Travelling to the far side of this green-and-blue globe is a thrilling prospect; unfortunately, nothing punctures that excitement like a hellish long-haul flight. 12 hours trapped in a chilled canister at 35,000 feet is no one's idea of fun. But you're certainly not powerless when it comes to ameliorating the experience; there are a number of steps you can take to make those 12 hours a lot less painful. Here are five of the most effective tips for surviving a long-haul flight.
by A. Wee/Flickr
The first place to begin is in selecting your seat: mundane as it sounds, you are going to be spend the vast majority of the next 12 hours in it. So take the time to decide what's more important for you: an aisle seat which makes it much easier to nip to the toilet and stretch your legs; or a window seat, where you can rest your head on the wall, gaze at the staggering sight of the sky at 35,000 feet, and snooze without having people intermittently clambering over you. If you prefer an aisle seat, a further consideration comes when you're on a flight with a three-row configuration, that is, with a third set of seats in the middle of the plane. In this instance, take an aisle seat in that middle row: remember, the people sitting inside of you will have two options to get out to the toilet, which should cut in half (or some such fraction) the number of occasions you have to let someone out. Finally, a useful tool to help choose the aisle or window seat with the best legroom is SeatGuru: established in 2000, it ranks airplane seats on an interactive color-coded chart. One thing's for sure, if the only seat available on the trans-Pacific flight you're thinking of booking is a middle seat, pay a little extra for another flight.
As anyone over the age of five knows well, you can never guarantee that you'll be able to sleep when it's most necessary. Sometimes, for some inexplicable reason, your brain just rebels and decides to remain lit up despite the furious urgings and promptings of your conscious mind. Be this as it may, sleeping is highly effective means of making time disappear, and there are a few preparatory steps that you can take to make dropping off more likely on a long-haul flight. It's worthwhile investing in a cheap eye-mask and earplugs, which take up very little space but can make all the difference when it comes to stepping off that precipice into unconsciousness. Some people would add to this list a travel pillow, but bear in mind they are quite bulky things, and perfectly adequate ones are provided on the plane. Finally, the most effective approach is of course medicinal - drop a sleeping pill such as Ambien, Night Nurse or Unisom. If this sounds the best approach, perhaps experiment a little before boarding the plane to make sure they work for you - you don't want to be stuck alert, vertical and flooded with paranoia at 35,000 feet when a compound reacts oddly with your brain chemistry.
As noted above, you can never guarantee that sleep will come when you desire it most. So in case of the sudden descent of an incorrigible consciousness, you'll want to be prepared with a selection of entertainment to occupy your mind and prevent you staring blank and depressed at an image of your plane inching across endless blue on the in-flight entertainment system. Work is a decent option for a while - it's not often you get 12 consecutive hours planted in a seat with few distractions. But most people's brains will start to melt after two or three unmoving hours concentrating on a screen. So when this happens you'll want some alternatives. The simplest, of course, are a selection of movies auspiciously loaded onto your laptop or tablet; arthouse lovers may want to use the opportunity to test out a blockbuster or Hollywood classic, as intense concentration on a convoluted and symbol-laden plot may be less pleasurable after several hours locked in an air-conditioned capsule. Other options include books, music, podcasts, emails, coloring books... Just get it all prepared before leaving your home's wifi, and whatever you do, don't forget your headphones.
It's a topic of perennial controversy - airline food. In actuality, it's not really all that bad - and filling your stomach is a sure-fire recipe to send you off to sleep, amid flickering atavistic images of caves and campfires. So don't turn down your plastic tray, 'cause you'll need that energy to combat the jet lag. But while airline food can actually be reasonably tasty, it's hardly a nutrition's ideal; add to this the dehydrating effects of the airplane's pressurized cabin, and the long sedentary hours spent in a sitting position, and the whole enterprise of a long-haul flight can begin to feel nauseatingly unhealthy. Counterbalance this and soothe your psyche by packing a selection of healthy foods and drinks, then give your flight some structure by consuming them and taking occasional leg-stretching strolls up and down the aisle to combat the threat of deep-vein thrombosis. Let your imagination muse on the good you're doing your body as you munch on that banana and slurp down that satsuma; don't underestimate the psychological good such a placebo effect can do. Smokers can add to this the fact they're gifting their lungs a little breathing space. Finally, of course, hydration is key, so bring lots of water as well as some electrolyte solutions such as Gatorade or Pocari Sweat, to prevent diluting your body's electrolyte balance with a tidal flood of water. And if you can manage it, ditch the coffee and alcohol for the duration of the flight - they only exacerbate the dehydration.
When it comes to combating jet lag, the important work begins long before you board the plane. If your journey involves connections, try if possible to arrange your flights so the connection comes first, as having to begin a 10-hour flight when you've just sat on a plane for four hours is particularly draining; as in many areas of life, it's best to get the worst out of the way first. Secondly, consider your arrival time when booking flights: a key insight in the battle with jet lag is that it's much easier to stay up late than it is to get up early. (At least for most people - obviously reverse this advice if you're one of those inexplicable beings who never have a problem with skipping out of bed). So try to book yourself on flights that have an afternoon or evening arrival time. And once you touch down, don't stop moving until it's time to lay your weary sleep-deprived head on the pillow. Finally, a handful of smartphone apps can be a useful resource in beating jet lag. Enter your flight details into Jet Lag App or Jet Lag Genie and they'll create an eating and sleeping schedule to help you prepare for the time change.