PICTURE THIS: You tightened your seat belt and are taxiing on the airport runway for your 8 + hour long haul international flight when the airplane captain finishes the pre- flight announcements with “sit back, relax and enjoy your flight”. Sound familiar?
I always chuckle when hearing these comments knowing they are intended solely for the privileged first and business class passengers enjoying state of the art comfort in the exclusive front section of the plane loaded with upgrades, amenities and services. Meanwhile, myself and fellow unfortunate souls restricted to the cramped rear of the plane in “Coach” are just trying to figure out how to endure, survive and not be scarred for life from this long flight experience.
Typical upgrade price from coach to business and first-class seats on long haul international flights can range from $1,500 on the low side to easily over $10,000 per ticket. If these extra flight costs don’t fit into your travel budget, then I have some good news and strategies for you that will help you survive and even thrive making flying in coach feel like first class.
First the good news, even if you have to fly coach, you’ll still arrive at your destination at the same time as the front of the plane (just remember this on your long flight as may be your saving grace).
Second, with some pre-planning, good strategies and a much smaller investment you can upgrade your flight experiences in the future and arrive to your destination well prepared as a "World Class Traveler".
INTRODUCTION: Since you’re not flying the plane and don’t have control over weather your overall goal is to control as many variables as possible within reason.
Join TSA and get Global Entry – cost is $100 for five years and well worth the ease of going through airport security and expediting customs processing upon your return to the USA. Link is here:
FYI, some higher end credit cards like the American Express Platinum card will provide a credit towards this as part of their benefit package (reach out if have questions on these cards).
US Customs Mobile Passport App – If you don’t have Global entry then next best thing to expedite your customs processing when returning back to the USA to use the Mobile Passport Control. See link below:
Not all Seats are Equal -Purchase your airline seats as far in advance as possible and pay extra for a premium economy or other preferred seats with more legroom that also offer priority boarding for earlier access to overhead storage.
Try to stay away from the plane's engines so it is quieter. I feel its well worth the small investment on a longer flight to do whatever possible to stay away from the dreaded middle rear seat that does not recline or is right by a busy and fragrant bathroom. Another strategy you can use is if you don't want to pay the higher price for business or premium economy all the way through for your flights is to book a main cabin economy flight and once booked and ticketed you can go online and purchase the upgrade for the specific flight segments you wish (i.e., purchase upgrade for long international flights and stay in economy for shorter domestic connecting flights).
Even if you don’t get the seats you want from the start keep checking your flights online as seat availability changes constantly and especially within 24 hours of departure. If all else fails, check with airline customer agent at luggage check in, at your gate in terminal and even with flight attendant once onboard (a kind smile and attitude can go a long way) to see what last minute options may be available.
Finally, another seat strategy to deploy if flying with another person is to just reserve window and aisle seats on same row leaving the middle seat open. Often the middle seat is the last to be sold so will have more room on your row with an empty seat if not sold. Even if the person shows up with the middle seat assignment they will always switch to an aisle or window seat so you can sit together.
Insider Tip: Some of our frequent flyer clients with assigned seats and limited carryon baggage like to board last so they are not on the plane as long as large jumbo jets can take a long time to board.
For help in picking your best seats plane consult the following helpful websites:
Airline App: Download and register the airline’s app to your mobile device and input your flight information so have live access to any flight delays and interruptions so can quickly make any changes within the app while other flight options are still available. If you don’t fly this airline again can just delete the app after your flights are over.
Arrive to Airport Early - For direct international flights the recommendation is arrive at least 2 hours prior to departure in order to wait in baggage lines, clear security, walk to gates, etc. When boarding your return international flight heading back to the USA you will often have multiple security screenings taking additional time.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Dress in layers with comfortable clothes, closed shoes and socks to wear on plane. Compression socks also are very comfortable and will help your legs on long flights. I prefer shirts and trousers made for traveling with stretchable and no wrinkle material and multiple secure pockets so can keep my valuables secure and with me at all times.
I also like secure passport holders that go around your neck in a neutral color that I can wear under my shirt so always have my passport, cash and credit cards on and with me at all times (even in the bathroom).
If your passport is ever lost or stolen your trip gets worse very quickly with a lot of extra time, hassle and additional costs involved (always keep a clear picture of your passport on your phone for easier replacement and identification).
WHAT TO PACK/BRING:
Pack Extra Clothing - including underwear in your carry on as well a lightweight fleece, scarf, shawl or soft jacket to use as a pillow or blanket as the airplane cabin can get cold at 40,000 feet even in the summer.
Large Water Bottle - stay hydrated with your personal reservoir cool water in an insulated large bottle
Wipes -Sanitizing wipes for your seats, tray table, armrests and even bathroom
Healthy Snacks (not salty) and Food – Pre-packaged, low sodium meal bars that are high in protein are always suggested. They are easy to eat and don’t require your tray table to be down for a long time. Airports now sell gourmet food to go that is usually better and healthier than the food you’ll be served onboard. Also, gum or wrapped, hard candies to suck on will help relieve any ear congestion and pressure (bring extra to share with fellow passengers)
Noise Reducing Headphones – These are a must to help find your “personal utopia” onboard and insulate yourself from screaming babies, passenger banter, engine and cabin noise. Suggest getting the best ones possible that cover your ears for maximum comfort and noise reducing qualities (test them out in the store before buying as this is a personal preference item).
Bring extra batteries for the headphones so always working. These can be a great gift to yourself or other travelers and are a worthwhile investment you get to keep and reuse. Just look at all the frequent travelers that are already wearing these when boarding as they already know this tip.
Insider tip: If traveling with a companion a splitter 2-way jack for your headphones is always nice so can watch movies or listen to music together.
Back up Entertainment – In case the airplanes’ entertainment is not working bring a fully charged I-pad or small laptop for reading, working and to watch movies or shows in the dark when the interior airline lights are dimmed.
Insider's Tip: Download a number of movies and shows in advance so can watch on return flights and in destination too. I prefer movies Travel Channel shows filmed in the destinations I am visiting for added fun and information.
Neck Travel Pillows - At least one or two soft neck pillows (can buy these for less in advance at discount stores) so can stabilize your neck to help with sleep. They also help with your back. Blow up pillows take less room but are not as comfortable – I use both
Eye Masks – Some travelers love these as block out the light so can sleep
Travel Itinerary - Include all travel documents, reservations and important numbers. There are some great itinerary apps so you can download everything digitally with instant access from your mobile devices
Printed Reading Materials - Yes, I know this is "old school" but just in case your electronic devices fail or batteries die you'll have something to read besides the airlines in-flight magazine and shopping guide
Pen – for filling out custom declarations and notes onboard. Also bring some note paper to jot down those million dollar ideas that will change the world.
Onboard Spa Package - Create and bring on your own portable luxury spa package of essentials to use onboard so you’re refreshed and ready for adventures once you land. Pack the following in 3 oz plastic bottles onboard in a Ziplock quart size plastic bag allowed by TSA:
Other items to include can be any medications you may need along with an ibuprofen for headache or pains and over the counter herbs like: Melatonin, Passionflower, Chamomile, Valerian (be sure to read the directions and even ask your pharmacist for advice) to help you relax and hopefully sleep onboard.
Stretch - Get up and stretch every few hours to avoid leg and body cramps
Relax - Take shoes off and wear comfortable socks (try compression socks if have trouble with swollen legs or leg cramps)
Avoid Excess Intake - Too much alcohol, caffeine or carbonated drinks and unhealthy fatty foods can dehydrate you and make you feel uncomfortable
Set Watch - Set to the local time of your arrival destination so will already be in same time-zone and ready for adventure
Sleep - Try to get as much sleep as possible as this will really help with jet lag. Once you do arrive to your final destination try to stay up as long as possible and go to bed at night in the local time to help your body recover faster
You've Arrived and Survived!! Congratulations, time to enjoy and explore!
Keep your passports and important documents close by when exiting the plane and be careful when opening the overhead bins as items can shift during travel.
SUMMARY: Pack your patience – a calm and cool demeanor along with a smile and great attitude goes a long way when traveling. Always remember this is a long-haul marathon and not a sprint. Keep moving and happy travels.
What are your tips or secrets to surviving long flights? Thank you for letting me know so can add to this list and share with others.
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