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The Loneliness Of the Long-Distance Passenger

Having lived in eight different countries before reaching double digits, and with family now spread out across the globe, I’ve taken my fair share of international flights. They’re long and they’re boring, but they don’t have to be unbearable. Here’s a few things I’ve found that help:

* While business and first class usually give you an amenity kit for the flight, good old coach doesn’t do it anymore—and if you’re like me, you’ll likely be flying coach. No matter! Just pack your own amenity kit; I usually just find an old toiletry bag and fill it with an eye mask, a pair of earplugs, some Evian spray, a lip balm, antibacterial hand cleaner, a few Advils, some Wet Ones for freshening your face after a sub-par sleep, and a moisturizer. That way, you’ve got everything you could possibly need for your comfort all in one place, and don’t have to go rooting around in your bag for that Chapstick every few hours.

* Check out a site like before you fly, and take note of the “good” and “bad” seats–the former will usually be near the emergency exits, giving you more leg room; the latter will be near the toilets. Generally, the further toward the front of the plane you can sit, the better–you’ll be closer to the exits when it’s time to disembark, which means you’ll be able to make it to Immigration a little quicker. And you know what that means? Less time standing in line.

* If you want a specific seat–the aisle is nice for those who want to stretch their legs on long flights, but you can’t beat the window seat for sleeping–make sure you ask as soon as you check in, if you haven’t already been able to reserve it online. If you’re not having any luck, ask again at the gate, and then ask again when you get on the plane–if a passenger doesn’t show up, there may be a spare seat or two going.

* Get up and walk around the plane every hour, if you can. Many airlines now also have in-flight videos with exercises you can do from your seat to reduce your chances of developing a blood clot. I usually go to the very back of the plane and do a few stretches–even a few yoga moves, if no-one’s looking–to break up the journey.

* Water, water, water! Drink as much as you can. The cabin crew on long-haul flights are usually very good about coming around with plenty of H20, but you can always make your way back to the galley and ask for a glass; they’re usually happy to oblige. However, pressing your passenger call button and following it up with anything other than “help, I think I’m dying!” when the flight attendant arrives is usually not the best idea.

* Don’t forget your socks! Airline cabins are notoriously Arctic, and while that might be bearable for an hour-long flight, it’s quite another story when you’re flying from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and risk losing a toe to frostbite after sitting shivering for 14 hours. A pashmina also makes an excellent cover-up, and doubles as a blanket too–I always bring about five different layers!

Those are my insights, gleaned from years of long-distance travel. Any tips of your own for surviving international flights?





Lots of alcohol.


So, how do you use the Evian spray? I’ve heard of it for flights many times before, but always wondered why exactly it is so wonderful.


Just hold the can a few inches from your face and spray! It’s very refreshing — more of a gentle mist than anything else. Sort of like walking through San Francisco in the fog, now that I think about it!


Going back to a previous post…in my opinion an aisle seat is absolutely mandatory on long flights.

You drink lots of water and then…

Also an iPod is very necessary. When the kid behind you starts to wail, just hit play.

Kirsten Cluthe

This is really helpful… I am about to embark on a 13+ hour flight to Beijing and have been collecting ideas on how to survive the long flight in coach, also hoping to return with some good ideas of my own…


I’ve never been out of the country. Sad I know. But I’ll make sure to remember these tips if I’m ever lucky enough.


I just flew to and back from Seoul (11 hours from SFO) and must say that the amenities kit is a true necessity. I by these exfoliating face wipes from Pond’s that are the greatest for removing plane grit and grease (ew). Also, I am a die hard aisle sitter myself (related to the drinking a lot of water thing) and what I would have given to have one of those neck pillow things. Buy an inflatable kind if you don’t want the bulk of a real pillow. Just get something to prop up your neck!

Sarah Marie

I fly about 10 times per year, usually just domestic flights. I always marvel at the people who run up to the counter when their boarding “zone” is called. Unless you have a specific reason for needing to get settled (kids or overhead bin needs), I find it wise to wait until everyone else has gotten on before doing so myself. Why breathe that air for any more time than you need to?


Here are my tips – I fly a lot for business (used to do mainly international travel but now only domestic)
- limit the booze. Very dehydrating and is a killer when you are getting off a plane in what your body thinks is the middle of the night
- take the latest flight possible so that your sleep patterns do not get so mucked up
- bring your own pillow – definitely helps with sleeping
- I bring my own water (2-2 litre bottles) and try to drink one on the flight and one when I get off the plane – yes you do need to use the loo a lot but it really does help and you don’t have to bother a flight attendant this way.
- avoid the salty snacks – same as the booze – totally dehydrates you
- Carry on as little as possible. When you get off the plane and are tired (and possibly a smidge cranky) your arms will feel like they have been swapped out for rubber and can’t carry as much as they did when you got on the plane. And for some reason – Customs is always an interminable walk from the jetway in incidents like that

Those are my tips after travelling for much of my career. I hope that they help i some small way.


The aisle is a must! Nothing is worse than when you have stayed hydrated, realize you need the restroom and the people next to you are asleep. I have tried using super powers to step over them, but really, who has legs that can both keep you up right and stretch over 2 other people’s legs? I don’t!
The amentities bag is a great idea, so is the pashmina.

Saucepan Man

Some more tips from too many years on planes:

Add a toothbrush and paste to that amenities kit and, while women might more obviously bring perfume, men should take aftershave or cologne. It really makes you feel better and more human and you feel less of a social pariah after 10 hours in a metal tube

Take your shoes off once you’re at altitude and put them back on before descent. Believe me the swollen feet problem is more easily tackled this way.

The line for the toilets is always longest after you’ve reached altititude, after a meal, when everybody wakes up and when the captain announces the decent. Work round this so that you’re not standing about forever.

Athough sitting near the front means you’re first away on landing, it’s always where they put the small children and on a long flight that can be really hard work.

Re the above, take earplugs!


This may sound a little crazy, but I like to sleep as little as possible before I take a long flight so that once I get on the plane I am so sleep deprived I pass out for several hours. If I’m simply not tired enough, I can’t sleep in that oh so uncomfy upright position.

Exiled to Canada

Tylenol PM or Benedryl for when my body just REFUSES to sleep. Nothing worse than being up 24-36 hours and dealing with jet lag in a foreign land. Compression socks keep my feet and ankles from swelling and I think they are supposed to help avoid deep veined thrombosis.

jive turkey

I second the brilliant making-your-own-amenity-kit idea. It’s SO much better than the neverending search for lip balm when the person in front of you has reclined his seat and you have about 3 square inches in which to maneuver.

Along the lines of earplugs, those lovely noise-cancelling headphones are great. You can just turn on the noise-cancelling feature without listening to anything else and it’s amazing how much quieter the cabin seems!

I always have such a hard time deciding between the convenience of an aisle seat, and the sleepability/distraction of a window seat. I’m sometimes a nervous flyer, and the window seat always makes me feel calmer & more aware of what’s going on, but MAN, do I hate having to climb over everyone to use the restroom!


Bringing your own amenity kit is such a fabulous idea. I just flew from London to D.C. and spent my flight shooting envious looks to the first-class passangers. Next time, I’ll bring my own class.


I always book an aisle seat well in advance, but lately, since I usually travel alone, when I get on board some large eyed mum and a stewardess asks if I can switch seats with a kid so they can sit with their child, so I end up squeezed against the window for 8 hours. Some say it is good to take vitamin C so you fight the increased cosmic radiation. Some (doctors) say that it is good to take an aspirin to make the blood stay unclogged during the flight. If it is allowed, perhaps bringing as much fruit or cucumber as possible would be good, it contains 80-97% water , so you can stay hydrated, and “fool” the “no water on board ” policy.

Arizona portable toilets

Alcohol, and I’ll make sure to remember these tips if I’m ever lucky enough. I remember the last flight where I was booked. The line for the toilets is always longest after you’ve reached altitude, after a meal, when everybody wakes up and when the captain announces the decent. Work round this so that you’re not standing about forever.

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