Explore. Experience. Engage.

10 Ways to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

8. Use SeatGuru.
airplane seatsOn the flight back from Sydney mentioned above, I called ahead to get my seat reassigned to an exit row -- big mistake. Unbeknownst to me, the exit row seat I chose was a window seat at one of the big, thick exit doors, which encroached on my leg area such that I had to sit sideways in the seat for the entire flight. It was also more like an "exit aisle," located right at a restroom, so there was endless and noisy foot traffic the entire flight. I was lucky that the rest of the row was empty, but it wasn't much help; the armrests did not go up, so I couldn't lie across the three seats in the aisle.

Needless to say, mine would have been a "yellow" or even "red" seat on the SeatGuru seating chart if it had existed in 2000 (the site was launched the following year). Eventually I went around the aircraft collecting all the unused pillows and blankets I could find, piled them up in each of the three seats, and created a workable (but in truth not very comfortable) platform across all three seats -- and got a very few winks of sleep during the flight. I guess it was fairly comical, as friends all took pictures of me during the flight for their amusement. Glad you had a fun flight, guys.

Before you choose, also think hard about your usual preference of exit vs. aisle seat; it may be different on a long-haul flight than on a shorter flight. If you usually choose an aisle seat, consider whether you want your long, Ambien-enhanced sleep to be interrupted by an aisle mate; similarly, if you usually choose a window, you could get trapped in there by a snoring person in a prescription drug-induced stupor.

Get Our Best Travel Deals and Tips!

9. Ask about seats at the gate.
Failing the ability to choose great seats before your flight, try again at the gate. If the flight is not full, the gate agent may be able to see an empty row, or put you and a traveling partner in a "window and aisle" configuration that reduces the likelihood of having someone sit in the middle seat, thereby getting you a seat and a half, at least.

10. Take care of your health.
Hydration: If you think hydration is a concern on a cross-country flight, try tripling or quadrupling your time in the air; you might as well spend 15 hours lying on the desert floor. Which is a good comparison, and you should stock up and behave accordingly. Imagine you are going to walk from Flagstaff to Winona, Arizona. How much water would you bring? Expect to drink about that much on a 16-hour flight.

How to Fight Jet Lag

Dr. Hosea recommends drinking "electrolyte solutions, Gatorade being the best known, instead of solely water." Hosea says that maintaining electrolyte balance is important, and that you don't want to become completely diluted with water, particularly for older folks or people with other medical problems. "The combination of dehydration and stasis is really the issue with blood clots," he explains.

Deep vein thrombosis: DVT, the formation of blood clots in deep veins, is a known (if occasionally overstated) risk of longer flights. According to the National Institutes of Health, the risk of developing DVT on flights up to four hours is small, but increases as travel time increases. The NIH's tips include walking up and down the aisles of the plane; moving, flexing and stretching your legs to encourage blood flow, especially in your calves; wearing loose and comfortable clothing; drinking plenty of fluids; and avoiding alcohol. Also, if you're at increased risk for DVT, your doctor may recommend wearing compression stockings while traveling or taking a blood-thinning medicine before you fly.

Dr. Hosea notes that the combination of being immobile along with the effects of dehydration increases the risk of DVT on long flights. He strongly recommends the following to the teams during long trips:

- Hydrate very well the night before the flight, preferably with electrolyte drinks.

- Don't drink alcohol the night before the flight.

- Avoid diuretics such as coffee, soft drinks and even chocolate (all of which contain caffeine).

- If you have no issue with ulcers, take a baby aspirin the night before and day of your flight.

- Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothes -- no skinny jeans or anything that could impede blood flow or cause your ankles to swell.

- Get an aisle seat or exit row so you can get up and walk around whenever possible.

Susan Francia, an Olympic gold medalist in rowing, has taken to wearing compression socks on long flights to competitions, although she has stopped short of wearing a full body suit. (Hosea discounts the need for the body suit as well: "You are really worried only about your ankles and calves.") Francia has noticed a positive effect from the compression socks, which Hosea notes can be simple "support hose."

"I did notice that my ankles were smaller," Francia says, "probably because they were mashed into old lady socks!"

Poll: How Do You Get Through Long Flights?

Colds, the flu, bacteria, etc.: As I wrote in Avoiding the Airplane Cold, it isn't "air quality" that is of concern when you are flying, or recycled air, or anything of the sort -- it is your body's compromised ability to deal with normal bacteria and viruses that puts you in danger of getting sick after a flight.

airplane seatback tray tableThat is not to say that the general environment on a plane doesn't add to your risk of getting sick. Recent studies have found that the water coming out of aircraft sink faucets is often rife with bacteria from sitting in murky holding bins; that the seats, pillows and blankets on planes are more germ-ridden than your laundry basket; that your tray table is probably dirtier than your own bathroom floor; and that the seatback pockets -- well, you don't even want to know, apparently.

Francia recalls a flight on the way to the Rowing World Championships last year where she considered wearing a face mask; the entire U.S. rowing team had contracted the swine flu on a World Cup trip earlier that summer, and she was being cautious. Francia asked a flight attendant what she thought. "Good idea, but it won't help," was the verdict. There is just too much stuff all around you to win that war. In the end, your best strategy is to bring along some bacteria-killing wipes, clean up your seat area as best you can and relax; there's not much more you can do.

Let's face it: electrolytes, compression socks, movie after movie, and aspirin don't change the fact that you are stuck inside a metal can for a whole day. Just keep reminding yourself that this too shall pass -- although I recommend saving your "I got this" until the wheels touch the ground.


Go Anyway,
Ed Hewitt
TravelersEd@aol.com
Features Editor
IndependentTraveler.com

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns SeatGuru.com.

X

Thank You For Signing Up!

Please Note: To ensure delivery of your free e-letters, please add news@independenttraveler.com to your address book.

We're committed to protecting your privacy and will not rent or sell your e-mail address. By proceeding, you agree to our privacy policy and Terms of Use.