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Long-Haul Flights: Tips and Tricks

by Maureen Austin, Guest Contributor and PassPorter Message Board Guide

For many of us, we just can't drive to Florida, California, or anywhere else for that matter. For others, it may be possible but torturous for some reason or another. The thought of little Johnny or Sarah in the backseat bickering back and forth for hours can make Mom or Dad shudder. Or sometimes you just just want to go and be there already. When these situations present themselves, flying is usually the best option. Long haul flights in particular can be trying on the mind and body. Keeping your sanity and your physical well-being can really go a long way in helping you enjoy your vacation when you arrive at your destination.

The number one rule for long haul fliers is to keep your physical health in tip-top shape. In fact, this is so important, that on a recent flight from Dallas to London, British Airways showed a video regarding this issue almost immediately after take-off. My preparations began way before that though. I will admit to not being a water drinker (I know... shame, shame) and I usually dote on tea and diet cokes. However, about 48 hours prior to our flight, I upped my water consumption and dumped the caffeine. In addition, I made sure to get the best rest possible. In the airport, I made sure to take brief walks while waiting out that two-hour check-in requirement. Even though I was nervous, I felt well-rested and comfortable when we boarded our flight.

On the plane, we were encouraged to eat at the meal service (if offered -- these days you only get it on really long flights!) -- although I must admit sometimes I didn't quite feel like it. The cabin crew did offer water and juices about every two hours but most passengers, including me, asked for water much more than that. Keeping hydrated is essential to good health on any flight, but even more important on flights of more than a few hours. Don't wait until you feel extremely thirsty to ask for something -- by that point you could already be on the road to dehydration and illness. Another good idea is to bring some bottles of water in your carry-on in case the crew is busy or not able to come to you right away -- there's no waiting for a drink! (Note: Be sure to get your beverages AFTER you go through the security checkpoint at the airport.) I also stuck to water instead of sodas and liquor, as virtually everything except water and juice actually encourages dehydration.

It is extremely important to walk or move around every now and again -- doing so keeps your circulation in good shape, avoiding serious medical complications. Again, you may not feel like you need it but if you wait until you do, problems may already be developing. About every 90 minutes, I walked for about 10 or 15 minutes. It certainly wasn't a nice stroll in the park as even a big 777 doesn't have a whole lot of room, but I made the best of it. I was able to peek in on the flight galley and catch all the goings-on as flight attendants took inventory. On top of that, I had some really nice conversations with other passengers who were doing the same. Be sure to take the opportunities to do this and visit the lavatory whenever possible. You never know when the flight will encounter turbulence. I did make the mistake once when all that water caught up with me and I waited too long to get up. As I unbuckled my seat belt to hit the ladies room, turbulence reared it's ugly head, the seat belt light came on, and I was very uncomfortable for the next half hour!

If you encounter night-time hours on your flight, you will find the lights are dimmed to encourage you to rest. For me, this was by far the most difficult part of the whole trip as I really couldn't get comfortable or relax to the point I could sleep. I was in the minority though, so you may be able to catch your zzz's. At the very least, do try and make the effort. I did close my eyes and just rested the best I possibly could.

Most international flights have a pretty good arsenal of boredom-fighting diversions. Movies, music and television programming can distract one for hours -- after all, if you can sit on your couch for a whole evening watching a movie or TV, you can do it at 35,000 feet, too! Getting into a good movie can really help the time fly. Bring along that book you have been dying to read. Or you can do as I did and save up the past few weeks of your favorite magazine to read on the flight. You can take advantage of this zero time to do things you normally aren't able to during life on the ground. Remember the days before e-mail when we actually put pen to paper? I wrote three letters during my flight to some friends I'd been meaning to catch up with. I mailed my letters while we were in London and after returning home, I got three phone calls from some delighted friends -- a pretty productive use of my time in the air!

Many planes are equipped with GPS tracking systems, showing you on your seatback monitor the route the plane is taking, the plane's current location, and the cruising altitude. This became one of the best diversions for me. I would glance at where we were and guess how long it would take us to get somewhere else on the flight path. If I felt changes in altitude, I checked myself to see if things had changed or stayed the same. This entertained me for quite some time.

Before leaving Arkansas, a friend of mine who had recently flown to Amsterdam told me, "Bring your toothbrush. It makes a world of difference." I did and she was so very right! I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and reapplied deodorant a few hours before landing in London. Doing all of these little things gave me a little refresher that went a long, long way!

Flying certainly is the fastest way of getting where you want to go but the condition you find yourself in upon arrival makes a lot of difference in the first few days of a trip. Prepare well and take good care of yourself in flight to get the most out of your vacation!

About the Author: Maureen Austin is co-owner of Grand Getaways Travel and a frequent article contributor to PassPorter.

This article appeared in our January 9, 2004 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!


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Updated 01/03/07 

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