When preparing for a big vacation, we put so much emphasis on "surviving" long haul flights - why not actually make the most of your time and enjoy it? Check out these tips on how to pass the time and what to pack for your journey!
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*post updated July, 2019
Until I was 26, I had never taken a "true" long-haul flight, and once I was finally scheduled on a transatlantic flight for our honeymoon to London, I'll admit that I was wondering how I was possibly going to keep myself occupied for a flight of that duration. NO FREE WIFI?
Here I am, many trips "across the pond" under my belt, in addition to quite a few across the U.S., and I'll readily admit that I LOVE flying, especially long hauls. I'll even say that I look forward to Transatlantic flight - want to know why?
How to enjoy a long flight: Meals on long haul flights
One of the things that surprised me most, and now delights me, about long haul flights is the sheer amount of food you are served. And, of course now that's one of the main reasons that I now always look forward to them. I hear people say that "plane food" is terrible...and I definitely beg to differ, when it comes to long journeys!
On a "normal" flight from a large U.S. city to a large European one, you get:
And guess what - this is all in economy/slightly better in the upgraded economy.
In First, of course, it's a bonanza to please the senses that warrants its own blog post. I don't have a picture of a meal from first, but to give you a sense, here's a lunch in First Class on a trans-U.S. flight:
All of this is to say, this isn't like being on a bus or a budget airline flight for 9 hours. You pay a premium and, while not necessarily the Ritz, it's not remotely painful, either.
I find the food generally quite good - and, I'll say that Delta's food options are, without a doubt, the best I've seen. For dinner, I would recommend the pasta. I find that it usually has the most taste and it holds up best when it has to be stored and reheated before and during the flight.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy being given tons of food!
How to enjoy a long flight: Entertainment and sleeping on long haul flights
On an East-bound flight, you'll likely go overnight, which comes with different challenges, with the opposite on a West-bound, so I think it's worth discussing them separately.
East-bound transatlantic flights
So, for my American friends, this will be the first leg of your European vacation- from the U.S. to Europe. And, the ending for European visitors to the States. I will say that American do get the short end of the stick on this one. The East-bound flight is harder, and it's really not the best way to start a long vacation. But, never fear, with some easy tips, you'll do just fine.
And, yes, let's just get this out of the way - you do need to try to sleep.
The first couple hours will be occupied with the aforementioned dinner, drink, and snack service. Unless you've taken strong medication or are suffering some sleep deprivation, I doubt you'll be able to sleep during that portion, as there's a great deal of noise and the lights are on. After the food rounds have been completed, the cabin lights will go off, and then you need to try to start relaxing. Be mindful of your screen time, as it'll only keep you awake, particularly because the in-seat screen is right in your face.
IMPORTANT: Your Airpods won't connect to the in-seat entertainment system. Depending on the airline and your seating class, the airline will generally provide you with "normal old school" headphones, for this reason. But if you're concerned about it, or flying on a budget airline, you can always bring your own.
I generally watch a show or two either on the in-seat screen or that I previously downloaded on my phone.
And then, slap on an eye mask and try to sleep, at least for a bit. The brutal reality is, you will feel strangely the next day, due to jet lag, travel exhaustion, and lack of sleep, but just try for a bit and don't stress too much. If you can't sleep, it's not the end of the world, but as your body is still on its "normal" schedule, you likely will get at least some shut eye. With this in mind, I would try to select seats that are not too close to the kitchens or the bathroom, as people will be constantly standing near you while you are trying to sleep. Unfortunately, some of these are "upgrade" seats, so you'll pay a premium to have a bathroom line bumping into your knees for 5 hours.
A gentle reminder that you shouldn't plan to engage in a ton of reading from an actual book on the east-bound flight. They will turn off the overhead cabin lights after dinner and while you do have an individual light above your seat, it's not much light, and you'll likely be pressured by your seatmates to turn it off as the night wears on. If you're truly dedicated, I'd recommend a personal book light.
West-bound transatlantic flights
These flights, naturally, are quite different! They're generally during the day, in both your destination and your departure point. If you're coming from Europe to the U.S., you can easily leave Europe at 11 AM Europe time and arrive in the U.S. in the afternoon U.S. time. Of course, you'll be exhausted the next day, but you don't have to pretend to sleep.
My suggestion : enjoy your time in the friendly skies! These planes have a wide selection of movies and T.V. shows to watch, much wider than the option on domestic flights - find a new favorite! Delta allows messaging (subject to a variety of restrictions), so why not have a free glass of wine and tell your friends all about you trip?
For my blogger friends, I find the trip home to be a great time to capture memories, details, and post ideas that you might forget as more time goes by after the trip.
How to enjoy a long flight: Drinking alcohol on a long-haul flight
Ah, the million dollar question. Free booze abounds, but should you indulge? My advice differs, depending on your direction of travel.
East-Bound: Ok, so you need to try to sleep. Getting really loaded is not going to help you sleep AND you're not going to feel good after too many drinks, adding not enough sleep on top of it.
My advice: drink the same amount that you might drink on a "normal night." If you regularly drink a couple drinks on a week night, I'd say you can easily do the same, get some semblance of sleep, and even if you can't sleep, normally feel fine. If you do not normally drink, this is frankly not the time to start - wait until you've truly started your vacation and hit the pubs!
West-Bound: As long as you don't have to drive your car home from the airport, enjoy this leg of the flight - you don't have sleep to worry about, it'll feel like the middle of the day, and...what else is there to do! I hadn't intended this post to be so heavy on praising Delta, but here we are - don't forget that Delta serves liquor on its long haul flights, unlike most other major airlines which only include beer and wine. Remember that alcohol hits some people different only on a plane, don't cause a drunken, international scandal, and have a few beverages!
How to enjoy a long flight: packing a carry-on for a long-haul flight
Though it should go without saying, but sometimes packing gets the better of us all and we make silly mistakes! Any checked luggage will be very securely out of your hands for your entire voyage. If you have a connection, you may be briefly reunited with your luggage depending on which country you're in, but you also may not.
So, you need to pack your carry-on bag accordingly. For me, you can't beat a cabin bag as your carry-on. I don't run a large risk it will be gate-checked, and I can actually open it on the plane in my seat. If you bring a roller carry-on, you're not going to open your wheeled suitcase in the middle of the aisle...also please don't do that... For my friends who prefer roller bags, what about this (very reasonably priced) roller bag that fits under the seat?
Here's what I include in my cabin bag and/or purse, depending on space:
How to enjoy a long flight: REMEMBER: you're on vacation!!
On the beginning, and even the end, of trips, always remember - you are on vacation.
Yes, you're on a plane, yes it's a bit cramped, yes that guy won't stop coughing and simultaneously kicking you, which actually takes an impressive amount of coordination, but you are not at work, you are on vacation - and there's nothing required of you at this very moment, aside from to sit here and watch my new 'favourite' show, Back.
For more travel essentials, check out my constantly updated list, here.
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