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I'm always feeling a bit unwell during and after long haul flights. I lose my appetite, can't sleep in the plane, food has no taste no matter what. However, I'm pretty sure it's not the flying itself, since I did fly small planes for about 2 years and had fun doing that. I'm also pretty sure it's not the jetlag's fault.

Is there anything I can do to prepare my body for long-haul flights, say Australia-Europe (that's about 2x 12h long flights, and maybe 1-3h stopover in Asia)?

40

And we introduce Mark's patent-pending method to surviving the hell that is NZ to London superhaul economy class travel:

  1. Prepare your entertainment. Sure, you will likely have movies on the plane. But I've done several 10-13 hour trips with broken screens or no entertainment system - SINCE 2010. Don't bet on having it. Charge laptop batteries, iPads, iPods, Kindles, get a new book from the library or whatever keeps you happy.
  2. Clothing. It can get cold on a flight. Surprisingly cold. I layer it up - my trick is to always wear my jacket over my top going through security - it means I can just put wallet etc in my zip-up pockets, and simply remove my jacket in security, meaning no having to constantly remove stuff for the xray, especially in the multiple stopovers. Once onboard, I remove it and keep it under the chair in front of me (I'm not that tall) or put it in the overhead compartment.
  3. BOOK your seat beforehand, if at all possible. It's getting harder these days to secure the emergency exit row, but if possible, GET IT. Even if you can't, when you get to the airport, ask as nicely and politely as you can to every new staff member you see - at the checkin counter, at the gate, and finally on the plane. All three have worked for me at different times. As a failsafe, book it online beforehand if at all possible, and use SeatGuru to decide the best seat for your flight. I prefer at the back, it's slightly bumpier, but away from screaming kids - they tend to locate them close to the bulkhead. Finally, in your decision, realise that if you're flying over the ocean - there is NOTHING to see - so why have a window seat? Get an aisle, it means you can get up an walk around any time you want. Just not the very back row - sometimes the seats don't recline all the way, and you get a queue next to you waiting for the bathroom.
  4. Personally, I can't sleep on planes. I've accepted this, and plan accordingly. I dislike sleeping tablets and the side effects, so I sleep well the night before (or try to) and then just accept I'll be stuffed after the flight. However, from all the experience I've had from others telling me, the eye-masks do wonders, those neck pillows that make you look like such the beginner traveller actually apparently are quite nice, and again, the seat makes a difference - it's much harder in the middle of three seats to get any sleep. Aisle also means you can put your feet out a bit further, but beware of tramplers. Exit row mitigates this problem - more leg room than you'll ever need!
  5. Food and drink - never drink alcohol on a superhaul flight. Sure, it's nice but you're losing so much body water anyway due to the dry atmosphere that you need all the water you can drink. Ditch the alcohol and go for juice or water instead, and make use of the drinking fountains next to the bathroom/bulkhead - surprising how few people know about them. You'll feel better during the flight, and look and feel fresher when you land.
  6. Drugs - sleeping tablets - some friends swear by them, as well as people like my brother claiming that the anti-jetlag pills completely freed him from the effects. I'm dubious about the latter, not enough evidence for that yet, but the sleeping ones bother me - some chemically replicate the sleep state - ie, mind asleep, and body 'paralysed' during that time, and have heard some terrifying stories about Sleep Paralysis - something terrifying enough in the comfort of your own home, and not something I'd want to experience at 36,000ft!
  7. I'm not sure about the food losing its taste - could just be that airline food is pretty rubbish anyway ;) but perhaps it's the lack of hydration as well, so water with the food may help.

I don't think anyone ever 'enjoys' a 29 hour flight (well, made up of 3 flights) from one side of the world to the other, but you can at least lessen the pain by enjoying some movies, attempting to sleep, and all else failing, make friends with the person next to you ;)

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    About the food - I don't care if it is awful, eat it, as your body will need all the energy it can get adjusting to the jetlag. – NWS Oct 19 '11 at 21:22
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    I actually like to drink lots of alcohol, its free and helps me pass time especially on ultra long haul. I can't sleep on planes unless the journey passes 30 hours and I have had lots to drink. I wouldn't recommend this to anyone, however. – EdmundYeung99 Apr 4 '16 at 4:31
  • Good advice except for the drinking fountains. Multiple studies for over a decade have found tap water onboard airliners to be contaminated with bacteria. New safety rules in 2009 seems to have not yet solved the problem according to this report in 2013. Besides not drinking the tap water, some folks suggest using an alcohol gel disinfectant on your hands after washing with tap water. And use that gel to wipe your seat tray and armrests. – Basil Bourque May 30 '16 at 6:50
  • @BasilBourque yeah i've seen those reports. I personally haven't had a problem after many, many flights, but totally understand that others may disagree or have experienced issues. – Mark Mayo May 30 '16 at 10:39
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    I have heard that any food served in planes tastes odd, due to the nature of flying that high up, airline caterers add more flavour to the food but it is still not the same. If you do taste airline food at the ground it should not taste flat but the oposite. – Willeke Aug 12 '16 at 17:04
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Addition to Mark's answer :

  1. Don't look at the time during the flight You can't do anything about it and the flight will feel a lot longer if you keep looking at the time. Don't check your watch regularly and avoid looking at the in-flight map showing the current position of the plane.
  2. Bring your own headphones. The headphones available on the plane (whether for purchase or for free) are usually of poor quality. Noise-canceling headphones and in-ear headphones are great if you have them, and can help block out engine noise.

  3. Minimize your carry-on luggage. One backpack is fine for the plane, and it is easier to find a place in the overhead bins or under the seat for a small backpack than for a larger roller bag

  4. Bring a toothbrush or skin awakening liquid. Just make sure that they are not exceed 100ml

  5. Take some sweets or other snacks with you. Protein bars are particularly helpful if on a long-flight. Most airline meals tend to be low in protein and high in carbohydrates.

  6. Use Pressure relieving earplugs This help to relieve air pressure changes during flights. Alternatively, chew a chewing gum and try Valsava Maneuver.

  7. Move around to prevent your body from aching due to poor circulation.

  8. Take steps to protect yourself from the dry air on board the plane Drink more water, use eye drop, and consider saline nasal gel if your nostrils feel uncomfortable breathing dry air. Saline nasal gel, which can usually be found near the saline nasal wash at a drugstore, can help keep the inside of your nose moist and make breathing more comfortable

  9. Bring your own food in case you don't like the food served during the flight.
12

In Addition to Mark:

8 Jetlag. It will happen. Plan for it. Put yourself onto destination time as quickly as possible. Even on the flight, if its night time, doze or sleep if possible. This will result in some very short/long days depending on direction, but the quicker you can adjust and function in your new environment the better!

9 Climate Especially when travelling in summer/winter, check you have suitable arrival clothes. (I have heard of people leaving australia in + 40C and arriving in Quebec in -40C 24 hours later!)

  • agreed re the clothes, but personally I just can't nap on planes - I need to be nearly horizontal, or at the point where I'm asleep on my feet ;) – Mark Mayo Oct 19 '11 at 22:05
  • I once went from being in shorts on Venice Beach, to that night being stuck in a broken down bus at the top of the Rockies, in a snowstorm with no heating. Clothing = very important! :) – Mark Mayo Oct 19 '11 at 22:05
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    Yes even if you can't sleep it still helps to rest with your eyes closed as if asleep. But this won't work if you've had coffee or Coca Cola. It's easiest after the meal and a beer or red wine. – hippietrail Oct 20 '11 at 6:42
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In general the best advice is be prepared! No one has mentioned Sudoku. What I do is go to the website web sudoku and print off a bunch of sudokus. I then put them on a clip board so I have a nice easy way to complete it. 1 sudoku evil will on average take me about 45 mins.. (I'm slow.) The nice thing is, the time flies by and you don't even notice it. Do 4 of these, and you've knocked 3 hours off your trip.

Echoing what Mark said, I dress super comfortably, and warm as well. I basically wear a nice comfy sweatsuit.. (It's as fashionable as a sweatsuit can be..) I actually always wear the same thing, and have it planned in advance.

If you can put like a whole TV series on a mobile device, that would be advantageous too. Something like an HBO series or something. One season of some shows can be like 13+ hours.

I actually like to exercise a lot before an upcoming flight so I can increase my chances of sleeping during the flight.

Study the language of the country you're going to if it's different.

Luck! Get an empty seat next to you, or someone frail so you don't have to fight over the arm rest the whole time!

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    Nobody should use the arm-rest - it's no man's land dang it! ;) – Mark Mayo Oct 21 '11 at 6:18
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    Conventional traveller's courtesy suggests that you leave both arm rest for use by those unfortunate folks sitting in mid-seats. – mindcorrosive Oct 21 '11 at 11:44
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    Another possibility for entertainment: Just bring the Extended versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If you start at takeoff, by the time the 5th or 6th ending in Return of the King is over, you'll be on the other side of the planet. :) – reirab May 14 '15 at 16:52
7

Lots of excellent advice given in the other answers. One or two extra points, in no particular order:

  • I've tried both noise-cancelling headphones and in-ear earphones. The latter are far better at keeping out extraneous noise, and an extra benefit is that their efficiency at this allows you to turn down the volume of your device more than otherwise, thus helping to prolong the life of your device's battery.

  • The people in the seats next to you may appreciate it if you offer them a spare pair of foam earplugs. Even if they refuse them, the gesture can be a polite way of indicating that you're ready to take a nap instead of continuing with a conversation.

  • Keep a pen and something to write on with you in case you're lucky enough to find yourself sitting next to someone who's interesting enough to stay in touch with, so that you can easily make a note of their contact details.

  • Order the halal meal rather than the regular meal on flights where food is served. The chances are you'll be given something much spicier and tastier than the rather bland fare that is usually offered otherwise.

  • If you take nuts or other loose snack food on board, it's easier to keep it under control if you contain it in a can with a plastic lid rather than a sachet. Besides decreasing the likelihood of spilling the contents, a can also has the advantage of being able to hold a small spoon (the kind used for dispensing liquid medicine is ideal) to minimize the grease, salt, sugar or other food debris that gets on your hands. You can also keep more than one kind of snack in the can in order to give yourself more choice (e.g. you can include chocolates and candy with your peanuts).

  • Some countries (like the USA) are very fussy about the importation of uncooked fruit and other plant material, even if you've only brought it with you to eat on the plane. If you have any with you, make sure you finish it off before you pass through immigration and customs. (I speak as someone who has been held aside for extra checking after forgetting that I had an uneaten apple in my jacket pocket.)

  • If your seat lacks back support and no pillows are available to remedy the deficiency, fold up a spare garment or blanket as a substitute.

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    The halal meat tip is a good one, but just be aware of what halal actually is before ordering it to simply improve your own comfort. Is the cruel and painful death of an animal worth it to get some better food on your flight? As an alternative you can always bring a small amount of your own spices and sprinkle them on to non-halal food. – user Oct 19 '15 at 8:48
  • Please don't order meals for people with restricted diets if you don't actually follow that diet. (Unless you get to pick when you buy your ticket, then go right ahead.) My family with multiple vegetarian members has not been all served vegetarian meals before, and this was on a trans-Atlantic flight. No fun. Obviously I have no idea if someone up ahead ordered one because they felt like it, or if there were just a lot a vegetarians aboard or maybe the airline was just underprepared, but it doesn't hurt to be considerate. – Azor Ahai Apr 4 '16 at 3:55
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    @Azor-Ahai - I have always ordered it at the same time as buying my ticket. – Erik Kowal Apr 7 '16 at 1:59
4

Lots of good advice. My €0.02:

  • Decide if you are going to be active or sleep on the flight. It mostly depends on duration and when you will arrive. Flying London to Tokyo I always try to rest and arrive somewhat refreshed. That being the case, I plan to mostly rest.

  • Rest seems to be the best option for avoiding jet lag if your flight arrives in the morning or early afternoon. For an evening arrival I'm still experimenting.

  • If you are going to rest, figure out what you need to be comfortable. Some people like noise cancelling headphones, but personally I prefer ear plugs or in-ear headphones. Figure out what is comfortable for 8+ hours before you go.

  • Pillow wise everything I have tried sucks to some extent, but then I have arthritis so it's always going to be difficult. Ideally try to borrow or test out a few to find out what works. I'm going to try an Embrace Sleep Collar next time I fly.

  • Pack a minimal handbag of essentials. Most airlines let you have both a carry-on bag and a handbag. You can keep it in the seat pocket or under the seat. It would have a pillow, ear plugs/headphones, a couple of wet wipes, a USB cable (to charge your phone), eye mask and a pen. You will need the pen to fill out the landing card for your destination. You can do it at the airport but you might as well do it on the aircraft.

  • Also make sure you have the following information (put it on your phone or a scrap of paper):

    • Passport number
    • Address + phone number of the place you are staying
    • Flight numbers for current flight and return flight
    • Travel dates
    • How much cash you have
    • If you have any items you need to declare at customs
  • Bring pain medication if you need it. Ibuprofen is good for arthritic discomfort from airline seats.

  • Figure out what you are going to wear. Needs to be comfortable, and if you don't like the cold then reasonably warm. Consider slippers, much more comfortable than shoes for 12+ hours, and travel ones fold pretty much flat. They give out blankets on most flights.

  • Prepare entertainment. For resting, audio books are good and you can put them on your phone to save carrying an extra device. There are loads of podcasts and radio shows you can grab too, as well as music. I find it hard to sleep, but sitting with your eyes closed and headphones in is the next best thing.

  • On-board food is terrible, because it has to be. 250 microwave meals, at altitude where taste buds don't work very well. My advice is to eat something at the airport, and then you can select the more palatable bits of your in-flight meal and ignore the rest without feeling hungry.

  • Research seats and book one. Be careful, sometimes the usual advice is wrong. For example, on the 787 I flew on last year, the bulkhead window seat had very restricted leg room because the wall bulges out around the door.

  • Make sure you know the baggage allowances and how to make maximum use of them. On code share flights you can end up with different allowances going and returning, so for example I usually try to come back with JAL or ANA because even though it's a BA code share they allow you to take two bits of check-in baggage.

  • Use the bathroom before boarding.

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