How I Survive Long Flights and Avoid Some Nasty Jet Lag

Note: I was in Africa for five weeks and did not have my computer with me. I will report on the trip in my next blog, but this one gives some tips on getting there.

If you are a transcontinental traveler and are making connections to a final destination, your travel times can be lengthy – sometimes up to 24 hours or more. My friend and I experience this half dozen times a year and have developed a strategy on these long flights to lessen the physical effects on our bodies.

When I Book

I secure my seat assignments ASAP. I use seatguru.com (a Trip Advisor company) to look up the airline and airplane that I am flying. Seat Guru gives you information about the airline — website, frequent flyer program, lounges (clubs), check in (on line?), the number and sizes of bags etc. When I choose the airplane (equipment) it shows me the seats, their sizes, legroom, etc. and points out desirable and undesirable seats. Only then do I go to the airline seating chart and pick a seat. A bad seat makes for an ultra-long flight.

If connecting in Europe, many airlines will not give out seat assignments until the passenger arrives on the continent. I find out as soon as I can and get my desired seat.

I look for aisle seats, as they have more legroom and I do not have to climb over people to get to the aisle. Lately airlines are designating “premium seating” and try to collect a little more money from the passenger for those seats. Sometimes, if not filled, these seats revert to regular seats; other times airlines charge the passenger who books late the premium. I also found that if you are assigned a less desirable seat, ask for a seat change at the gate 15 minutes before the flight. With some airlines, the premium seats will revert at that time.

We ask for a special meal when making the reservation. My friend is a vegetarian, and we find that the Asian Vegetarian meal is usually much better than the mass meal that consists of chicken, pasta, beef, etc. We find that one has to double check with the airline about the special meal request, as they seem to have some difficulty communicating the request to the vendor.

Lastly, I have found that airlines sometimes change the flight times/equipment and send me (hopefully) an email to confirm and agree with this change. Please note that I ALWAYS check my seat assignment at that time, as the airlines are notorious for reassigning your seat (“You have an window seat and requested an aisle? Too bad, but it is only a 14 hour flight”, is a response I have heard from the flight attendant on a full flight.

Clothes

I wear a long sleeved shirt and long pants on the plane. The cabins are rarely warm —usually cold. Compression hose are a good idea to prevent possible embolisms (blood clots) when one is sitting in the same position for hours at a time. My shoes are sturdy for the long walks between gates, but are easy to get on and off.

No one wants to enter the airplane toilets in stocking feet. Hardware stores sell boxes of plastic booties for industrial use. I take a couple of pairs in my carryon and wear them to the toilet.

I also check what the weather will be like at my destination. Rain? Humid? I carry a change of clothing with me if I know that there will be a radical difference in upcoming climate.

Meals

As mentioned, we request Asian Vegetarian meals when booking the flights. When boarding, I identify myself to the flight attendant as a recipient of a special meal. I do not drink alcohol, but consume plenty of water, as the plane’s air is usually very dry. The flight attendants are good at replenishing the supply during the flight. I use a towelette or hand sanitizer to clean up before eating.

Sleep Aids

I find a blackout eye mask is essential for sleep on an airplane. In addition, I have a noise reduction earphones (with an extra battery). Earplugs are an alternative, but not as good. Sometimes I take a blowup neck ring, but use it for lumbar support when the seats are not conducive to a good sleeping position. I can inflate the ring to the correct level – pillows don’t work as well. I grab a blanket when boarding, as I may need it for warmth. Also, I alternate sleep with books, movies or audio (my iPhone or supplied audio/video) to make the time go faster. I do not look at the flight progression map and see the minutes slowly tick away (a watched pot never boils!).

Exercise

Every couple of hours, I leave my seat and walk the aisles. If I can, I do a loop, stopping in the rear galley area to do stretching exercises to loosen up.

Freshening Up

About an hour before landing, I retire to the toilet to refresh myself before our arrival. I wash my face and hands with hot water and brush my teeth (I bring a travel toothbrush in my carryon). A little deodorant, and I feel like a new man! I don’t wait until the plan is on final approach (a half hour before landing) to freshen up, as I may not be able to leave my seat, and if I can, the toilet may be occupied.

Tips

• If the airplane is not filled, once on board I change seats if I do not like my assigned seat as well as the unoccupied ones. I then tell the flight attendant that I have changed seats.

• I have a lot of carryon – my cameras and maybe a long lens in it’s own backpack that I do not want to check (ever!). I get on board at the top of my boarding group even though I have an assigned seat, as the overhead bins fill up and when that happens, sometimes the flight attendants force you to check carryon.

• My carryon also has a collection of my favorite snacks so I am not subjected to airline peanuts and pretzels. Also, I can eat them any time I am hungry.

• As noted, cabin air is dry. I regulate my individual airflow to ensure that it is not stagnant.

• Many airplanes now have USB or 110 volt receptacles. I check with Seat Guru and then bring the appropriate attachments on board.

 

What Are Your Strategies?

This is my strategy for surviving lengthy flights. You may have some others. I invite you to put them in the comments section of this blog, and I will incorporate them (with credit!) into the main body.

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