(Pic: Coming in to land at Melbourne, from Perth.)
Someone I met at the Bondi, who is off to Brisbane for the Christmas holidays, asked me if I had any tips about long-haul flying and staving off jetlag.
And I do. After crossing the Pacific a lot in the past four or five years, David and I figure we know how to do it reasonably comfortably by now.
1. Wear comfortable clothes. Flying isn't glamorous — though you do still see princesses in tight jeans and high heels getting on a 15-hour flight. Much better to be in something stretchy, with a bit of give in the waistband.
Wear layers — the cabin can be over-warm and stuffy, or freezing cold.
And wear shoes you can slip on and off easily, as you'll have to take them off for security screening once you've checked in.
2. Take as little on board as you can. US fliers, in particular — who are used to less accommodating airlines with bad records for losing luggage, and who want to avoid long waits at arrival hall carousels — will take massive bloody carry-on cases and ram them into any overhead lockers they can lay claim to in the vicinity of their seats. So don't count on having any overhead space for your stuff.
I don't take a handbag (I put mine in my checked-in luggage to use when I'm at my destination), but pack a pretty small and rugged carry-on bag that I push under the seat in front of mine. It provides a footrest during the flight so I can raise my thighs off the seat — helps the circulation.
3. No caffeine. I go without coffee, tea or any caffeine for a few hours before the flight. I don't like UHT milk that you get on airlines anyway, so it's no great loss, and the aim is to help yourself snooze and sleep as much as possible.(Pic: Flying at the end of Brighton pier, UK.)
4. In your seat. Stash your book, magazine etc in the seat pocket in front, take off your shoes and stick them in the overhead locker. Even in economy, Qantas gives you a pair of socks in a little pouch with an eye-mask and toothbrush and toothpaste, soon after take-off. All the armrests can be raised, even those at the aisle, which gives you a little more spreading room if you're among friends.
The headrest has flaps either side which you can pull forwards to hold your head and stop it wobbling from side to side when you're asleep. These are an absolute godsend, completely doing away with the need for those U-shaped foamy things that just get in the way.
5. Sleep. Forget about what time it is where you've just taken off, and set your watch and brain to destination time. Then work out when you should try to sleep — which will be when it's bedtime at your destination. Or near enough. Give yourself some settling-in time, have your dinner (Qantas serves up in the first few hours after take-off), watch a movie or two, wrap yourself in your blankie, put on your eye-mask and then try to s-l-e-e-p.
Now, to do this, you may need help, even if you've made yourself as comfy as possible. So get something wonderful on prescription from your doctor beforehand. (Tylenol PM from the supermarket or drug store works well for me!)
(Pic: The Rio Grande, at Albuquerque, New Mexico.)
Qantas also dims the cabin lights when most passengers have settled in, and hands out a snack pack with bikkies and a bottle of water, a piece of fruit and some chocolate etc. Very handy — you won't be fed again until breakfast, an hour or two before landing. Drinking water is also really important — the cabin air is so incredibly dry. Pack lip-salve for the same reason.
6. Stay awake. When you've got to your destination, it's important to stay awake — as far as humanly possible — until it is regular bedtime, or near enough. The dangerous thing is to give in and go to bed at 2pm and sleep for eight hours. Then you are stuffed. But if you can stay awake and go to bed at, say, 9pm, you're doing well.
I can honestly say I rarely get jetlag these days — these tricks work well for me, even with the big time difference between Perth and California.
• Oh — and remember there is always time to get better seats. Even when you are at the departure gate, as soon as you see a member of the airline staff arrive at the desk, go up and ask if she/he can get you a better seat. You'd be surprised!
If you are given a seat allocation when you book, check this online seating plan (or one like it for your airline) to work out where you'll be and if you want to try for somewhere better. Take note of where the galleys are, and the loos.(Pic: Flying over our house, San Diego.)
• When you're leaving from LA, you can check in at Qantas six hours before the flight leaves — plenty of time to get a better seat. We'll often check in really early then go to Santa Monica or Culver City for dinner. Most flights to Australia leave around 11 - 11.30 pm.
Hope this helps!
• Added later: I forgot to mention that having noise-cancelling headphones and an MP3 player is wonderful for helping you nod off. The plane cabin can be incredibly noisy, especially if you have a seat near the galley or the loos. I'm sure I look like a complete nutter with my eye-mask and my headphones, wrapped in my blankie, but I've managed six or seven hours of sleep a flight. There is no better feeling than waking up and realising there are only a few hours to go!
• In her comment, Tracey mentioned swelling feet. This will happen with sitting for hours, and I agree that the exercises Qantas promotes will only go so far to prevent it — and frankly, the seats are so tightly jammed in that you may not even be able to lift your knees, especially while the guy in front of you has his seat back. Nor may it be possible to keep getting up for a walk around the cabin. Support socks are supposed to help, and the other tip is to drink lots of water. Getting up frequently to pee is all part of the therapy! I also think this is where having my bag on the floor under the seat in front helps me, because I can put my feet up on it and get my thighs off my seat. Cathay Pacific has clever little bars in economy that flip down from the front of the seat for you to rest your feet on.
• One other essential piece of advice, as you're getting on the plane and find you have to walk through business class to get to economy, is to avert your eyes from all the leg room, the wide comfy chairs, the snowy-white pillows, the room to recline, the flight attendants hovering with trays of pre-take-off drinkies ...