Help me a better flier!
November 29, 2011 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning to do a decent amount of flying in the next year, including a 15-hour flight. I'm looking for some advice on how to make the trips as comfortable as possible, and how to mitigate jet lag as much as possible. Oh - I can't read in moving vehicles, and I tend to get fidgety on planes. Help!

I suppose my question has a few parts to it, so I'm looking for advice in any and all parts of it:

- I can't read in planes. It really sucks, but after awhile I start to feel nauseous, which I suppose isn't helped all that much by a moving aircraft. My MP3 player only has so much battery life on it, and I can only stare at the seat in front of me for so long before going crazy. Yes, there are movies that you can watch and whatnot, but I tend to get really fidgety on planes. Now that I'm thinking about it, I start to feel crammed in and it gets to me after awhile. (I'm starting to feel that right now, actually.) What can I do to help pass the time without going stir-crazy, or to help alleviate the feeling of the walls closing in?

- We're going to be flying across the world next year, and I'd like to reduce my jet lag as much as possible. Basically I'm concerned that when we get there, we're going to lose a few days just trying to acclimate, and that when we return, I'm going to have to take another few days off from work just to get back on a normal schedule. I read some of the other questions here, and people are iffy on Ambien and that sort of thing. I've taken the lowest level of Xanax and it usually just makes me zone in and out of sleep for a few hours. Any advice on how to hit the ground running and not be out of commission for days after the flight?

- Side question: my girlfriend is emetophobic, so flying with her can be a bit trying. She's also tried Xanax and it's not really all that effective with her either. Anyone else have a similar situation?

I know the advice about wearing loose clothing and layers and all that, and I do. But I feel like I'm missing some piece of knowledge that all these super experienced travelers have... so I guess any other advice you have would be great.

Sorry if this post was all over the place, by the way. I'll try to answer questions if they come up.
posted by gchucky to Travel & Transportation (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I used to loathe long flights, but I found a method that makes them quite tolerable, for me anyway:

1. iPod filled with electronic music + noise-cancelling headphones
2. Valium or the equivalent
3. Several alcoholic drinks in rapid succession

This basically makes me fall asleep and wake up any number of hours later, feeling as if no time had passed whatsoever.
posted by mikeand1 at 6:16 PM on November 29, 2011

For avoiding jet-lag: the Argonne diet. Really works! More info
posted by anadem at 6:20 PM on November 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

You'll want to look up melatonin and jet lag reduction. My heavy-traveling family members swear by it. It is important to take it on the right schedule or it will make your symptoms worse, not better. Some studies say it works no better than placebo - but the placebo effect is real, so it's a win win in my book.
posted by bq at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2011

As an alternative to noise-cancelling headphones, noise isolating in-ear headphones. Plus unabridged audio books. Either get a cheap but really long-powered mp3 player that's isn't a smart phone touch color whatever, or buy a cheap airplane power to usb adaptor and use to select airlines and flights and seats where you can charge up.
posted by zippy at 6:21 PM on November 29, 2011

In addition to music you love, get at least a few podcasts on there! Radiolab and This American Life come highly recommended. What about audiobooks, since you can't read?

Are you able to write, even if you can't read? I love making lists and planning stuff when I am waiting. You could make a list of birthdays/holidays/events to celebrate by the month, goals for the next year, playlists for cd/ipod mixes, wishlists, little things you could mail to people to make them a little happier, and on and on and on!

Do you like to draw? You could draw some people or still lifes of what you see on the airplane.

If you have an ipod, can you watch video on it? Bring a movie or two.

Bring hard candies/gum/mints. They don't take up much room and they are a nice treat to break up the trip.

You can also bring those flavor powders to put in water. (Normally I shun these unless I'm sick or something, but they don't take up much room and the flight attendants still give you water for free, right?)

Happy travels!
posted by shortyJBot at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

According to some researchers at Harvard and Beth Isreal in Boston, fasting for 16 hours helps reset your internal clock much faster.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 6:24 PM on November 29, 2011

+1 for melatonin

I've had good experiences with the Argonne diet as well, though the melatonin, the high protein breakfast on landing, and mentally switching to the destination TZ as I head for the airport are the parts that I've kept.

Planes these days tend to have individual screens with decent movies, but I still enjoy having an iPod or iPad with a season of television on it.

I also typically pack food, water and Nuun such that I'm not waiting for the flight attendants to serve me meals.

Finally: Earplugs, inflatable sleep pillow and a sleep mask all go in my plane carryon bag.

(~8 Transpacific Round Trips and 2 laps of Earth in the last 3 years)
posted by ccoryell at 6:38 PM on November 29, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, I should address this now: I have a pair of rather good noise-cancelling headphones. (I don't like earbud headphones anyway.)
posted by gchucky at 6:39 PM on November 29, 2011

I like to listen to unabridged audiobooks I've read or listened to before on long flights (or train rides or whatever). That way I can fall asleep whenever. It's enough to keep you from getting batshit bored, but not so much that it keeps you wide awake.
posted by mskyle at 6:48 PM on November 29, 2011

I know nothing about jet lag, but benzos (Ativan, Valium, etc) are a blessed gift for flying. This may negatively affect your jet lag, but it's the only way I know to survive a long, boring, fidgety flight.
posted by Mavri at 6:49 PM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bring a spare or external battery for your mp3 player, and load it up with audiobooks and podcasts as well as music.

Sleep as much as you can.
posted by rtha at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2011

Oh, to release some energy and fidgets without looking crazy: You can push firmly on the sides of your chair or armrests, and tense your arms. Try to straighten your arms and lift yourself up.

You can also press your hands firmly together with open palms facing each other, kinda so it looks like you are praying. Press as firmly as you can for 30 seconds.

To exercise your legs, with one foot at a time, trace the alphabet in the air. Lift each leg as high as you comfortably can without it hitting the seat/someone else/looking crazy. Each letter will probably be about a foot and a half tall when you trace it. Really point and flex your toes to feel it in your upper leg/quad. Try to get through the whole alphabet without stopping.

Practice sitting with your chest open, and your shoulders down and back. Tighten your abs and hold for 15 seconds. Release and repeat 10 times.

You can carry a hand-squeezy thing, too. I just got one at work and it's kind of dumb and obvious but I like it.
posted by shortyJBot at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2011 [3 favorites]

If you fly on an A-380, choose a window seat on the upper deck. You get a surprisingly roomy storage locker right next to your seat, which means you can have all your things in easy reach without having to sacrifice legroom. The top is flat and about arm-rest height, so with the lid closed you can slump quite comfortably over it to get some sleep.
posted by embrangled at 7:00 PM on November 29, 2011

Would something that engaged you a bit more than a book help? I'm thinking of one of the portable gaming devices like the Nintendo DS or something similar (or even phone games, if you have a fancy smartphone), with whatever games you might prefer that'd keep your mind occupied enough to not start fidgeting, even if it's word games or Sudoku or whatever. Basically something to keep your hands and your brains a little more busy than a book.

If you're flying from the US, everyone chills out a lot more once you get out of the US. I've never had a problem getting up and walking around or just chilling in the aisle on long international flights once we're safely away from the States, as long as you're not making a big scene.

You can both get anti-nausea meds from your doctor. Failing that, I'm sure there's OTC stuff. I usually down something like Pepto then nurse something carbonated. I also find Airborne (the dubious herbal remedy for colds) helps, which I suspect is because of the ginger it has in it and the carbonation.

I also like to drink. Not to the point of drunkenness, but to the point I'm pleasantly tipsy and cheerful and don't care about anything. YMMV.

I can't sleep on planes so can't help there.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:29 PM on November 29, 2011

I second melatonin and audiobooks.

You could also try meditation to help you relax. You can download a guided meditation onto your mp3.

This site has free meditation downloads:
posted by Jade_bug at 8:15 PM on November 29, 2011

I find that the stuff around not eating, and melatonin work well to help me get over jetlag faster. Also if you drink coffee, sometimes you can feel crappy because you haven't had your caffeine hit at the usual time. Also getting really dehydrated will make you feel crappy, so keep up the water.

I like audiobooks and crappy films (I am too distracted on planes to follow intricate plot lines) to pass the time. Tv is good as it is designed to be watched in 5 min chunks.

I do take medications on board from time to time - sometimes I take the anti-travel sickness ones because they make me a bit dozy and take the edge off that restless, irritable feeling (and I sometimes get travel sick - not much on planes - but that helps). Many of the over-the-counter sleep meds (e.g. Unisom) will have a dual effect of sleepy and less travel sick. They will often dry you out - keep up the water.

I like an aisle seat so as not to feel trapped. Also, while they are often located near galley/toilets and sometimes don't recline as fully, I like seats that back onto the bulkheads because you can keep it reclined at all times. This is useful if you are doing the fasting thing and so want to sleep through the meals, which is when they will make you put your seat upright for the person behind you to eat.
posted by AnnaRat at 12:01 AM on November 30, 2011

"What can I do to help pass the time without going stir-crazy, or to help alleviate the feeling of the walls closing in?"

Knitting, chess computer, learn to solve rubic's cube, crossword, learn to program (a new language, or subfield, such as bio-informatics), learn a musical instrument (those quiet guitars, or those sequencer thingies)? Is there some activity where 15 hours isn't enough time? audio books can be that. An audio course, learn a new language?

"...reduce my jet lag as much as possible."

For me, i'm jazzed the first few hours after I land, then am looking for a nap. Even a 20 minute nap in a hotel lobby, corner of a cafe, or moving vehicle gets me thru the day. A key thing there is having a host who can safeguard me, or a fellow traveller - we sometimes have to take turns on the watch.
posted by at at 12:29 AM on November 30, 2011

Jet lag affects different people differently. For example I am pretty much fine as long as I can get a good night's sleep the night after my arrival (in terms of total hrs, not necessarily uninterrupted). And that has less to do with crossing x time zones and more with the fact that long-haul travel by default means you end up having a "long day". So if I arrive somewhere in the morning I force myself to stay awake until the evening and then I wake up the next morning and go about my business as normal, i.e get up nice and early to go to work or start my holiday. There is no question at all of allowing a few days of downtime to adjust...all that happens is that I get a bit tired at times of day when I would be going to sleep at home. And as I am busy doing stuff these times pass und you adjust quickly by default because you don't have time to snooze and thus prolong the adjustment period. So just don't plan the downtime. And unless past experience indicates otherwise you'll probably be fine.

So a lot of the agony involved in air travel is to do with clearing security and lugging hand luggage across large airports. So be smart about what you wear and how much you plan to carry as hand luggage to reduce general stress levels. Less is always more.

Buy some water after clearing security and keep drinking it.

Take some plane socks and a pillow type thing and be sure to work out before you travel to reduce excess energy. Also take whatever will help you freshen up en route and when your arrive. It will all help to make you more comfy.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:49 AM on November 30, 2011

The iPad is the single best traveling device in history. I generally rent a few movies in iTunes the night before the flight so they are downloading while I sleep. It also gives you games and books (including Kindle books via the app).

Noise-cancelling headphones. The Sony $50 ones are fine, the $100 ones are better.
I have never tried the Bose ones but, jeez, $300?

If possible stick to one airline and try to get status or build up the status you have there, to get access to more comfortable seating, airline lounges etc. Some airlines like United will also let you just buy the trappings (e.g. pay a yearly fee for access to Economy Plus). The new "explorer" United credit card gives you a bunch of perks right away that you would normally have to build up status to get (e.g. early boarding). I'm not pushing United, those are just examples of deals you can work if you can focus on one airline.
posted by w0mbat at 1:12 AM on November 30, 2011

I am just going to address the nausea since there are so many good suggestions for everything else. There are over-the-counter meds like Dramamine or Bonine that will help. I get motion sickness, and these work well for me. You can get them at any drugstore and they even sell them at the airport. They also might be helpful for your girlfriend so she'll have reassurance that she won't become nauseous on the flight. Have fun!
posted by bedhead at 2:36 AM on November 30, 2011

I recommend bonine/dramamine plus an external battery for your electronic device of choice. They make ones that can recharge even a tablet three or more times, I think.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2011

The vibration underfoot on long flights drives me nuts, and contributes to nausea, so I carry a small inflatable pillow to rest my feet on. I try extra extra hard to get a seat away from toilets of course, but also the galley, as that metalic food smell makes me ill.

I read on planes, preferably mindless books I've already read. I can't draw for nuts, but it's fun on a long flight. For mp3 players: do you turn off the backlight before travelling? That really extends the life. And if you are travelling with a partner, how about a travel chess board?

For jetlag, brute force works for me. I force myself to follow the destination country's time as soon as I'm in the airport, so at least closing my eyes when it should be night time on the aeroplane, and not taking any naps once I arrive. By the next morning I've lost that lightheadedness.
posted by tavegyl at 6:01 AM on November 30, 2011

If your MP3 player is an iPod/iPhone, I can vouch for this thing. Cheap and effective.
posted by chazlarson at 7:26 AM on November 30, 2011

These are great for travel hydration.
posted by bq at 2:05 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Plane comfort:

1. MP3 player filled with audiobooks and podcasts + high quality headphones with active noise cancelling. Bonus option: Kindle filled with actual books. 2nd Bonus: games on your mobile device.

2. Inflatable neck pillow and eye mask - use the airline pillow to pad the small of your back. This will make it possible to get some reasonable sleep on the plane.

3. Water, small snacks.

4. Face moisturiser or spray. Toothbrush. Being able to freshen up will really help on those long flights.

5. Comfy pants - yoga pants are good.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:09 PM on November 30, 2011

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