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Having endured several long flights, including one to China, I have to admit that surviving the 14-hour flight each way was one of my main worries. But we did it, and here are some obvious and not so obvious tips to make your long flight a little better.
Not everyone is the same, so what may work for my partner or me might not work for you. Frequent travelers have various ways to prepare for the shock to the system that this requires. Some prepare days in advance by avoiding caffeine, salt, or alcohol or even adapting to their destination’s time. I did not have that luxury.
I researched a lot before the trip and found most recommendations to be universal, so hopefully, these tips will help you. I’ve included links to my recommended items for your convenience, which are available at no additional cost to you.
1. Avoid dehydration
If you’re taking a long haul flight, you’ll be traveling several time zones. While it may be tempting, refrain from drinking alcohol during your flight. Dehydration seems to make jet lag worse, and alcohol will dehydrate you. Fill a water bottle at the airport before boarding to stay on top of your water intake! While our flight attendants went through the cabin every few hours, offering small glasses of water, take control of your situation.
2. Plan your sleep schedule
Figure out a plan on whether to sleep or not during your flight. The main recommendation I saw was to adapt to the time at your destination as soon as you enter the aircraft. That was a bit difficult for us since our 3:30 pm flight from Toronto put us at 3:30 am Beijing time. Fortunately, I’m a bit like a cat and was able to fall asleep pretty quickly on our flight and then tried to stay up during the second half of the journey. It wasn’t perfect, but I tried.
3. Take homeopathic medicine
To help me fall asleep, I took “no jet lag” pills and also melatonin. Take the no jet lag pills every two hours (or thereabouts if you’re sleeping). Unfortunately, we forgot to take them on our trip back. Judging by the difference in how we felt, I would recommend taking the pills. I don’t know exactly what they do, but they made our transition to the 12-hour difference so much easier. The difference in how we felt might be related to the direction of travel rather than the pills.
4. Wear an eye mask and earplugs
I always thought masks were ridiculous, but now I swear by them – nothing tricks your body into going to sleep faster than thinking it is dark out. Combine the eye mask with a set of earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, and you tune out all the disturbing noises on the plane. Earplugs are not as effective as noise-canceling headphones, but they’re a lot cheaper – try them ahead of time to make sure you can tolerate them.
5. Use a travel pillow
If you need a travel pillow, try it out at home first to make sure it will work for you and puts you in the right position – falling asleep sitting up is awkward. And while airlines may provide blankets, you may want to bring your own travel blanket or a pashmina scarf to use in case you get chilly. Some travelers recommend changing into pajamas and doing your usual nighttime routine to help you get into the sleeping frame of mind.
6. Wear comfortable clothes
Wear something comfortable considering you’ll be sitting for a long period of time (though you should try to get up every now and then and stretch). Avoid tight-fitting clothes or clothes that ride up. You must wear compression socks. If you’ve ever seen photos of incredibly swollen feet, those were due to not wearing compression socks. After a very painful flight from Australia five years ago, I will not fly without them!
7. Plan your schedule
Have a plan for how you’ll spend your awake time and make everything easily accessible. Reading, watching movies, listening to music, whatever makes you happy and the time go by faster. Check on Seatguru if your particular plane has outlets for your electronics and whether your flight has in-flight entertainment. Be prepared with a backup plan in case you end up in a seat where the in-flight entertainment isn’t working (isn’t that a bummer!). Download TV shows or movies to an iPad or another electronic device that you can access even while on airplane mode. A Kindle or other eReader is perfect, but I prefer a book that I leave at my destination.
8. Consider a seat upgrade
Consider whether you should upgrade your seats. For an extra fee, you can book a bulkhead seat. This means lots of extra legroom for you. The drawback is that there is no pocket in front of you to keep your items handy, and some people use the middle bulkhead as a shortcut! Yikes! Since we like to save our money, we did not spring for the upgrade, and we were lucky on our trip back to have an aisle seat, which made it feel much wider (though I usually prefer window seats). If Seatguru says that your seats are in a lousy location, seriously consider moving!
9. Make the best of it
Finally, some things are simply outside of your control. Crying babies, smelly passengers, children who kick the back of your seat, these can happen to anyone and can make a long haul flight a terrible experience. Prepare as best you can to tune out children and others and ask for flight attendants assistance with unruly passengers.
Enjoy your flight! Let me know what worked or other tips you’ve used to make your long flight smoother. And if you’re going abroad, don’t miss this one thing I would never travel without!
You can read about our home airport, Raleigh-Durham, here.
Annick, The Common Traveler