I remember my first very long-haul flight by myself from Paris to Hong Kong – and back, only about 3 days later. On the way over, I found a beautiful four-across row, the stuff of dreams, upon which to lie out flat after a few miniature bottles of wine and catch forty winks. On the way back though, I got sandwiched in by the window by some arrogant Frenchman who wouldn’t budge to let me out for love nor money, even when I suffered what seemed to be a never-ending nosebleed during the breakfast service (note to all; those little napkins they wrap the cutlery in don’t do much for you in such a situation). Since then, all my long-haul flights have been hit and miss; some good, some bad and in the infamous case of Gulf Air, some downright awful.
Lately though, and after many years of trying to pioneer the ‘perfect comfort’, I feel like I’m starting to get there. Sure after 10 or 11 hours you’ll feel like your ass has been roundly re-moulded into the shape of the seat no matter what you do, but there’s definitely steps to take to make things at least slightly more comfortable – or, you know, maybe I’m just getting older and closer to my mother, who seems to be able to sleep no problem on all long-haul flights.
Plan That Legroom
As long-time readers will doubtlessly remember, I used to be massively against paying to select seats or ‘upgrade’ myself to an emergency exit seat, considering this was more of the ‘elitist’ attitude of airlines towards their passengers, trying to commoditise every last possible benefit. Guess what – not a single airline listened to me and now charging for extra legroom seats and emergency exit-row seating is near universal practice. Have I sold out? Uh…yes, yes I very much have.
I’m still not a huge fan of the exit-row seats as you’ll wind up sitting beside a draughty door as the night wears on and depending on the airline, even worse, you could wind up staring at a cluster of toilets, which will without doubt transform your extra legroom into an impromptu waiting room after every meal service. No. If it’s the last option, fine, but if possible – without fail, I always go for the bassinet area. Of course you take a massive gamble here on the likelihood of horrible kids screaming for the whole flight, but you’ll definitely get good legroom, more than likely a proper partition that nobody else can use to wait in and be one of the first off. By the way, and you can thank me later, on many Etihad flights, this tends to be Row 15. Do whatever you can to secure it or even a row near it (in case of it being empty after boarding).
You may remember my blog last year about what I take with me on nearly every flight to make it manageable. One of the items included was a set of in-ear Jays earphones, that I literally go nowhere without. They’re delightfully comfy and lately, I’ve gone a step further thanks to a Christmas present, and added the Sandini Travelfix travel pillow to my repertoire.
If, like me, you suffer from the usual travel pillows not being high or supportive enough, or have woken up a few times with the stupid thing strangling you like a polyester anaconda, then this is what you’ve been looking for; it’s high up in certain places so you can use it to prop your head up, no matter what direction you intend to fall asleep in. Now when I get on and find my seat, I immediately get this fella ready, lash out the earphones and go hunting for the dance playlist on whatever entertainment system there is.
I used to laugh so hard at people on taking on those miserable-looking sandwich bags of assorted junk cosmetics. What an absolute waste of time and space! Do people really think that’s going to keep them looking fresh and nice for arriving at the other end? How wrong I was.
I now carry, without fail, at the very least some kind of deodorant (because let’s face it, when someone picks you up at the airport, it’s bad enough that they have to smell the lingering body odours of the other 300 people off your clothes, let alone you as well), moisturiser, eye drops and some shower gel, depending what I think my chances are of getting to use it. Do I come off fresh and smelling beast? Definitely not – but from recent reactions, nobody’s felt compelled to leave the windows down in the car while ‘exiting’ the car park, even though we haven’t even reached the right level. I think that says it all. Buy yourself that crucial one-hour post-landing meeting-family unclean time.
Bonus Points: Lounge Up
Oh, how I’ve evolved as a one-man travelling species. I remember writing on this very blog some polite but firmly derisory comments about airport lounges and the BA self-entitlement jet set. I’m not entitled to any lounge from an airline myself anymore, but if it was cheap enough and I had the time, I somehow do consider lounges now a very positive use of money. Airports around the world are increasingly loud, chaotic and firmly emphasising standing and moving around; because only when you’re moving around are you going to see junk to buy in the many expensively-let airport retail outlets.
The lounge, even at say $25, is far kinder to your feet, body and mental well-being than wandering around spot-lit stores of polished white tile looking at crap that’s the same price realistically as getting the same thing on a deal online outside the airport (alcohol excluded of course). You can head in, stick your feet up with a cup of tea or coffee (or…you know…something a bit more inspiring) and chill your mind before the journey ahead. Call me a sell-out – and I’d say you’re probably right – but it seems to me now a much better way to spend that precious last few minutes, surrounded by comfort and space, before locking yourself voluntarily into a metal cylinder for hours on end.
What are your thoughts? What way do you deal with long-haul flights, or do you have any special tricks to share?