Surviving Long Plane Flights (aka “the Passage through Hell”)

My own airplane adventure (all 36 hours of it) begins on Monday when I fly CA to Washington D.C., D.C. to Brussels, Brussels to Kigali. I haven’t counted the number of transcontinental flights I’ve taken in my time, but I would put the number well over 20. This means that I have suffered hours of indignity and discomfort in order to bring you this post: my advice for surviving long plane flights. My pain for your pleasure! 

travel happy bring the donut

Hooray! The day has arrived and you are off to someplace grand. That is, you are off to someplace grand after a hellish passage through hell- also known as eight plus hours crammed into a magical flying tube crammed with two hundred other people who are a) sick, b) cranky, c) obese, d) selfish arm-rest hogging, e) babies which somehow mutate into more babies, and/or f) sad and normal people like you. Here are some tips to survive this sickening prospect without being air marshaled.

Pack in your carryon: a sleep mask, an easy change of clothes, face wipes, deodorant, ibuprofen, travel pillow, headphones, a scarf (can serve as a blanket or face cover or mask to filter odors/nasty recycled air), real food 

  1. Leave your self-consciousness where it belongs: in the terminal where you began the journey. This means donning the following ridiculousness while in your allotted square foot of seat space: sleep mask, socks, NO BELT (unless you have the BMI of a lithe Chinese gymnast and thus zero muffin top), and a u-shaped travel pillow. Get one of the inflatable pillows (like here) if you don’t want the humiliation of carrying a velour donut (like this comfy beast) through the chic Milano airport. Yeah, they look ridiculous, like you are very worried about your head drowning, but they are God’s gift to travelers, unless you enjoy waking yourself up every time your poor head lolls off to one side. It’s also a great way to keep from ending up on your neighbor’s shoulder with a line of drool streaking down his arm (I only recommend this strategy if your neighbor is a significant other or significantly attractive- it is, after all, a great ice breaker). 
  1. Along with your self-consciousness, also leave any fantasies about whirlwind seatmate romances in said terminal. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. We’ve all batted around the travel fantasy: being miraculously seated next to some vagabond hottie with whom you strike up a flirty eight-hour conversation (irritating all passengers around you but unable to tear your eyes from each other), then deplaning to have frolicking, romantic adventures in the new locale. If you even entertain those thoughts, the Gods of Intercontinental Travel will ensure that you are elbow-to-elbow with a snoring retiree, schizophrenic, or just a strange man who bought the other seat in the row for his stuffed monkey (which is another story for another time).  
  1. Bring your own headphones. If your airline gives you free ones, chances are, they are made out of some freakish CIA plastic that was developed to kill Fidel Castro back in the sixties. Seriously- how are they so uncomfortable? What are the little spikes that I feel drilling into my ear canal after thirty minutes of wear? I can only assume that they are manufactured by pouring the heinous plastic into department store mannequin ears. Unless you are in one of those obnoxious planes with the double-prong headphone jacks (or unless you have the ears of a department store mannequin), BYO headphones and thank me later.
  1. Organize before getting on the plane. Please don’t be that guy. You know that guy- the one with the window seat who climbs over you every ten minutes to retrieve something from the overhead bin: his headphones (see, he kind of thought ahead), his passport, his racist colonial-era safari guide. Think ahead about what you will need for the flight. Put that in your smaller bag that goes under the seat. Keep things like face wipes (alcohol-free ones will help your sad dry skin halfway over the Arctic Circle) easy to reach, along with ibuprofen (I recommend the stuff with a mild sleep aid), food, and entertainment gear. 

Finally, in light of recent news, my greatest piece of advice is this: DON’T BE AN ASS. Turn around and politely ask the person behind you if they mind if you recline. Smile at your seatmates (and their monkeys). Be nice to flight attendants. Wait your turn to get off the plane. If you start feeling anxiety or rage, get up, walk to the back of the plane, steal some snacks, and breathe. You’ll get there eventually. 

Otherwise, enjoy your hours of bondage! Happy travels!


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