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How to Survive Long Flights

Written by Jessica on June 1, 2011

AirplaneIf I could wish for just one piece of technology to be created it would be a teleporter. The one from Star Trek would do just fine. “Beam me up, Scotty”. I think everyone in the world would be a lot happier.

Let’s face it, there is nothing nice about flying. The longer the flight, the more painful it is. As a Seattle native, with a South African spouse, I’ve been on my fair share of long flights. Two back to back 10 hour flights is enough to wilt even the toughest traveler. It has nearly killed me a few times.

Intermission for worst flight experience ever:

54 hours to get from Seattle to Johannesburg. Left home at 4am. Flight from Seattle to New York delayed 45 minutes. JFK train stop is out, have to run to next terminal. Miss connecting flight to Joburg. Only one flight to Joburg every day and they are over booked for the next two weeks. Wait in line for 4 hours to talk to American Airlines (2 other flights canceled, it’s a long line). American books me on standby to London Heathrow, and standby again to get to Joburg. Wait in JFK another 6 hours. Make the flight to London. Middle seat. Wait in Heathrow for 3 hours. No seats on the next flight to Joburg. Wait in line at British Airways counter another 3 hours. Standby again in 9 hours. Eat dinner (or maybe breakfast, not sure). Beg to get on the flight to Joburg. Turbulence starts in at hour two. Go to lavatory. Remain there for the next eight hours. Flight attendant tries to kick me out. I threaten to puke on her shoes. I win. Take a wheel chair through customs (straight to the front of the line). Husband doesn’t recognize me. Sleep for 2 days. Baggage arrived ten days later, partially intact.

Sometimes you don’t get to choose your method of torture, but you can prepare for the worst. Here are some tips to help you get through.

Plan in Advance

Get a good seat

You know what you like. Make it happen. If the ticket seller can’t guarantee your seat reservation (most only offer to try) then call the airline. Read the fine print. Orbitz, for example, will give you the fancy seat map and let you pick your seat, but they only offer to request the seat on your behalf. There is no guarantee you’ll actually get that seat.

When in doubt, check the airline’s website. Make a phone call. Be adamant. Nothing is worse than a middle seat, except maybe a seat in front of the lavatory.

If you can’t book in advance, get to the airport early. Be nice to the attendant. Beg if you have to. Just don’t get stuck in the middle row.

Pack the right stuff

Food: Always pack food. Always pack lots of food. It doesn’t matter if you have to throw half of it out. At least a meal for every five hours you are flying. Bring snacks, water, sandwiches. Whatever you like. Just bring lots.

Entertainment: Books, computers, movies, game players, stuffed animals, angry birds (the game, not actual birds, although that would be entertaining.)

Headphones or earplugs: For those stuck-by-a-screaming-brat moments.

Pillow and blanket: Ever had to sleep in an airport? Yeah, you’ll thank me later.

Change of clothes: It’s so nice after an overnight flight to put on a fresh pair of clothes. Even if you can’t shower, you will feel a little more human.

Toiletries: Toothbrush, deodorant, face cloth. Anything to make you feel less like you just spent a night on the sidewalk.

Meds: Motion sickness tablets, decongestant, aspirin, pain relievers, sleeping pills. Pack it all. Just make sure you test it before flying. 30,000 feet is not a good place to learn you are allergic to codeine.

Request a special meal

If you have dietary restrictions, let the staff know. Even if you don’t, feel free to request a special meal. Usually you will get served first, and often the food is better.

Dress comfortably

There isn’t anyone worth impressing on a long flight. Be comfortable. If you can’t sleep on your couch in those clothes, then don’t wear them on a plane. Take a nice outfit to change into when you arrive at your destination.

Give yourself lots of time

No good will come from rushing. You will need extra time for security, bathroom breaks, buying extra food or souvenirs. Missing a flight will guarantee that your trip is going to be miserable.

On the Flight

Drink water

Not caffeine or alcohol. Plain ol’ H2O. Trust me. Drink lots of it. Don’t be bashful about having to get up to go to the bathroom. Getting up is good. Flying will dehydrate you. Water is the best way to stay healthy.


You have to eat something. It doesn’t really matter what. Just make sure that you eat regular meals. Flying is not a good time to diet.


Get up. Walk. Pace around. Jog in place. It doesn’t matter what you do, just move. Interrupt the people next to you. They need to move too.

Move in your seat too. Do stretches. Flex your feet. Stretch your arms. Get the blood moving.

Be nice to the flight attendants

Always, always, always, be nice to flight attendants. When the plane starts heading for the Hudson river, you’ll want them on your good side. Besides, they are generally very helpful if you provide a little courtesy.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Need something? Don’t be afraid to ask. Medicine, pillows, extra magazines? Other passengers and flight attendants are usually willing to help out. Everyone is stuck in the same hell hole together. Asking for help, and returning the favor is the best way to get through it.


Mike Graf
#1 Mike Graf 2012-06-13 14:00
I agree with your sentiment of "Hell Hole" describing air travel. Sounds like an industry ripe for change... How can customers describe the product as "the worst experience ever" and some company cant do something to improve that?

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