How to survive long haul flights

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By Randee Dawn

Brace yourselves, long-distance flyers: United Airlines has laid down a whole new gauntlet when it comes to spending time in an airplane. As of June 1, travelers will be able to hop from San Francisco to Singapore in one fell swoop, a 16 hour, 20 minute eastbound flight (15 hour, 30 minute flight on the westbound return) that will make it the longest scheduled flight in the world.

That is a long time to spend in the air, and is apt to boggle the mind – in addition to the long time flying, passengers will actually land two days after they take off, since the departure is at 11:25 p.m. PT. But ambitious travelers will have to be willing to contend with long-haul flights to see the world; anyone who’s ever jetted to China, South Africa or Australia knows that the flying times are definitely in the double-digits.

What’s key, then, is knowing how to make your time count. (No matter how much you may love movies and TV, 16 hours of tiny screen time could break even the most die-hard couch potato, and nobody should prepare to sleep for the equivalent of two full work days.) So for those of you preparing for a great adventure a long distance away, here’s our advice on how to make those double-digit hours speed by – or at least, pass in reasonable comfort.

  1. Get comfortable before you board

Wear casual, loose clothing and removable shoes (but please, wear socks!), and have a secondary shirt or pants handy so you can spend some time changing once you near your destination. Try and bring a wrap in case it gets cold in the cabin and extra blankets are scarce. And make sure you have the right seating: A middle seat on a long-haul flight can be traumatizing; an exit row might not have the extra room you think it will: Seat Guru can help ahead of time.

  1. Upgrade in any way possible

We’re assuming you’re not actually flying first, or probably even business, class – though if you can afford it, splurge. A long-haul flight is far more bang for the buck than a short hop. But if you’re in regular old coach, arrange for a special meal as you’re booking your flight. Special meals are generally brought out first, and regular meals can be loaded with carbs that will make flying more uncomfortable on your digestive system. (And of course, bring your own snacks like nuts and fresh fruit.)

  1. Adjust your time zone

Once you’re on the plane, you may as well pretend you’re already in your new time zone – you can get a head start on beating that jet lag, and mind-over-matter has something to do with it. Change your watch, change your phone, change your laptop to reflect where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Sleep when the time makes sense in the new time zone, and eat when you would eat if you were already over there. Airline service may not assist you in this matter, so hold your food aside if you’re able until it’s the right time. And don’t forget to brush your teeth, just like you would over any 8-hour-plus period.

  1. Entertain yourself

It’s possible that small screen provided by the airline will be full of wondrous entertainment, but come prepared. Bring a book or magazines. Load up your tablet or phone, and bring the portable charger and cables. Locate apps like White Noise to block out the rest of the airplane, or Paper so you can doodle, along with your favorite podcasts and games. Plug in and tune out, but don’t forget….

  1. Get up, get hydrated

In addition to having a change of clothing, make a routine of drinking water and getting up to walk around every few hours. Stretch your arms, your legs, your neck. Skip the caffeine and alcohol, as they will dehydrate you. And don’t forget that your skin needs moisture too, so lotion up here and there as well (but no scents, please, on behalf of your fellow passengers).

  1. Get your mind right

You know what works best for you, whether it’s adjusting your sleeping pattern, enjoying entertainment for extended periods, but what’s most important is to keep a good attitude. Break up those long hours into chunks, take frequent breaks, and relax into the time rather than try to battle with it. Once you’re on board, everybody’s in it together.

(Photo Credit: Austrian Airlines)

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