There are long flights and then there are even longer flights. The flight from Vancouver, Canada to Heathrow, London takes a long 9 hours, but the flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to Sydney, Australia takes 12 hours!. This does not include time spent at the airport checking in, waiting and boarding, so the overall time for the journey is even longer. While you can amuse yourself in many ways at the airport, it is more difficult during the flight when you are confined to the aircraft. Here are some tips and ideas to ease the flight experience:
Booking a seat
When you book your seat make sure you take the one that will suit your needs the best. Tall people fare better with an aisle seat because they can straighten their legs into the aisle. Aisle seats are also good for those who want to get up frequently (think bladder capacity, or how soon your joints get stiff) or who are embarrassed to climb over fellow passengers, especially at night. On the other hand, people who are claustrophobic usually feel better when they are next to a window, or far back, so they can see more of the aircraft interior. Older people and kids are good seated as close to the toilets as possible, while people who battle to fall asleep should sit as far away as possible from the galley where there is activity almost all the time. Travel in the uppermost class that you can afford – seats really are much less cramped in business and first class.
While it is tempting to take everything including the fridge in your hand luggage, it is better not to be weighed down by too much and/or too heavy hand luggage. In the first place it is tiring to carry and look after at the airport, and then when you get on board, you often find that the overhead bins are already crammed full of everybody else’s things so it becomes a problem to have your hand luggage close. It is of course also easier to forget something on board if you have lots of stuff but you are unlikely to forget one or two pieces. In addition, it is easier and quicker to get through security checks if you have less hand luggage and that can be a huge stress preventer! In your hand luggage should be everything you absolutely can not afford to lose such as your passport, ticket, money, credit cards, spectacles, prescription medicines and perhaps jewellery.
Think about the situation where you arrive at your destination and your luggage is gone – what do you need on you to survive if the luggage is never retrieved? Only after you have packed those items in your hand luggage do you add things like toiletries, reading material, or other comforts. Remember there is free drinking water available on all long flights and the less you eat, the better you will feel, so don’t take bags full of snacks. On international flights there are very strict rules that you need to follow regarding personal items that can be taken on board. Make very sure what is allowed by the airline and airports that you are using.
Items that really can contribute to your comfort include some cream that can be used on face and hands (the air in the cabin is absolutely desiccating and your skin will soon start feeling stretched and dry), an inflatable neck pillow (especially in “cattle class” where it is impossible to find a comfortable position for your head when you need to sleep), open shoes if your feet tend to get swollen (so that you can get them on again when it is time to disembark) and a face cloth – wet it and use it to wipe your face and hands and to drape over your face when you sleep to prevent your mucous membranes from drying out (notice how nobody coughs and hawks at the start of a long flight but at the end almost everybody does – it’s from the dry air). Be sensible and do not take the thickest book you can find – it’s hard to fit it into the seat pocket in front of you and you are not going to finish it in any case. If you take an ipod do ask a friend to tell you whether the sound is audible when you have it at the volume you prefer, then consider your neighbour in the seat next to you – that person generally would not be interested in hearing your music.
Stand and walk as much as you can before and during the flight. It is vital to keep your circulation going as much as possible to prevent swollen feet and legs, blood clots, stiff joints, bloating and even headaches. Try to avoid drinking alcohol at all but drink as much water as you can stand. Do not eat too much – especially if you are unable to walk frequently during the flight. The food (even if it is your own healthy home-made grub) tends to digest with difficulty and can leave you feeling constipated. Try to sleep but do watch out for your neck – it is very easy to land at the other side with a stiff, sore neck from squeezing into impossible positions during the night. DO NOT wait until the landing announcement to go to the toilet – you are then not allowed to and may end up having to hold on until you get into the airport building – a good half hour or more.
Be considerate in sharing space and keeping personal habits in check. Treat other passengers and crew the way you would expect to be treated. Smile, even it you feel irritated and tired – it costs nothing and lights up the atmosphere around you even if nobody smiles back. Ask the crew if you need something or if you are unsure of anything – they are there to help and will gladly do so if you are polite and reasonable in your request. They are, however, not servants, and should not be treated as such. Bon voyage!