Long-haul flights are both an easy way to get across the globe to your dream destination and a difficult day of your life spent trapped in a flying metal tube. They can not only test your sanity, they can also impact your health with dehydration and risk of DVTs and the annoying jet lag can drag your holiday down.
The key to swinging your experience towards the easy end of the scale is to plan ahead for your flight the way you would for any busy excursion day. Knowing how to make your flight comfortable and what you need to head off problems before you even leave the ground will make your time in the air a respite instead of a prison, or at least give you the best odds for powering through all that down time.
Upgrade Your Long Haul Flights
You’re going to be in the same place for a long time, so make it the most comfortable space that you can and go for the upgrade. The perks often include more leg room, better food and seats that fully recline. These are the things that make a big difference when you are going to be there for 8 or more hours. Think it’s too expensive? Try using miles or even just asking sweetly before boarding.
Even if you’re stuck in economy choosing the right seat can make a big difference in how much space you have. Look at the options for your flight beforehand and consider paying a little extra for the extra leg room in an exit row. Check online at Seat Guru to get a better idea of where the sweet spots are on your particular plane and even what airlines have more comfortable seats.
If you aren’t able to choose seat ahead of time try again at the gate. The gate attendant might be able to see an empty row, or if you are traveling with a partner you can try asking for a window and aisle seat in the hope that no one will want the middle one.
Find an Escape During Your Flight To Pass Time
It might seem like a good idea to bring work along and use your long-haul flight to get ahead (or get caught up) but that isn’t going to keep you going hour after hour.
To really make the time fly, having lots of distraction and entertainment is key, so load up on several movies, or a series is even better. Remember all those times you wished you could binge watch your favorite TV show? What better time to do it than all those hours in the air?
If you’re a reader save weight by bringing audio books or eBooks, and use a tablet instead of a laptop to save space in your luggage and in your seat while keeping yourself entertained. Spend a little extra on good headphones, preferably noise cancelling ones that you can comfortably wear for a long time.
If you really don’t think you or your companions can handle a long flight, consider breaking it up with stops in places in between. This can also help reduce jet lag by allowing a little more time to adjust.
Prepare to Rest During Your Long Flight
Some fliers plan to sleep their way to another country but the body isn’t always cooperative with that plan. Board rested instead of exhausted and you’ll find you can relax easier than if you stayed up the night before. Try to spend the time before your flight de-stressing to help you settle in when you arrive.
If you’re planning to take a sleep aid, talk to your doctor and try it out one of the nights before you fly. Some products, such as Ambien, can be a stimulant for some people and keep them awake instead of helping them nod off. Benadryl is an option that can help with any flight anxiety as well. Melatonin is the chemical the brain releases to make you sleepy, so a 5mg dose can help change your sleep schedule. Don’t take anything for the very first time on a flight as you don’t know how it will affect you and you’re going to be far away from all medical aid.
Another thing to consider is if anyone might need you during the flight. If you are the doctor for a group or traveling with children, you should probably skip the medications that might keep you from being alert.
Don’t Carry on Too Much On Your Flight
There is a growing trend to travel with just carry-on luggage, but when you’re stuck in close quarters with that luggage for so many hours this can backfire. Your bag stuffed under the seat will mean less leg room and a cramped living space, not to mention you will lose valuable sleeping space.
Surround yourself with what you need to be comfortable and things that you will use to keep yourself entertained, but maximize your space by checking everything else.
Indulge in Gear And Travel Tech To pass Time
The exception to the rule above is all that goofy gear that you laugh at other fliers for using. Shorter flights might not require special gear, but when you’re on a long-haul flight take advantage of everything that might help keep you comfortable and sane.
Get the neck pillow, it will save cricks and pains when you’re trying to get comfortable. Use the sleep mask to block out light and actually help decrease your jet lag. Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones are a must as well, you never know who will be seated near you or how loudly they might snore.
Take Care of Your Health
The pressurized air on an airplane lacks humidity when compared to normal indoor air. It can be as low as 10-20% instead of the 30-65% most of us are used to, causing dehydration even on shorter flights. It can lead to fatigue, dry skin, scratchy eyes and possibly difficulty breathing for people who have a respiratory condition such as asthma.
To make yourself more comfortable and fight dehydration drink water as if you are spending that time in a desert. Start hydrating the night before your flight, and avoid caffeine and alcohol as they have a diuretic effect that removes more moisture than it provides. While electrolyte drinks can help maintain a balance of the electrolytes in your body, they are not as good for you as plain water. Eye drops and nasal sprays can help keep you feeling comfortable. Apply lotion to moisturize skin, but opt-out for something that does not smell too strongly while you’re trapped in such a small space.
Staying hydrated isn’t just about comfort. It can affect your overall health. When you are feeling dry, your body produces less mucous, which makes it easier for germs to enter your body, and that airplane you’re about to spend an entire day in is not a terribly hygienic place. Seats, tray tables, seat back pockets, these can all harbor bacteria that will fly with you. Bring antibacterial wipes and clean up as well as you can when you sit down, then try not to think about it.
Deep Vein Thrombosis
A Deep Vein Thrombosis, or DVT, is a blood clot that forms in deep veins. The risk goes up on longer flights due to increased dehydration and stasis. To help keep your blood moving get up and walk up and down the aisle every couple of hours. Move and stretch regularly in your seat, maybe after the end of every episode if you are binge watching. Roll your ankles and pump your feet to keep blood flowing in those extremities.
Wear loose fitting comfortable clothes, including your shoes. I am amazed when I see women flying in high heels – those definitely don’t qualify as comfortable. Many people just take their shoes off while flying because feet can swell. Compression stockings may be helpful to reduce swelling in your ankles and calves on long flights.
What Is Jet Lag Anyway?
To know how to beat jet lag you really have to know what causes it.
Jet lag is a series of symptoms caused by a disruption to the internal body clock, which not only keeps us in tune with day and night but also factors in to when we feel hungry, mood and blood pressure. That clock’s main signal is light, reset by the sun each day, so when we cross great distances all of a sudden, the light isn’t doing what it used to. The clock stops responding, and we feel fatigue, confusion, and a general lack of awareness that can last for days.
On average, it takes one day to recover from crossing one time zone, so a long flight can cause some serious disruption. To help minimize this we need to change how the body sees light even before we travel by controlling light exposure. Ease yourself closer to the schedule of the place you’re going to in the days before. There’s even an app developed by the University of Michigan to track light exposure and help you adjust it.
Trying to adjust immediately after landing is the most exhausting, so give yourself time and relax.
Author bio: Rebecca Brown is an editor and writer at Sunway.ie. Sunway is an excellent holiday provider in Ireland, UK, providing tips around the world in over 70 countries.