The Art of the Long Haul Flight

Flying economy is a skill. I mean this whole heartedly. But flying long haul economy is a talent.

Sort of like the band Nada Surf’s “teenage guide to popularity” in the 1996 alternative hit “Popular”, the below is my ABC’s to a successful long haul flight.

Firstly, it all starts with the airline. There are airlines that I praise, as do others hence why they win awards. They soar in excellence for in-flight service, entertainment, customer care, culinary delights, cabin décor and leg room. Of those I’ve personally flown I put Qantas, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Air Canada, Air New Zealand and Emirates on this list yet I know there are still many more to dip my luxury toes in.

Jaime and I on Emirates from JFK to Thailand via Dubai in 2009

Then there is the DO NOT fly list. And I will more than happily cough over an extra few hundred dollars to avoid this list. This includes Olympic Air, Iceland Air, United or better yet, any US airline both internationally and domestically. But those are all a story for another day. Let’s assume you’ve done the sensible thing and purchased a ticket on a credible airline.

Eileen and I not happy campers on Olympic Air on our way to Athens in 2008

You’ll need to arrive at the airport approximately 1.5 hours before the flight, merely due to immigration hold ups as you will undoubtedly experience a smooth check in procedure as your chosen airline is a professional and competent organization.

After checking in and upon clearing immigration, grab that bottle of water and start the stretches. Long haul flights are long, and you want to avoid leg cramps otherwise known as DVT (deep vein thrombosis). Use the furniture such as a chair to prop your leg up on and reach for your toes. Try the big floor to ceiling window next. Put your hand on the glass while admiring the massive plane you’re about to board and the base of your foot against the bottom of the window to stretch your calves. Next grab hold of the vending machine to stable yourself while pulling your leg back to stretch those thighs.

It should be almost time to board. They may call you by row number, or request flyers with more elite statuses to approach first, however I like to assume I’m one of the elite and begin boarding as soon as possible. Yes, it’s annoying to have to sit on the plane longer then needed however people can be stupid, and if you can avoid watching them try to awkwardly maneuver their suitcase into the overhead compartments or tell their child…not that row, keep going, not that one either, hurry up people are waiting…you get the idea.

The big debate – aisle verses window. You’ll need to make this decision the moment you purchase your ticket, because not only do you want your preferred seat you also want to be as far in the front of the plane as possible and this can only be guaranteed if you choose your seat immediately while booking.

I see the perks in both sides of this debacle yet I’ve been a loyal snoozer to the window for nearly ten years. So saddle in to your window seat, remove your shoes and put on a comfy pair of slippers, or slipper socks is what I prefer. Pack your water, Kindle, and journal into the seat pocket in front of you but leave the iPod behind, there’s plenty of in-flight entertainment to satisfy your aural needs. Open the in-flight magazine and let the journey begin.

To put the next 24 hours of flying into context, let’s assume you’re flying from Sydney to New York. The first hour will be spent reading the in-flight magazine from front to back cover, even admiring all those lines dotting around the world map in the very last page while you envision yourself and all the air miles you’d acquire connecting them. While reading, safety procedures will be conducted by the air hostesses in the background.

Once finished the in-flight magazine, turn on your in-flight entertainment screen on the headrest in front of you and scan the entire list of movies, yes even the classics, TV shows, games, destination guides and the flight map. Pick at least 4-6 of your favorites. Begin movie # 1.

Around the time that movie #1 ends you’ll have been distributed a menu for the duration of the flight, as well as some sort of compliments bag containing an eye mask, tooth brush etc. Dinner will now be served, yet it’s probably only noon or 1 pm in the afternoon. Enjoy it, it’s probably delicious and while you’re at it drink at least 2 mini bottles of red wine throughout the process. You’ll need them and they’re free.

An hour of fine wining and dining and then your meal will be collected. You’re now about halfway into movie #2. You may feel the urge to go to the toilet but not just yet, you’re in the window seat remember. Wait until movie #2 finishes, take a peek at your neighbors, and then do the old, “I’m really sorry, do you mind?” with an apologetic smile.

The next part is up to you. The lights are dimmed, it’s probably early afternoon, and it’s time to pretend it’s night time and sleep meanwhile you’ve only been awake for less than 8 hours. You have a few options – movie #3, but then again, you know you’ll never make it through the whole thing; read, but you’ll probably piss off your neighbor with that darn light; or just go for it, sleep. For approximately 6 hours.

At some point they’re bound to get up, and if they do, that’s your one shot. Do a few laps around the plane, and hang out in the very back by the toilets. You’ll thank yourself for getting a good seat in the front and not having all the people like you linger in the back. Plus, they usually store extra snacks back there so help yourself.

It’s movie #3 time and will you look at that, the cabin lights are slowly glowing brighter. Rise and shine! Breakfast is served, and it’s an option of hot eggs and mushrooms and bacon or boring cereal. Go for the eggs! Yawn, yawn but you know what this means, you probably only have 3.5 hours left. This is very exciting. That’s only one more movie, and a few reruns of The Big Bang Theory.

Take a moment to fill out your landing card so you don’t waste time at customs in LAX and flip over to the flight map. Spend the last hour watching yourself get closer and closer to landing. Boom, you’re there before you know it.

Now, you’ll most likely have a minimum of 2 hours in LAX but after clearing customs and having a beer or 2 at 7 am California time you’ll be on another plane shortly. 5.5 hours to New York is a breeze, and because you will have barely slept on the first leg, this is your chance to catch up because once you land in New York, its go time, probably only 6 pm the same day you left Australia. Weird.

So now that you have this excellent advice from a well versed long haul economy flyer, I wish you luck on your travels to visit me here in Australia or elsewhere around the globe. I’m embarrassed to say I just booked a long haul economy flight on United to visit Philadelphia for Christmas and will not be privileged to any of the aforementioned perks however will stretch adequately prior to boarding.

6 thoughts on “The Art of the Long Haul Flight

  1. Renee says:

    You’re version of a good quality flight was soooo drastically different, and almost laughable at some points when I compared it to my “no fly list” united flight to Nam! No toothbrushes, nor free wine, good food, in-flight entertainment in the headrest, or 6 hour naps on my flight!!! Good call about dishing out some extra dough on a premium airline, because I felt like I paid $1,300 bucks to fly threw the scary, hot, uncomfortable depths of hell w the devil himself piloting the plane just to ensure the take off and landing were horrifying enough to match the other aspects of the flight! However, United’s flight returning home was delightful; go figure.

    • thesetwoeyes says:

      Thanks Ren! Yeah, the catch of the whole story is that Im flying United home for xmas and freaking out, Im actualy considering canceling it all together becaues I know it will be THAT BAD!

      • Renee says:

        Ha, I know! But the big question is, is the same airline bad to/from every destination… It adds a twist that makes traveling airlines more complicated; major bummer! And my point definitely isn’t to refute you, you are dead on!!! My favorite piece of advice (in addition to airlines) is to bring travel socks/slippers!!!! My feet are always freezing on flights and I was super jealous that one flight I was with you and you pulled out those cushy socks!!! Best advice ever and will do for now on! Even the short flights from Tampa where I just wear sandals bc it’s warm down here and easily maneuver security; def worth the comfort of plush warm comfort on my feet whether a 25 hr flight or a measly 2.5 hr flight! Thanks lee! Love you and miss you dearly!

      • Michelle says:

        Don’t you dare cancel coming home for Christmas!! Tough it out because we can’t wait to see you…and Baxter will be here too. Love you Sister.

        • Renee says:

          Seriously, you can’t cancel, you’ll just have to pack some Tylenol pm and knock yourself out for the duration of flight! See you Christmas (I hope)!

So, what did you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s