I have travelled back and forth across the atlantic between the UK and the West coast of the united states many times now and I thought that maybe I should share my strategies for surviving economy class and jet lag.
The tips are different depending on which way you are flying as going west you are extending your day usually racing the sunset and arriving the same day you left. Going the other way the day is going in the opposite direction and your day is shortened.
Firstly let’s deal with seating; personally I prefer an aisle seat as it allows me free movement to the bathroom or to stroll about without anyone else having to move.
Secondly if that aisle seat in in the middle of the plane rather than the left or right seat groups (assuming the plane is at least 9 seats across) then anyone in the middle seat has a choice of getting out left or right and if they are travelling with someone they are more likely to bother their companion rather than a stranger so minimising you getting disturbed. This does mean access to a window during the flight is not really there but as I have done this flight many times that is not an issue for me as I have mostly seen what there is to see.
In terms of rows I don’t have much of a preference, bulkhead seats have more room but you then have to fold down screen and you lose some underseat storage. This means that during takeoff and landing you have to put stuff away above your seat.
There are sites such as seat guru to assess the issues with almost every seat on every plane so worth checking your allocation when checking in to avoid ‘bad’ seats.
During the flight I take opportunities to stand up and walk about and stretch as much as possible, a few lunges help 🙂 I always remove my shoes at the start of the flight and move about in socks.
For entertainment I carry a book to read and a pair of noise canceling headphones. The headphones are great, so much better than the free ones they issue and I can really recommend my Goldring pair as they are relatively cheap, work very well and are comfortable on my ears for long periods; also they work (without the cancelling capability) without batteries should you run out.
I have never got on with neck pillows. I have tried a few but I don’t like them. I prefer to fold up a blanket if I need something to rest my head on.
Sometimes (if I remember) I take some boiled sweets (hard candy) to suck on during take off and landing as it helps to ‘pop’ my ears.
Now the different strategies for going West or East.
Typically flights from London to LA leave between mid morning and mid afternoon so my experience is based upon that. As mentioned because the flight is going with the sunrise a 24 hour day extends by a few hours and so your 10 hour flight lands only about 5 hours later than it left (after adjusting for timezone).
From a body clock point of view I understand that it is easier to extend rather than reduce a day so my preference is to go with that extension and stay awake the entire flight then on arrival stay up as late as possible. I try to go a full 24 hours awake. I believe this helps to reset my body clock and get it into the new timezone quicker – it certainly helps me get a good sleep that first night.
Now in this direction the night is travelling towards you so the day and night are both a lot shorter than normal.
In this direction my plan starts early. I set my watch to the destination time at the earliest opportunity and start to think about what I would be doing at that time of day. At the airport I eat a good meal with wine (well who eats a meal without wine anyway). That meal is the evening kind of meal; something full and hearty.
On the plane I settle down and immediately think about sleep as I intend to sleep the entire flight. I close my eyes and shut out external distractions and hopefully with the inrush of oxygen that usually happens at the beginning of a flight I get straight to sleep. I’ve gotten quite good at this but it doesn’t always happen quickly so I stick with it. Occasionally I will watch one in-flight movie but I will turn down all offers of food. One movie is my limit in this direction and after that it is eyes closed and I keep them that way. I find if I concentrate on the steady drone of the engines shutting out the people noises I can go off quite easily; it takes practice.
Often I wake up for some reason but I resist opening my eyes and go back into the engine meditation. I have managed to miss take-off and sleep all the way waking up as breakfast is being served or even as we touched down!
Ultimately, the idea here is to make two shorter days; waking up in the morning (ish) of the destination city thus easing the time transition.
At the destination I again resist getting a nap or going to bed early; I stay awake as late as possible eating meals at the right time.
So that’s what I do and for the most part jetlag bothers me very little. Some of the above is hard to do but my experience tells me it’s worth the effort.
Do you have any special strategies when you travel? add a comment if you do.