You twist around in your seat once more, strangulating your arm with the headphone cord and wincing from the pain in your neck, all while pulling the next persons rug off their knees. Awkward.
Long haul flying in economy class is undoubtedly brutal.
We have all read lists of things to do on a flight to decrease the impact of long haul travel on our health. What most people don’t realize, however, is that the best tips start before you even book your flight, and continue well after you have rescued your luggage from the carousel.
BEFORE YOU BOOK YOUR FLIGHT
Routehappy – We get so used to booking our flight based on price, yet how many times do you get 8 hours in to a 16 hour journey, wishing you had paid the extra $200 for an 11 hour commute instead? Routehappy helps by rating the quality of certain flights. You might decide to pay a bit more for a newer plane with bigger seats, or opt for a cheaper flight because the windows are bigger which makes for better Instagramming.
Seatguru – Once you have booked your flight, use Seatguru to assist in your seat selection. By entering your plane model, you can get the lowdown from other flyers on that particular plane’s quirks. Did you ever pick a window seat that doesn’t actually have a window? Did you pick a back row not realizing the seats don’t recline as far? Seatguru will help you to avoid these travel mistakes.
PRE TRIP PURCHASES
My Lofty Pillow – As a Physio, it blows my mind the amount of people using the traditional bulky ‘u’ shaped neck pillows. They make no ergonomic sense to me at all. Sleeping in sitting is still not ideal for your neck of course, so when I saw My Lofty Pillow on Kickstarter, I signed up straight away. It is a neck pillow that makes much more sense anatomically, so I look forward to receiving it and reviewing it properly.
Hand sanitizer – Your meal is plonked in front of you, and you tuck right in. Little do you realize that your hands have spent the last few hours touching surfaces that hundreds of people before you have touched. A little tube of hand sanitizer before your meal (and after the person next to you sneezes) could be the difference between being sick on arrival and being fighting fit.
Cordless headphones – Being folded into a small space is enough of a logistical nightmare without a cord continually wrapping around your body parts. Moving to cordless headphones changed my flying life. I recommend Airpods for iPhone users, or Bose Noise cancelling headphones for those who also want to block out the crying baby in row 16. (To watch the seat back screen you will still need corded headphones, so this advice only applies to media played on your own gadgets.)
Memobottle – My flat memobottle fits perfectly in to the seat back pocket, keeping hydration close at hand. I take it through security empty, and fill it with water given out on the flight. Saves me having an open cup on my table that I’m sure to knock over. As rule, accept water every time it is offered on the flight. If you don’t need it then, fill your Memobottle to drink later.
Slippers – I strongly advise taking your shoes off for your flight. It allows you to move your ankles more, decreasing your chance of DVT. Flight attendants aren’t a fan of this practice, however, so a lightweight, compact pair of slippers can do away with the raised eyebrows that sweaty socks walking up the aisle can bring.
Restrastrap – If you have a rolling bag, you will be familiar with the awkward position it can place your shoulder in. A rolling bag also means that you only have 1 spare hand. By the time you are holding your coffee…well you can see the issue here. Enter the Retra Strap – a nifty contraption that rolls your bag along beside you, leaving both your hands free. For full disclosure I ordered one on Kickstarter but have not received it yet. I’ll review it when I get it – I’m hoping it’s a real game changer for rolling cases.
24 HOURS BEFORE
Pack Smart – I thought I was a good packer, until I watched the ‘Minimalism’ documentary. Healthy travel starts with healthy packing – do you really need to take all of the bells and whistles? I have simplified my color palette so that everything matches, and I ask these questions before packing each item:
Does this item have multiple uses?
Could I easily access something like this at my destination?
Does this item do exactly the same thing as something else I have packed?
Prehydrate – We all get told to drink heaps of water on a long flight, but who wants to be getting up to the toilet every half hour? What most people don’t realize is that they are starting their flight already dehydrated. Packing, commuting, lifting luggage and walking around an airport will dehydrate you, so ensure that you are drinking water regularly in the whole 24 hours before your flight.
Don’t Pre-Fatigue – A lot of people try and stay up late the night before a long haul flight so that they are tired and more likely to sleep on the plane. The result? You are tired and grumpy before the flight, your body clock is already thrown out, and you don’t enjoy your pre-sleep movie. Sometimes you are even overtired and have difficulty sleeping. A good night’s sleep before a flight gives your body the best possible buffer to jetlag when you arrive, and maintaining your regular sleep pattern will serve you when settling in to sleep on the flight.
ON THE FLIGHT
Bag under legs – If you have a bag under the seat in front of you, for the duration of the flight pull it back to the front of your seat, with your legs resting on top of it. This will give you more room to straighten your legs, and the bag may elevate them a bit, aiding circulation.
Seat Exercises – Transferring your weight from bum cheek to bum cheek is not quite enough to keep your body happy during the flight. Do these simple exercises every hour to ward off DVT and post flight soreness.
Foot pumps – point your toes down, then pull them back as far as you can. Repeat 20 times
Arm stretch – reach your hands up to the roof as far as you can. Hold 30 seconds.
Body twist – put your left hand on your right armrest, and use it to twist your upper body around. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat twice each side.
Extension – Every time you get up out of your seat, put your hands on your hips and arch your back by pushing your hips forward. Repeat 10 times.
Recovery – Reaching terra firma after a long haul flight feels like the finish line of a grueling endurance race. If you really want to bounce back quickly from your long haul, however, the next 24 hours are still crucial. Continue to drink water frequently and do some light exercise. If possible, go to bed at your new timezone, rather than nap in the middle of the day. Use your judgement though, if you are delirious, sleep!
Plane travel gives us the most tremendous opportunity to travel, visit friends and family, and experience new cultures. Although long haul flights can be challenging, a small amount of planning and organization can help you to survive and thrive during your journey and at your destination. I love collecting new health related travel tips, so please let me know your faves.