Traveling and discovering new places is fun and exciting but getting there can sometimes be quite an ordeal. How to survive waiting at the airport and long-haul flights you ask?
Business class or direct flights
First – if you don’t mind the expense, it goes without saying it might be a good idea to book your trip in business class for your optimal comfort. If you are travelling coach like me, try to get a direct flight to your destination. If you must transit, opt for flights with only one stop in between.
Check-in and choosing your seat
As your flight approaches, remember to check-in online at the earliest possible time. This way you can make sure you get a seat best suited for you. Check with your airline when you can do this, as it varies how many hours before departure it’s possible.
When choosing your seat, you need to think about would prefer sleeping in peace by the window or if you’d rather be able to get up at your own convenience and thus choose an aisle instead. I always prefer to choose my seat from the front of the airplane as I once read that the air is fresher there. I also want to exit the plane quickly after it has taxied to the gate and the seatbelt sign is off.
Sitting in front will also give you a little walk when going to the restroom if it’s located at the back of the plane. On the other hand, you might feel that it’s better to sit near the restrooms, and not be so dependent on when the aisles happen to be free of the food carts.
If travelling alone the most nightmarish situation for me is to be stuck in the middle seat on a three seater. Once when coming back from South Africa, I was only just recovering from food poisoning and found myself in such a situation. You can just imagine how claustrophobic I felt, not being able to move freely to the restrooms. Never again! As you can guess, I’m an aisle person.
After picking your seat, it’s a good idea to think about what to wear for your flight. Gone are the days when you had to dress in your nines for your international connection – thank goodness. This still doesn’t mean that you should wear dirty and worn clothes as in that case your fellow passengers won’t feel very pleased with you. What I have found is that the best clothing is something you feel very comfortable in and which stretches. Yes, elastic materials are allowed! Depending on where I’m going and what the temperature will be at my destination I might opt for comfortable stockings with a jersey dress or I’ll go for loose pants that will keep their form even if worn for 24 hours straight with a t-shirt. Leggings are also a good idea. If you must wear jeans, make sure they stretch or are baggy boyfriend ones.
Shoes are also important as your feet will swell, so rather than wear heels, I like to wear sneakers or ballerinas.
I have been on both flights that have been excruciatingly hot and absolutely freezing. You can never know in advance which it will be. Because of this you should have a pair of socks on or with you, a sweater and also a big scarf. A scarf really comes in handy, as you can wrap it around yourself or use it as a blanket. Airplane blankets can be really awful.
If you are going on a long-haul, you might benefit from having a pair of noise cancellation headphones as you will want to watch some movies and hear what the characters are actually saying. I don’t have a pair yet but I always take my own headphones, as they are better quality than the ones given out on the flight. Some people like to download movies on their tablets or computers in advance but I have never felt the need for that.
What else do you need for your flight? I would suggest you pack light for your cabin baggage. However, if you will transit, it might be a good idea to be prepared with a pair of extra clothes in your hand luggage and your toothbrush (and makeup for us ladies!). This is something to consider especially if you have a short transit time or are travelling through Charles de Gaulle in Paris. In these cases there is a high risk that your luggage won’t make it to your destination at the same time as you.
When my boss and I travelled to Nairobi, it took five days for them to locate her luggage at Paris Charles de Gaulle and send it on. Which meant that she got it on our last day in Nairobi – not much use at that point. If you are moving from city to city, it can take even longer for your luggage to catch up with you.
You will also need all medication or other everyday objects which you cannot live without in your hand luggage. You do not want your malaria pills to be lost for days on end. Of course, you need to carry the prescription with you if you have prescribed medicine which you cannot leave home without.
Liquids must be packed separately in a clear plastic bag, not exceeding one liter. If you have, let’s say face cream, the tube must not be more than 100 ml and this goes for each liquid you are carrying.
I prefer not to carry heavy books with me on my travels, so a Kindle or Kindle App on your tablet/computer is a good idea if you like to read. Or any other e-reader for that matter. Make sure you download the books you want beforehand.
Arriving at the airport
Arrive at the airport early. For me, this is easier said than done. It’s not often I manage to arrive at the airport without a rush, especially if I’m travelling with my family. You should allow yourself extra time to actually travel to the airport as you can never know what will happen on the way there. Traffic could be held up by an accident or a terrible snowstorm. You might notice you left your passport at home and have to go back to get it, your taxi might not show up or you have to hunt for a parking space – the list just goes on.
Some airports, like Miami International, are really unorganised and you can end up queuing in a wrong queue for half an hour till someone notices it. The security check in Hamburg was once closed for 1,5 hours and many people were worried of missing their flights. It’s a rather good idea to have time to kill at the airport than have to panic that your flight is going to leave without you.
After you have successfully completed your bag drop, it’s time for the security check. These can have really long lines – another reason why you should arrive early. Try to have your things organized so that it doesn’t take you half an hour to get your laptop and your liquids out of your bag. Some airports require you to even take off your shoes but follow the example of your fellow passengers.
At the airport
Once through the security check, my recommendation is to stand or walk around as much as possible. Why on earth you ask? Well, you will be mostly just sitting down on the flight, so that will be enough sitting for you for sure. On American Airlines they actually even asked the passengers not to get up and block the aisles as they are too narrow! What. This suggestion was very surprising as usually it’s recommended that you try to get up now and then to get your blood circulation going in order to avoid getting thrombosis. If you travel a lot, airports get boring and so do the shops, but you can do some power walking around the terminal while waiting to board.
If you do not have much hand luggage, you have no need to hurry onto the flight. However, be at the gate early but let the others go first. If you are not in a hurry when arriving, this would also be a good idea when exiting the flight. Usually I just want to get out as soon as possible and I’m one of the first to rush out.
Avoid alcohol and drinks with caffeine. It’s good to abide by this rule already at the airport. Drink lots of water or juice. Every time the drink cart comes along, get a glass of water. If flying Finnair, do try their delicious blueberry juice.
Once on the flight, one very important rule is that if you take off your shoes for your own comfort whilst sitting at your seat, never go to the restroom without them! The wet stuff on the floor is not always water and believe me, you do not want to soak your socks in it.
Do little exercises, that way your body won’t be totally clogged up when you arrive. These are easily done at your own seat. Lift your heels and toes up alternating. Lift your knees up in the same manner so your whole foot comes off the ground. Do these while watching your movie or reading your book.
Try to sleep! Okay, I know, it’s the most annoying tip ever. But it’s also the only one that will make the flight seem to go faster.
Some of these tips might not work if you are travelling with small children as you will be caught up in making them comfortable. As my own children are already older, I have thankfully forgotten all the challenges associated with that, as they are happy to keep themselves occupied with movies or books.
What are your tips for long-haul flights?