Ten Essentials for a Comfortable Flight
Hundreds of Thousands of Air Miles and Still Alive and (reasonably) Sane
I've clocked hundreds of thousands of miles on airlines over the years, for business and pleasure, and frankly, I've never liked the getting from point-to-point. But, now, even less so with the tiresome security procedures, long lines, ever-changing regulations, shrinking legroom and quick tempers that all the aforementioned create. But I keep flying, partly because I must, partly because I enjoy discovering all the people, places, things and cultures on the other side.
So, what's a travel geek to do? Well, over the years, I've compiled my own "flight survival pack" which goes with me on every medium- (3-6 hour) and long-haul (>6 hour) flight and sometimes even on puddle-jumpers. More recently, with airlines charging for every teeny tiny extra, my pack's gotten bigger, but it remains my pretty-much fool-proof kit. Sadly, it doesn't resolve the shrinking legroom issue, but it helps make it more tolerable.
Keep 'em varied, yummy and reasonably healthy - Snacks could save you
Depending on the airline and how long your flight is, you'll either not get fed, be offered something really nasty (for free) or, have the ultimate insult, be offered something really nasty and have to pay for it. If you have time and are flying from a decent airport, picking up something to eat for the flight is a good idea. However, I've been in situations where check-in took longer than expected, so I didn't have time to pick up anything, or I've been at airports where the choices are just as revolting as what I'll find on the plane (in addition to being expensive).
So, I always (did I mention ALWAYS) go with my own snacks. They may not substitute for a real meal, but they'll keep me from getting desperate. And, in my case, I'm doing a big favor to other passengers and flight staff. I get very grumpy when I'm hungry.
Here's my suggested list:
- Fresh and dried fruit. I'll usually take an apple or pear and a banana. plus a handful or two of dried apricots, dates or prunes. The apple's particularly a good one 'cause it goes CRUNCH!
- When I get cravings, it's often for something salty. Rather than going down the chips (which I love) route, I take a bag of cashews, pistachios or macadamia nuts. Nuts also double as a good protein hit (chips, however, aren't just empty calories, but won't keep the hunger at bay. Just think, you might have to eat that plane food!) Yes, I spoil myself on flights. These aren't the type of nuts that I always eat, but on a long-haul flight especially, I require a bit of pampering.
- Sour candies: Lemon drops are always in my travel bag. They not only soothe a variety of cravings, but they also help with motion sickness (yes, believe it or not with all the miles I've flown, I get motion sick!). It also helps to suck on them when your ears are popping.
- Chocolate: Who doesn't have chocolate cravings? For me, a small bar of good quality dark chocolate does it; yours might be milk chocolate. Whatever you make it, make it something really yummy. The point is to make your flight as pleasant as you possibly can. Also, keep in mind that chocolate has antioxidants, so it's healthful too. But again, it must be good quality, less processed chocolate.
If you take nothing else, take these! - Noise isolating earphones
This assumes that you have an MP3 player with you, which I think goes without saying. Noise isolating earphones are a necessity. NOTE: I did not say noise cancelling, I said noise isolating. There is an important difference and that difference is key in an airplane situation. A good pair of noise isolating earphones will block out a lot of noise from the crying baby up behind the bulkhead, the giggling teenagers behind you, the woman across the aisle with that nails on a blackboard whine. It will, however, also block out the sound of the stewardess coming around offering beverages and food. So, if the airline still offers free food, you may miss out -- perhaps not a bad thing.
There are more expensive and more sophisticated models, but these are what I have and what I've given as a gift. Reasonably priced and good results.
Don't get jettisoned - Extra socks
If you sit for a long time without moving around, it's inevitable: your feet and ankles will swell. As soon as you're settled in your seat, take off your shoes and put on an extra pair of padded socks.
- the socks will keep your feet warm,
- if you've got smelly feet (which you don't, of course), these might help keep your fellow passengers from jettisoning you from the plane,
- you can wiggle your toes, stretch your ankles and massage your feet more easily, helping the circulation and keeping the swelling a bay.
Yes, I know, this may be a no-brainer. But now that medium- and long-haul flights come with a variety of movie choices and games, some people don't bother with the extra cabin weight. However, on three very memorable occasions, I happened to be seated where either the screen or sound didn't work (one of those occasions it was my entire row of seats that didn't function. I thought there was going to be a riot). One of those times, I didn't bother to bring anything to read. It was a flight from Washington, DC to Paris and was a very very very long eight-hour flight. Needless to say, I didn't make that mistake again. Luckily this happened back when airlines still cared and I got a very generous coupon. Don't expect the same anymore.
Honestly, I'm anything but germ crazy. In fact, I think in many ways, we over-sanitize our life and that's not a good thing either. However, put me in an enclosed space where I know none of the surfaces have been cleaned in ... well, in probably a very long time judging from the stickiness of surfaces ... and, yes, I become a bit obsessive. The little antibacterial wipes will come in handy in lots of situations. I've had tray tables that were still sticky from a previous inhabitant, and have put my hand on damp spots on armrests. I was very happy to have those wipes in my bag!
These come in "fresh scent" as well. I prefer the citrus.
The less you know, the better - Travel blanket
Many American airlines now charge extra for a blanket. While that may seem a bit excessive, believe me, you don't really want to be using the ones on the plane. Theoretically, those blankets are washed and repackaged after every use, but have you ever smelled one of those "clean" blankets?
Since airlines are starting to charge, thankfully, there are now options for finding decent, thin, relatively weightless blankets.
Quality for price, this is my choice. However, for tall folks (at 59 inches/150 cm long) it could be a bit short.
A good one could save your neck - Travel pillow
There are some people who can manage to sleep sitting up. Maybe my head is just a lot heavier than most, but I do the head jerky thing whenever I start to (literally) nod off. So, I've done a lot of research and I've spent a lot of money on airplane pillows.
There are several different types available and, unfortunately, no one model is best for everyone. I will say, however, that the cheap blow up type are pretty useless. They provide little support, and when they're fully blown up and do provide support, they're so hard, it's uncomfortable.
NOTE: I strongly recommend you don't use the airline pillows. I stopped after seeing a flight attendant prepare for the next flight by picking up pillows that had been walked on off the floor and placing them back on the seats.
This is what I travel with. I find it comfortable and it provides sufficient support. The downside is that it's extremely bulky!
This will be my next purchase. I've read good reviews on it. I like memory foam!
Doctors and airline magazines alike recommend that we all get up, walk around and stretch at least every hour on long-haul flights. A nice idea, but completely unrealistic given (what's left of) in-flight service time when passengers are discouraged from getting up, sleeping aisle seat passengers, and turbulence. I can just imagine how popular I'd be if I were to ask the passenger on the aisle seat to get up five times during a flight from Washington, DC to San Francisco.
My solution: I take along resistance bands. Mine are nothing fancy, they're merely the latex-like bands of elastic. They're thin, take up little space, weigh nearly nothing and have no parts that might alert security. By holding the two ends of the band, placing your foot in the center, you can stretch your foot, ankle, calf and arms using the resistance of the band. There are a variety of exercises that can be done in that confined space simply with these bands. Your sleeping neighbor won't even know.
I own a set similar to this. I travel with only the one medium resistance band. But it's handy to have the different resistant levels to use with different parts of the body.
Like a wild west bandit - Bandana
Even if you're not a biker, a gang member, or a pirate, take along a bandana. I always travel with one. When heading on vacation, I might jauntily tied one around my neck like an old t.v. western bandit; if I'm on business, I stuff in my handbag.
- As soon as that woman behind me starts hacking away without covering her mouth or the fellow next to me wipes his hand across his sniffling nose, I'll lean into the window and discretely pull that handkerchief over my nose and mouth. I know, that's really not cool! But, it's more discrete than wearing a surgical mask and I'm convinced it's helped keep me from getting dreaded diseases from fellow passengers.
- Or, if I actually dare to use the seat pocket in front of me (I usually leave everything in my carry-on bag at my feet), I'll use the handkerchief like a "glove" to open up the pocket. Think that's silly? Have you actually seen what people put in those seat pockets? I've seen tons of used tissues stuffed in there, leftover food items, and, more than a few times, I've seen mothers put soiled baby diapers there. Just Ew!
Different things to different people
- Leave the big belt buckle at home or in your suitcase. It may look uber cool, but it'll be uncomfortable in-flight, along with probably creating problems when you go through security.
- Layer: Depending on who you are and what your internal temperature gauge is like, the cabin can go from arctic to tropical. Best to wear a camisole or t-shirt, with another long-sleeved shirt or sweater over it. You can strip or cover up on an as-needed basis.
- Leave the high heels and adorable (even though they're a little tight) kitten flats at home. Your ankles and feet will swell in-flight. And even though it's recommended to remove your shoes in-flight, wow, you'll regret it when you have to slip those swollen hooves into those shoes.