A flight to Europe usually takes around eight to nine hours; our recent non-stop flight to Tokyo was twelve hours long. The longest commercial flight currently available is around seventeen hours. I’ve had people tell me they don’t travel to Europe and beyond because of the long flights. However, with a little preparation, you can not only survive, but enjoy flights that are over four hours.
Health and Safety
The first priority when flying should be your health and safety. The airline does its part to ensure your safety, but you also have responsibilities. Pay attention to the flight attendants when they are giving instructions, especially regarding the emergency procedures they use. Remain in your seat, with your seat belt on, when instructed to do so. If the seat belt sign is off, you are free to walk around, but be sure you are not continually obstructing the aisle.
Avoid, or at least be careful with alcohol use before and during your flight. While a glass of wine may help you relax, too much alcohol or drinking more than your body is used to, can lead to problems. The changes in altitude and cabin pressure can affect how well you tolerate the alcohol, so be aware.
Water consumption, on the other hand, is something you may need to increase. The air in the airplane cabin is often dry, so keeping your body hydrated is wise. Frequent flyers recommend a nasal moisturizer, lip balm or even eye drops if you have a tendency to have a dry nose, lips or eyes.
If you have trouble with motion sickness, you should remember to bring along your remedy for it. The same goes for nasal or sinus congestion – if you often have trouble, your congestion will probably be more noticeable in the air.
A more serious health problem that sometimes occurs with long flights is the development of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or blood clots in your legs. Signs of DVT include pain or swelling, redness, and warmth of the affected area. There are several things you can do to help prevent DVT. You should get up and walk around every couple of hours. Avoid alcohol and stay hydrated. Wearing compression socks can also help. If you think you may be at risk for a blood clot, talk to your doctor about other steps you can take.
While the ultimate in comfort may be flying in first class, most of us will not enjoy that luxury. And although first and business class seats are often many times the cost of economy, there is one more option. Economy Plus or Premium Economy seats are usually available for a couple hundred dollars more per fight leg, but be sure you know what you are paying for. Premium Economy, – not available on US carriers – includes wider seats, more legroom and upgraded food and service. Economy Plus (United), Economy Comfort (Delta) and Main Cabin Extra (American) offer some extra legroom and seating in the front of the economy section, but are not equivalent to Premium Economy.
If food is important to you – for comfort or for medical reasons, you may want to bring your own snacks. You can sometimes ask for special meals – gluten or dairy-free, for example – but if you ask late, or if you are on a short flight, you may not be accommodated. I don’t usually have a problem with airline food, but once in awhile I find the meal inedible. In that case, it would have been good to bring my own snacks.
Wearing comfortable clothing will make your flight more enjoyable. Don’t totally sacrifice fashion, though, by wearing grubby sweats or pajamas. (Children can wear pajamas and first class passengers often get pajamas as a welcome gift, so there are exceptions)
Although many people find jeans uncomfortable, I like wearing them and often choose a nice pair for on the plane. A shirt with a sweater or jacket is a good option – you can take off the sweater if you are warm. I have a large scarf that I usually wear – I can take it off to use it as a blanket if I want.
Pay attention to the type of plane is available for your flight – you may have a choice. When we flew to Tokyo, we flew in a 787 Dreamliner which is a very comfortable plane. The Dreamliner has improved pressure and humidity controls. It also has a unique lighting system that mimics afternoon, evening, night, morning and daytime, regardless of what time of day it is outside the plane.
Of course, you can’t always pick the type of plane. If you check seatguru.com, you can find information about the plane you will be flying in. You will know what to expect and can prepare for it.
I got a new travel pillow before our last trip – it’s one of those stuffed horseshoe shaped ones. I’ve see them strapped to people’s luggage or backpacks in the airport and now I have one strapped to mine. It was a great decision. I’ve reviewed the one I have on the Travel Product Recommendations page. The pillow was ten times more comfortable than the inflatable one I had used previously.
I also bought an eye mask. It’s very comfortable, but I actually forgot to get it out of my bag, so I didn’t use it. I reviewed the eye mask, too.
Above, I mentioned the scarf I usually wear on the plane. It is a large pashmina type scarf, so it doubles as a light blanket. The airline usually provides blankets, but I just feel better having my own. I can cover my self, I can fold it up and add it to my pillow, or I can just wrap it around my shoulders.
You may be able to sleep better if you try to adjust your body clock before your flight. Figure out what time it is where you will be and try to move your sleep patterns to fit with the new time. This not only helps with sleeping on the plane, but an also help lessen the effects of jetlag once you land.
If you are flying for business and absolutely have to sleep, you may be able to get a prescription sleep aid from your doctor. Ask him for an extra dose, though, so you can try it out at home before you try it on the plane. Sometimes a half or even a quarter of a pill is enough to put you to sleep. Too much medicine may make you feel groggy the next day.
Most international flights that I have been on have had personal seat-back entertainment. The back of each seat had a screen that was individually controlled. If the person in front of you reclines their seat, the screen will adjust so you can still see it correctly.
The plane that I am returning on from my next trip, does not have this system available. It does, however, offer personal entertainment via the airlines mobile app. I have already installed the app on my iPad, so I should be able to watch movies there. I will need to make sure that my iPad is fully charged before my flight if I plan to take advantage of this service. Again, seatguru.com made me aware of this feature.
WiFi is also available on many flights, although there is a charge to use it. If you are traveling for business, it may be worth the investment.
On the flight home from Tokyo, I fell asleep after dinner and didn’t wake up until we were well over halfway home. It made the trip feel way shorter than expected. When we got off the plane, I felt well rested and did not get sleepy on the drive home (yes, I was driving). I had very little trouble with jetlag, even with a twelve hour flight and a fourteen hour time difference.
Flying on the Dreamliner was something I looked forward to, and it was all that I expected. Although I flew in regular economy class, I was comfortable. I was able to watch a couple of movies in each direction, and I did some knitting. With a little preparation, the long trip was actually very enjoyable.