How to survive a long-haul flight: 10 tips to long-distance flying even in economy

The old British World War II motivational poster, Keep Calm and Carry On, is now ubiquitous and has so many jokey variations (Keep Calm and Carry On Shopping, for instance) that I inwardly groan whenever I see a version of it. I bet you do too.

But it's a perfect motto for holiday travellers, who are both excited and nervous about hopping on planes at this patience-testing time of year.

As much as I try not to have it happen, there are just some times when my travel arrangements mean I have to fly at peak times of the year, on airlines I don't love, with connections that are dodgy and in seats that are too uncomfortable. But, whether I'm in the front or back of the plane, my personal rules for a calm travelling experience are the same.

See also: Why the best seats are taken before check-in opens

Here are my top 10 tips. I may not practise them perfectly every time, but I try.

PLAN AHEAD

Try to induce your psychic powers about what might go wrong. That means avoiding tight connections and thinking about when you're actually landing, and at what time, and what might happen at the other end. Have a backup plan in case things go awry, including bringing a light change of clothes onto the flight and packing snacks. Leave for the airport earlier than you might, choose your seats ahead and do an online check-in if you can. (Surprising how short these lines are and how long the lines are for people who don't.) Having thought through all the possibilities, you'll have a calmer experience from the outset.

AT THE AIRPORT

Take a brisk walk around the terminal before you get on the flight, rather than just sitting and waiting for boarding. It will tire you out in a good way and make relaxation and sleeping on board easier.

MEDITATE IN YOUR SEAT 

There are some helpful guided meditation apps and many airlines have programs on their audio system. In my case, I have a ritual – compression socks on, slippers, hair tied back, everything organised, followed by application of moisture cream, eye drops and lip balm. A few drops of soothing lavender oil on my pillow or blanket is said to decrease blood pressure and encourage deep sleep patterns.

See also: Why the best seat on the plane is an aisle seat

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BRING SOMETHING

comfortable, a blanket you love, a cosy pillow, some favourite pyjamas to change into or a big, soft scarf. (Your teddy bear too, if you like.) I always bring a big cashmere shawl – amazing how a little bit of luxury helps.

IF YOU WANT TO SLEEP, BRING A BOOK

I find my eyes get tired quickly and this helps me drop off. Go easy on the in-flight entertainment. The light from the screen hits your retinas and tells you it's daytime. The blue light from modern devices such as an iPad disturbs the brain. Only absolute darkness provides the melatonin that promotes sleep.

BRING A PROPER EYE MASK

The ones handed out by airlines, even at the front of the plane, are usually inadequate.

See also: 50 tips on how to make your flight perfect

BE PROACTIVE ABOUT AMBIENT NOISE

such as the sound of the engines and cranky children by bringing a good set of noise-cancelling headphones. They also provide a much more pleasant and comfortable listening experience when plugged into the in-flight entertainment.

AVOID ALCOHOL

Yes, I know, sometimes a whiskey helps get you to sleep, and that's OK. But if you must drink alcohol, wash it down with lots of water to keep hydrated. And be careful of the reaction with sleeping pills.

CHOOSE YOUR SLEEPING POTION AND ITS DOSE CAREFULLY

Some people don't need to take medication to sleep, and that's fantastic. But I'm a light sleeper and hours on a flight without a long snooze is hell. My favourite sleeping pill, a hypnotic, has been discontinued, so I'm experimenting with new ones. But I am experimenting at home. I need to know the effect it has on me before I step onto the plane.

CHANGE YOUR THINKING

Treat even the longest security line or layover at an airport as an adventure, rather than a chore. Enjoy people watching or being with your family and count your blessings that you have the wherewithal to travel. Think about your destination and how it will all be worth it. Don't get het up over small slights like a brusque flight attendant or your choice of meal not being available.

You're not in a war, it's just the trials of modern mass travel. Keep calm and happy holidays.

See also: Swapping seats on planes: What's the etiquette?
See also: Passenger's brilliant plan to never lose luggage again

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