17th May 2021
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Long-Haul Flight Survival Tips and Tricks

long-haul flights
By Anna Tompkins

Update: this was written pre-COVID, so it’s likely that circumstances are significantly different now and will be well into the future.

Many aeons ago [read: 10 years], when I left Dixie and opened my career up to the great wide unknown, I learned two things: 1) US tax law is a butt, 2) I’d rather use any form of transportation other than a plane. To the first, I’ll likely cover that elsewhere; to the second, I will address my trepidation and consternations below.

Life abroad has a very special place in my heart. It has opened me up to new possibilities, peoples and circumstances that I don’t think I would have ever experienced had I remained in the States. The drawback, most of my trips are transcontinental and take around 24 hours to complete. I had been doing these several times a year, but as they can be excessively stressful, mostly because I fail at sleeping in the air, I told myself ages ago that I would limit long-haul flights to once a year. That never seems to happen (except recently), so over the years I have compiled a few tricks and techniques that allow me to survive a little bit better with at least the appearance of comfort. So, if you’re like me and despise air travel or you just enjoy anecdotal schadenfreude, do read on.

Pick Your Seats

If you are very fortunate, your company will arrange, and pay for, travel plans to get you to the correct destination. Does this mean you are going to be traveling in upper-class glory, probs not, but you can pretend you are. Over the last decade, I have probably spent thousands of dollars upgrading my seats [don’t cry] to glean at least a little more space and comfort so that when I’m landed I’ll feel a little less junky. Now I know people who would absolutely gawk at the idea of spending a penny extra on a flight, and to you frugal-minded folks who can just deal: you are amazing, talented, beautiful people and I hate you. But really, I just want to be you. I want to be you so hard that I have attempted everything from meditated breathing to a handful of melatonin gummies to fix this. Signing up for a miles plan early on can help with some discounts if you’re dedicated to a particular company, but nothing short of teleportation a la Star Trek will truly suffice. So as a person who can’t sit for more than 15 minutes, I’m gonna go for that aisle seat that’s near an “open” area, like a washroom, with extra leg room as close to the wing that I can. Fact, turbulence is worse towards the back of the plane.


As they say on the trail, “Camel-up!”, meaning when you get to a water source drink as much as you can then refill your bottles. Like, seriously obnoxious amounts of water. I’ll pack in at least 2L of capacity that I fill in the airport, but more likely I’ll bring three and continue to fill up during the flight. Generally this is no problem and there will be a few stations on the plane where water and juice is available. Anecdotally, I was on a flight to Shanghai in 2016 with China Air and they not only took our liquids at security, but right before boarding the plane too!! Then on the 5 hour flight we were only given one of those kid size water bottles. Granted this was several years ago, but still!! Anyways, hot chocolate, teas and electrolyte powders are where it’s at, paired with some decent chapstick and you’ll go far in the arid climate.


Now, most airlines vehemently discourage folks from doing anything more than the occasional pacing of aisles, but I am here to tell you that my body does not deal well with a seated position for very long stretches of time. No one does, as orthostatic intolerance can set in on long-haul flights and not only be a discomfort, but a serious medical issue for some. Therefore I have devised a few plans to help with this. The first is possibly the most ridiculous, but I actually go into the washrooms and throw air punches and do squats to keep from getting stiff. Yes, I am that person. The second is to chit chat with the flight staff in the back. Not only do you get some pretty hilarious stories out of them, but they might be more keen to giving extra fun beverages.


Disclaimer: I have been practicing fasting in various forms for about 6 years, and no, it has nothing to do with any of these diet fads.

I have found fasting not only a normal part of my life as breakfast generally doesn’t suit me, but also an excellent way to help offset the circadian rhythm whilst time traveling abroad. Is it for everyone? Probs not, but it has been very effective for me at lessening the symptoms of jet lag. Definitely seek out some medical advice if you want to try this and experiment until you find what works for you. Typically, I will only take in fluids while traveling and when I get to my final destination have a decent meal at dinner time and go to bed. I have found this to be the most effective, though I acknowledge that there are folks out there that believe that jet lag is made up by the wussies of the world. What do you guys think? Real or hoax?

Blue Light Blockers

On these stupid long-haul flights chances are you are going to have some sort of bright-ass screen in front of you. Be it your tablet, phone or the plane’s entertainment system, guaranteed there is a ton of blue level light that your eyes are straining to adjust to. I think by now we all know that this is unhealthy, so get you some Amber Lens/Blue Light Blocker glasses. Currently, my prescription sunglasses are my go to. While bright lights in dark places, sounds like a normal part of the day job, but along with all the loud noises it’s not great for your face. I’d like to see more technicians adopting these backstage to keep our eye health and headaches down, but I imagine that will have to be a cultural change.


Now armed with my dorky glasses I can finally watch a movie for once! It’s pretty well known amongst my friends that I don’t pay much attention to the television including most movies. It’s something that dropped out of my life when I started traveling as TV was neither interesting nor reliable and I guess it became something I generally didn’t desire. Problem is, I often find myself in the position of having no earthly idea of what it is that folks are talking about. It’s all a part of my reverse culture shock every time I’m in the States. So I occasionally like to brush up on what’s hip with the kids these days. More likely, though, I’ll have downloaded some reading materials onto my device to study, like product manuals or safety reports. ’Cause I’m cool. Or maybe I’ll have some gear review videos from the inter-webs so that I can feel more educated whilst flying. I did attempt to draw on a plane once and it was exactly as disastrous as one might think. I have gotten pretty good at Tetris though.

So maybe you have learned something or at least had a good laugh. I hope we can get back in the air and back to work soon. So when that happens, please remember to keep your socks and some shoes on while you’re in the plane. The world thanks you.

Also by Anna Tompkins:

Physical Training for Techs – Is it Necessary?

Of Life in Dubai

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