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If you are a first time flyer, you will find that this article contains a number of recommendations that will make your flight more comfortable than you expected.   We cover seating (and our ideas on best locations), settling in, health and eating.  So, if you have a bad flight maybe it was because you forgot to take our recommendations to heart.

 

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Travel Advice/Travel Tips - The flyer's guide to air travel comfort

One of the keys to having a good experience on those long, international flights is to plan the things that you can control in your on-plane environment. If your flight is a short flight (two or three hours), many of the issues noted below will not be of concern. Conversely, if the flight is more than four hours, the issues discussed below may be very important to you.

The article that follows is fairly long, so you might want to use the links below to jump to the parts of the article of interest to you.

Seating

Arranging your nook

Relaxation and health

Eating

Seating: Considerations for a long flight

First, try your best to snag seats that are in a good location. We realize that this is not always possible, as some fares require check-in before seats can be assigned.

  • If you belong to the airlines' frequent flyer club, call and see if they can assign a seat for you.
  • If this is not possible, get to the airport early.
    • How early depends on how important the seat is to you and whether the flight is to or from the U.S.
      • At most U.S. airports you can check-in anytime the day of the flight.
      •  Check in, at many international destinations, can be quite a different story (see Airports in Europe - wait for the gate)

If you are comfortable and capable of  operating the exit door mechanisms on planes, then you should know that the exit row seats are often the most comfortable seats in the economy section of the plane.

  • This comfort is due to the extended legroom provided by the expanded aisle size required for use of the emergency exits.
  • Be sure to ask if the seats in this exit row recline because if they do not, avoid them or spend a sleepless night sitting erect.

Other seating issues are mainly in the area of “avoids”. Avoids include:

  • Seats near the galley due to noise.
  • Seats near the lavatories due to the noise, and lines of people waiting beside your seats.
    • Unfortunately, the lavatories can, also, become quite aromatic by the end of an international flight.

Some people adore bulkhead seats and others despise them.

  • The bulkhead seat guarantees that there is no one sitting in front of you but limits your leg room and does not provide any under the seat storage.
  • If you choose a bulkhead seat, you will need to store your goodies before take-off and retrieve them after the plane reaches cruising altitude.
  • If you are sitting just behind the bulkhead, prepare for the great under the seat storage war, as the person in the bulkhead will feign ignorance when you remind them that the space under their seat is for your stuff not theirs.

Finally, for the safety conscious, seats over the wing structure are regarded as the safest, due to the structural integrity of this section of the airframe.

 

If you are traveling as a couple, try to book a flight where the seating configuration is two seats on each side of the center row.

  • The selection of such a seat means that you only have to argue with each other when claiming the center armrest or beneath seat storage space.
  • In addition, this seating choice makes it much easier to get up for a stroll or to head out for the lavatory.

At all costs, avoid the center seating section unless you are part of a large group and enjoy crowds. Even then, you should reconsider.

  • If you get stuck in the center section, try to get the aisle seat and the one next to it for your companion.
  •  If you are really "understanding", however, you will try to find your companion another aisle seat, even if it is not across from you, as it will make the trip much more comfortable for them.
  • Of course, if you have a score to even, then wedge your partner in between you and someone else.

As we all know, the person who will sit next to your companion does not have a hope of fitting into that seat. Of course, you can be fairly sure that they will not be able to exit the seat without assaulting everyone between them and the exit with various lobes of their body (we’re being polite). Of course, your place at the end of the row allows you to get up and let them escape to freedom.

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Arranging your nook

In-flight bag

Make sure to prepare an in-flight bag that contains

  • Reading material, medicines (if needed), a change of underwear, a spare shirt, a shoehorn and flight socks.
  • A snack, toothbrush, traveling sized toothpaste, comb, tissues and deodorant round out the "good to have" list.
  • Keep this bag small, light and somewhere near you on the plane (next to your feet is a good location if you have not used this space to store something else).
    • By keeping this bag near you on the flight, you will avoid needlessly rooting through your luggage each time you need one of these items.

In regards to reading material

  • Paperback books are best, due to their size and disposable nature.
  • Make sure to take a magazine or some disposable printouts of information on the places that you are going to visit (toss when finished).

Most everyone overestimates how much time they think that they will read on a flight only to find out that talking, eating, walking, trying to catch a nap and the airlines video services (you did book a flight with movies, didn’t you?) take more time than they thought.

Blankets

Before you settle into your seat, make sure that you grab a pillow and a blanket. Some flights are cool and the blanket will help keep you comfortable. If you are sitting next to a window, the blanket will be appreciated since the skin of the plane will radiate cold as you reach higher altitudes.

Take off those shoes

Once you are settled in your seat and you have cleared takeoff, remove your shoes, and put on the flight socks we mentioned earlier.

  • The best shoes to wear on the flight are flexible shoes that you can dislodge easily from your feet (slip-ons, loafers) and do not require tying when you need to put them back on (like for that long postponed trip to the lavatory).
  • Next best are any flexible shoe (sneakers, walking shoes, etc).
  • Flight socks (any heavy, loose fitting socks) are more comfortable than shoes, keep your feet warm, and serve to walk around the plane, at least anyplace but the lavatory.
  • Finally, your feet will naturally swell during the flight so be sure and grab that shoehorn when you put your shoes back on at landing.

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Activities that help you stay relaxed and healthy while flying internationally

Drink fluids

 Be sure to drink plenty of fluids as the air on planes is dry and you will be evaporating fluids rapidly. Avoid Alcohol if you want to have a better chance of avoiding jet lag. Finally, even if the crew is not serving, you can usually find a tray of drinks in the galley for your refreshment.

Reset your watch

Make sure you reset your watch when you board the plane. It is helpful if you start thinking and living in the destination time zone as soon as possible. In addition, there is at least anecdotal evidence that this helps combat severe jet lag.

Move Around

Next, be sure to get-up and take a short walk every couple of hours. Sitting for prolonged periods in seats as confining as airline seats promotes decreased blood flow and, in extreme cases, can lead to serious medical difficulties (for example, Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)  involving blood clots and associated problems). In addition to taking a short walk around the plane, consider doing some in-seat exercises and stretches. These are great aids in promoting relaxation and beneficially result in increased blood flow.

Dealing with uncomfortable ear pressure

Shortly after takeoff and slightly before landing you may experience uncomfortable pressure in your ears. Many people rely on chewing gum to relieve this pressure and this technique often works quite well. If you do not have gum handy, a gentle yawn can be used to relieve the pressure. Alternatively, extending your lower jaw so that your bottom teeth are as far forward of your top teeth may clear the pressure. (See our article Ear Health and flying)

Sleep

Finally, take some time to snooze. Many international flights take place at night, depositing you in your destination at the start of the next day. Others, mercifully, have you arrive near bedtime. In any case, get some rest. Even if you do not sleep for a prolonged period, a nap will revitalize and refresh you. Catching a few hours sleep is even better than a nap but many people do not sleep well on planes. If you are one of them, we suggest accepting it rather than taking a sleep aid as this often increases difficulties with jet lag (see Avoiding Jet Lag)

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Eating

Meal selection is first come first served and based on where you are sitting and where the attendants start the service (usually close to the galleys on two galley planes and at the front of the plane if the only galley is in the back of the plane).  On some flights, meals will not be served and you will have the option of purchasing a pre-packaged meal.

Quite honestly, the food on planes has decreased in quality in recent years and the meals are about as far from culinary delights as you can get. Frequently, the snack meals are better than the full meals.

  • The meals often feature ingredients that are on many peoples avoid list.
  • If you have special dietary requirements, reserve a “special meal” when booking your reservation.
    • If you wait until the day of the flight or when you board the plane to request a special meal, you are certain to be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the meal is an opportunity to take in some calories while passing the time during these long flights. So, don’t pass it up. If your flight is an international night flight, be sure to have a crack at the breakfast that will be served before landing, as it is one more cue to your body that you have entered a different time zone.

Finally, take a snack with you. Although it is rare (due to the length of most international flights), turbulence can delay and sometimes cancel meal service.

  • Take a couple of apples and a pair of Granola bars.
  • In addition, include a bottle of water, as you will feel better if you can stay hydrated during long flights.

Well, we covered a diverse number of topics but if you follow our guidelines, we think your in-flight experience will be reasonably enjoyable.

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