7 Sanity Savers for Long-Haul Flights
As most of my work trips are of the easy, nonstop, six-hour variety from New York to the West Coast or Europe, I enjoy flying. Like most time-pressed planners, I value that time in the air. It’s ‘found’ time to catch up on work, eat, watch a movie and (sometimes) take a nap. Last year however, when a few planning jobs put me on several of the longest international flights in the world (in coach, no less), I learned the hard way that, compared to my usual six-hour flights, 22 hours in the air is an entirely different ballgame. To do long-haul well, you’re going to need a few essentials. Here are a few ideas to help planners and civilians fly long-haul economy in relative comfort:
1) Dress your legs.
Tucked away in the ‘medical devices’ aisle at the drug store is usually where you’ll find ‘compression socks,’ in all their amazingly ugly glory. Looks aside, compression socks are life-savers. Not only will they make your trip a lot more comfortable by preventing leg and ankle swelling, but they’ll also help cut your risk of potentially lethal DVT (deep vein thrombosis) by as much as 90%. Long-haul flights are notorious for triggering leg and ankle swelling no matter your age, and DVT can happen to anyone, so swallow your pride, buy a pair and slip them on before wheels up. Word to the wise: Buy them at the local drug store for $25 – $30 as the same hastily bought pair from an airport newsstand can set you back $40 – $50.
Bring your own bottle, and make it an empty one at that. For long-haul flights, any bottle with liquid in it is likely to be confiscated at the gate, even if you bought it inside the terminal. I found this out only after the authorities confiscated the three giant bottles of Evian I’d just bought at the store next to the gate. Lesson learned. Your best bet is to carry a bottle with a large opening at the top so once you’re on the plane, you can pour in water and ice from the drinks cart without splashing your neighbor. My current go-to big mouth bottle is the Hydaway, a leak-proof, collapsible, silicone water bottle with flip-up straw that folds down to a pocket-sized disk and features a carabiner-friendly handle to clip onto your carry-on.
3) Light your way.
About 10 seconds after takeoff, while starting to read a pile of magazines I’d been saving for the flight, all the lights went out, and not that usual domestic, red-eye style dimmed lights kind of way. We’re talking pitch black, as in feel-your-way-to-the-restroom blackness. Turns out, the extreme darkness was intentional and apparently fairly standard on midnight flights to Asia. So, if you plan to read, prepare for the blackout and bring a small flashlight. Amidst the total darkness, overhead lights, phones and tablets wind up being blindingly bright and disturb your neighbors, so ‘go prepared’ with a flashlight, a headlamp or baseball cap with built-in, light-up visor. If your phone’s battery life isn’t an issue, you can also download a flashlight app before you take off.
4) You’ve got mail…or do you?
While in-flight Wi-Fi is a beautiful thing, and easily had (for a price) on many on domestic flights, when it comes to service on international long-haul flights, it’s a crapshoot. Even if there is a little Wi-Fi icon stamped on your ticket, service is by no means guaranteed—so don’t rely on it being there when you need to send an urgent email. (For example, on my last four long-haul flights on several different carriers, not one had Wi-Fi.) However, if you’re lucky enough to connect on a long-haul flight, expect service to be slow – and do your streaming when you’re back on terra firma.
5) Bring some juice.
As with Wi-Fi, power on long-haul flights can also be a bit hit or miss. Your seat may not be equipped with an outlet, or if it is, the outlet may be incompatible with some of your devices. To guarantee power, bring a supply of your own. If you have to work most of the flight, consider bringing an extra laptop battery to swap in, and regardless, carry extra juice for your phone and tablet.
6) Tune out and tune in.
If you have a smartphone, you’ve probably got a pair (or two) of in-the-ear earbuds for talking hands-free and listening to music. No question, they’re great for everyday use. On a long-haul flight however, noise-cancelling, over-the-ear headphones are must-haves. Sure, they can be expensive and take up room in your carry-on, but when seatmates start snoring and babies start wailing, standard earbuds won’t be of much help drowning out the sound effects. Considered to be the gold standard, many frequent long-haulers swear by Bose, but less expensive Sony and/or Beats by Dre over-the-ear models do an excellent job as well.
7) Dine when you want to.
If your long-haul flight takes off in the middle of the night, the first meal you’ll see may be breakfast, many hours after boarding. Instead of relying on tiny bags of pretzels to tide you over, pack snacks or mini-meals in your carry-on so you can eat on your schedule, not the airlines’. Having a few Bumblebee Tuna Salad packs (crackers and spoon included), Kind Bars and Justin’s Almond Butter packets within easy reach will help keep hunger at bay, at least until the breakfast cart rolls down the aisle.
Have a great flight!