The Australian airline Qantas recently made history by operating the first non-stop scheduled flight from Australia to the UK. It lasted 17 hours. That’s a long time to be on a plane.
I consider myself a reasonably experienced air traveller. Although I usually choose local travel, having family on both sides of the Atlantic means that I catch long-haul flights once every year or two. The longest non-stop flight I have been on was as a university student when I travelled from Los Angeles to Sydney – a total of 15 hours.
However, I never really enjoy travelling by plane. The excitement of getting on a plane that I experienced in the 1980s and 1990s, complete with the luxury of being served airplane food, are feelings of the past.
Nowadays, I stress about checking in, I stress about boarding, I stress about if my hand luggage will fit in the overhead locker. Will the passenger next to me snore? What if the people sitting behind me have eaten lots of beans before boarding?
In addition, like many people, I don’t like the idea of flying through the clouds above the Atlantic Ocean in an aluminium capsule. It’s like being in a science experiment. It’s just best not to think about it too much.
I have never understood how some people survive a long-haul flight without a single crease in their suit, and with bright eyes, perfect hair and minty breath. They look like they have stepped off a magazine cover instead of a red-eye flight. How do they do it?
The typical advice is that, in order to be comfortable on a long-haul flight, you should wear comfortable clothes, bring your own toothbrush and toothpaste, drink lots of water and move around the cabin as much as possible.
I have done all of the above. I also used to bring my own pillow on the plane, wear compression socks and have at least two books and two magazines with me. Still, I was uncomfortable, I couldn’t sleep, my neck hurt and I felt exhausted when I arrived at my destination.
Only when I accepted the fact that travelling by plane is an unnatural thing to do, and that I was unlikely to feel comfortable during the journey, I was able to relax and almost enjoy long-haul flights. I stopped fighting discomfort and instead started to try and minimise it.
So now when I travel across the Atlantic, I watch as many films and TV programmes as possible, challenge my children to a game of Plants vs. Zombies or do any other mindless activity included in the in-flight entertainment. If the people behind me smell, I spray myself with perfume. I distract myself any way I can, I meditate, and I detach myself from the uncomfortable science experiment that I have to participate in.
And how did I survive the 15-hour flight from Los Angeles to Sydney? Well, I had just had exams and I was so tired that I just slept. So maybe the biggest secret to having a comfortable journey is being very, very tired when you board the plane.
And what about the people who look perfect after a long-haul flight? You guessed it – they fly first class.
Do you want to travel first class but you’re on a budget? Here are some tricks to how to help you get an upgrade:
long-haul flights: flights between 6-12 hours
overhead locker: a small compartment above the seats on a plane, used for storing luggage
snore: to breathe in a very noisy way when you sleep
crease: a line in cloth, produced by pressing or crushing
red-eye flight: a flight that leaves late at night and arrives early in the morning
mindless: stupid or without reason or meaning
upgrade: an improvement