Seasoned travelers know there is an art to taking long flights and getting to your destination feeling fresh, or at least OK -- especially if you're joining family to celebrate a holiday. Start with these simple tips.
This time of year, almost everyone seems to be doing some kind of traveling. AAA projects that more than 100 million Americans will travel in the Dec. 23 – Jan. 3 period, setting an all-time record. The vast majority (91.3 million travelers) will drive, but the estimated number who will fly to a holiday destination also has grown, to some 5.8 million. If you’re one of those people planning to cram yourself into one of those planes, here are some ideas that could make your experience more bearable.
1. Dress for the occasion
You’re going to be sitting for hours. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be next to someone who doesn’t quite fit in their seat. You’ll want to give yourself as much comfort as you can. Wear loose-fitting clothes, this is not the time for skinny jeans, ideally something you can take a nap in. Dress in layers so you can easily adapt to the plane’s temperature. Wear shoes you can slip off and on easily, for comfort and for ease at security.
Being on a plane dries you out. Make sure to drink plenty of water on the flight and maybe even the day before. If you want to bring some with you, remember that you need to buy it or fill your bottle from home after passing through airport security. Consider bringing eye drops or lip balm. Some people even bring a nasal spray.
Make sure to charge the night before any devices you’re bringing. Some planes, though not all, now have USB ports so you can plug in while in flight. Make sure you carry the power cords you need and your headphones somewhere accessible. Download anything you’re going to want the night before, rather than rely on the sometimes dodgy in-flight Wi-Fi.
If you can do it the night before, check how your airline handles in-flight entertainment. If not, check just after you take your seat. Some airlines now have apps you need to download before you can access any of the movies or TV shows they offer. However, the apps may not be available for download in-flight.
More classic options work, too. The batteries will never run out on a book or magazine, and you don’t have to put it away at any point in the flight. Coloring books can be great for the little ones, especially if you’re trying to limit their screen time. If you don’t want to lug a box of crayons, see how many shades of blue you can get out of one pen.
4. Maybe don’t buy American
If you’re traveling internationally, consider using an airline based in the other country. They often have lots of free perks that U.S.-based airlines don’t offer, such as blankets, pillows and moist towels for refreshing your face. These amenities can add up to a much more comfortable flight.
5. Try out those sleeping pills in advance
If you plan to use a sleep aid on the plane, test it out at home first. You don’t want to find out you have a bad reaction to them while you’re in the air.
6. Move around
Sitting in one position for an extended time can be very bad for your body. In some cases, it can lead to serious conditions. Take advantage of that seat-belt sign being off and get up for a walk along the aisle, or if you can’t, just stretch your leg muscles occasionally. This one works well for the kids, too. They may not be able to burn off all of their energy, but even a small jaunt on the plane can help them get some wiggles out.
7. Don’t check the time
You know what happens to watched pots? Same principle applies. The pilot is not going to speed up, and checking your watch will only make the flight feel longer.
8. Bring mints to share
This one calls for a bit of subtlety. If your seat-mate has a bit of bad breath, take out your tin of Altoids and pop one in your own mouth. Simple courtesy dictates you offer one to the person next to you. If you’re lucky, they take it, breath problem solved. Unfortunately, this method won’t work with deodorant.
9. Pick your seats early
You probably check in the night before, but if you don’t, you should. In fact, check in as soon as you’re able in order to get a good seat, and one actually next to the person you’re traveling with. Some people swear by aisle seats for easy bathroom access. Though, they also have to stand up when the person on the inside has to go, so there’s a trade-off. Exit rows give you extra legroom, though some airlines are now placing a price premium on those seats, so beware of that.
For really long flights, ones that involve crossing an ocean, consider upgrading to a business-class or first-class seat. The extra space, the ability to recline the seat into horizontal or near-horizontal position and better food and service may mean you arrive feeling rested and more prepared to enjoy your destination. What are you saving all those miles for, anyway? (Good news: American Airlines just announced it was introducing a new seat class for international flights offering more perks than economy class but less expensive than business class.)
11. Pack light
It’s tempting to jam everything you can into your carry-on, if only to avoid baggage fees. But that stuff you bring could end up working against you. If you need to keep things under the seat in front of you, you’ll be fighting with your own belongings for legroom.
What travel secrets do you have for comfort on long flights? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.