Diary of A Professional Traveler: The Flight

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Photos by MJ Klein

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Now that you’ve boarded the aircraft, hopefully you can settle into a nice relaxing flight. Here are my tips and suggestions for making the most of your flight.

As you recall from the last article, I wrote:

Preparing For Take Off

I take stuff out of my shoulder bag and put it in my shirt pockets for the flight. I keep my bush hat and bush jacket out and store the shoulder bag and anything else except the camera bag overhead. If it’s daytime and the weather is clear I keep my camera bag on the floor under the seat in front of me so I can reach it easily.

What do I actually carry in my shirt pockets during flight?

  1. Earplugs
  2. Eye mask
  3. Earbud earphones
  4. Tissues, both wet and dry type
  5. Inflatable neck pillow
  6. Passport wallet with boarding pass stub
  7. Namecards (business cards)
  8. Pen
  9. Flashlight (previously mentioned)
  10. Vapor inhaler
  11. Medicinal oil (such as Green Oil)
  12. Mobile phone in shirt sleeve pocket (switched off)
  13. GPS

These items allow me to take care of just about any situation that I encounter during the flight:

During a long flight you’ll want to introduce yourself to someone (7) and at some point you’ll need to write something down (8). If you spill food or drink on yourself you can clean up (4). If you get a headache you can try to get rid of it (11). Often the air in the cabin might seem dry or stuffy (4,10). You might want to watch the movie and not worry about dealing with those bulky airline headphones (3) or perhaps take a nap (1,2,5). Much of your international flight will be in lights-out conditions. You may need to find something you dropped on the floor (9). You may go to the restroom in the dark (9) and find yourself groggy and struggling to remember where your seat is (6). As soon as you land you want to turn on your mobile phone to begin connecting to the local network and receiving text messages from the system on how to access local numbers (12). You may want to check your position and speed (13).

I don’t keep anything in my pants pockets so I don’t have to stand up for squirm around to get my hands in my pockets. Everything I carry onboard goes into a shirt pocket for easy retrieval (except for the flashlight, which is in a belt pouch).

I’ve heard some people say that they’ve never traveled internationally before because they dread the thought of flying 10 to 15 hours. That is a real shame, since professional travelers know how to enjoy their flight. The way to approach a long fight is to not think of it as a single seemingly endless event, but rather to break it up into sections.

Passing the Time

Let’s face facts here. Airline food isn’t very good. Nevertheless, you will find that even on short connecting hops of one or two hours duration, some kind of food is served. The main reason for this is to eliminate boredom among the passengers. If you keep the passengers busy, even with some unnecessary snack, they won’t feel like the flight is so long. I usually don’t eat much of anything because my travel destinations are places known for excellent cuisine, so I prefer to wait to eat after I’ve arrived at my destination. But I know they are serving food as a diversion, so I find some other diversion to avoid just sitting there. You have to keep that approach in mind when you are on a long flight. Break it up into sections. Look out the window, sleep, eat, talk with other passengers, read magazines, watch movies, etc..

How many times have you put off reading that book you bought awhile back? When was the last time you listened to your favorite CD start to finish, uninterrupted? How about listening to audio clips of the language spoken at your destination country? Well you now have a nice block of time where your normal interruptions won’t be intruding on your activities.

I make sure that I stay up late the night before my flight and feel plenty tired before heading off to bed. I purposefully do not get enough sleep on the night before so I can easily fall asleep on the plane. When the first round of drinks comes by I order a couple of whisky & cokes. Not everyone drinks but I do. The combination of being tired from the night before, the effects of the alcohol and the lulling sound of the engines tends to put me to sleep. Once I am feeling sleepy, I put my earplugs in, the eyemask on, and with the neck pillow behind my head I am in my own little sleep world. I kick the seat back and I’m gone. Once, on a Northwest flight from Detroit to Osaka Japan, I slept an incredible 8 hours! I stayed awake for the first part of the flight. Later I went to sleep and woke up as we were landing!

One problem that you might have is with flight attendants waking you up to make sure you don’t want to eat. What I usually do is have a quick chat with them while they are serving up the drinks. I politely mention to them that if I am sleeping, please don’t wake me up. I’ve gone entire flights of 12 hours without eating because I really don’t like airline food!

On some trips I bring my notebook computer. Recently I replaced the battery and with aggressive power management I can get about 3 hours out of it. That’s more than enough to watch a DVD. I make sure I bring my favorite movie and I can have a private screening right in my seat. If I’m in First Class I can plug the computer into the electrical outlet and use it as much as I like. Writing articles for the blog is a great activity on a flight!

Most of the times I fly, I prefer to sit in the aisle seat. This is because I don’t like to have to slide by other people getting in and out. While it’s true that I have to get up when others in my row want to go in and out, being able to just get up and walk around outweighs that slight disadvantage in my opinion. The exception to this is when I want to do photography out the window (discussed later).

Many flights offer an open galley during times when meals aren’t being served. Sometimes you will find a couple of people gathered at the galley talking with the flight attendants. I’ve had some wonderful late-night conversations with other passengers and flight attendants, while standing in the galley and sharing a cup of coffee or tea. International flights always have interesting people going to interesting places.

If you like movies, be sure and check out the in-flight magazine for the movie listings for your flight. Most international flights of 10 hours duration or more, will show as many as 3 different movies. That can occupy you for about 6 straight hours. With sleeping and eating, you will hardly notice that you’ve been flying for so long.

There is one activity that I really enjoy while flying. Depending upon whether it’s daytime or night where you take off or land, you may be able to get some fantastic photographs from the air. I keep my camera bag on the floor in front of me so I don’t have to get out of my seat to get it. Since I have a GPS, I can hold it up to the window and receive satellite signals. So within a few minutes of turning it on I know where we are, how fast we’re going, and in which direction. I usually mark some interesting points of interest on the map beforehand and see if I can find them from the air. The GPS also allows you to mark positions of interest that you spot so you can go back and check them out later on Google Earth or your mapping software.

One of the most interesting sights I’ve encountered while flying is Pratas Island. I wasn’t able to get any photos of it though. Unfortunately, due to flight delays which caused us to fly over Pratas in darkness on subsequent flights, I do not have photographs of Pratas. But it’s in my GPS and I’m ready for the next flight! I choose my seat on the side of the aircraft where I know there will be interesting things to photograph.

So, I didn’t get Pratas, but, let me show you what I do have photographs of:

Mekong River From The Air, Laos

Mekong River From The Air, Laos

Mekong River From The Air, Laos

Mekong River From The Air, Laos
The above photos are of Laos and the Mekong River.

Vietnam Coast From The Air

Vietnam Coast From The Air

Vietnam Coast From The Air

Vietnam Coast From The Air

Vietnam Coast From The Air
The above 5 photos are the coast of Vietnam, around Da Nang.

Kaohsiung City, Taiwan, From The Air
This photo is of Kaohsiung City in south Taiwan.

If you are willing to do some research you may find that you will fly over some spectacular land masses and other objects.

On a flight from Vancouver, BC to Taiwan, the Captain alerted the passengers that we would be flying close to a volcano and advised us to look out of the port (left) window.

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After that, I knew where it was so I could look for it again on another flight. Sure enough, I saw it again 2 years later (with a better camera!):

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Sometimes, the things you spot from the air can exceed your wildest expectations. Ask your flight attendant to ask the Captain to announce interesting points to the passengers. If you have a particular point in mind, don’t by shy about asking for an announcement about it. Just make sure that you’re seated on the correct side of the aircraft to actually see it.

Dealing With Discomfort

For some people the typical airline seat can be torturous. The key to keeping comfortable is to find a few positions that you can live with, and change to those positions often enough to avoid discomfort setting in. Let me give you a few examples. Use various combinations of all of these factors:

  1. Try using the fold-down foot rest.

  2. Try folding up the foot rest and placing your feet flat on the floor.

  3. Take your shoes off and let your feet cool down. Put them back on at a later time.

  4. Most airline headrests can be moved up and down. For taller passengers this is a must because the bottom of the headrest may contact their shoulders and not allow them to rest against the seat cushion. Try raising it up until you find the “sweet spot” for you.
  5. In addition to the up and down movement, many headrests have “wings” on the sides that fold in. When turning your head to the side these wings can give you support.

  6. Try different incline positions. Varying the incline of your seat by even a few degrees changes the pressure on your spine. You don’t necessarily have to be all the way back to enjoy the benefits of inclination.

  7. Be sure to place something behind you to support your lumbar area. Even if you’ve never experienced a back problem, lumbar support can greatly increase your comfort in an airline seat. I usually use one of the small airline pillows for that purpose.

  8. Put a rolled up blanket or jacket under your knees to raise them up.

  9. Put armrests up or down. Sometimes even the outer armrest next to the aisle is movable.

I have a friend who swears by this one, but I’ve never tried it. He traces the outline of his feet on a plain brown paper bag and then cuts out inserts for his shoes. He claims that having this material in his shoes prevents painful leg cramps . His mother swears by this method too. I’d be very interested to get feedback on this idea!

For me, there is a combination of incline, headrest height, wing adjustment and lumbar pillow support that does it for me. I turn slightly to one side in my seat and I can easily sleep for several hours.

Now that we’ve taken a few amazing photographs from the air, endured the food, had a few drinks and are about to doze off, we’re all done with this segment!

My next article will help you get through Immigration and Customs, and then to avoid some of the usual pitfalls that are just waiting to trap the unwary traveler!

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for another interesting and useful post, MJ!

    I once slept straight through a Narita to Chicago O’Hare flight. It was the best flight ever!

    I would offer one more tip for your readers – make sure that you get up and stretch your legs at least every two hours to prevent deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in your veins.

    Have you ever tried a product called “NO JET LAG?” I have heard that it works really well.

    Sandy’s last blog post..Shilin Night Market

  2. Sandy » sleeping through a long flight is great! how many drinks did it take? hehe fortunately most people have to pee often enough to keep the blood moving but that isn’t a bad idea, unless you’re the one on the aisle seat! i have never heard of that product Sandy. i’ve also never experienced jet lag that i’m aware of. for some reason traveling doesn’t cause problems for me. thanks for your comments!

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