Long distance flight tips
Isolation in a crowded plane for 10 hours or more can be a real challenge, but it can also be an opportunity. Pernilla Kohler is once again sharing her wisdom on air travel with us so we can enjoy our long-haul flight instead of suffering through it. These long distance flight tips are a great follow-on to her last post on healthy flying, so please enjoy.
A couple of weeks ago I had the honor to present the article How to Stay Healthy During a Flight. If you missed that post, I recommend you have a look at it, as it has some great tips that apply to all flights, not just short ones. This week I’m happy to present the second part “Fly long-haul like a million miler”, which is about staying healthy, comfortable and productive during long-haul flights. Now, to be fair, this post won’t get you into business class, or all the other perks that million milers enjoy, but it will explain how to relax, recharge and arrive ready for action, just as million milers do.
As this article is published, the holiday season is upon us when many people fly all over the world to visit relatives or friends or just vacation far away from the holiday frenzy. To visit an exotic and faraway country is exciting, but spending many long hours on board an aircraft can get things off to a rough start if you don’t plan to leverage your opportunities. If you follow the tips described below, your long-haul flight can be as relaxed, enjoyable and healthy as you can imagine, so you get the most out of your trip. Whether you are traveling for pleasure or business you needn’t arrive groggy, sick or in a bad mood; read on so we can help make the trip exceptional.
What is a long-haul flight?
A long-haul flight lasts from six to twelve hours and typically on a wide-body aircraft. Flights over 12 hours are called “ultra-long-haul” flights, and this advice is even more important on those trips. Whatever you call them, these long flights have you isolated in the passenger cabins for a long time, often over half a day.
These days, most long haul international flights utilize wide body aircraft like the Boeing 747, Boeing 767, the Airbus A380 or similar planes. Generally, these aircraft have a fuselage wide enough to accommodate two passenger aisles, with seven or more seats abreast. The typical fuselage diameter is 16 to 20 ft. (5 to 6 m). In a wide-body economy cabin, passengers are seated seven to ten abreast allowing a total capacity of 200 to 850 passengers, depending on which type of aircraft. This is a large space with a lot of people, and potentially it can be noisy and distracting. You need ways to deal with this, and the tips below should provide them.
20 tips and tricks for a great long-haul flight
In addition to the tips in “How to Stay Healthy During a Flight” these travel tips provide key tactics for comfort and a great experience when flying long-haul:
- Make a plan to leverage this rare opportunity for escape from the distractions of twenty-first century life. You may have more hours of time to yourself on this flight, without friends, coworkers, pets or others to distract you than you have had in months; how will you make use of that opportunity? Are there books or articles you wanted to read, but didn’t have the time? Are there writing or creative projects you could now work on undisturbed? What about movies, training videos or podcasts? While there will be some noise and other distractions, the phone, social media and personal or workplace disruptions are probably not an issue. Make a list of work or play that will be possible on the flight, but difficult otherwise; this is your plan.
- Choose a great airline – if possible, choose a carrier that will take good care of you and provide healthy, modern seating human engineered for comfort. If you want to know more about the quality of seat and service offered by each airline, check out reviews and useful facts like legroom comparisons and carrier ratings at airlinequality.com or seatguru.com. Nobody wants to spend too much on a trip, but don’t short change your body; you will be spending a long time with this airline.
- Concerning your plan for a special quiet time, or a very productive one, consider your connectivity options. For most people nowadays it is very important to have wi-fi available wherever they are. It is likely that wi-fi is available on these international flights, for an optional fee. If you have serious business reasons to connect, it might be a sensible investment. For my part I look upon these hours of isolation as a rare opportunity to take a vacation from email, phone and social media, so I can catch up on reading and creative work without interruption. Communication isolation can be a gift, and when you are flying long distance, you have the perfect excuse for being disconnected. Be aware of this and make a thoughtful decision before you fly. Don’t just pay the fee and stay connected because you can, unless it really is important. The vacation from phone and internet noise could be the greatest and most relaxing thing about this long flight. Whatever you decide, be prepared with the cables, batteries or other items you need to support it.
- Choose a good seat – If you are traveling alone, I would suggest you choose an aisle seat, to avoid disturbing your neighbor when you want to get up and move around, as you should. If you are tall I suggest you to reserve a seat in an exit row (be aware though, that you may not be able to stow luggage under or in front of the exit row seat). It is a good idea to check and make sure the space under the seat in front of you is clear, whether in an exit row, or not. During the flight you can move your hand bag or computer from under the seat and place it under your legs. Then you may stretch out your legs under the seat at times to flex or sleep.
- When flying with children, night flights are great. The children mostly follow their body clock and sleep for much of the flight, so toys and cramped conditions are much easier to deal with (“are we there yet?”).
- It could be a great option to book a stop-over flight and spend a couple days at the stop-over destination and slowly adjust to the changed time zone, especially for families with small kids, or for those who simply can’t sleep without a real bed.
- I highly recommend you to keep all your travel documents in a travel organiser. It will spare you a lot of stress keeping all the important documents, credit cards and other essentials in one secure, convenient place.
- Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothes. Preferably wear layers, because the cabin temperature can vary during the flight. A wide shawl is very practical as you can use it around your neck to keep warm; you can use it like a pillow or like a blanket. Wear comfortable shoes, preferably slip on shoes. Avoid wearing high and tight boots (and if you do, you absolutely have to take them off during the flight) because if they are too tight, they can disturb the blood flow through your legs.
- Take a pair of thick socks or slipper-socks with you to wear during the flight, a really good treat for your feet. Anyhow, I do recommend to put on shoes or sandals when using the bathroom – the floor may be wet. A pair of slip on exercise sandals are handy for walking the aisle and the bathroom and for going through Airport security checks that require you to remove your shoes.
- I recommend those who may suffer from a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to wear compression stockings. If you are uncertain, see your physician before you travel.
- Wear glasses instead of contact lenses during the flight, because of the dry air the eyes will dry out and they will get more irritated with contact lenses.
- Remember to stay hydrated. Drink one or two cups of water every hour and avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol. It is helpful to take a collapsible bottle with you so after you pass security you can fill it at a water fountain.
- Take along your own snacks like nuts, dried fruits or cereal and fruit bars, in case you need a little treat in between. But try not to eat salted nuts, they tend to you dehydrate even more.
- Take a few steps along the aisle every two hours, stretch your feet and legs which helps you to get blood flowing through your legs and prevent blood clotting. Remember that your veins, lymphatic system and digestive system all depend on muscle contraction and movement to function properly, so sitting still for long periods is never a healthy practice.
- Prepare for quality sleep during the flight- when permitted to turn on electrical devices, set the time on your phone and watch to match the time at your destination, so you may match your sleep schedule and other activities to the way things work where you are going. This is a great aid for resetting your body clock to avoid jet lag while in the isolation of the plane. This may not work for everyone, but if you can do it, you may find it very helpful. It is best if you bring a neck pillow as well as your own earplugs and eye mask. There are quite a variety of sleep kits for sale, ready to pack into your carry-on luggage. With a good neck pillow you are able to sleep more comfortably without nodding forwards or sideways. A lightweight blanket is also a good investment unless you are certain your air carrier provides blankets for all passengers.
- Remember to take along your toiletries – toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, lip balm, deodorant, face wipes, moisturizer, a hair brush and shaving supplies if needed – preferably all packed in a zip lock bag (if required by security in your country), small toiletry bag or even better in a hanging toiletry organizer. I also recommend you pack a change of socks and underwear in your carry-on luggage. These items will make you feel refreshed during the flight and especially after the long time spent inside the crowded aircraft. I routinely do this change when it is morning at the destination, when I also brush my teeth and wash my face. If it is still dark in the passenger cabin it may be easy to access the bathroom at this time.
- I encourage you to take a mini bottle of hand sanitizer or disinfecting tissues while traveling. It’s such a helpful small item. When traveling we often do not have the opportunity to wash our hands, and in the bathrooms in the plane, like other public places you are exposed to microbes from many different people. Since these people are likely to carry bacteria and viruses your body is not prepared for, it is important to wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Be sure to clean your hands before handling food. Avoid touching your face and rubbing your eyes when you’ve not recently cleaned them.
- Don’t forget to pack chewing gum and decongestant if you have nasal congestion, allergies or sensitive ears, and prepare to have these handy in time for the flight descent. Plan to take a decongestant if needed, around 50 minutes before the landing, and begin chewing gum during the descent or when your ears begin to feel tight.
- A good idea is to pack your own portable battery charger, that will save problems with your phone or other electronics because not all aircraft have USB charging ports at your seat. Remember to pack the usb charging cables for your devices as well.
- Don’t forget to take along your own headphones. The quality of the airline headphones is not the best and another good thing is that you are doing a favor for mother Earth; by using your own, you save a bit of plastic. If you should not have them now, consider purchase of noise-cancelling headphones. Of course, bring your entertainment or work with you, to put your plan in place to make use of the isolated situation. Download films, podcasts, articles or videos to your tablet, e-reader or smartphone before the flight – there may be great in-flight entertainment but the system may be down or the variety not to your liking. Sync playlists to your phone for offline listening. If you tire of your plan, change it; why not make friends with a fellow passenger or two. If travelling with your kids, remember to take along their favorite toys, books or games.
How to alleviate the Jet Lag?
Long-haul flights crossing time zones often lead to jet lag, which can really be a problem for vacation or work. Jet lag can leave you groggy and confused, and can even lead to headaches, upset stomach and nausea, difficulties in concentrating, and trouble sleeping for days after the flight. If you take control of the situation, you should be able to minimize these problems, or avoid them all together.
If you expect to have a rough time sleeping on the plane and you are otherwise very healthy, you could sleep a bit less the night before, so you are sleepier when you fly. In addition to the suggestions in the tips above, you may bring rain recordings or other ambient sounds to play through earphones to help you sleep, or moderate your eating or exercise schedule on the plane to help you become sleepy. Whether that works great, a little, or hardly at all, the following steps will help with jet lag:
- When you arrive at your destination, stay with a sleeping and eating schedule fully appropriate for the new time zone. Force yourself to stay awake until the local bedtime, and while the sun is shining get exposed to that sunlight. Our body clocks are largely programmed by sunlight, so Don’t close the shades and drift off to sleep – that will keep you jet lagged.
- Be sure to get up in the morning when the locals do. If you simply can’t stay awake until the evening on the day you arrive, nap for no more than an hour then get lots of sun or other light. When trying to stay awake, keep busy, walking around in the surroundings, visiting a restaurant and eat a healthy meal; lean meat or fish, vegetables and/or salad.
- As you work your way past jet lag and other issues remember to drink lots of clean water, and get lots of daytime sun. These not only help with jet lag, but they avoid any lingering dehydration from the flight.
Now you know the most important steps to make your flight a great experience, rather than a necessary or painful one. Do this well and you can count on arriving energized, excited and ready for your new adventure.
I wish you healthy & happy flights
About the author
Pernilla Kohler lives near Zürich, Switzerland and is originally from Sweden. Since she loves to visit her family and friends, travel is always part of her life. She also enjoys visiting other countries, reading, and soaking up the natural beauty while walking and jogging. A student and practitioner of healthy living for more than a decade, she shares this passion in her health blog. In her blog you’ll find information, recommendations and tools for living a healthier life, so you feel fitter, look better and stay young in body and mind.
Follow her blog at easystepsforhealthyliving.com
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