Travelling well… coping with long haul flights

20161207_200753Oh for the days when ‘jet travel’ meant ‘exotic’, ‘style’ and ‘fast’. In terms of air-speed, since the demise of Concorde we’ve not moved forward one iota, your average plane still trundles along at around 400-500 knots (about 550mph), as it did in 1960. The truth today is that a flight feels less of a pleasure than it used to be – unless you are flying business or first on certain select airlines and/or through certain select airports (Singapore’s Changi and Tokyo’s Haneda spring to mind). So my notes are more about living better despite the hassles and complications that form the experience today.

So how can you make it easier on yourself? For the last 20 years I’ve been travelling six out of every 12 months and learned a thing or two. Here are four simple insider’s tips to follow:

  1. Mental preparation. Any flight of more than about two hours will seem like an eternity if you are sitting in economy.  For business travel, make that about four hours. So compartmentalise the journey in your mind. Break it up by setting yourself little jobs, tasks, breaks and rewards. Think about your journey as you would a day at home and the office.
    You’ll need to do some work. So plan to organise something you didn’t get around to before.  Do your emails. Finish writing that paper on nano-technology. Sort your photo library or indexing. Write to your politician or lawyer.  Or your mother. Whatever it takes.
    You need to eat – so when that delicious airline food comes around, put away what you were doing and slow down the meal.  Just take your time, ponder the life of the chef, guess the ingredients (maybe don’t do that), take longer eating it than you otherwise might with a similar snack on the ground. Listen to music maybe, but save the movie or book for the next step.
    Me time. We’ve all got smart phones that can help us while away the time, so just make sure you’ve downloaded your favourite newspaper or magazine and probably a movie or two before you leave home. Use the airline on screen offerings or read a book to relax with some fiction, a classic or catch up on the news and gossip. It’s all hedonistic stuff you can’t usually get around to during the normal day.
    Sleep and rest.  Break it up with a snooze (this could be all you can achieve with some airline seating) or try for deeper rest if you can persuade your seat to recline. Each to his own. I used to take a sleeping-pill but rarely do so any more as one inevitably feels dozy on arrival, so you may as well not bother too much about lack of sleep on the flight itself.
    Risky, but talk to your neighbour. You can always pull on the eye-shades and stuff in the ear plugs if he or she gets too much.
    Last-step, don’t over-think the journey.  Treat each step as isolated packets of things to do and, if you finish the list, start again.
  2. Travelling light. It’s crazy, but a pair of socks in an airport or department store on arrival will usually cost less than the laundry fee on the pair you brought with you. Come on, everyone occasionally needs new clothes – so you may as well pack light on underwear and buy some on arrival.
    Every travel adviser will tell you to pack coordinated outfits so you can vary the combinations; but what they don’t tell you is that you should additionally always carry a lightweight suit bag with one change of clothes on hangers (including one set of emergency jocks) onto the plane with you, unless you are going fully cabin baggage only of course. Trust me, one day your suitcase will go missing, so don’t get caught out.
  3. Security checks. At the security check, take anything and everything out of your carry-on that looks remotely like it might get your bag delayed for a secondary scan. I don’t need to remind you about liquids, but anything with wires or batteries or lots of metal can get picked up. Take them out and stick them in the tray. I saw recently that some guy got stopped because he’d crafted a working transistor radio out of a tobacco tin, with protruding wires and all.  Don’t do it guys… unless you have a penchant for rubber-gloves.
  4. Keep personal items safe. Never pack your valuables in hold baggage – this means your passport, credit cards, jewellery, medication, cash, laptop (unless you are forced to do so by new regulations) or other difficult to replace items. And when you get to your destination, make sure they stay safe in the hotel or guest-house. Take a light-weight cycle combination lock (so you can lock your case and then secure the case itself), use a laptop security lock and locate the hotel safe for the really key stuff. Your trip will fizzle pretty quick if you lose this little lot.

We’ll look at rescue plans another day…

Enjoy your journey!


14 thoughts on “Travelling well… coping with long haul flights

  1. Good read, good advice. John you write like you talk, very entertaining and eloquent.
    I do find though on varying hauls; Stay up all night before the flight. Evacuate yourself fully at airport. Book a window seat. Pack two jumpers for leaning against. When you get on ask the hostess not to disturb you for anything, no food. Keep the seat belt on and visible. Sleep right through the flight.

  2. Hi John
    Am I right in thinking that your laptop (and any device with a rechargeable lithium ion battery) now needs to be taken on as hand luggage or could be removed from your hold baggage? This is because a Li-ion battery fire in the hold is hard/impossible to extinguish!?
    PS So that could be a rechargeable speaker, headphones or tablet, phone, powerbank or even a GPS unit etc.

    1. Correct in most part. Spare batteries must be carried in hand baggage and some lithium devices are largely banned, like hover boards. Concerning the new regulations on laptops on certain middle eastern routes to the UK and USA – a moving feast at the moment – you may be compelled to put larger electronic devices in main hold baggage. Unfortunately no one hard rule for all flights, so it remains good practice for one to check with travel agent or airline on your specific routes. Here is a link to UK department of transport: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/additional-airline-security-measures-on-some-routes-travelling-to-the-uk

  3. As I followed your journies around the world on Facebook , I was lucky as I knew you. Now everyone will be able to learn from you and get a few laughs along the way. I for one will never forget how you tell a joke!
    Looking forward to following your blog

  4. Good advice John! Friday we fly Chiang Mai to Hong Kong to Vancouver – around 20 hours door to door. So I will try your advice, but at least I won’t have to worry that my neighbour will be boring!
    Oh for the days when I flew Concorde!
    Val

    1. It is incredible after all these years that a commercially viable replacement for Concorde was never achieved!

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