Being able to fit in a few hours of sleep on a long-haul flight can mean the difference between arriving at your destination feeling like a deranged zombie, or a coherent member of the human race. Factors such as temperature, seat pitch and light levels can all affect your ability to get adequate shut-eye.
The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner caught some criticism recently from All Nippon Airways for having dimmable windows that apparently do not get dark enough for some fliers' tastes — especially when trying to sleep during daylight hours. The windows, which do not have pull down shades, darken. But they don't get completely opaque. (There's always that old standby, the eye mask, no?)
But other variables, besides being able to sleep, can make or break a long-haul journey. Road warriors who frequently have to make long treks from the U.S. to Europe, Asia, Australia or the Middle East know that advance planning is essential. Proper seat selection, clothing and carry-on goodies are necessary for making a long-haul flight a pleasure (well, almost), rather than an ordeal. Here are some suggestions.
Pick Your Seat Wisely
If you're able to travel in business class or premium economy, which offer more legroom and other perks, you're set. If you're stuck in cattle class and traveling on an airline that allows you to select a seat in advance, DO IT. Those handy online diagrams take the guesswork out of where the emergency exit rows and bulkheads are. And the charts let you see which seating plans include oddball configurations that sometimes feature seats with no one in front OR beside you.
If you can't get a seat with extra legroom, at least try to get one with one seat between you and the nearest passenger. If your airline lets you pick a seat in advance but doesn't offer a diagram, go to SeatGuru.com and find the seating arrangement for your class of service. The best strategy with airlines like Southwest , which doesn't assign seats in advance, is to check in online as early as possible to get into the earliest boarding group.
Pack a Bag of Comfort Essentials
These items include an eye mask, earplugs, some form of entertainment (iPod, laptop with DVD movies, crossword puzzles, a book), snacks, a travel pillow, sleep aids, and some toiletries such as eye drops, moisturizer and lip balm.
No one wants to spend 14 hours flying between LAX and Dubai suffering in too-tight trousers that look great in the mirror, but cut off circulation to half of your body. Nor do you want to spend those 14 hours shivering uncontrollably because the air temperature in the plane has been set to "meat locker" and you didn't think to bring a jacket. Put on some loose but stylish pants, slip-on shoes, a non-restricting shirt and stash a light sweater or jacket in your carry-on in case it gets cold.
Drink Lots of Water
Water is a cure-all substance which, by keeping you hydrated, makes your body function more efficiently for comfort. It helps your nasal passages stay moist, recover from jet lag more quickly and reduces the likelihood that you'll get deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Some experts advocate pre-hydrating before you get on the flight (and topping up while you're in-flight). But the jury's still out on whether that's an effective strategy. At a minimum, drink several eight-ounce glasses of water or fruit juice during your trip. And avoid diuretic beverages like alcohol and coffee.