the seat to interact with you then you’re in danger of becoming a source of entertainment for the remainder of the flight. I’m not saying ignore them, but initiating a game of peek-a-boo or I-spy probably isn’t sensible.
Last But Not Least – Jump Time-Zones!
If you can, try to adjust to destination time as soon as possible after boarding the flight. Most airlines will help you do this, but if your journey is in two legs –such as Manchester to Auckland – then your final destination time will be different to stop-over time. Bear this in mind when deciding when it’s best to try and sleep. Personally I take whatever sleep I can get!
ENJOY THE FLIGHT… AND THE HOLIDAY OF COURSE!
The 5 Week Wanderer