10 Tips to Help Frequent Flying Suck (Just a Little Bit) Less

The closest I’ve come to praying for death was a flight from Tokyo to Portland, Oregon. I’d been out drinking in downtown Chatan (Okinawa) the night before. That, plus the sleep deprivation from my 5:00 AM flight time delivered a two-fisted punch to my immune system. My nose was bulging by the time I boarded.

Stop me when this starts to sound familiar … Coach is coach and I wound up sandwiched between an old Japanese man who spoke no English (at least not to skeevy, long-haired hippy kids) and a young University of Oregon exchange student. I spent my first half-hour on board using the kid to broker an agreement for the old man’s aisle seat.

Once he understood that I wasn’t trying to set up a three way in the airplane bathroom, the old man was pretty reasonable. We switched spots and I pulled my travel blanket and pillow out of my carry-on bag. By the time the Captain turned off the seat belt sign I’d managed to fashion a crude Fortress of Solitude.

… and then the baby woke up.

I’m a man who gives fair credit. That child was quiet as the grave for the first hour. Then, for some inexplicable reason he had to start howling and sour our relationship of mutual non-aggression.

My stomach revolted at the thought of drinking to dull the experience. I faced more than eight hours, alone and sober with a screaming baby behind me. Every time I fell asleep I was jolted awake by either a child’s screams or convulsive coughing. Yeah, you can bet my part of the plane was SUPER popular with the flight attendants.

I suspect flight crew personnel only manage to avoid complete mental breakdown by taking breaks up front to get frisky in the cockpit.

Constant travel takes a toll on the mind, body and soul. No matter how much you like airports, no one enjoys whiling away hours aboard commercial aircraft on a weekly basis. I suspect flight attendants and pilots only manage to avoid complete mental breakdown by taking breaks up front to get frisky in the cockpit.


Skywalk Silhouettes at Barcelona International Airport © Lali Masriera

So how can you avoid ever having a trip like mine? There’s no sure-fire way to ward off a terrible flight. A baby could vomit or an obnoxious squadron of Greek students could drink all the red wine and vodka. We live in crazy times. But I do have a few tips that may tilt the odds in your favor.

#1: Bring Drugs … the Right Drugs

Let’s be honest: if lucidity was a good thing on a long flight, airlines wouldn’t sell so many $5 drinks. But vomiting on an airplane is the single worst thing that can happen. Both for you, and everyone else in the cabin. If you get drunk and puke inside of a pressurized cabin you are literally the worst person on earth right now.

While most of you are probably fine, upstanding citizens who yield to sobriety in all but the most special-est occasions, getting good and tight on other-than-booze is a fine way to make it through a long flight. What’s this, a writer encouraging people to use drugs? I touched on this in a previous column. Kanna is a good one for reducing flight anxiety.

#2: Don’t Trust Machines

They will always, always screw you over. Print a copy of every document the airline emails you. If you’re really paranoid, you’ll PRINT SCREEN on the purchase confirmation screen to make damn sure you have proof of purchase. This goes for hotel reservations too, and the trees can just go to hell. At least you won’t have to hunt down a WiFi hotspot hungover and fighting a losing battle with last night’s curry.

#3: Check Your Bank Balance Before Leaving The Hotel

That urge to avoid staring at your bank balance after a weekend of debauchery is understandable. Fight it. The alternative is ending up with a five-hour layover in Belgrade and no way to pay for food or WiFi.

#4: Airport Massages Are Worth Every Penny

If you aren’t a dirt poor, backpacking hippy, you have the spare cash for a massage somewhere between Ancient Cities and Distant Ports. Trust me, that rising urge to run out of your connecting airport and embark on a killing spree will fade when some pretty stranger digs her fingers into your shoulders.

#5: Manage Your Juice

Nothing makes a long flight and a crappy seat tolerable like your favorite film or ICanHasCheeseburger videos in 1080p. But most laptop batteries only last a few hours. They may handle a domestic flight, but international jaunts require high-capacity batteries or something like an iPad. The Adam and other Pixel Qi devices are worth looking into. They can switch from E-Ink to LCD which makes them hugely efficient.

You can also try begging a stewardess. I offer this pre-crafted (and successfully tested) line:

“Ma’am, I work out of my laptop and cannot afford to spend ten mostly-waking hours not getting anything done. Would you please charge this up front for a while?”

It may not work every flight, but it’s always worth a shot.

#6: Always Pack Backup Entertainment

Ever overslept the morning before a flight and found your laptop was left unplugged the night before? It sucks. Bring a Kindle. And some real books. And an MP3 player with some audiobooks or television or whatever. Keep your options open or you’ll end up bored on a transatlantic flight.

Then you’ll get hammered on Delta-style screwdrivers and proceed to puke ten feet away from me and a seven year old girl who presumably competes in “Loudest Scream” contests all over the world. It will be terrible and your plane mates will never, ever forgive you.


Runway at Sky Harbor International Airport, Arizona © Kevin Dooley

#7: Good Noise-Cancelling Headphones Are Never Cheap

Seriously. If you need quiet, you’re going to have to pay.

#8: Morning Flights Are Worth It

No (or less) crowds at security, fewer folks on the flights and none of the TSA guys have had time to get their afternoon drank on.

#9: First Class Might Be Worth It Too

Business travelers, just because the company is covering the flight doesn’t mean YOU can’t pay for the upgrade. Sometimes it’s as little as $100-$200. Depending on the length of your legs and your tolerance for children, this may or may not be worth it on flights longer than the average workday.

#10: Putting Together a Spy-Movie Music Playlist Is Definitely Worth It

Twilight trips to far-flung airports are already surreal. Why not make your life more like an Ian Fleming novel? Mix with my first tip for a fun (and potentially terribly dangerous) experiment in imagination.

Just know that I take no responsibility for your subsequent arrest. Although I’d love to hear about it.

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