Many of us have suffered through it — a long haul flight that seems to go on forever. That terrible feeling of being packed like a sardine into a small economy seat, with no escape. The booze cart in the distance, taking forever to get to you. Hours to go, and you’re already stir crazy.
One can only wish there is a special hell for the heartless airline execs who decided to squeeze people together to eke out every possible travel dollar.
So how does 19 hours on a flight from New York to Sydney sound? That’s the amount of time it will take to watch Titanic almost six times.
Qantas is set to launch the world’s longest nonstop flight this weekend. It will be the first of three “ultra long-haul” test flights from the Big Apple to Down Under.
Singapore Airlines previously held the record for the longest nonstop commercial flight — about 18 hours from Singapore to New York.
If you’re planning to travel across the globe for your next vacation, here are some tips from ChannelNews Asia (CNA) to keep you sane and well rested.
1. AISLE, MIDDLE OR WINDOW?
There are (unspoken) rules midair. The passenger on the aisle seat gets the legroom, the passenger in the middle gets most of the armrests, and the one by the window seats gets the luxury of leaning against the wall for an awkward, prisoner-like nap.
So decide what would make you most at ease throughout the flight – more leg room, support for your arms or a surface to lean on for some sleep. Bear in mind, the first two seats would also require you to move in case someone needs the toilet.
On an ultra long-haul flight, the window seat might be your best option if you want to catch a few winks. Check in ahead of time to guarantee the seat of your choice.
2. THE BIG SLEEP
Now that you have the best seat in the house, you need a good night’s sleep. Sleep accessories could help you get a decent rest, ward off an aching neck and make wailing toddlers more bearable.
Pack ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones to ensure you get some peace and quiet. Qantas found in a study of almost 500 passengers travelling longer than nine hours that more than half of long-haul flight passengers use them to aid their sleep.
An eye-mask may help as well if you need the dark to get some shuteye. And finally, your neck muscles will thank you for that extra support with a travel neck pillow/donut. They look weird, but they actually do work.
And for god sakes, don’t walk around the terminal building with your travel donut on your neck, it looks tacky and ridiculous.
3. HYDRATE, BUT AVOID ALCOHOL
Experts say taking a flight can dehydrate your body so you will need to hydrate — but not with the alcohol variety even if they are free flow inflight. Qantas found that 38% of passengers on long-haul flights drink alcohol to aid them in their sleep.
Easier said than done, of course. Nothing like a good double whiskey or vodka to take the edge off a horrible, cramped flight.
But specialist sleep researcher Dr Yu Sun Bin, who was part of the Qantas study, claims alcohol makes jet lag worse.
“Drinking more than a few glasses of alcohol will make jet lag worse. It might make us fall asleep faster but beyond a certain point, it also disrupts the quality of sleep and causes dehydration,” he said.
If in doubt, drink a lot of water — and you’ll need that aisle seat to head to the bathroom regularly.
4. WEAR COMFY CLOTHES
Imagine sitting in an upright (or slightly inclined position at best) with tight jeans digging into your waist and a thin top that’s hardly a match for the glacial cabin settings.
Don’t be fashionable, be comfortable! Consider several loose layers. This could mean leggings, sweatpants, T-shirts, jumpers, sweaters and perhaps a shawl in case it gets really cold.
5. THE HUNGER GAMES
There will be a change of time zones with ultra long-haul flights, so your meal timings might become haywire.
While you eagerly anticipate the smell of chicken, beef or pasta wafting through the cabin during meal times, packing a few of your own snacks might be useful as well, Skyscanner says.
The travel website suggests slow-energy release snacks like cereal bars, nuts or dried fruit. The stuff you never usually buy at the grocery store, in other words.
6. GET UP AND MOVE
As singer James Brown used to say, “Get up … get on up!”
The last thing you want when you reach your destination is deep vein thrombosis — a rare condition associated with long-haul flights.
Qantas recommends moving your legs and feet for three to four minutes per hour while seated, and moving about the cabin occasionally. Don’t be afraid to take your shoes off, as well.
Other simple exercises that can be done while seated include drawing circles with your ankles for a few seconds, flexing your heels, lifting your knees to your chest and rolling your neck forward and back.
Japan Airlines used to offer a cool method of relaxation — while standing at the back of the plane a flight attendant offered me a short triangle, bar-shaped object (about six inches long), on which to stand … and it actually worked.
Having the bar under the centre of the foot and standing on it, and rolling back and forth, was like getting a relaxing foot massage. This also gives you the chance to chat up the flight attendant. “So … do you like Italian food?”
7. THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT!
If only they offered 1960s reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies or the Andy Griffith show!
Well, this is the one time you have a reason not to check your work emails — because you have no mobile data, or have to pay a king’s ransom for it (US$7 per hour on Alaska Airlines).
Exhaust all the movie options in the inflight entertainment system, pack a book you’ve been meaning to read but never got around to, curate special Spotify playlists or, as Skyscanner suggests, read those boring inflight magazine articles on your destination to hype you up, or, make you sleep.
8. THE LAST RESORT
Ah yes, the last resort! This would be, actually starting a conversation with your seat mate. God forbid, that you actually put your cellphone or iPad down, and engage in human contact.
Sometimes it can start with a simple opening line, such as Humphrey Bogart’s famous quip from Casablanca, “So, who are you really … and what were you before … what did you do, and what did you think?”
As Einstein said, time is relative. This is never more true when one is involved in a nice, long getting-to-know-you convo that eats up time.
On the other hand, your seat mates might be unfriendly millennials, more interested in their electronics than chatting. If they don’t want to chat, don’t force it.
9. THEY LIKE ME … THEY REALLY, REALLY LIKE ME
This may sound crazy, but … carry a small children’s toy in your purse/case … a cool plastic or stuffed toy. If a child is out of control and wailing, offer the Mom the cool toy — a way out of her misery. Sometimes, this works! A new toy can focus a child’s attention, like nothing else … and she, the flight crew and your co-passengers, will love you for it.
10. THE ‘GRETA’ OPTION
Take climate change activist “Glum” Greta Thurnberg’s advice and book a zero-carbon ocean voyage instead. See you in a month, or so …