No matter how much you enjoy travelling, the thought of a 12-hour long-haul flight can be a little daunting. Based on some top tips from a flight attendant and my own experiences, here are some top tips for not only surviving, but actually enjoying your next long flight.
Before the Flight
1. Eat light, simple meals before the flight. There’s no delicate way to say it, but anything you eat a few hours before your flight, you will be dealing with on board an aircraft. Due to pressure differences, we tend to bloat during flights, so avoid eating or drinking anything you know makes you gassy, gives you indigestion or makes you feel bloated. Also avoid rich, spicy or heavy foods that might upset your digestive system, particularly if you suffer from travel sickness.
2. Buy water at the airport after security. The human body doesn’t really like flying at altitude. In addition to bloating (see Tip#1), we dehydrate much faster in the low pressure and heavily air-conditioned cabin environment. Whilst you will be provided with drinks during the flight, a few small cups of water won’t keep your hydration levels up. You won’t be able to carry water through security, but most airports have somewhere to buy bottled water after security, although be prepared to pay a steep premium. If you carry an empty bottle or flask through security, many airports have somewhere to fill up with water, although check that the water is safe to drink before doing so.
3. The Three Day Rule. If you have connecting flights, your chances of arriving at your destination without a suitcase increase. If your connection time is short, these odds increase further.A baggage handler at San Francisco airport explained that airlines incur huge fees for missed take-off slots, so any bags that aren’t loaded on time will be left behind and will follow on a later flight. Paying out $100 compensation for a delayed case is significantly cheaper than the costs of a delay. To get around this, make sure you pack your first three days’ worth of clothes in a carry-on case. That way, if you arrive at your destination and your case is still lounging around an earlier airport, you can still get on with enjoying your trip without worrying about trying to buy replacement clothes until your case catches up with you.
4. Prepare your entertainment. Copy your Spotify playlists offline, load up your Kindle, pack enough books and magazines, pack some papers (if you’re unfortunate enough to need to work during the flight), download some games… whatever it is you do for entertainment, bring plenty of it! A good long-haul airline will offer plenty of seat-back entertainment, but it’s a good idea to have some material you’ve chosen yourself in case the in-flight entertainment isn’t to your taste. Remember devices need to be in aeroplane mode, so ensure anything you want to read, watch, listen to or play is downloaded to the device for offline use.
5. Pack some snacks. Airline food is frequently a topic of contention amongst travellers; the portions aren’t big enough, the food is too salty, the food is unrecognisable. Whatever your gripe, there’s a chance that you’re not going to be satiated after your meal. And if you struggled with travel sickness, the unfamiliar food may be a complete turn-off.Pack some simple, non-perishable snacks to nibble on, such as cereal bars and oatcakes (but remember tip#1!). Avoid chocolate if your destination is likely to be hot and there’s a chance you won’t eat it all before arrival, to avoid dealing with a sticky mess later. If you struggle with travel sickness, ginger, citrus or mint-flavoured sweets may help, whilst hard-boiled sweets and chewing-gum can help sore ears during take-off and landing.
6. Pack a pashmina (or big scarf for the gents) and woolly socks in your carry-on. Aeroplanes are heavily air-conditioned and can get cold. I can’t emphasise the benefits of taking a pashmina or large scarf enough. It can keep a draft off your neck and shoulders, but also doubles as a blanket or can be folded up as a pillow when you want to sleep. Woolly socks are wonderful for cosying up to get some sleep and a good alternative to bare feet, which is often a point of controversy. Personally, I’m a ‘get on-board, get them off’ kind of girl.
7. Wear lightweight, comfortable layers. As discussed earlier, we tend to bloat during flights, so your favourite pair of super-skinnies may not be quite so favourite after a couple of hours of the waistband digging in. Also, depending on the time of your flights, you will probably want to get some sleep, so comfortable, lightweight clothing is your friend. Layers are good for temperature control, avoiding air-con chills, but also allowing you to loosen off if it gets stuffy.
8. Wear sensible shoes. If your flight has connections, the last thing you want to be doing is dragging your bags from Gate 3 to Gate 68 at Schiphol airport in tottering heels or your very-cool-but-bloody-painful brogues, especially if you have a short connection time and need to do it quickly. Wear something that’s attached to your feet, but also something breathable, should you want to keep your shoes on during the flight. For these reasons, gladiator sandals are brilliant travel shoes.
During the Flight
9. Get moving. We’ve all seen news horror stories about perfectly healthy people boarding a plane and then dropping dead of a stroke three weeks later and a few years back there was a flurry of media attention on the dangers of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) caused by flying. It’s easy to take the attitude of ‘it won’t be me’, but long periods of immobility, dehydration and the constriction of blood vessels due to the low pressure can contribute to trigger this potentially fatal condition. Get up, wander around, wriggle your toes, do stretches in your seat. No one will mind (although be considerate to your fellow passengers – they may draw the line if you start doing a full-on yoga session in the aisle) and it will make you feel energised and less cramped as well as reducing your risk of contracting DVT. If you’d like to know more, the NHS have some great advice here
10. Try to get into the sleep pattern of your destination. Most long-haul flights will naturally encourage this, adhering to meal times and ‘lights out’ times for your destination, rather than where you’re leaving from. For very long flights, this can be rather disorienting as you board at lunchtime and within a few hours the crew are handing out pillow and blankets, but the sooner you can start to adjust to your new time zone, the less you will be affected by jetlag when you reach your destination. A sleep mask may help if you’re trying to sleep during daylight hours.
11. Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. Due to extreme air conditioning and the low pressure, aeroplane cabins are usually at about 20% humidity, which, given we operate best at between 40-60% humidity can be pretty tough on our skin and, as discussed in Tip#2 can increase the risk of dehydration. Take a good moisturiser with you (Elizabeth Arden’s 8-hour cream is a travel favourite for many), a lip balm and if you suffer from dry eyes, moisturising eye drops. If you wear contact lenses, dry eyes are even more likely to be a problem, which can ultimately lead to eye scratches or infections (trust me when I say “ouch”). Look for some good contact-friendly drops, or even better change out of your contacts into your glasses for the flight, to prevent scratches and ripped lenses. To avoid dehydration (tip#2), remember to drink plenty of water and avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are dehydrating and may have a diuretic effect… saying that…
12. Drink the free champagne*. Because life is short and champagne is lovely
*Unless you’re driving when you reach your destination. Please don’t drink and drive.
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