Updated June 2018
What in the air is going on here?! Surviving an airline flight in coach during the modern age.
Remember flying during the "Madmen" age? Well, of course not! Most of us are too young to remember it for real, so just think about when you last binged watched "Madmen". Now, forget all about that! Flying has become a cattle call onto filthy, cramped airplanes run by airlines with very little concern about much below the bottom line. And trust me, if you haven't flown recently, passengers are below the bottom line! As actual human beings, you do have some rights as a flyer, those that have been afforded of you by the people who sit at the table in Washington and make our airline consumer laws: that would be the airlines' lobbyists. But it is important to know your rights and I recently read an article in the Boston Globe Business section which provided an excellent summary of airline passenger rights. It's linked here, Airline Beefs Lead to Circles of Frustration and don't worry, it's not long; there are not that many rights!
My own bill of rights (if I had enough money for my own lobbyist) would look something like this..
- Tell us what the heck is going on, exactly, and often.
- If you are going to nickle and dime us with fees, disclose that, exactly, and often.
- Give human beings seats that accommodate the size of real human beings, not seats that accommodate size of real chihuahuas.
- Clean the planes with actual cleansing products, exactly and often. And for flights longer than 4 hours that means someone needs to attend to the lavatories and not be pretending to straighten the magazines or manning the forward door when the lav floor is covered with excrement (yup, don't even look at the floor on an overnight flight and for heaven's sake wear shoes!!) and the toilet paper ran out over Hawaii. It's an icky job, so draw straws or take turns, but someone must do it! Ideally, I'd love to see those lavs that completely hose themselves down with hot water after each user like they have on the streets in Paris.
I could go on, but really, that's it...just treat humans with basic human decency, I'll start with that and move onto boarding methods, bag fees and lack of snacks another day, when I hire my lobbyist. You might have your own priorities, but you'll have to hire your own lobbyist! If you'd like to read a humorous tale of one of our recent flights, you can find it here.
Before I even get on the plane, I have several things I do to purchase the right flight and get ready for a flight. I blogged about those recently in part 1 Successfully Hunting Down Fights which details the things I like to do before booking a flight and part 1 1/2 : You Have To Take Steps To Fly, which describes packing and preparing to leave for the airport.
Here are the things I do to survive a coach airline flight in the modern age
1. Score a decent seat
One of the things to do before arriving to the airport is choosing the right seat online when you book the flight. This can dramatically improve your experience in the air! When booking flights, I will often check what kind of plane (the pros call this "equipment") is being used for that flight. It's usually listed on the airlines website. I use Seat Guru, to look at the flight I will be flying. This website lists all the advantages and disadvantages of the seats on that plane. It will direct you to the best area of the plane and any seats that have an issue, such as not reclining, or being near the lavs (Remember the lavs?...and my rant about cleanliness? Now picture yourself outside of it for 12 hours with a line of passengers looming over your seat during the entire flight! You DO NOT want these seats!)
Sometimes, its worth paying a little extra for comfort. One of the advantages of the new a la carte pricing system airlines are using now (extra fees for extra stuff) is that you can pay a fee for the parts of the experience you want; such as paying to upgrade to early boarding, and or extra space in your seat. This is usually cheaper than buying a business class ticket, with lots of extras bundled into the price you might not need. If you add the fee to the cost of your whole trip, you might find it's a small price to pay for some extra comfort. We will try to forget they used to give us all of that included in the airfare, and hope that takes the sting out of it!
2. Pack a flight survival kit
I have different ways of surviving short flights than surviving long flights. For me a short flight is anything under 4-5 hours. A long flight is one over 6 hours and any combination of flights that take over 6-8 hours. The big difference is that for the short flights, I don't pack anything for sleeping (earplugs, pillows, eye shades etc.)
- headphones -even for littlest kids games, no sound should emanate from any device by any person of any age on any flight, ever!
- earplugs, if your headphones aren't noise cancelling, If you have NC headphones, I like to download spa sounds onto my device for sleeping instead of earplugs. You can get over 100 "songs" for 99 cents on iTunes! I listen first to pick the the ones that don't have sounds that annoy me, and play about 25 of them on a repeat.
- an inflatable neck pillow which saves space in your carry on
- a pashmina, shawl, or lightweight blanket, once at your destination you can use this as a shawl, picnic blanket or towel.
- a pair of disposable slipper (I have a pair from a fancy hotel stay I take everywhere) These are great for when you are tucking your feet up under you while sleeping...I put my shoes back on for using the lav and then put my slippers back on at my seat to avoid bringing germs from the lav floor into my teeny tiny air space! I also like to use compression socks for flights longer than 4 hours.
- A pair of compression socks. My favorite pair is from Travel Sox. My legs are definitely less fatigued, swollen and jumpy since using the socks. They aren't just for old folks in nursing homes; endurance athletes also use them!
- a small RuMe bag with essentials: any medication I'll need during the flight (so I don't have to access a weeks supply in my carry on to take a single dose) I include my preferred pain killers, stomach and sleep aids, in case of troubles mid flight. Any bigger medical issues can be addressed by my travel medical kit (see my blog post here about what I travel with!) packed in my carry on bag. I also include gum or mints, a small toothbrush (you can buy tiny disposable rubber brushes wrapped in plastic with toothpaste already loaded on them) and toothpaste, a comb and any other grooming essentials I require. The airlines sometimes give these things out on long flights, but that is becoming less common on US carriers.
- phone, laptop, or tablet loaded with my favorite books, music, audio books, and magazines. The Texture App is a great app to subscribe to magazines and down load them so you can take them with you without all the bulk of actual magazines. You can usually download books and movies from your library for free, and if you already subscribe to a movie service (cable, Netflix, Amazon etc) you can usually download some content onto your device and take it with you.
- my favorite snacks, which are usually nuts, peanut M & Ms and pretzels because they pack lots of energy and are small, "unbreakable" and don't stink! I also fill my water bottle after clearing security so I don't have to wait till the flight attendants make it to my section to slake my thirst.
3. Avoid Jet Lag
There is lots of advice about how to avoid jet lag. I think of this as pseudo "medical" advice, so rather than tell anyone else what to do I will share how we manage to avoid the worst of jet lag. Using these techniques usually by day one, we are feeling pretty good and essentially on the new time zone, except for maybe waking a little earlier or feeling sleepy a little earlier.
- adopt the new time zone immediately upon boarding; we change our watches, eat and sleep according to the new time zone. If it's an over night flight were we will arrive in the evening, we sleep early in the flight and awaken and stay awake late in the flight so we will be tired by bedtime in the new time zone. I use melatonin, a natural sleep supplement to sleep when I'm not sleepy, both on the plane and in the destination to help transition my own system to the new zone. Unfortunately, medications, caffeine or alcohol are known to only make matters worse...sure you might sleep, (or stay awake in the case of coffee) but you will suffer after affects and are still not meeting the goal of getting your own body chemistry to the new time zone. Here is an article from the Australian Government that discusses why using alcohol, caffeine and stronger drugs aren't helpful for jet lag. (why Australia? I thought it was trustworthy, succinct and given how far Australians have to go to get anywhere, they probably know a thing or two about jet lag!)
- eat meals on the schedule of the new time zone and drink lots of water; even if I have to pack your own food and buy/fill my water bottle after passing security. Airlines tend to feed you based on the time zone you left. If we arrive at 4 PM, we don't eat the "breakfast" served by the airline, we eat a lunch/dinner food.
- expose ourselves to the day light on the plane and in our destination, as much as possible without disturbing others, even cracking the shade on the plane can help. Once we arrive in the new time zone, we get outside, active and exposed to the natural light conditions in our destination as soon as you can. A long walk in our new destination works well. We do not nap, and usually by doing these things we don't need to. If we must nap (or die!) we set an alarm and only allow a short cat nap (30-45 minutes)
4. Practice Yoga
No I don't mean try the "downward dog" pose in seat 15 G or "sun salutations" in the aisle (though I'm sure it's happened!) But I started a yoga practice about a year and half ago and I noticed something interesting happened on my last overnight flight. I was able to manage the stresses of travel and flying with my breathing. My yoga breathing and meditation also helped me to block out distractions so I could rest better during the flight. I found I was more flexible and less stiff during the flight because of all the practice I had with twisting and folding poses! It's unfortunate that in order to have a good flight, I had to marshal all the physical and mental benefits of yoga to tolerate it. But it's not a bad idea...stand and stretch regularly, breathe deeply into your belly and let your mind push away distractions and irritations of flying and you will have a better experience! I always remind myself that despite all the jokes about airlines, I am fortunate enough to be able go up into the air to go somewhere else in a relatively short time, and that the airlines do in fact do a good job of getting me there safely. So in addition to my carry on, I try to pack a great attitude and sense of humor and so far...I've survived every flight (so far!)
Note: We don't sell trips or any travel related items mentioned and we haven't been paid to travel or accepted free items to review, mostly because no one has offered! If that ever happens, we would disclose that clearly. All of the products profiled here are products we've used ourselves and liked.
How do you survive a flight?...share with us!