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August 30, 2015


How To Pack And Survive A Long Haul Flight

by Jason Dutton-Smith
Our big bird; the mighty Qantas Boeing 747-400 on arrival back to Adelaide.

You know you have travelled long and far when you shave before heading to the airport, yet need to shave again upon arrival of your destination. I recently flew my longest flight to date – 15 hours non-stop between Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. Actually from my home town of Brisbane it was a total travel time of 31 hours to reach my final destination of Winnipeg, thanks to a seven hour layover in Vancouver. I fly every few weeks, although generally not of that length, and have found a few tried-and-tested methods to surviving a long-haul flight. There a few things you should never travel without when flying long-haul and here is a list of how I prepare and get through the day….or days of travelling.

Rest well prior

If flying in economy then it can be difficult to get a solid sleep throughout your journey. People constantly moving throughout the cabin, flight attendants bumping your elbows with carts and lights being turned on and off can be annoying. And unless you’re up the pointy end with a lay flat bed, us mere mortals are just not meant to sleep upright.

Arriving at the airport with little sleep the night before is not recommended. I try and get decent rest the two days prior to departure to start the journey refreshed and relaxed. I try and rest as much as I can on the aircraft and simply sleep when I can. There is lots written about trying to get rest on the time schedule of your destination but your body tells you when it’s time to nap unfortunately. So resting or napping throughout the flight where ever possible will help you arrive a little more refreshed.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol

While on most flights free alcohol is hard to resist for many, it’s recommended to avoid both alcohol and caffeine during your flight. The air humidity in the cabin while flying is much lower than what we are used to. This can bring on dehydration far quicker than on the ground and alcohol and caffeine can accelerate the effects.

Staying hydrated with plenty of water is the best way to avoid headaches and dryness throughout the flight. Don’t worry about needing to use the bathroom as the exercise of getting up and down is actually beneficial in avoiding issues such as Deep Vain Thrombosis (DVT).

Select your seat in advance

On a long-haul flight the window seat can be trapping when you need to use the bathroom, stretch your legs or want something from the over head bin. My favourite seat is an aisle in the middle section of the aircraft if it’s a wide-body. It offers a little more freedom to get up and down with ease without bothering your seat mates.

Visit a site like SeatGuru when booking your flight to reserve your seat. They show the aircraft layout (you can find what type of aircraft you will be on at time of booking) and where things such as a the bathrooms, bassinets for young children and galleys are placed so you can avoid these areas. Everyone has their preference of where to sit and it’s best to secure well in advance. Reserving at time of booking will hopefully help with avoiding the dreaded middle seat also.

Pimp out your tablet

While most airlines have a decent selection of inflight entertainment, it can still be a crap shoot to find something you are interested in. Most people have a tablet or least a smart phone they travel with. Before departure load up your device with either movies or TV shows of your choosing or interesting apps to keep you entertained. I’ve widdled away hours on a flight with multiple versions of Angry Birds and Spelltower on my phone.

Some airlines also offer a USB charging point in your seat to keep you going. News papers can be downloaded before you go as can your favourite books. These are all great back ups for the ‘just-in-case’ moments of boredom while travelling. Check out our story on the best travel apps here.

Noise cancelling headphones

This is one item I will NOT travel without. I have been saved on many occasions from crying children, excessive surrounding seat chatter and the perpetual drone of the engines for 15 hours non-stop. If you travel often then a worthy investment is into a pair of decent headphones. Personally I have the Bose QuiteComfort 15 which were approximately $300USD. They run on a small battery and you simply flick a switch to eliminate back ground noise. Heaven.

Watching movies or listening to music onboard is much more enjoyable and relaxing and I can even sleep with my headphones on – I just turn on the classical or jazz music channel and turn down super low so it’s just enough to drown out any excess noise and I sleep every time. I highly recommend the investment – there are many types in the market place at different price levels but this is one item you will not regret investing in.

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Pack your carry on bag wisely

There are a few items I can not do without when travelling and will make any journey a comfortable one. Aside your travel documents such as passport and itineraries, there are a few creature comforts always found in my carry on bag.

  • Noise cancelling headphones – as per above, these will save you in many ways
  • Moisturiser – don’t be shy here fellas, you will dehydrate and have dry rough skin from flying. Join the metrosexual revolution and keep your skin hydrated
  • Moist towelettes – these are great to refresh your hands and face and can be used in the bathroom if needed
  • Hand sanitiser – I wouldn’t say I’m a germ-a-phobe but any type of public transport is not going to be completely germ free. I use it before all meals or snacks and after the bathroom
  • Snacks – I’m yet to meet someone who really enjoys, and is filled by airline meals. I usually have healthy muesli bars, mixed nuts or other low GI, preferably low sugar snacks available
  • Spare pair of clothes – it’s only happened to me once internationally, but checked bags do go missing. A spare pair of clean underwear, tshirt and socks can go a long way
  • Neck pillow – I can’t tell you how many times a neck pillow has saved me from chiropractic treatment.

What is in your carry on bag that you can’t travel without?

Dress for flying

If sitting on your toosh for 15 hours then you want to be comfortable in doing so. I usually wear a pair of pants or jeans that are not too tight, t-shirt or loose polo and always have a jumper or jacket that can be easily taken on and off. You want to be comfortable when moving in your seat and don’t want anything too clingy or will twist around you. There is not always blankets available and the temperature of an aircraft is unpredictable but generally it’s cooler. A spare clean t-shirt for either when you arrive or in the case your bag goes missing is advisable – or for the occasion when you open your salad dressing and due to the pressure of the aircraft it explodes over you staining the only shirt you have until you see your suitcase again……not that it happened to me 🙂

Comfortable shoes are must also – kick them off when you are in your seat and easy to slip on again for when needing to go to the bathroom or stretch the legs. Please, please wear shoes in the bathroom. It’s just good hygiene.

The elusive upgrade

The best chance you have in surviving a long-haul flight is to upgrade. Paying the higher fare is not an option for many but the extra dollars to fly in the next cabin up can be worth it, especially if travelling for business and you need to hit the ground running. Check your points and availability as there is no better way to burn points than to reward yourself with a nice upgrade.

Another option is to check the combinability of your fare – when flying to America for example from Australia it’s a day flight there but a night flight on the return. See what a fare in economy outbound is with maybe premium economy or business class on the return overnight flight where sleep is more valued. Mixing of fares is a great way to split the flight and take the comfort and convenience when most required.

Pack your patience

Travelling long-haul can be daunting for many and there are various hurdles to navigate. Checking in with your to-be 350 travel mates can mean long queue times, making your way through security, customs and immigration and filling in the right forms can be time consuming and stressful. But we are all in the same boat – or airplane. Pack your patience and manners and when onboard the flight I always give myself up to the situation before me. With countless hours ahead of me there is no use complaining or feeling stressed of the situation, you just need to be prepared.

As they say, just sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.

Do you have tips on how to survive a long-haul flight? Let us know in the comments below.

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