Posted on July 24, 2015
Posted on July 24, 2015
Photo: Hong Kong airport last Saturday, waiting for our connecting flight to Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Most people only fly long-haul every couple of years for a holiday, if that, but for a few of us, part of our job means we tend to be up in the air for 9+ hours 1 a few times a year 2.
I love flying, (I’m actually on one as I write this!) planes have always fascinated me. The idea of travelling huge distances in short amounts of time and being released from a metal tube into a completely new place with its own sights, smells and sounds. It’s the closest thing to time travel you can get!
Over the last 5 years Rachel and I have probably been on over 50 flights, at least 20-30 of those must have been long haul. By lots of standards, that doesn’t make us frequent flyers, but combined with my enthusiasm to hack the experience of flying, we’ve figured out how to make it a little more bearable.
I’m sure a scientist could explain exactly why planes act like deserts and suck every drop of water from your body, but all I know is planes=dehydration.
You should aim to drink one of those small bottles of water per 2 hours you are on the flight, minimum. I promise you, you’ll feel much better at arrival even if you have to get up to go to the bathroom more3.
Although you might be tempted by offers of free alcohol, the reality is it contributes to dehydrating you and gives any sleep you do get a groggy lightness, STAY AWAY FROM IT.
One of the greatest battles for travel that moves between time zones is managing your body clock. I change every clock I have (laptop, phone, watch) once we take off and try and sleep and eat on that schedule.
I might leave my watch unchanged if I’m transferring through an airport in another time zone, but on the flight I’ll look at only the arrival location time and tell myself no other time zone exists. It sounds as bad as a 70’s self help book, but I’ve found if I can add 12+ hours (which living at the bottom of africa is pretty much any international flight), to my body clock adjustment things go a lot easier on arrival.
There are two types of flyers, so the adage goes, aisle and window4. I am firmly in the aisle camp – you don’t have to bother your neighbour to get out, and you generally feel like you have more space (even though you probably don’t). There is nothing worse than drinking water (like I recommended in No.1) and having a grumpy aisle-seated neighbour to whom you have to apologise profusely every time you need to get out.
This is a trick on long haul flights, where if you and the person you are travelling with can reserve the two aisle seats on the central section of the plane then normally the two middle seats are the last to get taken (or if you are slightly less brave, seat 1 and 3 in a row of 4).
Then you and your travelling partner can lift the seat arms and take turns lying down in business class lite.
You increase your chance of those seats staying free the further back in the plane you are willing to go (but remember the further back, the louder the engine noise, the more you feel turbulence, and the less likely they are to have your meal choice left).
Worst case scenario here is that the plane is full and you have one or more people sitting inbetween you, but aisle seats are prime real-estate on planes and so I’ve never had any hassle with asking someone to take my aisle seat so I can sit next to a person I’m travelling with.
This sounds massivley OCD, but I don’t mean you have to write out your schedule with timings, laminate it and then then follow it religiously!
Long haul flights, as the name implies, are long, so have a game plan.
Just like if you were forced to sit on your couch for 12+ hours but had nothing to do the time would feel longer, the same goes for flights.
Flights are a great time to work, write, read, watch and think. But the longer you are on the flight, the less-functional and able you are. If I want to write email, or plan some training, things I think I will need to be sharp for, I’ll do those first. After, I might read something and make notes for studying, then finally I will read a novel or watch a movie. As my tiredness increases the activity goes from active to passive.
This scheduling works to break the time up as well, Rachel’s add-on trick here is refuse to check the map or progress screen until she is sure she is 50% through the flight!
There’s not much worse than realising you lugged your electronics through the security check only to realise they are sub 50% on the battery indicator. Buy a power pack (5000mah+) that you can charge and then in turn can charge your electronics when they run low and make sure everything is turned off when not using it.
Similar for headphones that are powered (such as noise-cancelling ones – see point 7), bring a couple of AA or AAA batteries to keep them rolling.
Early on in our travelling life, my wife and some of her family all clubbed together to buy me some bose noise cancelling headphones. They were the best travel accessory we ever bought. Don’t get me wrong, they are not cheap at all 5but as the saying goes, ‘you get what you pay for’, and noise-cancelling headphones certainly follow the rule here.
Apparently bose researched the Hz level that engine noise sits at (which contributes most to your sense of monotony and tiredness) and cancels that out. The plus side is that they create great (if not a little bass biased) sounds both in the air and at home.
I had the over ear versions which worked great but would, when used for 9+ hours, start to feel warm and claustrophobic. Last year I upgraded them to the in-ear variety and the noise cancelling is significantly better due to the fact that the headphone itself isolates the sound closer to your ear, making for a better seal.
Unfortunately airplanes and airports often don’t bring out the best in people. Most travellers feel stressed, confused and out of control and they paid alot of money for the pleasure of it all.
Airline employees have to move people around and fit them in like cattle, but somehow help them reconcile that they paid the price of a luxury good for whole ordeal.
All that to say, airline employees are dealing with people who are primarily thinking of themselves the whole time; what they can get, how they can control their environment and get through their anxiety. The employees need a break!
Secondly, I’ve never, ever, seen someone be rude, short, abrasive and then receive better service or treatment on an aircraft. If you wanted to be treated like a human, then you have to treat the airlines employees that way.
Sometimes you’ll even find an airline employee who is curt, cold, and unengaged. An understandable posture for someone who is treated like I mentioned above, is leaving their friends and family, and negotiating time zones regularly. I’ve been amazed how easy it can be to change a persons day but speaking to them kindly with a smile, it may even lead to some special treatment.
Imagine sitting on our couch for 9+ hours with varying temperatures, eating microwave meals and drinking plenty of liquids all without doing alot of movement. It’s not exactly a recipe for fresh hygiene.
About an hour before landing (normally right after breakfast on overnight flights) it feels great to head to the bathroom figure out some hygiene (deodrant, teeth brushing), change a t-shirt and some underwear.
This makes the difference between getting through the first day vs. feeling grimey and bad tempered. It also contributes to overcoming jet lag, even if you didn’t sleep, act like you just woke up, following some sense of morning ritual and your body will follow suit.
Do you travel regularly? leave your “10th tip” in the comments below
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