Fly better (economy version)

A few weeks ago there was an edition of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle newsletter ‘Goop’ dedicated to flying better. In it she and two of her celebrity pals; Donna Hay and Seth Friedman gave their pearls of wisdom on how to really fly.

Their advice involved Bose noise cancelling headphones (surely a steal at $300) and where in Business Class had the best seating arrangements.

What is below is  is the economy version. I could simply write; ‘two glasses of red wine (not three) and a temazepam’ and end it there.

But as I was packing for yet another 27 hour stint across the continents, I thought I might have a few garnets of experience to share.

Since we moved to London, I’ve got quite good at the LHR-SYD route. At around 23-29 hours in transit, it’s a doozy. Though I’ve done worse. My favourite was back in 1999 when it took more than 42 hours to get from Amsterdam back to Sydney, with two extended delays in Indonesia. Needless to say, it’s been a while since I’ve flown Garuda Indonesia.

So as I pack right now, here are some of my hints and tips for how to fly better, economy style.

1) Passport

Don’t forget it. Check twice, three times if you have to. Also check the expiry date and make sure you’ve got at least six months left on it.  Nobody ever turned around and said at the airport ‘I wish I hadn’t checked one last time that I had the right passport with me’. And everyone has a story about the time they, or someone they love didn’t get it right. Don’t be that person.

2) Exercise/stretch

I try and go to the gym or do some exercise on the day of a long flight. Not heavy weights (I’ve made that mistake before- 14 hours trapped in a chair with burning glutes is no fun). I’m just talking about some cardio and plenty of stretching. I also make sure I’m wearing something, or am carrying something that lets me find a quiet corner of the stop over airport in Asia and do some yoga to stretch out my back. Yes, people may look at you a little strangely. But when I travel, I go into a bubble. I don’t really care. And looking like a numpty (so long as you’re not flashing disrespectful amounts of flesh, or doing a downward dog next to a window), is better than wrecking your back for the next three days

3) Entertainment

Don’t just rely on the airline’s entertainment. If it breaks, that’s a long time to be sitting there reading an inflight magazine. For me, I take redundancies. I load up my ipod with podcasts (This American Life, Slate Culture Gabfest, Dinner Party Download and Lexicon Valley being the current favourites) and a few episodes of ‘Top Chef’ for giggles.   I take a Kindle, packed with books, including one new one and one cheap classic. This trip it’s Alyssa Shelasky’s ‘Apron Anxiety‘ and The Great Gatsby, which I’m embarrassed to admit, I’ve never read.  Then there’s a hard copy book, just in case everything else breaks, or for those times when they won’t let you turn on the electronics. This time it’s a light copy of Claudia Roden’s ‘A New Book of Middle Eastern Food’.

4) Clothing

This depends on which leg of the flight I want to sleep on first. If it’s a morning flight and I want to save my drug-induced 7 hours of amelioration for the second leg then it’s either my ‘plane dress’ (a long black empire waisted cotton thing), or comfortable jeans and a cotton top. I usually wear a light blazer over that. Firstly, because it often doesn’t fit in my bag. And secondly, you can always dream about upgrades, can’t you?  Then by the time I get to the second leg of the flight I reward myself with comfort. I pack a fresh set of underwear and a pair of comfortable yoga pants. I get changed. Then it’s like I’m in pyjamas. And it’s terrific.  If the long leg is first and at night then I go with leggings and a smock dress and long boots. Once the boots are off, it’s also pretty darn comfortable.

5) Socks

The most important part of the plane attire for me are socks. I haven’t had to go in for the long haul aeropressure socks yet, (though I have heard good things).  I just find that a pair of winter, long socks which go up to my knees give me enough warmth and pressure on my calves. They’re the one thing that if I can’t find them before a flight, I get a little panicky about.

6) Creams and potions

There are lots of options and additions, but to me, these are the bare essentials for a long flight.

Deodorant (always better to have too much than too little when in close confines with others for extended periods).

Lucas Paw Paw; an Australian gem; perfect for smearing on lips and under your nose to help ward off infection. Also good for dry hands.

Rescue Remedy, for when it all gets a little too much (the last time I pulled that one out was when the man next to me started picking at a pustular scab on his face for an hour for entertainment. Not even all the Rescue Remedy in the world could make me feel better about that).

And then a proper toothbrush and toothpaste. Those dinky ones (if you get it at all), just don’t pass on the ‘minty fresh feeling’ that you know you’re going to want 17 hours in, after 3 meals that arrived in foil.

7) Sleep essentials

In a little zip up bag that’s separate to my liquids I put my sleep essentials.  There’s face wipes, because I just can’t sleep without having a clean face. There’s an eye mask. There are ear plugs. And then, there are drugs. Best to try half before a whole. You’re going to need to get off the flight eventually.

8 ) Other essentials  if I remember them

There’s hand sanitiser, because there’s no where more full of germs than an airport.

There’s a cheap, but very effective moisturising mask that I can buy from Waitrose (no £90 creams for a flight on this budget). The Organic Surge First Class Mask is very appropriately priced for economy (£9). It’s also a mask that doesn’t need to be washed off. It’s just a lot of protective moisture for your face in a very dry environment.

Then there’s a little novelty aromatherapy touch point thing from This Works. It smells nice; of lavender and calming beauty salons. When you’re squidged next to a morbidly obese man with halitosis, sometimes that’s a nice thing to have.

And then there are some psyllium husk tablets. Because we all know what planes and plane food can do for your intestines. Take one about six hours before you land, for a happier time over the next day. Possibly enough detail on that one.

9) A scarf

For wrapping around your face when people cough. For an extra blanket. And for mashing into the corner to bulk out a pillow if you score a window seat (the best option if you don’t need to get up too much or don’t have obscenely long legs. Much less chance of being disturbed by other people)

10) Thrifty hands

The best way to use your layover time in Asia is to go and freshen up. Go to the bathrooms and wash your face. Use some of the make up wipes to give yourself a quick semi shower. And then go to duty free and try on some of the creams that Gwyneth and Donna et al can afford.

11) A sense of perspective

Yes, it’s not super fun. But unless you’re flying somewhere for a funeral, there’s no real excuse to complain about it. You’re probably going on an adventure of some sort, or to see people who love you. So spare a thought for those who are crammed in economy alongside you (and possibly those who are carting small children as well) and are travelling because something terrible has happened. So have a gin and tonic or two. Watch a movie, or choose a series and steam through nine episodes back to back. Don’t spill your food or drink on your fellow passengers. Brush your teeth. Then grit them silently and get on through the next 22 hours. Before you know it, you’ll be somewhere new.

* Nb, yesterday I arrived safely in Sydney, after 31 hours, door to door. I got to have a flat white with my Mum, sister, niece and nephew in the morning. I had lunch by the water with my stepfather and Mum. My step mother went out of her way to make my beef in Leffe recipe for me. My stepsister came for tea. And my Dad opened a bottle of Moet. Suffice to say, it’s all worth it in the end.

  1. Just planning a 27 hour trip to New York and you have given me some good ideas. Check out the Grounds of Alexandria while you are in Sydney but go during the week before 11.30am. Very Cool.

  2. I’ve never flown to Australia, but I’m pretty familiar with transatlantic flights. I’m a really finicky sleeper and once was awake for 13 hours on a flight from Houston to Paris. Now, I try to schedule daytime eastbound flights so I don’t have to try to sleep on a plane! I’ve always been a bit afraid to try sleeping pills, but I might relent if I ever do an overnight flight again. You’ve definitely got some tip-top tips here.

    I told myself I wasn’t going to go read the GOOP article, but I clicked on it anyway. I don’t even want to hear about how “bedraggled” Gwyneth Paltrow is on an eleven-hour flight. She actually has enough room to take a photo of herself. I would be more than happy to be similarly inconvenienced!

  3. Great tips. I have one of those really dorky blow up neck pillows as well. I find it really helps with a long haul Australia to Europe flight when you really have to sleep for one of the legs. Don’t get me started about people complaining about 3 hour or 5 hour flights – child’s play!

  4. I love this! Just “survived” flying 7 hours across Canada. Next time earplugs are a must.

  5. Great post. Go the socks! I’ve got long haul flights from Australia to the UK down to a fine art, too. One addition on my list (which is quite similar to yours) is a neck pillow. Ideal if you don’t get that window seat! Oh, and mints.

  6. Great advice! I’m gearing up for a flight to Melbourne in September, and you have made me dread it much less!

  7. I am unfortunately one of those travelling with little kids (I know, you all hate us! I used to too), so it is never relaxing. For me it is essential to bring plenty of healthy snacks for the kids… and thank goodness for those multiactivity screens these days. However this time, my youngest gets his own seat AND is old enough to enjoy a movie… so fingers crossed while crossing the Atlantic.

  8. I took a sleeping tablet on a 7 hour flight from Singapore to Adelaide, but unfortunately only stayed asleep for about 2 hours, due to people walking up and down the aisle next to me. It took another few hours for the effects of the tablet to wear off. I felt really, really awful. I don’t think I would do that again, unless like you suggested, I was sitting next to the window. I dread to think how I would handle a longer flight. Those 7 hours seemed like forever to me.

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