When traveling long-haul, you have no better friend on the planet than your frequent flier miles. Call your travel agent to find flights on which I could burn up your frequent flyer miles to upgrade your trip. It may be that your get better legroom, fully reclining chairs, edible meals, entertainment and breathing space. It’s worth a try.
You will want to have a rock-solid plan for frittering away several hours of your flight, and I don’t mean working; staring at spreadsheets and writing proposals may burn up hours, but it does not make them vanish. You want these hours to disappear almost without a trace. Think headphones and Hollywood blockbusters. Getting a lot of work done is fine but rarely do you have 15 consecutive hours without a phone or email, so I encourage bringing some work but enjoy some downtime too. You deserve it.
- Don’t carry on too much stuff.
While checked baggage fees are inspiring travelers to carry on more and more stuff, on a long-haul flight this could burn you; anything that is under the seat in front of you just means less legroom and a more cramped living space for 15 or 16 hours. Don’t bring so much on that you compete for your own sleeping space.
- Bring your go-to gear.
When it comes to surviving flights, I am not a gear guy. I can’t be bothered to lug around neck pillows, eye masks, earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, etc. — except on a long-haul flight. As I note above, your total carry-on haul should be limited, but you may want to consider some of these relatively small survival tools. Your body and brain will thank you for every small comfort you can provide, and the inconvenience of packing and carrying these around is dwarfed by the misery of 15 hours in flight with crying children, pilot announcements, engine noise and a major crick in your neck. So gear up with wisdom.
- Board relatively rested.
Don’t count on a long-haul flight as a good place to catch up on sleep, it’s not. As attractive and intuitive as it seems to get on a long-haul flight extremely tired, hoping to sleep the whole way, you are in for a world of hurt if you can’t sleep for any reason. You will be on the plane long enough to catch a few winks even if you are somewhat rested, and my advice is to take it when it comes; if your eyes start to droop, get out the eye covers and earplugs, and go with it. If you throw away a solid two-hour nap on a few extra rounds of Angry Birds, you might well be angry at yourself later.
- Secure your stuff.
A long-haul flight gives unscrupulous travelers all the more time to size up the location of your wallet, wait until you fall asleep and make a move on your luggage. Secure your valuables deep inside your bags where it would take a TSA X-ray machine to find them. Consider keeping items like your passport, credit cards and cash in a money belt under your clothes.
- Consider a sleep aid.
If you are planning to use sleep aids (including “natural” methods such as melatonin, or drugs such as Ambien), try them before you fly with them. A few years ago a friend gave me an Ambien pill for a red-eye flight from Honolulu to New York City, and the drug acted more like a stimulant than a sleep aid. I was awake the entire flight and felt wretched to boot. These drugs can vary greatly in how they affect individuals, so you will want to try them at home before you rely on them on the plane
- Ask about seats at the gate.
Failing the ability to choose great seats before your flight, try again at the gate. If the flight is not full, the gate agent may be able to see an empty row, or put you and a traveling partner in a “window and aisle” configuration that reduces the likelihood of having someone sit in the middle seat, thereby getting you a seat and a half, at least.
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