How to survive a long flight?

NEW YORK, Oct 26 — There’s nothing like a 16-hour flight to get you over a fear of flying. At least that was the case for me after my first trip to South Africa to visit the family of the woman who eventually became my wife.

At 28, I was still pretty new to flying, and spending the better part of an entire day trapped in an airborne steel tube was just what I needed to stop worrying and learn to love the miracle of air travel.

OK, the truth is, I still don’t love to fly. But after that first marathon ride from New York to Johannesburg, which is among the longest direct flights in existence, my focus has at least shifted from how to survive to how to make the long haul as painless as possible.

Nesting in the skies

The simplest way to guarantee a decent meal and some legroom is to upgrade to first class, but if you don’t have the luxury of spending a few hundred extra for premium seats, all is not lost.

“Most air carriers configure their long-haul economy cabins with slightly more legroom and added amenities,” said Patrick Smith, a pilot who is author of “Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel.”

These amenities typically include free access to entertainment consoles, meals and alcoholic beverages. In other words, airlines are not completely evil and are less likely to nickel-and-dime you during long-haul flights.

That also applies to legroom. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of leg space available in economy class during my first long haul to South Africa. But this does vary by airline.

South African Airways has roomier seats (by 1 to 2 inches) on its nonstop flight from New York to Johannesburg than any other airline that flies between those two cities, according to, a useful site that allows you to compare amenities before booking. Consider when trying to find the most comfortable seat.

But these freebies and a little extra legroom will get you only so far. A smartly packed carry-on bag is essential.

“A big mistake is expecting the flight attendants to take care of everything for you,” said Kara Mulder, a flight attendant who chronicles her in-flight experiences on her blog, The Flight Attendant Life.

Mulder recommends taking your own water, a sweatshirt and socks to keep you warm (I never fly without my hoodie) and some of your favourite healthy snacks.

In-flight maintenance

Nothing puts a damper on a vacation like a blood clot in the knee.

Studies have found that long-distance travel increases the risk of venous thromboembolism and that height is an additional risk factor, according to the federal Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

It’s still a rare condition, but the CDC recommends “ambulation,” which is a fancy word for walking and thigh exercises, and suggests aisle seats for those who are particularly tall.

Even if you’re not concerned about a blood clot, walking and stretching will make you less miserable in general, and there is plenty you can do without even leaving your seat.

How about a little yoga at 39,000 feet?

“When it comes to a physical release, the yoga exercises help right away,” said Kajuan Douglas, a yoga instructor in New York City. “You feel the physical stretch, and it’s like you have just awakened from sleep.”

Making time work

If there is a silver lining to having 16 hours to kill, it’s that you can at least get something accomplished like work or reading that novel you’ve yet to make a dent in. But it’s not as easy as it sounds, especially if you do not plan ahead.

If you are intent on getting work done, you could try something like the Pomodoro Technique, which divides work into 25-minute intervals and separates them by short breaks.

“I can be on a 12-hour flight and not watch one movie from the plane’s in-flight entertainment system sometimes, simply because I planned out my tasks and airplane relax time so well,” Mulder said. “Those are good flights.”

That still feels like an oxymoron to folks like me but less so these days. — The New York Times