I love flying. It doesn’t matter whether my next trip is a domestic flight lasting under sixty minutes or an eight-hour transatlantic adventure; I still get a buzz when driving to the airport. Nevertheless, longer flights do present a number of challenges and ironically the fact that I enjoy the journey so much makes it worse as I always want to make the most our of my precious time in the air.
Although I’m still fairly new to the long-haul game I’ve come to realise that a compromise is needed and that I’d rather arrive feeling as fresh as possible than waste a day or two recovering from a lack of sleep. Of course I try to use frequent flyer points for Business or even First Class seats whenever I can if I have to fly long distance but there are many times when this just isn’t an option. Travelling as a couple or family is a good example – it’s almost impossible to use points for multiple seats and the extra cost of seats in the front sections of the plane is prohibitive when paying cash.
In any case, being stuck in a metal tube zooming through the air at great speed across multiple time zones is going to take its toll – no matter which cabin you find yourself in. But there are many ways to make sure you arrive feeling as fresh as possible and I’ve put together my best tips in this article.
You may not have the opportunity (or self-discipline) to follow them all but I can guarantee that if you take at least some of the advice here it will greatly improve the experience. Note that many of these tips are also useful for shorter flights – so have a read through no matter where you are headed.
Before the flight
1. Fly up front
Yeah, if only I could do this every time…
This has to be rule number one. There is no question that you will have a better flight in a Business Class or First Class seat. Unless you have unlimited funds the best way to snag such tickets is using frequent flyer points, but as previously mentioned this is not always possible. You may be able to use points to upgrade tickets for which you paid cash but in my experience this is rarely worthwhile and unless you are travelling solo is often out of the question. Premium Economy seats vary widely but can also be worth the extra when paying cash. This leads us neatly to the next tip…
2. Choose the best seat possible – use SeatGuru
Pay the fee (if required) for seat allocation – it’s worth it. Consider whether the view from the window seat is worth the risk of being trapped by a sleeping neighbour. If you are likely to need frequent “bathroom breaks” then an aisle seat may be better, although if the guy with the window seat does too then you may be disturbed by them clambering over you to get out. The exit rows are perhaps best as they allow easy aisle access. But always check SeatGuru.com so that you can make an informed choice – there may be disadvantages with a particular location that you won’t be aware of until you take your seat. The site consists of reviews by previous travellers and is extremely reliable.
3. Consider your diet in the two days before travel
Experts agree that the 48 hours before flying are crucial – eat well (think oily fish, nuts, fruit etc.) and hydrate with plenty of water. Electrolyte drinks can help too and avoid alcohol the night before take-off.
4. Be well rested
If you find it difficult to sleep on planes try to get plenty of sleep before your journey so that you will cope more easily.
5. …or exhausted
Another option is to be as tired as possible so that you can sleep through anything. It’s an extreme idea but many people do exactly that – it’s up to you to decide whether it will work for you.
6. Ask about seats at the gate
If you were unable to secure good seats before departure it is always worth trying at check-in or the gate. Passengers do cancel and if the flight is not full the agent may be able to find you a better option- such as an aisle/window combo for a couple. This gives you a good chance of getting all three seats in a row if the flight is not at full capacity. Even if someone does show up to claim the middle seat they will probably be happy to swap to let you sit together.
During the flight
7. Blankets and pillows – grab yours fast or bring your own
Economy cabins always seem to run out of blankets and pillows so board as early as possible and make sure you get yours. If you bought a set on a previous flight (Norwegian sells these on its long-haul routes) then take it with you.
8. Drink a lot. No, not the free booze
Sorry, this ain’t helping
Well I did warn you that it may not be possible to follow every rule and declining that pre-departure champagne in Business Class or free beer in Economy (yes, it still happens on some airlines) is not easy. But if you want to feel fresh when you land, you need to make sacrifices. Staying hydrated is probably the most important tip of all and alcohol is both a diuretic and a depressant, not an ideal combination. As if that wasn’t enough, you should avoid caffeine too which means no coffee, soft drinks or chocolate either. Stick to water, juice and perhaps take an electrolyte drink onboard too.
9. Sorry, but you need to watch what you eat too
This is usually easier in Economy than First. Pass on heavy foods and sugary treats and choose lighter options if possible. You may want to bring your own healthy snacks if none are available from the trolley (cereal bars, fruit etc.)
10. Wash your hands and face regularly
Trust me, you don’t want to know about germs in airplane bathrooms. Washing your hands with soap and water on a regular basis – and always before eating – is common sense. A hand sanitizer is a good idea too. Washing your face will make you feel cleaner even if you just use water.
11. Take your shoes off – and change your socks
Once airborne, slipping off your shoes will allow your feet to swell without discomfort – it’s important to maintain good circulation. Take a spare pair of socks to change into or if the airline provides you with a pair use those. It’s weird but a fresh pair of socks makes you feel better – and usually stops your feet from smelling bad too. It’s a good idea to wear shoes that you can easily take off without having to struggle with laces in the dark and jabbing your fellow passenger with your elbow in the process.
12. Change your clothes while you’re at it
I always take a set of comfy clothes for the flight itself and then change before landing. A light tracksuit is ideal. Either change back into the clothes you had on originally or into a new set before landing and you’ll feel so much better, especially if you follow the other advice here:
13. Brush your teeth or keep a pack of mints.
Brush your teeth after eating and use bottled water to rinse. Not only will this help you feel fresh it will help prevent bad breath. Mints or spray are also useful in this regard.
14. Take deodorant in your carry-on
Many air passengers mistakenly believe that aerosol sprays are prohibited but small ‘travel size’ cans under 3 oz are fine. Most airports stock these as do decent chemists; sticks are another option but I prefer a spray and am a big fan of Lynx mens fragrance. A quick squirt every now and again will keep you smelling and feeling good.
15. Pack other essential toiletries for the cabin
Take a small toiletry bag containing the important stuff – airline amenity kits are ideal if you are lucky enough to get one on your travels keep hold of it. This is what I have in mine but your needs may differ: glasses and spare contact lenses, eye re-wetting drops, toothbrush and toothpaste, pocket size pack of cleansing wipes, lip balm, tiny bottle of moisturiser. Don’t forget to pack liquids in a plastic bag and show them at security.
Regular stretching will help reduce the (admittedly fairly minimal) risk of blood clots and will make you feel better. Inflight magazines often include suggested exercises and these, as well as rolling your neck and shoulders and walking around the cabin from time to time will help keep blood flowing.
17. Any sleep is good sleep
Try to get some sleep – even an hour will help you arrive feeling a little better than none at all but aim for as much as possible – especially on red-eye flights landing in the morning if you need to be active during the first day of your stay and/or want to get in sync with the different time zone.
18. Ensure you won’t be disturbed
Tell the attendant that you want to sleep and you won’t get disturbed when the drinks trolley is doing the rounds. Buckle your seat belt over your blanket so they won’t have to wake you to check that you are strapped in during turbulence.
19. Recline – but be considerate
When you plan to sleep you’ll want to put your seat into the reclined position but be a good passenger – take a look behind you to make sure it’s safe to press the button without catapulting hot coffee into the lap of the guy behind.
20. Use a neck pillow if you find one that works for you
I’ve yet to do so, but if you find a pillow that helps you sleep bring it with you. Ideally this will deflate to a reasonable packed size for your carry-on bag.
21. To sleep, block out light…
An eye mask is essential or you’ll be kept awake by the flickering screen next to you – again, experiment to find a good one and hang onto it with your life.
22. …and sound
Earplugs are a godsend. Invest in a decent set of reusable wax ones to cut out all the noise around you as well as the drone of the engines. Alternatively use headphones – preferably your own – and listen to soothing music. Many inflight entertainment systems include ‘relaxation music’ which is actually quite effective.
23. Give yourself time to wake up
On a long haul flight you should try to wake up about an hour before landing. You can then use the bathroom – avoiding the inevitable last-minute crush – get packed up, have breakfast or at least a cup of coffee and depart the plane wide awake. Arriving half-asleep in an unfamiliar airport is not recommended.
24. Chew gum
You’ll feel fresher if you chew mint gum after leaving the plane.
25. Wash that face again on landing
I like to visit the bathroom at the airport and have a good wash in a less confined space.
26. Breathe deeply, stress down – and enjoy it!
It’s exciting to arrive – but take a few minutes to relax instead of trying to be the first through immigration.