Coping With Long Haul Flights

By Simon Woodhouse

As far as long haul flights are concerned, going from the UK to New Zealand is a big one. If the two countries were any further apart they’d start getting closer together again. It’s eleven thousand three hundred and ninety miles from London, England to Auckland, New Zealand (as the crow flies). Unfortunately, commercial airliners can’t fly quite as directly as crows are alleged to be able to do, but they can go a little bit faster.

When you’re sat in the travel agent booking your flight to the other side of the world, the anticipation and the excitement seems to have some sort of affect on your rational judgement. You look at the flight details put in front of you, and the idea of being onboard a plane for twenty-four hours somehow doesn’t seem too bad. This is certainly how I felt when I booked my first flight from the UK to New Zealand. I was swept along on a wave of excitement that dulled my senses, and turned me into the equivalent of a child on Christmas morning sat in front of a mountain of unopened presents. This state of euphoria lasted right up until I arrived at Heathrow Airport.

Airports can be summed up in one word – queues. There are queues everywhere. Every step of the checking in process involves a queue. Whether it’s getting your boarding card and handing your cases over at the airline desk, going through passport control, or waiting to get on the plane itself, there’s always a line of people in front of you. My tip for dealing with this – try not to look at the queue when you’re standing in it. Or if waiting a little while means you join a shorter queue, do that.

After I’d done the flight from the UK to New Zealand a couple of times, I realised one of the keys to coping depends on my state of mind. As I’m boarding the aircraft, I take a deep breath and tell myself if I want to get where I’m going, I’ve got no choice but to be on this plane. I resign myself to the fact it’s not going to be the most comfortable experience, but it’s my choice to be here. So that’s the psychology of it, what about practical ways to make it a bit easier?

First of all I try to pick an airline that has decent in flight entertainment, this makes a big difference. Having a wide choice of movies to watch, even if it is via the tiny screen in the back of the seat in front of you, is definitely better than one big screen showing stuff you have no control over. What you can and cannot take onboard depends on the journey you’re making. If there are no restrictions, books, magazines, electronic games and something to listen to are all good. Variety helps to break up the boredom, so take whatever you think will help pass the time. If you’re travelling alone, try to gauge what sort of person it is you’re sat beside before you strike up a conversation. Being trapped next to someone who loves the sound of their own voice can make it feel as though time is standing still. As a rule, I let them speak first, and if they don’t then I leave it at that.

As I’m not much of a drinker anyway, I usually don’t have anything alcoholic whilst I’m flying. Getting drunk on a plane might help while the hours away, but if you’re on a really long haul flight, do you want to be dealing with a hangover at thirty thousand feet? Not my idea of fun. But I do drink lots of water. This serves two purposes, first off it stops me dehydrating, and secondly it forces me to get up and use the bathroom. Whether deep vein thrombosis is caused by long haul flights or not, I don’t know, but I don’t really want to take the chance, so walking about the cabin has to be good.

If your flight is split up into more than one leg (as they all are from the UK to New Zealand), make sure you take full advantage of the transfer airport. Have a shower, have a massage, wonder around all the shops, get something decent to eat, even engage in idle conversation with fellow travellers (this is alright in the airport, because if they turn out to be the bore from hell you can get up and walk off). All international airports have a whole host of facilities, and I suggest you use them, because once you’re back on the plane there’ll be no such luxuries.

Another thing you need to bear in mind is just how grotty you’re going to feel when you finally arrive at your destination. If possible, always arrange to have someone meet you. It’s not a good idea to get behind the wheel of a hire car after you’ve had hardly any sleep for twenty-four hours (believe me, I’ve done it and it’s terrible). Add to that the fact that you might be in a foreign country, have little idea of how to get to where your staying, and may even have to drive on the opposite side of the road to what you’re used to. Don’t kid yourself that you’ll be able to handle it – you won’t.

As someone who’s dealt with all the ‘pleasures’ of long haul flight, I’m curious to see if the experience will change when the new generation of super-jumbos come into service, of which the Airbus A380 is the first. According to some of the planes specifications, it’s going to offer more legroom to everyone, even the economy passengers. If this turns out to be true, and the ticket price doesn’t go up accordingly, it’ll be a real bonus for the traveller on a budget (like me). But somehow I can’t see it happening. I think what you’ll get is not more room around the seats, but more seats.

What’s really needed is some sort of Star Trek style transporter system, which can zap you from one side of the planet to the other instantaneously. But there’s about as much chance of that happening as me being able to travel first class, or even in business. So I’m just going to have to grit my teeth, sit in my seat, and take some of my own advice.

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