I wonder if Mark Vanhoenacker has ever been at the helm of a 747 I was a passenger on. If he ever flew the London to Los Angeles (or, in his parlance, LHR to LAX) route in the last 20 years, chances I have been on one his jets, as British Airways has been my intercontinental airline of choice since I moved to the States.
Every time I buckle my seat belt and settle in for the ten-hour flight, I marvel at how it is even possible I am able “to sit” in the sky. I have been explained the mechanics and aerodynamics of flying more than once but, I will admit, I would rather it remained a mystery: too much knowledge in this particular department might have me thinking about everything that could go wrong. I would much rather place my trust in two strangers in the cockpit while I disconnect from both departure and arrival destinations: for a few precious hours, I get to literally float in a cloud, unreachable, all folded into myself.
Mark Vanhoenacker has written a wondrous book about flying, Skyfaring, which has very little to do with engineering explanations nor with any High Mile Club gossiping. It’s a lyrical book about the pleasure of flying, about how he sees the world from 30,000 feet up, how every place he touches down in travels back home with him. It’s a book that makes you want to fly – even cramped in economy.
Over the years, I have developed very specific routines for my long haul flights, that help me get to my destination, if not refreshed, at least in relative decent shape. I am the rare person who doesn’t suffer from jet lag too seriously, mostly because I slide into the new time zone immediately by both controlling my sleep and my appetite. It’s not that my body doesn’t feel it but I have trained my mind to take over.
If you are flying anywhere far this Summer, here are some of my tried and true suggestions. And also Mark Vanhoenacker’s tips on what to do as soon as you get “there”. Wherever your there is.
- Dress comfortably. It seems like a no brainer but I am always amazed at how many people show up in tight jeans, or heels or tank tops. I stick with leggings, trainers and a layer of tank top, t-shirt and sweatshirt because cabins tend to get very cold. And I bring a pair of extra socks to wear during the flight and walk around in. Shoes come off as soon as I sit down.
- Food. I normally preorder a vegetarian meal because it’s mostly bland and inoffensive but I also pack some munchies of my own: nuts, protein bar, a banana and a piece of dark chocolate. If I am flying back from Italy there will be something delicious like a prosciutto sandwich or a proper croissant.
- Entertainment. Most planes are equipped with personal screens, with plenty of movies and tv shows to choose from but downloading a movie or two on a tablet or laptop can be useful, and these days most planes allow for recharging all our technology. But I aways carry a book and a magazine as they are more conducive to sleep. On an overnight flight, I make a point of never watching more than one movie – it’s too easy to get sucked in and whack your internal clock from the get-go.
- Going to sleep. I always carry some sample size moisturizers, toothpaste etc and I religiously wash my face, apply extra lotion, eye cream and lip balm just as if I were at home, put some earplugs in and pretend to sleep. If I am lucky, I will get a couple of hours. Sofagirl swears by sleeping pills but I haven’t had much luck with them. At the very most, I got four restless hours. The experience of popping a pill as soon as I get on to wake up refreshed at arrival has always eluded me. Under no circumstances do I let myself get sucked into a second (or third) movie. I have friends who swear by melatonin although my personal first hand reviews are very mixed.
- Waking up. I don’t skip breakfast, even if I am not hungry: some tea, which tends to be strong and over-brewed but less disgusting than coffee, and whatever fruit and yogurt are always on offer alongside rubber eggs and frozen bread. Then I brush my teeth, wash and moisturize all over again and apply some light make up to wipe off the vampire-y look that sets in overnight.
- Don’t forget to stretch and to get up at least twice during the flight, as well as drink plenty of water which is generally available at the back of the cabin. I never drink alcohol – it might put you to sleep temporarily but will rob you of moisture and turn your tongue into a disgusting foreign object.
And once you get off the flight, here are Mark Van’s suggestions for easing jet leg and fatigue:
- Do not skip breakfast. If you are trying to maximize your shut-eye time by sleeping until the last possible moment, grab something as soon as you get off the flight, even if it’s just a banana or a yogurt. It will make you feel instantly better.
- Do not go to sleep. Unless you reach a bed really early in the morning and you can take a two or three-hour nap, don’t go to sleep until it’s night in your new time zone.
- Adjust your watch. Maybe you don’t even wear a watch anymore but, if you do, adjust it immediately as you get on board. It will mentally help you think in the arrival time.
- Exercise. It might sound counterintuitive, when you feel tired, but exercising the day you get in does help. For instance, after sitting for so long, don’t take the moving walkways or escalators inside the airport. Exercise your legs. As a rule of thumb, it takes one day per time zone crossed to get over jet lag.
And do you have any tips for surviving long, cramped and crowded flights?
Clouds courtesy of Rene Magritte
PS: Now that you’ve landed here… have you been experiencing turbulence whilst trying to read campari&sofa on your mobile phone? The inflight disturbance we’ve been experiencing whilst travelling to a new theme has been solved – and its smooth flying from here on.