New airliners with longer range mean more hours in the air for travelers. Your best chance of reducing the misery? Get yourself ready.
It was the 19th century American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who first declared that “life is a journey, not a destination.”
Love your work, Ralph, but you never spent 16 hours in an airline Coach seat.
Hammered by high fuel prices like the rest of us, the airlines are clamoring for passenger jets to fly ever farther on one load of fuel — and Boeing and Airbus have designs in the works to give them exactly what they want.
That means the next generation of passenger jets will be spending more time in the air, which means you will be spending more time in the air.
If you have enough cash or frequent-flier miles, seriously consider buying your way out of Coach — or as I like to call it, Sardine Class. And for those really long international flights, you’d do well to go with a 5-star airline like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Emirates.
(NOTE: When you need to find a 5-star airline, go to the airline review Web site Skytrax. Don’t worry; there aren’t that many.)
But spending double-digit hours in an aluminum tube at 35,000 feet isn’t much fun, no matter where you sit on the airplane.
So what can we do about all this? Actually, more than you think. Preparation is the key.
Prepare your body
Use the time before your trip to get in shape. Walk. Ride a bike. Swim. Go the gym. Tighten up your diet. You don’t have to train for the Olympics, but being more fit will leave you better equipped to handle all the stresses of travel — not just the flight.
But it’s not just your body that needs some prep.
Know your airplane
Before you book your flight, get to know your airplane. Using the Internet, you can find out:
- What type of aircraft the airline uses on your specific flight.
- Get seat information for that plane on that flight — a seat map, leg room (measured in inches and called “seat pitch”), hip room, amenities (electric outlets, etc.), and other factors (whether your seat has storage space underneath, whether your armrests are movable or fixed).
- In-flight entertainment options. What movies will be shown, what kinds of music and/or games are available.
- Meal information, including special meals you can order in advance.
Choose your seat according what’s most important to you. Don’t let the airline sit you just anywhere if you can avoid it.
Use the info about the entertainment options on board to determine whether you need to bring your own music and/or reading material, or whether you can get by with what the airline offers.
Eat, drink and be merry
The same is true of meals. In-flight magazines published by airlines sometimes contain menus for your flight, broken down by seat class. Check the online version of the magazine, or ask the airline to mail you a copy.
Also, consider ordering one of the airline’s special meals. They don’t cost extra, are often better than the standard airline fare and you’ll probably be served ahead of your seatmates.
The only catch: The airlines need at least three days’ advance notice if you want a special meal.
Keep yourself hydrated. That means water or juices. Go easy on the alcohol — or better yet, avoid it completely.
Pack wisely, and sparingly
There’s a delicate balancing act when packing for a long flight. The trick is to bring just what you need, and no more. And that’s not something you can work out at the last minute.
Shoes that you can easily slip on and off without laces not only will help speed you through airport security, but make you a lot more comfortable if your feet and ankles swell in flight, which happens often.
Those horseshoe-shaped neck pillows you see some travelers using maybe look bizarre, but they do make it easier to sleep on the plane. The tradeoff: They’re bulky and hard to carry…unless you get a good inflatable kind, which you can find from travel suppliers like REI, Magellans, Travelsmith, Travel Essentials or Le Travel Store here in San Diego.
A lightweight, easily packable jacket or sweater can help for those hours when the cabin’s air conditioning system becomes a little too efficient.
If you can’t afford those pricey noise-canceling headphones, try in-ear headphones to help block out the engine noise. Plain earplugs will help you sleep better.
Do your ears hurt because of pressure changes during takeoffs or landings? There are pressure-equalizing earplugs that can help you with that.
While waiting to board your marathon flight, change your watch to the time zone at your destination. The sooner you get your mind and body in synch with the time over there, the less trouble you will have with jet lag when you arrive.
Once you’re airborne, trying dividing your flight hours into manageable chunks of time — say, two to four hours — and plan what you want to do with each segment. Read. Listen to music. Watch a movie. Get up and stretch. Sleep.
Breaking that double-digit flight time into single-digit segments will make you feel a little more in control and a bit less of a prisoner. And if you end up sleeping through a planned segment or two, so much the better.
Whatever you choose to do in those chunks of time, focus on it, concentrate, engross yourself in it — to the point that you don’t think to check your watch or the time on your cell phone. Use the alarm in your watch or cell phone to alert you when you’ve finished one of your segments.
The clock that knows it’s being watched can bring Time to a standstill, on an airplane.
For the same reason, try not to look at that moving map on the in-flight monitor that shows your plane’s position, at least until after you complete a segment.
When you want to sleep for awhile, put your seatbelt on, even if the overhead seatbelt light is off. If the plane hits a little turbulence while you’re snoozing, the flight attendant won’t have to wake you up to have you put your belt on.
There’s not much that’s going to make transoceanic or transcontinental flights a good time, but with a little preparation and a few tricks, you can make it bearable.