Plane hijackings, engine failures, dropping out of the sky for no apparent reason… these scenarios are probably not going to unfold on your dreaded international flight. Screaming babies, jerks who don’t understand seat reclining etiquette, and sleeping pill misadventures – these are the things you’ve got to look out for.
Follow my guide to surviving international flights to ensure you and your fellow passengers have a pleasant journey.
1. Learn to sleep on command
Some suggest that you book a flight at the end of the day, so that you’ll already be sleepy when you climb aboard. Others say boarding tired is only going to make you one cranky traveller if, for any reason, you can’t nod off straight away.
If you wait to get sleepy on a long flight, you may find it will never happen. Tackle plane sleeping like a pro by following one simple rule: once the safety message has run put in your noise cancelling ear buds, shut your eyes and don’t open them for anything.
You may find that listening to music is not ideal when you’re trying to nod off, so download an interesting podcast and let the lull of soothing radio voices take you off to la la land.
2. The crying baby conundrum
You’re just about to recline and lapse into a deep, satisfying post-airline-meal coma.
A snivel rings through the cabin.
What starts as a whimper turns into a whine, and before you know the baby two seats away is in full-volume meltdown mode.
You tell yourself it will eventually stop… surely that kid can’t blubber forever.
What starts as empathy for bewildered parents soon turns into rage.
Tension is mounting. Somebody should do something.
Our advice? Don’t sit back and glower in the general direction of the hapless parents. Get up and help.
Sometimes the easiest way to calm a kid is with the magical art of distraction.
Approach the parents, ask them if there is anything you could do.
Play peekaboo. Hold the baby. Carry a lollipop (or two) on board just in case you need to bribe a bambino into silence.
Do whatever the parents are comfortable with.
Babies on a plane are just one of those unfortunate realities. People need to fly, and humanity needs children.
If you can quieten a tantrumming toddler on a plane, everyone on board will thank you.
3. Get the flight that lands earliest
A simple way to make your journey that little bit smoother is by booking a flight which is timed for business travellers.
Weekday flights that arrive before the work day begins are packed with regular flyers who know the drill when it comes to checking in, boarding and stowing away their luggage.
By cutting down on boarding/disembarking time and surrounding yourself with business-types (who are less likely to pester you with their inane holiday banter) you’ll be setting the scene for a stress-free flight.
Aeroplanes are a breeding ground for passive-aggressive hostility.
Whether it’s the jerk in front of you reclining his seat to within inches of your face, the sleeping blob beside you blocking your safe passage to the toilet, or the aforementioned wailing child, there’s always something raising mid-flight stress levels.
The worst thing you can do in a tense situation is keep your new-found (and surprisingly deep-seated) hatred for your fellow passengers to yourself.
A friendly word to the offending person will often make the flight more comfortable for the both of you.
“I’m not sure you’re aware, but when you recline your seat fully, I can’t actually feel my legs,” or ”would you mind terribly if I asked you to refrain from humming ‘Super Bass’ by Nicki Minaj for the duration of the flight?” will work wonders.
You’re tall and need leg room? Negotiate an air space surrender in return for free reign to stretch your legs under their seat as far as you need.
In fact, you might actually be the inadvertent in-flight jerk (did you check to see if the person behind you just set down a boiling coffee onto their tray table before you jerk your chair all the way back?).
A lot of the time, people don’t even realise how annoying they are, and will fold faster than superman on laundry day once they are made aware of their faux pas.
You won’t always get exactly what you want, but small compromises beat hours spent brooding in silent contempt.
5. Pack light
Avoid excess carry-on baggage charges by packing only the bare essentials.
A snack (to avoid wasting $5 on a mid-air snickers craving), a travel pillow, a book, your iPad/Nintendo DS, some hand sanitiser, deodorant (with a lid on), head phones, a Sudoku, a spare shirt and a tooth brush are all you need.
Don’t be surprised if the overhead compartment fills with other people’s junk before you are even seated.
Get a travel bag without too many bulky outside pockets that will slide neatly underneath the seat.
And remember, the more you bring, the more you deprive yourself of sweet, sweet leg room.
6. Secure your valuables
There is nothing worse than waltzing through the arrival gates, congratulating yourself on successfully collecting your baggage and not getting stopped by customs, only to realise your wallet/phone/firstborn child is missing.
International flights are a fantastic opportunity for sneak thieves. They know by the time you realise your belongings are gone they are going to be half way to Fallujah.
Taking your most precious items on board is a good idea, just don’t fall asleep with your wallet hanging out of your pocket, or leave your valuables out when you make the obligatory mid-flight bathroom run.
7. Don’t experiment with drugs
Whilst many people swear by the old popping-a-valium-in-flight routine, taking prescription drugs or even natural remedies for the first time mid-flight is a recipe for disaster.
Medications which are meant to make you sleepy may actually keep you awake, cause digestive problems, or give you a headache.
Do yourself a favor and test run your sleep aid of choice a week before your flight.
Did your cortisol rise when you read this? Did your dopamine/serotonin/oxytocin begin to flow freely?
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