I would like to think that one day I could waltz into any Flight Centre and frivolously book an exotic holiday abroad. I would pass over my platinum card and ask for a seat by the window, and when the teller asked which section, I would toss my hair over my shoulder and casually say ‘first class’.
It’s a tantalizing picture, one that inherently includes me carrying a Berkin on my forearm and wearing stilettos that most certainly weren’t found on the discount rack at Kmart. But unfortunately, that mental picture obliterates itself each time I check my bank account. You can’t purchase a first class ticket for -$0.04, can you?
I have been a routine traveler since the 90’s and have been navigating myself through many a tedious long haul flight, from a time where the only entertainment was a Wallace and Grommet colouring book, and three ludicrous pencils. But I have evolved over the years, adapting to the pressurized cabin air and confines of an 18-inch seat; emerging as a master of survival at 40,000 feet in the air.
And all from the comfort of economy class.
Every website will tell you the best way to survive a long haul flight is to get upgraded. They phrase it so casually, as if it is as simple as asking for a secondary bag of nuts, (which I did once and was almost thrown from the cabin doors). Sure, I’ll ask for an upgrade. I’m wearing Cotton-On track pants, and the dry shampoo in my hair has started to clump, why wouldn’t I get upgraded to the land of bottomless champagne and silk pajamas?
Unfortunately, I am a realist and I know that the best way to survive (and enjoy) a long haul flight is to plan, pack, prepare, and to douse yourself in positivity.
Survival tip number 1: Plan.
Selecting the correct flight for you (and your sleep schedule) is vital. If you are someone who can’t sleep on flights, much like myself, choosing the 6am flight over the 10.30pm is a worthwhile decision, even if that costs you a few extra dollars.
Once you have your flight selected, the next decision is to select your seats. Most people will leave this decision to the check-in desk, but when you’re going to be spending over ten hours in one seat, I recommend putting some thought into your new home. To ensure you’re choosing the right seat for you, Seat Guru allows you to review the layout of any aircraft and find the advantages, disadvantages, and amenities to each seat, e.g. restricted legroom, inbuilt power, and proximity to the galley and toilets.
Thirdly, manage your booking. Once you have received your flight details, visit your airline’s website and locate the ‘manage booking’ option, (usually found under the ‘plan’ or ‘manage’ tabs). After you have logged in, you will be able to select your meals, choose your seats (after you have investigated on Seat Guru) and link your rewards card to the respective airline. If you have a dietary requirement, either vegetarian, gluten free or have allergies, selecting your meal ahead of time is crucial. The last thing you want ahead of a long journey is discovering you will be dining on nothing but a fruit platter and a bottle of water. Trust me, I have been there.
Survival tip number 2: Pack.
An old English teacher once told me the best way to write an essay was to kiss (keep it simple, stupid). When packing your carry on, I would advise sticking to the same formula. If you’re traveling between terminals, or racing to catch your connecting flight, the last thing you want is to be weighed down by your handbag, backpack, and carry on. Keep it simple, take only the bare necessities. I frequently fall into the trap of packing books, notepads and even travel scrabble, only then to spend the duration of the flight glued to the HBO channel. Not only does this feel like you are lugging a two year-old around on your back, it also makes searching for your passport, earphones, or a spare two dollars an Olympic sport.
However, there are some necessities people often forget to pack which can be a serious game changer. I am a strong endorser of the fluffy sock movement, hand sanitizer, an extra t-shirt, and the earphone adapter (it’s a nifty little device that allows you to hear with your Apple earphones when plugged into the in-flight entertainment system, find one here)
The most important thing to pack however, aside from your passport, is food and water. On a long haul flight, H2O is your best friend. I recommend buying a large Pump bottle once you have cleared customs (check that your flight allows a container of liquid that size) — just ensure you don’t check the price tag before purchasing. Ouch. Also, stocking up on some pre-flight snacks is a must if you aren’t a fan of the in-flight meals, or if you are a steady grazer. A pack of nuts and a good muesli bar never hurt anyone.
Survival tip number 3: Prepare.
When traveling, I style myself in track pants, Birkenstocks, and a denim jacket that miraculously elevates the outfit from slightly homeless to effortlessly chic. Dressing comfortably is crucial. Unless you’re boarding Air Force One, there is no need to dress in your Sunday best. Leave your twinsets and pearls at home and clad yourself in the closest thing to pajamas (without actually wearing your matching flannelette). I recommend wearing shoes that you can easily slip on and off, no lacing or zipping required. During a long haul flight, you will be most likely making frequent trips to the bathroom, and lacing your shoes on and off each time is an unnecessary hassle. You don’t want to ever get to the stage where you decide not to bother with your Nike laces and head to the bathroom barefooted.
Once you have your outfit sorted and are finishing any last minute packing, I suggest that you dedicate the night before your flight to getting an alcohol free, early night of deep sleep. If you’re a gym junkie, or favour a good morning or afternoon run, its always a good idea to exercise the day before (or in the morning if you’re flying at night). This will relax your body later on, and rid yourself of the cramps and pains that can accompany strenuous air travel. Plus, it gives you permission to horde all the free Magnums served after every lunch and dinner.
In all my years of traveling I have learnt there is one survival tip that is far more important than remembering to pack fuzzy socks, or pre-ordering my vegan meal. The most vital skill is to be positive, to rid myself of any negative thoughts that may accompany a long haul flight, and embrace the journey, even when it’s fifteen hours long.
I still have faith that one day I may waltz into any Flight Centre, hand over my -$0.04, and book that seat by the window. It might not be first class, but with my keen sense of survival, economy can sure feel that way.