Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed by the length of time you were going to spend on a seat, in a small confined environment, on a long haul flight? If you ever wondered how to survive such a lengthy journey without starting to bite your nail or taking a sleeping tablet, you may want to read this.
I flew on my first trans-atlantic flight in 1988. I was 17, and my seat allocation placed me next to a funny Australian car dealer. My school-english had not prepared me for his accent, and i spent most of the flight listening to him, and asking him to repeat words over and over again, until I started figuring out “Kaaaaaa” was car, etc. Back then, the flight entertainment was a single film on a big screen that was rolling down from the ceiling. The before and the after were left to you to organise. In those days, passengers had to rely partially on one another to keep entertained and busy for part of the time spent in the air.
Long-haul flights can be all sorts of things: exciting to those flying to Thailand or South Africa on holiday, or a curse for those frequent travellers who do the classic intercontinental commute more often than they’d wish to.
A lot of websites and blogs have already addressed this topic, bringing up solutions such as the choice of the seat on the plane, wether or not to eat during the flight in order to impact the metabolism and trigger less jet lag. And yes, they all advise you to exercise, take a little walk and stretch your legs on the plane. The best post I read on the matter was probably the one published on Lifehacker and I much prefer to give them the credit than try and re-write what they have already done very well.
However, besides sleeping, or eating, what is there REALLY to do on a plane once the doors are shut? Here are a few ideas and thoughts, collected over the years, and “with the help of my friends”.
Bring your own entertainment
Why, I hear you ask. Nowadays most flight companies have in-flight entertainment. I would agree if I had not flown with Air Egypt or Air China and realised that not all planes have individual screens with a wide selection of films. And among those that do, some prefer to provide you with a broad selection of 40 year old films with little to no language options. This is precisely in those circumstances that a book, a couple of magazines, and some films on a tablet can allow to make it through the journey. Equally, if you fly more than once a month, come the second flight and you have already watched all the films that had your interest.
Last but not least, you could be allocated a seat with a broken TV… on a full flight.
Stretch your legs… with a purpose
You should not stay seated too long on a plane. On an average, getting up every 3 hours is a good balance. Ideally it should be more often, but this is a plane, not a train. Taking a walk is not easy, as there is literally nothing to do on a plane once you are stood up, even less so when everybody else is sleeping and the lights are off. You can however take a chance, and in the middle of the night, walk all the way to the back or the middle of the plane. There you will find the galleys,areas where the flight attendants prepare meals, drinks, and eventually sit down with a magazine. Follow the smell of coffee and ask for a cup, or a fresh glass of water.
Seize the opportunity of standing to stretch your muscles and drink a lot of fluid. Alternatively, and if you feel self conscious, lock yourself up in the toilet for a few minutes, crouch or do a series of tip toes.
If you are lucky, other passengers will also be in the galley, with the same purpose as you. This is your chance for a little interaction, a potential 10 minutes on a 15 hours flight….
Think and plan.
As many of us live a very fast paced life, planning, thinking, digesting thoughts, have almost become a luxury. Wether you are on your way back from a business trip, back from holidays abroad or heading back to your home country with a long list of relatives to catch up with, your schedule has probably not left you that much time to make proper plans.
Time to make lists. You are not sleeping and everyone around you is. Grab your smart phone or tablet, switch on your light,take a small notepad, and write. Put down those thoughts that start coming now that you FINALLY have time: things that need your attention in the office, birthday presents, updates that need sending. It can also be a good time to remember things you were meant to do, or analyse recent events. Check those traveling Apps you added to your phone. Start planning your holiday visits, museum opening times and restaurants to try out.
It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, we all tend to throw a lot of things very quickly in our bag, wallet, briefcase, while traveling: city maps, business cards, shop receipts, small objects. This is particularly the case on your flight back.
A friend who regularly flies to Mumbai was telling me she always tidies up her handbag and wallet on the plane: business cards, receipts, entry tickets, etc.
Personally I sort out my photos, both on my smart phone and on my camera. It doesn’t matter why or where I travel, I am one of those “trigger happy” people with a camera. Plane journeys are my favourite time to delete those totally unnecessary or failed photos. that down time allows to conclude your trip. The mind has time to reminisce recent events that are brought back by the various snapshots.
Read or Play
You don’t have to be a child to play, it is a great and relaxing form of entertainment. A friend of ours is terribly anxious every time she has to fly. The bruises on her husband’s wrist say it all, she doesn’t enjoy the experience at all, take off and landing particularly. When she has to fly on a distance or a type of plane that doesn’t include films on a screen, this otherwise very relaxed and sweet couple plays games on a tablet. Yahtzee, Mahjong, card games, all seem to help get her focus away from the fear of flying. Generally speaking, books, magazines, crosswords or sudoku games are among passengers favourites.
On board of a plane, the air is particularly dry. A whole night spent in a pressurised environment, with a moisture level usually between 10 and 20%, will let you feel dry, puffy, uncomfortable. Some of the most common resulting problems on a long haul flight include dry skin and dry eyes, dry nose with cases of nose bleeds.
Some women come equipped: face mask to apply discretely when the lights are off, moisturisers, body lotions. As the amount of “liquids” and other cosmetics is limited in the cabin (5x100ml), you may want to plan a detour via the duty free shop before heading to your gate.
Nurturing isn’t and shouldn’t be limited to female fliers. In a world where cosmetics for men are a growing market, nothing stops business travellers or long haul flight travellers from using a lip balm, hydrating their skin or using a sea water nasal spray to improve their comfort.
Not sure about the face mask on the plane? You may want to read this post 😉
If you have tried all the above, and you are still left with a fair portion of time, you may want to consider the old and very classic option of socialising with the person next to you. There is no guarantee of success, but you can approach it like that box of chocolate quote…