How To Survive A Long Transatlantic Airplane Flight

How to make the most of a long airplane flight, and not just survive it, but enjoy it!

So, you've finally made the big decision. You've saved your money, you've read the travel books, and now, you're about to board a plane for a seven to nine hour flight across the Atlantic. You're going to Europe.

Long distance air travel, while very adept at bridging the gap between where you are and where you'd like to be, can be extremely long, tiresome and uncomfortable. No matter how many movies are offered up as distractions.

Many seasoned trans-Atlantic travellers have devised a plan of attack for keeping the journey as comfortable as possible. Any strategy that can be employed to achieve this is one worth mentioning. After many years of research and suffering, I have acquired my own scheme for stepping on and off the plane with a smile on my face.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to afford first class. We'd have reclining seats, ample leg room and steak dinners. We'd have hot towels and champagne. But alas, just being able to pay for a dream trip in coach is often stretching the proverbial purse strings and the extravagance of first class is merely a pipe dream. Or is it?

Airlines often overbook their planes to ensure that they are filled to capacity on every flight. Thus substantially reducing losses incurred due to empty seats. Usually, this technique works, but sometimes, it backfires, leaving travellers stranded and unhappy. On occasion, these same airlines will offer to upgrade passengers to first class in order to free up more coach seats. You could be one of these passengers, if you plan in advance.

Ticketing agents will help those who help themselves. Dress the part of a business or first class traveller. Leave the jeans in the suitcase and wear a nice shirt and a tie. If you're a woman, try travelling in a sports jacket and dress pants. You'll be more likely to get up-graded if you look like you belong there. Always get to the ticket window early. Have everything ready, tagged and within the weight restrictions. It's okay to ask the ticketing agent if the plane is over-booked and ask if there are any free up-grades available. As long as you are polite and there's room, you could be arriving in style.

So, the plane isn't over booked and you remain in coach. Don't despair, there are some prime spots available, even in the cheap seats. But you need to know about them and how to get them. Some airlines offer pre-arranged seating. Ask your travel agent when you're booking your tickets if you may also pre-book your seats. The absolute best seats in the house are in the emergency exit row. There is ample leg room to stretch right out and get comfortable.

If your airline does not allow pre-booked seats, then it is important to get to the airport early in order to be one of the lucky ones who won't have cramped knees and claustrophobia. An extra hour in the airport will be well worth the exchange when it comes to comfort.

One warning. Try to get the emergency exit seats that are near the windows, ones that are in the middle tend to also be part of a passageway to the bathrooms. The constant requests to move your feet can thoroughly ruin a great movie or a good night's sleep.

So, you've dressed well, you've got the exit seat, now there's the potential to be comfortable. The plane has taken off, the seat belt sign is off and you're at cruising altitude. Now it's time to change your clothes. While nice clothes may influence a ticketing agent, they do nothing to promote comfort when sitting for long periods of time. I always pack a change of "airplane" clothes in my carry on to put on once we're on our way. Usually these consist of a pair of lounge pants (ie. sweats or flannels) a sweatshirt (planes are always cold) and a pair of wooly socks. I make my way to the bathroom as soon as I can and "get comfy". Probably the worst part of the whole affair is trying to get changed in that closet of a bathroom, but I guarantee that it's worth the effort. I also bring a pair of slip on sandals so that I'm not walking around in sock feet.

About an hour before we land, I'll quietly slip back to the bathroom, change into my "airport clothes" and be ready to wow any customs or immigration agent that comes my way. I always bring some sort of perfume and a toothbrush to really freshen up after spending so many hours rumpling myself.

I'm not sure where the airlines get their pillows, but someone has certainly got them bamboozled. I think that they were manufactured in a pancake factory! They do little to support your head and neck and that papery pillowcase is certainly not gentle on the skin! I always bring one of those little, inflatable travel pillows that are shaped like a "c" and hook around the neck. After you get over the odd strange glance in your direction, you'll discover how excellent these little numbers really are. All I can say is that they really work and are worth the less than $10 investment.

With the pillow poised around your neck you're ready for the most difficult part of trans-Atlantic travel. Sleep. Depending upon the time of day that you leave, you could end up flying through nine hours of daylight. An eye-mask will help block out the sun and the cabin lights. Sometimes, a light sleep-aid will also facilitate a few stolen moments in dreamland. For some this is as simple as a glass of red wine. I tend to use a low dose of dramamene myself. I wake up rested, comfortable and at the end of my trip.

So, that's what works for me. The exit aisle, plane clothes, the inflatable pillow and a light sleep aid. I also fill my carry on with things to amuse me. A new novel, usually of the sordid variety, a few magazines that I would only ever read in transit and a crossword puzzle book.

I try to view my flight time as a nine hour as a time for me. A time to relax, catch up with myself and to just be. I try to enjoy the meeting of new people, the interesting views and the fact that when I get off the plane a series of new experiences are just waiting to happen.

© High Speed Ventures 2011