In an aeroplane over the sea
December 28, 2009 7:30 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has always been a bit apprehensive about flying before, but he's taking his first flight (transatlantic) to see me in a little over a month. Yay! I want to send him a care package full of things that will keep him comfortable and relaxed (especially the latter) during the flight. I have a few ideas for keeping him comfortable (but would like more) and virtually none for keeping him relaxed. What should I include?

I'll definitely include hard candy or gum to ease the takeoff and landing, snacks, and socks ('cause it's important to have comfy feet on transatlantic flights). I'll probably include a book, too, though he is afraid he won't be able to read in the air. (He can't read on the bus, train, etc.) What else should I put in to keep him comfy & entertained? He likes music, football, film, and all things 80s.

I am more concerned about him staying calm. He has had one or two panic attacks in the past, and he has no idea how flying will affect him. I can't send drugs, but I can pass names on to him (in England). However, I think we'd both prefer to avoid them anyway. What else can he do to keep his cool while in the air? For what it's worth, I don't think he has a full-blown phobia, and the rational approach may be worth a try.
posted by bibliophibianj to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Make him a playlist filled with music he likes. You could also load his ipod with meditation podcasts (some have even available as apps) that might help him relax (either pre-flight or during). You could also load up some audiobooks.

If he's taking a laptop, rip some of his favorite movies onto his hard drive (uses less battery power than playing a DVD).

If he drinks, a cocktail or two at the airport bar may also help him chill out (YMMV).
posted by special-k at 7:39 PM on December 28, 2009

Seconding the DVD. I'm a bit of a nervous flier, but having movies to watch always makes it go faster. If he can't read on the plane, maybe a audiobook to listen to?
posted by lunasol at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2009

It might pay to keep an eye on the latest TSA regulations, as there's bound to be some changes in the next few weeks. Some decent music, as suggester above, is good. A British Airways flight I was on provided us with sleep masks, which were pretty handy. Ear plugs as well.

Most people I know who can't read in cars or buses can read on a plane (although they can usually read on a train too)
posted by backwards guitar at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2009

I think you should get him a bunch of silly little toys -- a Wooly Willy, for example, or some crayons and a small coloring book. Tavern puzzles or Rubik's cubes could keep him entertained while avoiding reading-induced motion sickness. Definitely send a book (or two) anyway as he'll be spending a lot of time waiting but not in the air. Give him an itunes gift card so he can download and watch shows/movies on the plane, too.

On the more practical side, send him a couple pairs of earplugs. If he's worried about getting motion sick recommend some ginger pills. In light of recent events make sure he knows exactly what to expect regarding security -- restrictions, long waits, etc. It's going to be a stressful trip.
posted by lilac girl at 7:50 PM on December 28, 2009

Some of those foam earplugs. It's really the best way to get some rest if you can block out the constant wine of the engines and crying babies.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:54 PM on December 28, 2009

You might write him some little notes that he can open throughout the flight. That way he can break the trip down into shorter segments and know that if he just makes it though the next 60 minutes he gets to read a note from you. After another 60 minutes he gets to read a note from you and look at a new picture of you and so on.

You might also include pictures, brochures, etc about the places you'll go, things you'll see, etc one he arrives. That way he's focusing on what he'll be doing once he lands, rather than worrying about the flight.
posted by shesbookish at 7:57 PM on December 28, 2009 [4 favorites]

Last time I flew internationally the thing which helped the most on the plane was a little zip up bag with a lanyard on it so I could put it round my neck. Then I could keep my earplugs in it when I wasn't using them, put my glasses in it while I slept, keep painkillers/antihistamines in there rather than rooting around in my hand luggage, and generally keep my stuff near to hand and safe in the cramped environment of my small seat. The glasses thing was key so YMMV on this, but I'm definitely going to use something like it again.
posted by shelleycat at 7:58 PM on December 28, 2009 [8 favorites]

Nthing the audio book. I was suffering horrible allergies that were essentially making me flu-like sick, extending to irritated eyes, on my last transatlantic flight and I would have gone crazy if I hadn't had audio books to listen to. Your local library may have a similar program to mine where you can download audio books off of their website and the license expires in a month or so. Load up a cheapo mp3 player with them! (FWIW, I also find npr podcasts very relaxing. This American Life, KPCC's Filmweek (you said he liked film), Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, etc.)
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2009

Have him try some Dramamine before he takes his trip. For me, Dramamine is the king of non-prescription sedatives - it either knocks me completely out or keeps me in a pleasant, drowsy haze for hours - extra bonus is no nausea! Have him try it at home, just so he doesn't find out he's one of the few people who react to it with excessive jittery-ness when he's already enroute.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:03 PM on December 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

If he's had panic attacks, having a few mg of lorazepam or xanax around wouldn't be such a bad idea. You can't send him drugs, but his doc there can. (the evil pharmacist on my shoulder says even if you don't want to tangle with carrying prescription meds overseas, just pop 10mg of valium before you go through security and don't worry about it for the rest of the day.. you'll be fine)

That plus a good book and a music player, playlist with some good mellow tunes, and a good set of sound isolating headphones are all you need (in-ear canal phones, like Sure Ec-4 or those bose noise-cancelling things, whatever).

People often have worries about the jet falling apart.. they see the wings flexing, they feel the jet bouncing. they get worried. They need only remember two things:

1) The jet can take more abuse than the passengers. The jet can recover from manouvers that would seriously injure or kill everyone on board. (this may not actually be true, but just go with it). This may seem counterintuitive, but it makes you stop worrying about things like watching the plane bounce around - if you're still alive, the plane is *just fine*.

2) Pilots are really, really well trained, and jumbo jets have more power, and more manouverability than you are likely to ever experience as a passenger, unless you are landing in really hairy situations.
posted by TravellingDen at 8:04 PM on December 28, 2009

Nthing a DVD and ipod playlist. Try to find movies as well as books that are happy and funny. Distracting him from the feeling of dread of being on a plane is key here.

If he's had panic attacks before, hopefully he has some coping mechanisms for dealing with it when he feel one starting. On a plane, he could walk up and down the aisles (making sure the fasten seat belt sign is not on, of course) or do some airplane yoga or deep breathing. Make sure he's had a good night's sleep before, and that he gets to the airport with plenty of time to spare to keep stress to a minimum.

In addition to great socks, you could get him a really nice eye mask (not the cheap on on British Airways) and ear plugs.

If he's anxious about terrorism or the safety of airplanes or anything like that, it could be helpful to see how truly rare incidents with planes are. If thinking about that kind of stuff will make him more anxious though, don't bring up the subject.

Good luck! And enjoy your time together. :)
posted by pecknpah at 8:07 PM on December 28, 2009

does he have a laptop or an iPod he'll be travelling with? make him a webcam movie / audio recording of yourself, talking about what's probably happening in the flight at that particular moment (example : "they've just let you take out your laptops and whatnot, which means you're at a nice cruising altitude at this point. from here on it's going to be smooth sailing, by and large. any wiggling the plane seems to be doing is perfectly normal." etc), with a clip for just after takeoff, one for halfway through the flight, and one for shortly before descent.

basically, having my girl sitting next to me holding my hand, reassuring me that this was all perfectly normal helped with my nervousness about flying substantially. if she weren't sitting next to me, though, and i had the chance to listen to her voice in moments that were worrisome, i would have loved to have something like that.
posted by radiosilents at 8:10 PM on December 28, 2009

and if the rational approach to calming him really does have merit, remind him that no matter how much the plane seems to be wiggling/shaking/shimmying, if the flight attendants are not strapped into chairs, there's nothing to be concerned about.

one of the biggest things about air travel is that the more you do it, the more you recognize what's completely normal, and those folks fly constantly.
posted by radiosilents at 8:13 PM on December 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Valerian Root is an anti-anxiety herbal supplement that he should be able to get at a health food store. It makes me really mellow, and I have pretty serious anxiety issues. If he takes one right before he boards he will be totally mellow for the take off and he can take more as needed. If he wants he can take three and sleep through the flight. It smells horrible, but it works really well. It also has few side effects.

I get motion sick really easily in cars and buses (never tried reading in a train), but I don't get sick in the air FYI.

Flight001 has a lot of fun items, you might want to get him one of their Comfort Packs.

The take off and the landing are going to be the most stressful for him. Maybe you could give him two little packages specifically to be opened during those times to take his mind off things. When I was little we had to make several transatlantic flights and my mom would put together special travel bags. Lots of cheap new toys and new crayons and coloring books. She always kept something special for the descent so that if we got nervous she could bring it out. It always worked like a charm. Your boyfriend is a grown man obviously, but I think the same general idea would be good.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:18 PM on December 28, 2009

Send him money for beer, to be drunk before he gets on the plane. Or, money for pot, to be smoked before he arrives at the airport (only if pot relaxes him; if it makes him more nervous, don't do that).

I find that flying in an altered state is in every way superior to flying sober.
posted by Netzapper at 8:24 PM on December 28, 2009

I find that I like to do something brainless with my hands while I listen to music/audiobook on the plane. I will either knit (which actually I don't prefer b/c I find it stifling in confined spaces) or color (yeah, I'm a grownup; that just means I buy beautiful coloring books and gorgeous colored pencils or great paintbrush markers) or even draw. Origami, maybe. A deck of cards to play solitaire or other mindless sorts of things that won't distract from the audiobook but also won't have you staring, Puddy-like, at the back of the chair in front of you. It helps take the mind off being on the plane.
posted by mckenney at 8:28 PM on December 28, 2009

I don't freak about about flying. But I just don't really like it, for the same reasons as lots of people. In a confined space, where I can't lie down to sleep (so get tired and grumpy), with other people who are also tired and grumpy.

I like taking my own blanket or wrap. I take my drugs (I also don't mind Dramamine, but have a few choices), wrap the blanket over my head, and listen to my iPod in a slight haze to doze.

So, I would recommend a blanket or wrap that folds up small (anything will be better than the airline blankets, I have some kind of pashmina-type thing), perhaps some aromatherapy product (you can find lots of small roll-on ones, but it will have to go in his liquids ziplock, something like Aesop's Ginger Flight Aromatherapy), Rescue Remedy (a homeopathic thing - this may just have a placebo effect on me, but I take it before boarding or any thing else where I might feel like strangling people), and then lots of podcasts or music (whatever he prefers). I like a mix of interesting podcasts (food, coffee, This American Life), relaxing classical that I can doze off in my drug haze to, plus an audiobook of something I know well (so that when I do manage to drift off, I still know what is going on when I wake up). An occasional chocolate bar is a good distraction too.
posted by AnnaRat at 8:40 PM on December 28, 2009

2nding noise canceling headphones. I own a pair and I love them when I fly. They're especially effective when there's a constant noise in the background, like there is on an airplane. With noise canceling headphones, I can listen to music at a lower volume when I fly, and the music sounds better.
posted by 2oh1 at 9:29 PM on December 28, 2009

I got this pair of cheap Maxell noise cancelling headphones for about 30 bucks Canadian and while I haven't used them on a plane they are a godsend on the bus. Being able to cut down the volume as 2oh1 says is a real godsend and a big part of relaxing as well -- you don't realize how loud planes are until you look and see to hear your music you have your ipod cranked. I wouldn't vouch for them being magic or even having great sound, but they really do cut down on the ambient noise -- even just wearing them with no music.

(I see there are lots of cheap ones now-- the point is, you can spend 500 bucks easily on these, but cheap ones may get you 90% of the benefit for 10% of the price)
posted by Rumple at 9:50 PM on December 28, 2009

cards or a small sketchbook/notebook for those fidgety moments, maybe some magazines - I can't read books on the plane but magazines are just fine because it's easy to look up and relax if there's some turbulence... I like the little bag around the neck idea, too, and the noise cancelling earphones are such a great idea for next time I fly (or at least a good pair of earplugs, it gets so loud). Audiobooks and podcasts are also going on my mp3 player for next time I have a long flight.

If he's someone who might want to sleep on the plane, a neck pillow (inflatable ones pack down small and can be customized for firmness) and eye mask could come in handy too.
posted by Lady Li at 10:27 PM on December 28, 2009

I fly the Ambien Airways. Highly recommend.

Also, a first time flier is often surprised by turbulence. It'd be good to prep him and let him know that turbulence is just a bumpy road. He doesn't panic at speed bumps and he doesn't need to worry about turbulence.
posted by 26.2 at 10:32 PM on December 28, 2009

What about his sense of smell? Planes can have a stressful antiseptic smell, or if you're seated around babies it can be a nightmare of gross questionable substances, inches from your face. Anyway my point is, smell keys into your emotional state a lot more than you think it does, and your boyfriend may be helped by smelling something that will relax him. Does he like your smell (I hope he does, since he's flying all the way to see you), or maybe you wear a perfume that he likes? You could include something that smells heavily of your shampoo that he can keep nearby. A lot of people also love scents like lemon, vanilla, or lavender for relaxation; you can buy essential oils in many places now, and sprinkle some on a scarf or something else he can comfortably cuddle up to. If you're making a care-package, everything might take on that scent a little bit, which might be a nice touch (especially the socks, I'm thinking.)
posted by Mizu at 11:01 PM on December 28, 2009

Watch it with the drugs. I took drowsy Dramamine as my only sedative on my first long-haul flight and woke up in the middle of a panic attack that I couldn't make any sense out of. It was terrifying.
posted by theraflu at 4:38 AM on December 29, 2009

I was recently told by an MRI tech that xanax is better than valium for panic attacks.

L-Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea that promotes relaxation. The effect is subtle but it really seems to take the edge off for me when I use it.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:24 AM on December 29, 2009

For long flights (5+ hours) I usually knock myself out with a Dramamine. It makes the time go much faster to be in and out of consciousness and the upset tummy I usually get from motion-sickness that sticks with me for almost a day after a flight is kept away.
posted by chiefthe at 5:37 AM on December 29, 2009

A big rubber band to keep around his wrist. When fear or panic starts to get a hold of him, snap the band HARD. It does wonders for shaking the scary away.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 5:46 AM on December 29, 2009

Sending Dramamine from the US to Britain shouldn't be a problem. Wrap it in the socks and customs won't notice it. (I've medication sent to me overseas before and this always worked. Customs may or may not have wondered why my mother sent so many socks.) I nth the recommendation - I take 2 Dramamine an hour before my flights and I'm pleasantly drowsy and unaffected by turbulence, which makes things like reading easier.

As someone who flies Trans-Atlantically at least twice per year (that's two round trips), I also nth the suggestion of his own travel blanket and pillow. The ones provided BY the airline are ok... but it's super cozy to have an actual fleece blanket and fleece covered travel pillow as opposed to the kind of, well, used items on the plane. I recently lost my bucky pillow which I will be replacing with an exact copy as it was the supreme awesomeness in pillowy comfort. Far superior to the more foamy cheapo variety.

Earplugs don't appeal to me as I never actually sleep during the flight, but a nice pair of headphones is a must.

The last on my list of "absolute musts" (after Dramamine, pillow, blanket, socks, and a book): crossword puzzles and dopey magazines. Buy him as many cheesy magazines that fit his interests as possible. If he does crosswords or Sudoko, they're great ways to pass time - if not on the plane, then at the gate with the eons of waiting.

Also, a great carry-on bag is helpful in keeping all of this junk organized. I recently got an actual bag *designed* for travel as opposed to the canvas bag I was tossing my stuff in, and it helped SO MUCH.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:51 AM on December 29, 2009

If there's anything that bores the hell out of him, go with that. I read the SkyMall catalog from the second I sit down, and there's usually enough time between sitting down and the plane actually taking off that I'm fast asleep when the stressful accelerations and bumps happen. One time, I sat down, picked up the SkyMall, and was woken up on the other end. I still can't be entirely certain that the plane ever left the ground.
posted by Etrigan at 6:59 AM on December 29, 2009

Most people get motion sickness on buses and cars because your eyes is focusing on two different planes of motion - one that is static, but requires lots of focus, and one that is constantly changing in the background. On the plane, providing he doesn't look out the window while reading, he should be fine (also, clouds move by kind of slowly from up high, so he should be fine regardless).
posted by alon at 9:58 AM on December 29, 2009

Travel pillow. Much more comfortable and sanitary than what you'll get on board. Bonus if you find an aromatherapy one.

If he's bringing any electronics, one of the plug converter-thingys.

I'm a huge fan of dramamine before flight + glass of alcohol at gate before take off = wake up at destination.
posted by cestmoi15 at 10:48 AM on December 29, 2009

If your boyfriend a) has specific anxieties about flying (not just "meh, flying," but "eek, turbulence!" or, "that kind of thing), and is b) the kind of person who finds reading factual debunking of their fears reassuring and helpful, then he might link the Salon column Ask the Pilot. It is, yes, written by an American airline pilot (as opposed to an American Airlines pilot, just to clarify), Patrick Smith. It's very interesting, and Smith maintains a good balance between clearing up misconceptions and explaining how the airline industry works from an insider perspective, and writing about his travels.
posted by bettafish at 1:09 PM on December 29, 2009

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