Finally, I’ve made it through check-in and security, to the gate, up the ramp, and into my assigned seat. Hooray! Now I’ve only got 2 (4, 6, 10, 12…) hours of sitting there in a metal tube hurtling through the sky towards my destination.
Here are my favorite coping strategies for the long, boring, cramped part of the journey:
* Ask for/accept help stowing your carry-on
If I’ve got a heavy bag that needs to be slung up into the overhead bin, I ask for help. Flight attendants are almost always happy to do this, and even other passengers can be shockingly helpful and friendly. Not straining my back and shoulders right before stuffing them into an airplane seat makes the whole flight feel less awful.
The one problem with overhead bins? It’s a big pain to open them in-flight to get anything out of a bag. Try to avoid putting anything up there that you might need (like meds) while you’re still on the plane.
These days, I stow both my carry-on and my purse under the seat in front of me. (Yeah, I keep ’em that small.) That way I’ve got my meds, my book, my food, and my cell phone all sitting right there where I can access them easily. Anything I don’t absolutely need to use in-flight I put into my checked bag. I find this so, so much easier than trying to deal with a gigantic carry-on. Also, I’m amassing good travel karma because I’m not taking up precious (and almost always overflowing) overhead bin space.
* Eat and drink regularly on long flights
On long flights, I try to keep the same food schedule I use at home. For me, that’s eating every 4 hours. I bring my own food whenever possible because airline food makes me queasy. (Though I had a good experience recently on Alaska Airlines.) I try to get something to drink every hour or so.
* Think before drinking
Caffeinated beverages and alcohol aren’t the best hydrators ever, though they taste good. They’re diuretics–not great for my already overworked bladder and uncomfortable when long lines form for overworked plane latrines. The effects of alcohol (and prescription medications!) are exacerbated by high altitudes. Whee! Might sound like fun, but it gets rapidly less fun as the buzz wears off and baggage claim looms.
* Stretch and walk
Always with the stretching, yes. The easiest things to stretch are my neck, shoulders, and wrists–I can do those in my seat. When I get up to walk, I can do a few back stretches, and if I’m lucky maybe a quick hamstring. The walking gets more important the longer the flight. I try to get up to pace the aisle every hour or so.
* Breathe and meditate
In times of flight-induced stress, as the metal tube hurtles through the upper atmospheres, my only real respite is to close my eyes and breathe deeply. In flight actually makes for a good place to practice meditation. I’m sitting in one spot, without any real work I need to do *right now,* so why not use the time to quiet my mind and maybe even help my health a tiny bit.
Someday, I hope to be good enough at meditating to use it to drown out the screeches of ill-behaved children on planes. But I’m not there yet.
* Sleep (on long flights)
On flights over 3 hours, I try to sleep for a while. After a meal and a drink, I put in my earplugs, don my sleep mask, recline my seat, and have at it. If I’m on a super-long flight (10 hours or more), I’ll even take a sleeping pill to ensure that I go out for a few hours at least.
* Use the restroom whenever it’s free
At the instant the Fasten Seat Belt sign dings off the first time, I eject myself from my seat as though it were on fire. If I’m lucky, I make it to the bathroom first–no lines for me! Also, I usually don’t have to go again right after beverage or meal service, when the rest of the passengers usually go. I watch the “occupied/unoccupied” signs on longer flights, and even if it’s not an emergency I’ll get up to use an unoccupied lavatory. If nothing else, it gets me up out of my seat for my hourly walk.
* Smile at the flight attendants
Flight attendant is another job that sounds hard to me. It costs nothing to smile at these folks. Because I sometimes need extra help, it can be useful to have “friends” who are working on the plane.