Flying internationally 101
June 5, 2014 8:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm flying alone internationally for the first time. Help me make it as painless as possible.

So for the first time in my life, I'm flying around the world alone. I already have extreme anxiety issues when it comes to flying, and the prospect of having to handle a 27-hour journey, complete with immigration, customs and time zone shenanigans is not helping. What can I do to make this as easy on me as possible and/or avoid making stupid mistakes?

Pertinent details: I'm on an Emirates flight, MAA-DXB-SFO, with an eight-hour layover in Dubai International, and I'm an Indian citizen on an F1 visa.


- I've only ever flown domestic alone before. What do I need to be aware of for an international flight? (The last few times I travelled internationally, I was both really sick and with other people and therefore not really paying attention.) Ditto for immigration/customs.

- Eight hours (overnight, basically) in Dubai International- is a lounge pass worth it? What's there to do if I choose not to go sit in one for a few hours?

- I'm vegetarian, diabetic and live somewhere where I don't have access to 90% of snacks usually recommended for flying (KIND bars, jerky, string cheese.) Any suggestions?

- Jet lag. How do I avoid it, or at least minimise it as much as possible?

posted by Tamanna to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Almonds are wonderful ways to keep up your energy.
posted by odinsdream at 9:07 PM on June 5, 2014

> Eight hours (overnight, basically) in Dubai International- is a lounge pass worth it? What's there to do if I choose not to go sit in one for a few hours?

Call Emirates and see if your layover in Dubai qualifies you for a hotel voucher. I think 8 hours is the lower limit. It's really not much time, because you still need to go through immigration before you can go out to the Emirates-specific hotels just outside the airport. Indian passport holders will have to go through some crowded lines -- regardless if you flew from the US or not.

Dubai airport is big and shiny, but imho not terribly interesting unless you want to buy overpriced clothes and watches. Decent food selection, though. There are rows of chaise lounge style chairs that you can get a decent nap in in the terminals, and the restrooms are clean. There are also several restrooms that have shower stalls (also clean).

But if you do qualify for a voucher, be aware that it will take a few hours from touchdown to get to your room, and checkout times are well in advance of your next flight (Emirates does a good job monitoring this). It may be that that 8 hour layover means maybe 3-4 hours of actual rest in the hotel. Could be useful or could be a hassle, depending on if you really just need a private place for a nap. But that's conditional on if Emirates provides the voucher.

I could go on about other details about international travel, but would just give one bit of advice: pack a change of underwear in a ziploc bag in your carry-on. If you want to shower in the airport, fresh underwear is a nice thing to have.
posted by planetesimal at 9:11 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

For jetlag, the Argonne diet worked really well for me flying from SF to Delhi. I had virtually no jetlag after the rather weird feeding schedule it imposes. I skipped it on the return flight and felt washed out for several days after arriving.

I was in Dubai International for several hours and it was very dull. I don't know about a lounge pass but anything you can do to rest would be great.

Nuts are great, but take some fruit too to help against the dryness of high-altitude air.
posted by anadem at 9:12 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

- see if you can get a prescription for something to ease your anxiety. If not, try to take melatonin to help you sleep on the plane.

- Dramamine can help with motion sickness or just to ease nausea

-bring a travel pillow, socks (so you can relax and take off your shoes), earphones and calming music,

- if you can afford it, pay for a transit hotel in Dubai. Then you'll have a home base to relax and take a nap if you need it.

-if you land during the day, plan to go out and do something when you get there, so your body adjusts. If you arrive at night, melatonin can also help to sleep right away. This will help with jet lag

- order a vegetarian meal in advance for the flight.

- drink lots of water
posted by superfille at 9:15 PM on June 5, 2014 [4 favorites]

International flights are mostly the same as domestic ones, only longer and with free food. The main issues will probably be comfort-related. Know that flight attendants on long flights tend to be more helpful than on shorter ones--don't feel bad about asking for a pillow or a blanket, if you need one. They are usually happy to help. Dehydration is something to be aware of. Many airlines have flight attendants periodically offer water on long flights. That's good, but make sure you carry your own water, too, in case you fall asleep and miss out. Drink lots. It will keep you feeling good, and it will also make you have to go to the bathroom, which is great on a long flight, because another important thing to do on long flights is to get up and walk every so often. You will be less cramped and feel better after your flight if you walk the aisles every now and then.

For immigration, know what declarable items you are carrying (you can check the immigration info online for your destination, but the usual biggies are food items). Declare everything. Also know where your declarable items are packed; sometimes immigration officers ask you to fish the declared items out and present them. This is usually very routine and not a big deal--you get the thing out, the officer looks at it, goes "okay", hands it back to you, and you repack as fast as humanly possible and get on your way.

In large international airports, there are usually shops and a variety of restaurants, and seating (sometimes really comfy seating) for travellers between flights. There may also be an area where you can pay to have a shower. I would recommend the pay for a shower arrangement--after sitting in a plane for so long, it feels amazing. As for a lounge, I've never used one. There's usually enough going on in a large international airport that it's possible to kill a few hours pleasantly enough window-shopping, people-watching, and eating a local-style meal. Overnight, people tend to sleep in public areas in airports. YMMV as to whether you are comfortable doing this. I have done it successfully. I felt safe because: I was in an area where many other people were sleeping; I had my passport and cash in a pouch under my clothing; and I was sleeping on top of my other belongings (backpack as pillow, second carry-on as footrest).

Some snack ideas: hard-boiled eggs if you like them; cheese; cucumbers, with a little baggie of salt or salt/spice mix to dip them in; veggie sticks; nuts or other trail mix type stuff; basically anything you'd take on a day-trip or a hike or something.

For jet lag, I can't say if this empirically works, but my strategy is to get familiar with the time zone conversion between my departure and arrival locations before the flight, and then do my best while travelling to sleep at the appropriate time for the arrival location. Or, failing that, just to sleep as much as possible while in transit, and then stay awake until the usual sleep time in the arrival location. This has worked for me, but I know other people have a harder time with jet lag.

On preview: fresh underwear! I can't second this enough! So nice to change into clean underwear mid-travel. In fact, it's also a good practice to have a full change of fresh clothes in your carry-on, in case of luggage delay/loss.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:30 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I flew around the world with Emirates and I would definitely recommend paying the $50 for their lounge pass. Food, comfortable chairs, quiet room, wi-fi.

I have learned on multiple RTW trips' experience to have a good, thick, luxurious eye mask, good earphones for my music/ ear plugs to tune out all plane noises, to suss out the movies that I'll never pay to see but look like fun diversion, to order well in advance vegetarian meals [Emirates lets you do this via online check in] which means I get fed first, it's hot and thus avoid all the later queues at the loo.

On long flights I have taken half an alepam to kill off the parasympathetic loops of anxiety. When it wears off I make sure I walk around the plane keeping circulation in my feet. I wear surgical socks on long flights and they really do make a difference to your feet swelling.

Flying into the USA means long immigration queues, so go the toilet before the plane lands. Get to the line fast, don't dawdle. I usually sit in an aisle seat on the plane if I am going into the USA, just so I can get going quickly. Don't use your phone etc in the customs halls in USA [or anywhere] because you'll get yelled at. Nothing like being yelled at in a customs queue for amping up anxiety, so avoid that.

And try to channel the anxiety into anticipation - good excitement! You're going around the world! It's such a great experience!
posted by honey-barbara at 9:31 PM on June 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think Emirates gives you nice little slippers. But compression socks are a godsend: if not compression socks, then bring your own flip-flops.

Two uses exist for 10,000 lux lamps, btw: seasonal affective disorder and jet lag. If you already had one, and have the packing room... why not? If you don't, and can afford the $70 for a cheap one, it's also to be thought of. It doesn't involve taking a medicine, is why I recommend it (gotta read the damn manual, though), and I nth the Argonne diet.

Fresh underwear, Gold bond. Freshness is good.

Toilet timing is an intuitive subject but is worth spending 600 seconds thinking about.
posted by curuinor at 9:51 PM on June 5, 2014

If you need to have insulin with you (or any other liquid medication) make sure to bring the documentation from your doctor saying that you need it. You're allowed to take as much as is medically necessary (it isn't subject to the regular liquid limits) but you do need some sort of proof and they will probably examine it at x-rays.

I would order the vegetarian meal on the flight, but have some nuts as an in between snack -- most nuts have about as much protein as carb in them, so they are a pretty reasonable snack.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:08 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I second snorkmaiden's advice about underwear, and I also recommend taking some baby wipes in a Ziploc bag or similar.

Apart from that, it's just like a shorter flight but really long and boring.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:12 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Emirates will hand out plenty of vegetarian snacks during the course of the flight. Even in economy, there's also always going to be baskets of fruit, candy bars, bags of salted nuts, etc in the galleys during quiet times of the flight.
posted by planetesimal at 10:13 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't feel a lounge pass was necessary when I've flown thru Dubai, because of the lounge chairs, they are more comfortable for napping in than most airport chairs. It's very busy and bustling, though, which makes for very interesting people-watching given it is such a crossroads of culture, but makes it not very peaceful if you're a light sleeper. In that case a lounge pass might be worth it. It's a big airport and I don't think you'll want a transit hotel. I did use one and was happy with it, but with only 8 hours in between flights, it's going to take you at least 1-2 hours to get your luggage and figure out where to go/get there after you arrive, and if you're anxious about your connection you'll want to get back at least 1-2 hours prior to departure if not more, so you really wouldn't have much time to spend at a hotel.

You can bring snacks if you want to (maybe something like apples or carrots? You've got those in India, right?), but Emirates has some of the best food of any airline. Just order the special meals. I've done their vegetarian meals and been quite pleased with them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:19 PM on June 5, 2014

More on Dubai: you asked what there is to do. Aside from people watching, it's kind of like a luxury mall in there with fancy brand name fashion and jewelry shops. So you can go window shopping…

For jet lag, I'd just recommend if you're arriving in the daytime, to push yourself to stay awake until it's nighttime in the USA even if you feel like taking a nap. What you do while on the planes and in the airports doesn't matter so much. Just sleep when you can.

For customs and immigration, just be prepared to wait in line, with a book or something. Know the address where you're going so you can answer the agent's questions (they don't care about minute details but you need to be able to explain where you're going and for what purpose). Have nothing to declare in your bags - if you started with fresh produce, eat it or toss it before you get to customs. Then, when you get to customs you can just say "nothing to declare" and move on. That's about it, there's really nothing special to know, it's mostly a matter of just jumping through all the hoops lined up in front of you and not succumbing to boredom.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:27 PM on June 5, 2014

My long-haul carryon essentials:
comfortable eye mask, soft foam earplugs (2 pair, corded), sunglasses, comfortable in-ear headphones with isolating tips, chewing gum, kind/clif bars (2+), ibuprofen, multivitamins, lip balm, travel toothbrush and toothpaste, floss (the freebie from the dentist is perfect), nail clippers, baby wipes, hand sanitizer. Change of underwear, cushy socks for the airplane, change of regular socks for the arrival.

I also like to bring a scarf, Kindle, small paperback, sketchbook, pocket pen or pencil, and a camera (though often I just use my iPhone). Blanket and pillow if you have one you like, mine is inflatable to save space. An iPad charger has enough juice for most small electronics so you only have to bring the cables and one brick. The Kindle is really the crux for me— it totally takes the edge off waiting in a long queue when I can read a book.

Make sure your music and podcasts are playable in airplane mode! I made that mistake once after a software update and my phone hadn't synced. Never again.
posted by a halcyon day at 10:33 PM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best things I ever got for air travel were a good sleep mask and one of those cheap toilet-seat-shaped neck pillows they sell in airports. I went from "never slept more than five fitful minutes on a plane" to "out cold like I was home in bed."

Other than that, economy seats on international flights tend to have the size and legroom of Business class on domestic flights. I actually find flying internationally much less taxing than going U.S. coast-to-coast in coach. Good luck!
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:42 PM on June 5, 2014

Get to the airport an hour earlier than you would for a domestic flight just in case of weird customs issues/confusion, etc. You probably won't need it, but you'll be glad you did. When you're sitting in various lines, looking for where to go, etc, it'll be nice to know that you have plenty of time so you're not stressed out the whole time.
posted by empath at 10:45 PM on June 5, 2014

1. Get on plane.

2. Bring plenty of stuff to do for the long ass flight. I like a captivating page-turning sort of book. Usually there are TVs on the back of your seat with vaguely good-ish movies, too.

3. There will probably be free wine! Not 100% sure about this as maybe you're flying Emirates? Not sure if Arab-world airlines make with the free wine on planes. But if so, it sure does help.

4. Beware of incomprehensible foreign customs forms. But seriously, just take a deep breath and try your best. You're probably fine if you're just a tourist and not trying to come into their country with agricultural samples or $50,000 Persian rugs.

OK, in all seriousness, I think you'll be fine. It's really not that different from flying domestically, aside from the fact that you should get there a bit earlier and the flight is mega-long. And don't forget your passport.

Re food, just... bring some snacks. IME, they really feed you like crazy on international flights, but on the off chance that you get your meal tray last or it doesn't work with your schedule, just have a snack of some kind on hand. I don't know that you need string cheese or the like -- I've never seen a list of optimal international flying snacks. Just keep it non-liquid, a finger food, and relatively odorless (for the comfort of your fellow passengers) and it's fine. What kind of shelf-stable room temp snack do you like? Yeah, bring that. Unless it's very stinky, and then don't.

Re jetlag, it's just a thing. There is no avoiding it. I personally swear by eating when they want you to eat (which is a lot), sleeping when they dim the lights, and again, yaaaaaaaay free wine (which will hopefully help with the latter). But the reality is that certain time shifts are just going to hit you hard and that's life.
posted by Sara C. at 11:18 PM on June 5, 2014

If you're feeling anxious about whatever, whenever, whereever, you can almost always find somebody officially employed who will love to answer your questions or tell you where to go. Like, customs forms, you can ask for help filling it out. If you're going through immigration and don't know what queue is for you, find the person in a uniform and ask. If you need to know how much longer until food so you can schedule your insulin, ping your flight attendant and ask. Generally, international terminals and flights are absolutely stocked with people hired on the basis of how helpful they are to strangers. Nobody will be annoyed that you're asking for help or clarification. Everybody will be glad that you want to get things right.

Seconding: socks, don't forget your passport (it might be helpful to you to get a dedicated passport holder that you can then clip to something?), scarf or other lightweight but soft and expandable fabric thing, bring documentation for insulin or other meds (just a note from your doctor), stay hydrated, entertainment should be light and easy to pick up or drop.

As for the lounge pass, I've never been to the one in Dubai but in my experience it's often worth it because they have often have swankier bathrooms and the quiet is a godsend after the huge sustained white noise of the plane (and it's not comparatively quiet in the general terminal). If you can afford it without it affecting your travel expenses otherwise, it seems worth it.
posted by Mizu at 11:43 PM on June 5, 2014

MAA-DXB should be relatively easy/fast, but DXB-SFO is going to be looong. Definitely try for a shower on your layover, whether it's in a lounge or a transit hotel in Dubai.

When I flew from DC to Bangladesh, a friend gave me a dupatta and it ended up being a nice thing to drape over my head on the flight to get some sleep and a sense of privacy. It didn't block light fully but it helped, and it made it clear that I didn't want to be disturbed. Qatar gives passengers stickers to indicate that they want to sleep rather than be woken for meals, etc. which was a nice little touch.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:01 AM on June 6, 2014

Call Emirates and see if your layover in Dubai qualifies you for a hotel voucher. I think 8 hours is the lower limit.

The majority of economy tickets do not qualify. There is an airside hotel, I was quoted $250 for 6 hours. The lounge is about $50 for 2 or 3 hours - they will kick you out when your time us up.

I was there for 9 hours a couple of months ago overnight and slept on one of the hard lounge chairs. Hundreds of people were doing this. Not pleasant, and Dubai airport has too much air conditioning and too much fluorescent light, but it passed the time.

Your other options are to enter Dubai and go into the city if you are there during the day, or get an airport hotel and shuttle.
posted by wingless_angel at 12:49 AM on June 6, 2014

I always adjust my watch to the time at destination, as soon as I board the plane and settle in my seat. You don't want to get all confused and miss your connecting flight because your watch was reading the wrong time. Plus I find jet lag is less unbearable when you start the adjustment process the moment you board, i.e. you sleep and wake based on the destination time zone, forcing yourself to stay awake watching movies on the plane because it's day time in SFO even though it's 4am in DXB. Gives your brain a little extra time.

For long-haul flights, I'd pack almost exactly the same things on board as a halcyon day listed. Somehow the travelling leaves you all crunky and there's so much to be said about having a freshly washed face and minty breath to make you feel more comfortable. Emirates should have power points for you to charge your electronics (check SeatGuru) but during your layover, you might want to also bring along an outlet adaptor in case you can't find universal outlets at the airport. Some dead tree reading material may come in useful if you're faced with dead batteries, or if you're stuck in an immigrations queue (they frown on use of electronics in queues). Magazines like The Economist are better than books because (a) they're lighter and easier to stuff into your bag or the seat pocket; (b) they let you read in bite-sized portions; and (c) you can toss them into the recycle bin once you're done instead of adding redundant weight to your bag.

Stay away from skinny jeans or any kind of tight, constrictive clothing. I wear yoga pants or (god I hate that word) jeggings. A hoodie to keep me warm on a freezing airplane - I also pull down the hood to shield my eyes if I need some sleep. Being completely isolated from my surroundings (eye mask + ear plugs) makes me very nervous when I'm travelling alone, so I compromise with a hoodie.

You can't stretch much in your seat because you'll piss off your seat neighbour. There's always a little area near the galley where you can stretch to your heart's content, if you don't mind people looking at you funny.

Theft on airplanes is uncommon, but happens. There's a higher risk of that when travelling alone, because you don't have a companion to keep an eye on your stuff when you leave your seat or when you're asleep. I keep my passport and phone with me at ALL TIMES.

I don't know if Emirates does this (the Asian airlines do), but a midnight snack of piping-hot cup noodles is so so satisfying. Each time I order this, I get envious looks from people around me, and they start asking the flight attendants for the same thing :)

Sleeping in Airports will tell you what to expect at DXB, and how you can occupy your time during your layover.
posted by hellopanda at 1:36 AM on June 6, 2014

One thing that may or may not apply to your situation that caught me off-guard while flying internationally in North America was the first time I had a connection between the international flight and a domestic flight in the destination country.

Previously, my destination had always been the airport at the end of the international flight. So I was accustomed to—at the end of the trip—collecting my stowed luggage and moping patiently through long lines at customs.

But in this case during the connection interval I had to debark from the international flight, retrieve my stowed luggage, pass through customs, pass through security screening again, and board the domestic flight before it left. The booking airline had only allotted 45 minutes for all this and it made for a very tense connection, particularly since the security screening stopped me to seize some items that security in the origin country hadn't had any problem with. I just barely made it, reaching the domestic departure gate after the flight had already boarded and I was being paged over the intercom.

I lost one of the tools I was using for work because it included a small blade that was too long (not too expensive fortunately) which had passed through the airport security in both countries during previous trips, perhaps because I was visibly nervous about reaching the connecting flight in time and that raised flags, or perhaps because I'd usually been travelling via much smaller airports than the connecting hub was on this occasion. (Or maybe it was just bad luck.)

On one Europe-to-North-America trip leaving from Heathrow in London they were unusually picky about the weight of my carry-on luggage when I checked in for the flight and I had to go through a process of transferring things from the carry-on to the checked luggage, weighing both, and transferring more stuff a few times. I might have packed differently for that trip though, or brought back exceptionally heavy souvenirs or something, because I don't think I've ever encountered the same problem on another flight.
posted by XMLicious at 1:45 AM on June 6, 2014

I like flying alone internationally. Over the years I have developed my 'solo travel' experience so that it is pretty hassle-free and enjoyable for me, even though I am a very anxious person.

-My advice is to keep carry-on luggage to a minimum. Assuming you're going with carry-on plus check-in baggage, put 90% of what you will need on your trip into your checked baggage* and keep your carry-on limited to a small handbag or backpack which is squashy and not hard. This means you won't be doing a lot of rummaging, you'll have space in case you want to do any duty free shopping, and you won't be tussling for space in the overhead lockers with people who have brought cabin suitcases.

*I always do this and have, touch wood, never lost my luggage but there is that to keep in mind, I guess.

-In my carry-on, I keep the barest essentials - phone/mp3 player, Kindle or book, passport and essential travel documents. Toiletries: Change of underwear, baby wipes, deodorant, toothbrush and a mini-thing of toothpaste.

-Wear comfortable clothes.

-I always save up a book I've really been looking forward to reading. Similarly, I always load my phone with new music right before a flight so I'm not listening to the same stuff I'm always hearing.

-Drink a lot of water and actually my advice would be to avoid the free alcohol because it can have a dehydrating effect.

What I've always done since I began flying internationally by myself is try to make the airport/travel experience into a pleasant one for me, sort of an extended period of 'me time', and just done whatever I wanted, even if that is something a bit self-indulgent like a fancy meal or buying something completely unnecessary at duty free. It really helps to tamp down the anxiety for me. Good luck!
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:10 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

After god knows how many overnight flights in my life, I finally took an eye mask with me last month. So, so, so much better.

You should be able to request vegetarian meals on the Emirates website. If not, phone them. They should specify whether they define vegetarian as eating eggs or not. The US airlines have made big improvements to their vegetarian meals in the last couple of years, since they discovered that curry does well on planes. I'm guessing Emirates got the memo.

Coming into the US, you get given a customs form on the airplane. When you reach the immigration/customs hall, you stand in an unreasonably long line to get to the immigration officer. They'll look at your passport and customs form. Since you're on an F1 visa, ask your university if there are any papers you should have available at immigration. (There should be some sort of international students office.) Once you go through immigration, you basically walk straight into the baggage claim. Once you have your bags, you head for the exit, which I think is marked 'exit' and 'customs'. You'll probably have to stand in a long and not very organised line to get to a customs official, who will take your customs form and send you on your way.

Last month, customs was asking every person if they had food and bouncing people to the Department of Agriculture. (There's actually a question on the customs form that asks if you have food. When you say yes, the immigration officer writes a big A on it and you get sent to Agriculture.) You are allowed to bring food into the US, but not fruit, vegetables or meat. (See here for guidance.) Since you're diabetic, I'm guessing you'll be carrying some food in case of emergency. All that happens at Agriculture is they say "So you have food with you?" You say yes, then they say "What kind of food?" and you tell them and they say "That's fine" and let you go, assuming your food is permitted. Dried fruit is fine (so I just learned), candy and chocolate are fine, nuts are mostly okay (definitely if they're steamed or roasted, etc.). Be warned that customs and agriculture are prone to treat people who aren't white like they're idiots.

Check the rules in India and Dubai, but if you can, bring an empty water bottle with you through security and fill it before you get on the plane.

If you can pay a small amount of money for a shower in Dubai, it's worth it.
posted by hoyland at 4:20 AM on June 6, 2014

As well as what everyone else has said:

Before you leave, go online and check in. Get your seat assignment as far in advance as possible. If you order a special meal, the FA will come around just after departure and ask you to confirm it. Then they put a sticker on your headrest. If you change seats, take the sticker with you. Your meal will be served first. Likely you will finish eating before your seat mates even get their meals which means being "trapped" by your tray table for a longer period of time.

If you are carrying a lot of stuff that you need during the flight, book/water/lotion/glasses/pills etc, it starts to get out of control. The seat pocket in front of you does not hold very much. Think about how to organize your stuff and how not to forget any of it when you disembark. Bring a couple small plastic bags for trash in case you're asleep when the FAs come around collecting.

Emirates probably passes out complementary toiletry kits, with a disposable toothbrush, a mini-toothpaste, a eye mask, and a pair of socks. The bathroom will have hand lotion and aftershave/cologne and maybe hand sanitizer.

If you are sleeping during mealtime, they will try to wake you unless you ask not to be disturbed. If for some reason you miss a meal, the galley has snacks at all times.

I carry a shawl/sarong for warmth/privacy/lightweight blanket, especially helpful during a long layover.

During the layover, besides napping, I'd walk around briskly as much as possible. Grab one of those little carts to hold your carry-on and push it in front of you.

You can fill an empty water bottle from the drinking fountain in the departure lounge before you board in Dubai.

If you put your wallet/passport/valuables in your carry-on into the overhead compartment, have a small padlock for the zipper. (You've padlocked your check-in baggage as well). Combination padlocks are easier than ones that need a key.

When the FA hands out US Arrival Cards, fill it out immediately (with the pen you are carrying--don't laugh, you'd be surprised how many people don't travel with a pen on them) and tuck it into your passport. It's okay to fold it.

Here is what the arrival card looks like.

Hand lotion (travel size), as well as chapstick, because the air is super-drying. The FAs will hand out hot steamy towelettes after take off and various other times.

An inflatable neck pillow will ensure that when you fall asleep, you stay asleep and not be doing the head-nod-jerk-awake maneuver for hours on end. Emirates is probably using the new Airbus on the 2nd leg. The head rests on those seats have adjustable wings which might mean you can forgo the air pillow.

Going through US Immigration after a long flight, look as alert, pleasant, and relaxed as possible. They will want to know why you are coming/where you are staying/how long you are staying/if you have enough money for your stay and that you will leave when your visa is up. I see you have a student visa. They will still ask you why you are here.

After Immigration is baggage claim. Sometimes just before arrival, the FA will announce what belt your bags will come on but there will always be an Arrivals monitor with your flight number and the belt number, as well as a sign at the proper belt, or just look for passengers whom you recognize from your flight.

After collecting your bag, you will go through Customs. If you are carrying food, mention that you are diabetic, "Well I am a diabetic so I have some xxx just in case"

I hope hope hope someone is picking you up at the airport. It's the best favor in the world.

Also this: the first night after you arrive, jet lag doesn't matter. You will be so exhausted from the flight that even if you fall asleep at 4 PM, you'll sleep through the night. It's the 2nd and 3rd nights that you have to watch out for. For me, I can go to bed at 9 PM thinking, well, that's a reasonable bedtime and SPROINGGGGG, wake up at midnight, WIDE AWAKE. And feeling rested! And essentially up for the rest of the night AND the following day and then it happens again. Me, I can power through the day though, with some kind of weird energy. If you need to get back to sleep: take a hot shower.

Also something like Gravol/Dramamine is available OTC and will induce drowsiness on the flight or afterwards.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:01 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed the Hairpin essay "How to Survive a 10-Hour Flight Like a Lady" by Hilary Fischer-Groban, and it was written specifically about travel between the US and India. Good luck!
posted by Sfving at 6:28 AM on June 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you wear contact lenses? Your eyes will get really irritated on a long, dry flight where you are partially sleeping in your lenses.

I wear disposables and just throw them out after meal time and then put in a new pair just before landing. I pack 2-3 pairs in my carryon just so I have backup. If you use longer-wear lenses it might be worth carrying a lens case and a (tiny) bottle of saline/cleaner.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2014

International flights are SO much better than domestic. I've never flown Emerates, but I suspect it's pretty kushy.

Bring snacks, I find that meal service on really long-haul flights can be off from your body's expectations. On a flight to Korea, we were given a big meal right as we took off, and then nothing for 8 hours. I was ravenous by the time breakfast rolled around! I don't know what snacks are available to you, but nuts are good, high protein, you may be able to get protein bars at the airport, etc. What would you normally bring with you if you were going to be out and about during the day?

Pick up a huge thing of water at the airport, or get up and get water at regular intervals during the flight. Air travel is SO dehydrating. Try to get an aisle seat, I like them because I can get up and walk around, which is a good thing to do, also with all my H20 consumption, I need the loo pretty frequently.

I like to pack my own blanket, it takes up room in the carry on, but to me, it's worth it. Nthing the U shaped pillow for sleeping, it makes a HUGE difference.

See if you can get your doctor to prescribe a mile anti-anxiety drug/sleep aid. I had 5mg of Valium and it really took the edge off. I have Trazedone which is a great sleep aid, I take half of one and it gently eases me to sleep, but I'm not dead to the world (or my cats.) If not, Benedryl/ZzzQuil is a mellow, relaxing sleep. Do check with your doc, I don't know how diabetes will be affected by these types of drugs.

If noise and light are issues, ear plugs/sleep mask may help.

Don't worry about Immigration and Customs. You'll be given very helpful instructions and other passengers and ground crew will be happy to help you. Typically you claim your luggage, and there are little carts to help you pile it up. Then you go through customs, they'll look at your passport, ask you a question or two, what is the purpose of your trip? It's business or leisure, not 'I'm going to see my Aunt Ida and my cousins.' Then you'll get waived through, you'll re-check your bags to your next stop, then you'll go to the transit area.

I've never been to Dubai, so can't help there, but I will say that if a lounge pass gives you access to a shower, it may be WELL worth it. I always feel so grungy after long flights.

Eat frequently but in small amounts, drink lots of water, bring a good selection of things to read and games to play, and see a doctor about things that can help with your anxiety.

You're going to do fine!

Happy travels!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:47 AM on June 6, 2014

Pick up a huge thing of water at the airport

Nearly all flights have a water foundation and regardless the galley will always have a tray with cups of water. Just use that (and you'll have an excuse to walk around and stretch). If anything just take an empty water bottle. A huge thing of water would be terribly inconvenient to lug around and you wont be able to fit it in the seat pocket.

Typically you claim your luggage, and there are little carts to help you pile it up. Then you go through customs

This is wrong. You go through immigration first, then you pick up your stuff.
posted by special-k at 7:56 AM on June 6, 2014

My 75 yo insulin dependent type 1 diabetic mother flies regularly from Australia to the US. Her advice, make sure you have everything you need to monitor your diabetes, tester and lots of test strips if you are insulin dependent you want insulin in both your case and carry on, do not keep it all in one place accidents happen, spare pens or syringes again have backups in both cases. A letter from your doctor for your meds, copy the letter and put one in your suit case for the meds in there and one in your carry on.

Stewards on flights, specially international ones are pretty knowledgeable about problems passengers can have. If you need something to eat they will bring you a snack if you explain you a diabetic, but try and have snacks you know work for you on hand. My mother likes to buy a juice to have with her on the plane as it is a fast acting sugar if needed, you have to buy these after you go through security.

Drink lots of water dehydration will mess up your blood sugar levels.

I've had US immigration be perfectly polite and I've had them be dicks, it's hard after a long flight to handle it if they decide to give you a rough time. Make sure your paperwork is all in order before you leave and easily accessed when you arrive. Answer their questions politely but offer no other comments for them to latch onto. A jetlagged misunderstanding by me of the direction to put "four fingers" on the scanner as put your forefinger on the scanner led to a very irate immigration officer thinking I was being a dick and me not able to figure out why he was getting mad at me as my forefinger was on the damn scanner. Needless to say that entry did not go well.

Emirates is my dream airline, the service is usually great even in economy if you are polite, if you can get an upgrade you'll be in travel heaven.
posted by wwax at 7:58 AM on June 6, 2014

Frequent international flyer here. Lots of advice above but a few key things:

a) Get a really good sleep mask and don't cheap out if you can avoid it. I personally love the Ostrich pillow
Also get a really nice pair of earphones/headphones and a white noise app like this ( With these two you can cut out cabin noise, conversations and light. If you take an anxiety pill, you can easily just relax and pass out.

b) Flying coach sucks but you can make the best of it. Go on seat, punch in your flight number and date and find the best seat possible on that airline. Aisle alone does not guarantee a good seat (some wont recline, others will be near toilets or the galley). Sometimes you can even get a great window seat without a seat in front.

c) Unless you travel all carry-on (I suspect you're not), keep it light. You don't want to be schlepping too much stuff around in layovers.

d) Since this is your first international flight, don't overthink jetlag. Just experience it. You'll get over it in a few days. Once you get to your destination, fight the urge to sleep or nap the same day and only fall asleep as close to your regular bed time as possible. You can take melatonin to avoid waking up in the middle of the night but again not a big deal in your case.
posted by special-k at 8:07 AM on June 6, 2014

Dress appropriately. My usual flying outfit is a loose-fitting cotton dress, slip on shoes (I hate fussing with shoes at security) and a hoodie. A shawl also makes a good improvised blanket.

One of those toilet seat shaped pillows makes a big difference. They look silly but are totally worth it in my opinion. Some airlines also provide sleep masks and earplugs, but if you have ones you like, bring your own. Flying can make my skin feel very dry, so in addition to drinking lots of water, I like to have lip balm and a small container of moisturizer. Also bring a pen, you can start filling out forms sooner.

I've had good results using melatonin to help manage my jet lag, I'd usually take it on a red-eye flight to get some sleep, and take it when I want to go to bed when I'm at my destination. However, I'd make sure you tolerate it well before traveling if you want to try it. My bf took dramamine on our last international flight and he was snoring before takeoff.
posted by inertia at 8:19 AM on June 6, 2014

I will add a few as an traveler who has done US to India regularly.
1. Try to carry most of the things in backpack or two which can be carryon(Check in bags are cumbersome, can be lost on connections etc).
2. If you haven't already, check out seat guru and figure out the best seats you can select. Exit row have best leg room of economy but those go fast.
3. Noise cancelling headphones or at least earplugs. Constant drone of the airplane is very tiring and crappy headphones offered by airplanes make movie/tv experience terrible.
4. Sleeping medicine(I take it to get used to jet lag on the other side)
5. Moisturizer and water - Both to keep you hydrated and your skin hydrated.
6. If you have a smartphone, get a large (~10000mah)external battery to keep yourself entertained through the flight and you can charge the rest at the layover.
7. Make conversation with the person next to you, a long flight is better with somebody to talk to or if you need help at the terminal.
posted by radsqd at 9:13 AM on June 6, 2014

I would be wary of confusing US to India with India to US in terms of jet lag.

In my experience US to India is easy, because you typically arrive late at night, which gives you a nice jetlag buffer. Even if you were well-rested on the plane, you have several hours to veg out and get in gear for the fact that it's eventually going to be daytime in a new country. India is the only overseas destination I've ever been to where I didn't experience jetlag because of said late night buffer period.

India back to the US doesn't line up with that at all.
posted by Sara C. at 9:34 AM on June 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It has been a couple years since I did the India-Middle East-US flights but in my experience, security checks when you are flying to the US take forever. Others can correct me if this isn't the case any more, but I remember that following a layover in Dubai/Abu Dhabi/wherever, there would be a security check before you were able to get to your gate for departure. Those things can take time! I would recommend getting to the gate early to beat the crowd, don't wait for right before boarding time.
posted by 9000condiments at 10:16 PM on June 6, 2014

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