Long-haul flights are anything but enjoyable, but are a necessary evil for anyone who wants to see more of the world. Technically, a long-haul is defined as any flight more than six hours in length, but depending on your level of travel experience even a shorter flight may seem like a long-haul to you. There are a few ways though in which you can keep your sanity and stay healthy when spending a long time on board a plane.
Time Management - At first blush, a twelve hour or longer flight may seem completely impossible. After five minutes you’re already looking at your watch and wondering how much time is left. One way I deal with passing the vast quantities of time is to schedule the time onboard into smaller segments. For example, the first two hours are devoted to getting settled, eating dinner and perusing the entertainment options. The next 3-4 hours might be spent watching movies or reading, the following four hours devoted to sleep, etc. No matter how you choose to segment your time, I find that thinking of the voyage in smaller segments helps you achieve mental goals more often and feel like time really is passing by, rather than looking out at a seemingly endless quantity of flying time.
Entertainment Variety – The modern traveler is lucky when it comes to onboard amusements. Most long-haul planes have individual entertainment options that offer dozens of movies, games, TV shows, music and more. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities, as they really do help pass the time. Combined with dinner and sleep, if you watch three movies on a flight you have probably accounted for almost all of your time on board. If you plan to sleep though, try to avoid work or other mentally stimulating activities unless you absolutely have to.
Get Up Often – Although rare, there are significant health concerns when sitting in the same position for a long period of time, namely Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). DVT is the formation of a blood clot in a deep vein that can develop after sitting on long flights. There are many ways to help mitigate your risk for developing these dangerous blood clots, but one of the most important is getting up often. Ever couple of hours, make sure to walk around the cabin and in the forward areas near the bulkhead, be sure to do some simple exercises to help keep your blood flowing. The airlines have done a great job in educating the public about this risk and you can find some sample exercises in most in-flight magazines.
Water, water, water – Hydration is essential for all travelers and it starts on board the plane. Flying is a dehydrating experience so make sure to stay away from alcohol and instead grab some water or juice from the beverage cart. If you’re on a long haul flight, make sure you have a glass of water every hour or so. This will also help reduce your risk for developing DVT.
Comfort and Rest – A long flight is an exciting experience, at least it is for me. It means the beginning of an exciting journey to a new country or a return home after an amazing trip. This excitement and the desire to start exploring can make it difficult to get sufficient rest, but sleep is absolutely essential on a long flight. First, make sure you’re comfortable. You aren’t flying to compete in a fashion show, so don’t feel the need to dress the part. Either wear, or bring, comfortable clothes that will facilitate rest. I have a great pair of all-weather khakis I wear on long flights that are super comfortable and not at all constricting. I also wear socks specifically designed for air travel along with a slip on shoe of some sort. During the first few hours of the flight, avoid caffeine and too much alcohol and instead drink plenty of water. Finally, bring some tools that will help you create a cocoon of comfort. My in-flight bag always contains ear plugs, an eye mask and an inflatable neck pillow. It’s amazing the difference these simple tools can make on a long flight. Finally, allow yourself plenty of time to rest. When you land you are going to want to hit the ground running and, depending on your destination, you may have a full day ahead of you. When traveling more than 5 or 6 time zones, it is a struggle to quickly adjust to the new time and what you do on the flight over will help dictate how you feel for at least the first couple of days.
Unless you are a serious plane geek, most people don’t relish the idea of spending a long period of time in the air. If you plan ahead and take a few easy steps to make the experience more enjoyable, you will have the perfect start to a great adventure.