I feel like I'm well qualified to comment on this, after the China debacle. A few weeks ago I spent more than 30 hours flying home from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Sydney, via most of mainland China, which means I should now be well versed in the science of surviving long-haul travel.
Step one, in case you're wondering, is not to book a journey with three connecting flights in China. That's a recipe for disaster. There are, however, other equally important and sometimes less obvious steps you can take to ensure the least torture possible on a long trip.
Mostly, just don't do any of the things I did. Don't forget your own entertainment, don't self-medicate with booze, don't let your phone die after assuming there will be a charging point on board, and don't spend a really long stopover in a terrible airport. The rest is easy…
Pre-book your seat
Some airlines charge for this privilege, others build it in to the cost of a ticket. Regardless, I would always recommend pre-booking your seat for long-haul travel. Whether you're an aisle person (for easy access), or a window person (for views and something to lean on), it's essential to ensure you don't spend 24 hours battling for elbow room in the dreaded middle seat. You can also check you're not sitting right opposite the toilets.
Know that cheaper isn't always better
I always fall into this trap. I see cheap flights on budget carriers to somewhere interesting and I get excited, and I just book it. Bam, I'm going to Japan for $400 return. However, sometimes you have to think about what that flight is actually going to be like. You have to look at the long stopovers in bad airports. You have to consider the small seats and the lack of service. Maybe it would be better to just pay a few hundred dollars extra?
Pack your own accessories
All the fancy people in business class get their own amenities kits, with things like eye masks and moisturiser and the like, so why not just pack your own? I'm not that big on the cosmetics, but I do find that earplugs, an eye mask, comfortable socks, and sometimes even light, baggy PJ pants are invaluable for ensuring you get some decent sleep on board. I don't use any special travel pillows, but some people do find them useful.
The free headphones you're given on airplanes suck. I'm not sure how everyone doesn't already know this. You might have a fancy in-flight entertainment system with a big personal screen and a great selection of movies and TV shows, but if you're using the plane headphones you'll barely be able to hear them. Be sure to bring along your own set – either good in-ear headphones, or noise-cancelling larger ones – as well as a two-prong adapter.
My recent flights through China involved about 30 hours in various planes with only the most basic in-flight entertainment – ie, small screens at the front of the cabin playing movies in Mandarin. Nightmare. If you're not 100 per cent sure that your flight will have entertainment on board, make sure to pack your own, in the form of a phone, a tablet or a laptop loaded up with shows.
Bring your chargers
Fortunately, most planes now tend to at least have a USB charging point in every seat, which makes it handy to bring along your phone charger to ensure a full flight's worth of use (and a full battery on landing). Some planes, meanwhile, have proper electrical sockets, so if you're planning to use a laptop, pack your charger in your carry-on.
Drink plenty of water. Also, champagne.
This is one of the tricks to avoiding jet-lag: drink plenty of water. Flying dehydrates you, and if you want to feel fresh when you arrive, you'll need to be topping up frequently. Also, though this is completely counter to that advice, I would recommend a glass of bubbly wine at some point, just to remind yourself that this is flying, which is amazing, and you're going to end up somewhere fun, so you might as well celebrate. Just a little.
Arrange an upgrade
Emirates Airbus A380 business class. Photo: Shutterstock
Through this job I've been lucky to discover the only foolproof way to avoid jetlag that there is: business class. That's really your only chance. Sadly, there's no way to guarantee you score an upgrade short of actually paying for one. So either save up a lot of money, or save up a lot of frequent flyer points, or – and this is worth a shot – ask on check-in how much it will cost to upgrade at the last minute. Sometimes it's less that you expect.
Pay for lounge access
This is another hack for making economy-class travel feel as "business" as possible. If you have a long layover somewhere – say, for four hours or more – it could be worth paying for lounge access. The website loungebuddy.com.au will help arrange entry (for a price) into lounges in airports around the world. Grab a couch, grab a glass of champagne, log on to the free Wi-Fi, and relax.
Plan your stopover
If you decide not to shell out for lounge access, there are still options in certain airports to keep you entertained. The Asian hubs are the best: if you're flying through Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Seoul, you'll find everything from brief city tours to golf driving ranges on offer.
Arrive in the morning. Stay awake.
This is another key to survival, particularly for the recovery portion of your trip. Try to book flights that arrive in the morning, wherever you're going, and then plan to power through the day and get a good sleep that night. If you've taken all of the other precautionary steps, that should knock your jetlag on the head.
What are your tips and hacks for surviving long-haul travel?
See also: The plane cabins of the future