11 August 2012

Come fly with me... (or How to Survive 14 hours in a Flying Sardine Can)

Hands up if you think flying is fun? 

If you put your hand up you're either a pilot, a newbie, or a crazy person. Sure, the hour and half from Melbourne to Sydney can be quite pleasant (provided you ignore those  'this whole tin-can-flying thing seems highly improbably' thoughts). But long haul flights? Being trapped like sweaty cattle in an aluminium can, faced with inedible mush, undrinkable wine and endless re-runs of Two and a Half Men? Not fun. 

As you've probably guessed from my recent posts, at the moment, I fly a lot. Even before this three months of madness the combination of being travel mad and married to a rather financially competent man with two sons a whole ocean away means that I take two to four international flights a month. And the vast majority of those are in economy.  As a result, I've developed a swag of coping mechanisms and some fairly um, 'strong', ideas on plane etiquette (and by strong I think they should be standard terms and conditions of every airline ticket sold...). 

So in the interests of sanity, and of keeping things nice en route, here's some of my travel tips for when you're in the air. (Like my first travel tips post - on packing your bags - this is text heavy. I've highlighted the critical bits in bold though, so you can skip all the filler and go straight to the killer if you like.) 

- Figure out the kind of traveller you are, and be honest about it. The husband is a casual, relaxed, laid back flyer. I am a nervous, twitchy, neurotic flyer. 

As much as I'd love to pretend that I'm all 'it's cool man' at the airport, I'm not 'cool' at all. And when I try to be it normally ends in tears - I'll be in the lounge repeatedly and pointedly telling my husband 'it says final call' while he tries to ignore me and pours another scotch. I'll then have a minor panic attack and drag the husband to the gate, where we wait in the boarding line for ten long minutes whilst he repeatedly and pointedly tells me he could have been relaxing with a scotch in the lounge all this time. In my emotionally fraught state I'll read this as the massive, wounding insult it obviously is and ask my husband why he ever married me in the first place. Things tend to go downhill from there. 

Long story short: these days I let my husband hang at the lounge while I get to the gate with plenty of time to spare. Makes for much happier times for all involved. 

- I'm not sure why but airports are emotionally fraught places. Maybe it's all the emotional goodbyes, the awkward hellos, the stress of wondering whether  you remembered to pack your passport/toothbrush/teddy bear. Or just being in an unfamiliar space with unfamiliar people and all those odd unfamiliar routines. Or the thought that you're about to put your life in the hands of a pilot who may or may not have been up all night doing tequila shots. Or worse, in the hands of an autopilot who may or may not be related to HAL 9000. 

Whatever it is, indulge in a bit of people watching at the airport and I guarantee you'll see flustered faces, heated words, rolled eyes and possibly tears. Everyone just seems to be a bit more emotionally fraught, a bit on edge. So, be gentle, with yourself and with others

- If you didn't get an upgrade, get over it. Please don't spend thirty minutes arguing with the poor check-in lady and making the rest of us in line wait, and wait, and wait.

- Get organised before the security screening. Please don't reach the xray machine, suddenly look surprised, and hold up the line for ten minutes as you faff about with zippers and bags and bottles of water. Start getting organised while you're waiting in line. Pull out your lap top or travel sized toiletries, unlace your shoes, take of your jacket - whatever you can do to make the line move a bit quicker.

If you're not sure what you need to do, observe the people around you and follow suit (unless the people around you are having some travel related meltdown which involves stripping down to their underwear and running around in circles yelling 'mum-ma'. Of course.) In short, don't be a donkey

- When you plan your plane outfit, think about the people that are going to be squished seated next to you. I don't care if you're flying from Dallol, Ethiopia (the hottest inhabited place on earth. Google it, people), short shorts really aren't acceptable. Shorts equals bare skin which equals my personal space being invaded by your legs. Be they silky smooth, hairy, supple, dry, freckled, tanned - I don't care, I just don't want them near me. Please. 

And yes, I am quite aware that this might just be some really weird pet peeve/cause for therapy of mine. But I stand by it. No shorts on planes. Ditto for thongs. And probably singlets too. 

- While we're...sorry, while I'm...getting all judge-y and talking clothes, a few other thoughts: tights are not pants, pyjamas are not an outfit, and having 'Juicy' scrawled across your butt may be something you might regret later in life. At the same time, your sky high heels and body con dress might make travel tricky (airports mean walking, carry on luggage means lifting and stretching). 

The key is to strike a balance between comfort and chic. I find leggings with a tunic type top or shift dress make for a pretty great plane outfit. Plus by simply changing my shoes (say, from open toed to ankle boot) and adding long socks, a scarf and a jacket I can easily go from stinking hot Summer in Seoul to Winter in Sydney (and vice versa). 

Oh and insider travel tip - if you're limiting yourself to carry on luggage (as you should) wear your biggest/chunkiest pair of shoes, it'll save you a ton of suitcase space. 

Stay tuned for a plane outfit post going up in the next few days. Yes, ladies and gents, I've discovered Polyvore!

- Find your plane routine. Figure out whatever it is you need to do to make you sleep, because really that's the absolute best way to get through your flight. Some people are blessed with the ability to fall asleep anywhere, anytime. Others (like me) need to give their body/mind certain cues that say 'okay, time to sleep now'. 

I have a friend whose plane routine is to down three large scotches pre-flight, fall asleep as soon as he's seated, and snore (and possibly dribble) his way to his destination. No pillows, no pyjamas, no blankets, no fuss. On the other hand, I generally like to wash my face, brush my teeth, lower the eye mask, and plug in the iPod before I attempt to sleep (although I'm finding that the more I fly the less fussy I am about sticking to this routine). 

The one thing we both agree on is that not getting much sleep before a long flight, and hence getting on the plane feeling a little like a tired wreck, is a generally a good thing.

- Pack a plane kit. I put all the stuff I know I'll want to use during the flight in one, easy access bag. 

My plane kit includes: a fully charged iPhone + headphones; pencil + sharpener; blue pen for filling out customs/immigration forms (I once used a green pen and the immigration official made me redo it!); notebook; something to read; The Body Shop Vitamin E Face Mist; an eye mask and ear plugs; Lucas' Pawpaw Ointment; facial cleansing wipes; a light gel-type face moisturiser; pain killers + antacids; extra strength eye drops; a makeup compact; a change of underwear and sometimes a change of leggings/tights. 

- For some reason, people cry on planes. I used to think it was just me but apparently it's an actual thing. So if the person next to you is tearing up over the Unicef add or Ice Age 3, don't stare and don't worry. Too much. 

- Be nice. This is tougher than it sounds. I try really hard to be a considerate traveller, to think about the needs of my fellow passengers. I try not to move my seat back when they've got a tray full of fizzy drinks. But sometimes when I'm overtired and feeling a wee bit claustrophobic I do get a little cranky. Sorry. 

- The person sitting next to you may not always be in the mood to talk. Gauge the mood and don't force someone into a comversation. I am most definitely in the no talking camp. I like to hit play on my 'Plane' playlist, pull the eye mask down and pretend that I'm not trapped in a moving pinata. If you persist in talking to me I will probably not be nice (see above). 

And my number one tip for making flying fun? Flying is the ultimate in forced relaxation. Once you're in the air there's really nothing you can do. So - take a deep breath, pick a good-bad movie (anything involving comic book characters, Matt Damon or gladiators usually does the trick), sit back and try to enjoy. 

ps. And do let me know if I've missed anything - what are your pet airport/airplane peeves? How do you cope with long haul flights?


  1. I hate flying Emily, and i did what i considered to be my lifes share of it in the 60's 70's and 80's. One of the many wonderul things about living in Mallacoota, is that there is no way to fly out of here .. you have my sympathy and admiration for coping with all this xox

  2. This is a great and funny post. I wish people were more considerate about plane travel - getting ready in line, wearing decent attire, being clean! I have never been much good at sleeping on planes. I think because I'm a curl up in a ball sleeper and that's hard to do on a plane.

  3. Great post Emily! I had a giggle and nod in agreement with several of your pet peeves.

    I always have trouble sleeping on planes (unless I drug myself up!) and usually end up watching movie after movie until I arrive (bleary eyed) at my destination.

    I think one major peeve of mine is when people in aisle seats don't get up when you need to stand up. I'm a window seat person and having to slide past someone with either my bottom or front in their face isn't comfortable!

    1. Oh gosh, I can't stand window seats! I'm like a trapped alley cat if I ever happen to get one, very snarly indeed! But yes, the rest of us should be considerate to you window-seaters...

      (I'm always bleary eyed after a flight too, even with the eye drops. I should have added sunglasses to my plane kit list, they are essential on landing!)

  4. I love this post Emily! Though I am a window seat person and I love looking out the window (which I know you would hate!) I try to take up as little space as possible and try not to get up often if I can avoid it.

    I am not chatty, so I really don't like it much when people want to talk to me on the plane. I'm not great at sleeping on the plane but I do like to have a fully charged ipod and a great soundtrack. it helps a lot.

    1. So agree on the fully charged iPod - I get a bit (more) panicky if for some reason my battery is low (though helpfully these days some planes have charging spots which is pretty great).

      And yes to being aware of your own and others space. It astounds me how oblivious people can be when they blithely encroach on your little bit of plane.

  5. Hi from Spain! I regularly read your blog and take part in your collecting colour project. So I was deligted to read you were coming to Spain. I'm from the north-east and you'll be visiting Madrid and the south of Spain which is really nice and rich in so many different aspects. I can only wish you the best while you spend your holiday in my country. Hope you enjoy with our food, culture, weather and people!

    1. Hola! And thank you - we had such a wonderful time. And yes, we most definitely enjoyed your food (the husband was in pig heaven!).

  6. definitely my most favrouite post EVER! i think nervous flying must be a family trait as raph and i do exactly the same thing, with me stressing to get to the gate while he stares at me like a crazy lady. infact my stressing usually begins even before we get to the ariport (usually 3 hours early). enjoy madrid!!

  7. Some great tips from a frequent traveller. I particularly agree with the talking one. Sometimes you feel like having a chat, other times you just want quiet time.

  8. This was a great post! I too have a great deal of flying anxiety. I'm not worried about the physics of the plane taking off or landing but I do have heart palpitations if I'm not right near the gate even before they call for boarding. It's quite true that it is made far worse by a husband who travels frequently and sees no need to be near the plane until the last possible second. I think I just broke into a sweat typing that out.

    I am an infrequent flyer. The first time was when I was a minor and I was visiting family. The airline takes a great deal of care with kids and I didn't have to do much thinking or take much responsibility. Fast forward nearly 20 years and I fly by myself again and I am a basket case. I really did want a special 'Unaccompanied Adult' sticker and someone to hold my hand. Once I became slightly comfortable we went mad and decided to fly with our young children. We have fared better than others but that doesn't mean I haven't lost years of life worrying about whether I packed enough snacks & activities for a busy 3 year old.

    My only suggestion to add to your wonderful list would be some sort of rules regarding the arm rest. This should be sanctioned along with taking sweaty shoes off and reading large newspapers. Eep!

    1. I must admit I am guilty of the news paper thing, though I do fold my papers to minimise the annoyance.

      And yes - how could I possibly leave the whole arm rest issue out? We used to love flying economy with the step-sons when they were little as you never had to wrestle them for an arm rest. I flew with them a few months ago and they have turned in to giant arm rest hogs! With pointy elbows too!

      (Loved your 'Unaccompanied Adult' sticker idea! I think there's a few people who'd like that...)

  9. Am about to take a lot of trains - across continents. I wonder if there are guidelines for train dress code?

    1. Oh, that sounds exciting! Where are you going? I adore train travel - if I could I'd get trains everywhere!

  10. Ha haa! Great post!
    I travelled A LOT as a youngster, with my parents. I only remember worrying one time when I was about 8 or 9. I was convinced there was a bomb under my seat. My Mum had to get the Stewardess to confirm that it was, in fact, the lifejacket.


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