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Airplane Travel Tips

I am going to Europe for the first time this May. I am looking on some tips and advice for a long plane trip. The longest flight I have been on was from Seattle to Washington, DC but I was 6 at the time and don't remember it.

Posted by
1840 posts

Don't put your seat back back. Its annoying, although you have the right to do it. Keep it in the upright posotion and the person behind you will thank you. Silently.

Posted by
2788 posts

I fly non-stop from Seattle to Europe every summer and about an hour or two into the flight (x-SAS, AF, Luft. KLM)
they serve our first meal after which most folks try to go to sleep and in doing so most of them recline their seats. Do not be afraid of reclining your seat if you are faced with a long flight especially if the person in front of you reclines if in fact you are trying to get some sleep. What is discourteous is to recline your seat if all you want to do is read and a tall person is sitting behind you. I am 6'3" so I get caught in some awkward situations sometimes.

Posted by
6788 posts

Feel free to recline your seat all you want. Just be considerate about the times and speed with which you do that. Do it s-l-o-w-l-y so you don't don't toss the meal (or laptop) of the guy behind you into his face or lap, or otherwise spill things off his/her tray. Don't push it back while the person behind you is involved in some delicate operation (eating, drinking, opening a laptop, whatever). Good luck with that "you shouldn't recline your seat ever" rule.

Posted by
11507 posts

Monte ,, nice try,, but no one is comfy sitting upright for 10-12 hours ,, especially since most flights from the west coast are red eyes. I expect the person in front of me to recline their seat,, but, not at meal time.. when everyone should put it up. Vanessa,, get a blow up neck pillow,, seriously, I love mine, I have two cheap ones,, one is underinflated and goes in small of my back, the other one I use to sleep ( so around neck) ,, its way easier then trying to wad up your sweater or use the tiny rigid airplane pillow. Pack any meds you may need in your carry on,, a decongestant is helpful if you are worried about your ears gettiing clogged, and an advil or similar case you get a headache. I usually have a car sickness pill with me too,, often do not need it, but when you do you do, plus added bonus it makes me drowsy ,, easier to sleep. You should try and sleep on plane if flying redeye,, then when you arrive in Europe( usually in morning there) you should try and live on local time,, so sleeping on plane does matter. Bring what you need to entertain you, I personally like a book,( or my Kobe reader), and i always pack some lip balm and hand cream, plane air super dry. Drink lots on plane( its also very dehydrating on planes) , but not booze or coffee. I always pack comfy slippers that I get at a dollar store, nicer then leaving your shoes on while sleeping, but you do not want to walk into airplane bathroom in your socks,, its super gross in there sometimes. I sometimes throw out slippers on way back if I need luggage space and just wear shoes to washroom in that case. Pack or wear socks,, planes can be cold.

Posted by
1806 posts

Pack an eye mask and ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones if you want to sleep. Get up and walk around the plane and do some leg stretches every now & then while seated to reduce risk of DVT. Wear layers on plane. May start off flight where cabin is really hot and 3 hours later it's freezing cold.

Posted by
23472 posts

The person behind you will silently thank you as they recline their seat. That is ridiculous unless you are sitting in front of me. If it is available spend the extra hundred dollars or so and get the economy plus or whatever it is called seat. We never eat the airplane meal - hardly worth it. But we try to do some time shifting the previous few days so we are eating meals much earlier. We tend to get to the airport very early, have an early evening meal at one of the better restaurants in the airport so we are in the mood to relax (sleep) when we get on the plane. As someone suggested we use ear plugs, eye shades, and sleep aids and try our best to ignore all the activities on the plane.

Posted by
1003 posts

Agree with the eye mask and earplugs. I sleep with them at home anyway so it's a given on a plane, but it's especially helpful with the engine and ambient noise. Also, bring a good pillow. I never found the U-shaped ones helped me much b/c i'd just flop around and wake up with a sore neck, so I got the TravelRest from Amazon... it rolls up tiny and inflates easily and is much more comfy, to me. Also, make sure you get the seat where you are most comfortable. On a long flight, even though I'm short, I like the aisle seat. I dont mind people asking me to move, but I really hate having to ask others, and I like the freedom of stretching my legs a bit. Stay hydrated, and that will help you with the jetlag. Try to sleep as much as possible and when you arrive at your destination, try to get up and about. When I arrived in Rome around noon this past may, after I went to my B&B room and freshened up, I hit the ground running all day and I experienced no jetlag. That was in stark contrast to my previous trips where I either arrived at night or allowed myself to nap upon arrival. I personally don't recline, but that's because reclining hurts my back. But you should do whatever is comfortable for you in my opinion. The worst way to start off an expensive and possibly once-in-a-lifetime trip is to be in pain from your flight over. If your airline doesn't have an in-seat screen w/lots of entertainment, pack stuff. Whatever works for you. Ipod with music, laptop with movies or TV shows or DVDs, books, etc. I find that this really helps the time pass when i'm not sleeping but I actually find the flight back to the west coast worse, because I try to stay awake. Ideally on the redeye to Europe you are sleeping at least half the time but on the way back it'll probably be during the day so lots of entertainment is key. And don't stress! :)

Posted by
32269 posts

Vanessa, You've received lots of good tips so far! Will you be taking a direct flight, or will you need to change planes at some point? You might give some thought on whether you'd prefer an aisle seat or a window seat. Although window seats provide a convenient "rest" for sleeping, I tend to prefer aisle seats as it's easier to get up for trips to the WC or to "stretch" during the flight. If you're able to determine what type of aircraft you'll be on, you can check Seat Guru for the seating configuration. I believe the seating on my flight to Europe this year was 3-4-3. I was on the outer right side (3 seats) and fortunately the middle seat was empty so there was more room. I'd suggest taking your favourite Headphones in your carry-on, so you can use those for movies rather than the awkward airline models. My Noise Cancelling Headphones also work well for reducing aircraft noise which helps when taking a nap. Most aircraft these days have standard Jacks for Headphones, so you shouldn't need an Adapter (although I carry an Adapter "just in case"). I usually leave my Seat Belt loosely fastened, even when the "Seat Belt" light is off. As someone else mentioned, the WC's can be a bit "nasty" at times, and these are usually worse towards the end of the flight. It's often a good idea to visit the WC before landing, as you'll be busy with immigration, collecting luggage, etc. Try to stretch your legs several times during the flight, and drink lots of water. I often have a glass of wine and coffee, as I find that it doesn't bother me. Some people can sleep on flights, but I've never been too successful with that for a variety of reasons. Happy travels!

Posted by
12040 posts

Hey Ken, when did you pass 10,000 posts? Let me second the advice for noise-canceling headphones. Since buying a set a few years ago, I've never gone back to earplugs. They don't eliminate all background noise (neither do earplugs), but they're very comfortable and they allow you to listen to relaxing music at a relatively low volume. Some will even come with a two-prong adaptor for use with the airplane's in-flight sound system. For me, the longer I sleep on a trans-Atlantic flight, the better. Unless you're willing to shell out a lot of money for a more comfortable 1st or business class seat, most people will not sleep well during the flight... without a little pharmacy. Ask your doctor about a prescription sleep aid. Make sure you know how it will affect you before your flight. You probably don't want to be overly groggy when you arrive at your destination.

Posted by
2349 posts

This is a very important rule I wish all would obey. If you have a carry on bag that you put in the overhead bid, you must LEAVE it there and never access it. Put anything you might need during the flight in a purse or day bag under the seat in front of you. On every flight, there's at least on person who is in and out of that damned suitcase. Oops, forgot my book. Oops, time to put my cell phone back. Oops, getting cold now, better get my jacket. Oops, now what pocket did I put those earplugs in? Oops, next time I'm gonna kill him. Seriously, plan ahead, and pretend that your suitcase is in the trunk of the car and you can't get to it. Fewer imaginary daggers will head your way.

Posted by
3580 posts

If you have a seat in the front of a section at a wall (bulkhead), you will have extra legroom. However, you will have a lot less space for your carry-on or personal bag. There is no under-seat place for your belongings. They will have to be stowed somewhere overhead. Keep your luggage, coat, etc together as much as possible so you can exit the plane smoothly and not leave anything behind. I eat the airline meal then try to settle into sleep mode. If I'm lucky, I get a few hours of sleep. This helps a lot later when dealing with exhaustion from the long trip and jetlag. Organize your "stuff" before settling into the flight so that things you will need during the flight are available. There is often/usually some distraction: babies crying, people talking loudly, food carts blocking the way to the toilet, etc. Stay calm and as neutral as possible. Headphones or earbuds will block out some distractions. I take a pill to help me relax and sleep.

Posted by
12192 posts

Regarding Karen's rule. I travel carry on only (yes, even when I'm going for a month). I don't bring a personal item but I also pack a Civita daypack. Before my flight, I put everything I need for the flight in the daypack, then stick it in my carry-on. When I board, I pull out the daypack before stowing my carry-on and put the daypack under my feet. The number one rule for me is SLEEP ON THE FLIGHT. Pick a flight that arrives in the morning and arrive with at least four (preferably six or more) hours of sleep so you can enjoy your first day on the ground. Here's some techniques to help: During the weeks leading up to your travel day, attempt to adjust your schedule to Europe time (go to bed earlier and get up earlier), an hour or two change from your normal schedule will help. When you arrive at the departure airport, adjust your watch to local time in Europe and begin thinking in that local time. Dinner time and bed time are no longer on Seattle time. Eat a light dinner, drink some water (no caffeine or alcohol), use the toilet, and get some sleep. Don't even look at the inflight movie choices. I take one Excedrin PM type pill to help me doze off (the only time I use a sleep aid). My wife can sleep anywhere but a PM pill keeps her awake - so get an idea how it affects you before you try it. Blindfolds and earplugs can help, some people are uncomfortable with them (I prefer listening to classical music, at low volume, on headphones) - again see what you think before your flight. The blow up pillows are okay, with a few caveats. Fully inflated, they feel like neck braces. Wait until the plane levels off, so the air inside won't expand, then blow it up to a comfortable level for you - there's no rule it has to be fully inflated. Putting a fleece or t-shirt over it is also nice for comfort.

Posted by
2023 posts

Agree with the idea of putting anything you will need access to during the flight in a small bag-pen, hand wash, tissues, book, etc. and keep it in the pocket or under seat. Be aware of when the beverage/food service will begin because you will not be able to get to restroom due to the cart. Or you may find yourself unable to get back to your seat until the service is finished on your aisle. Keep hand sanitizer handy as well as antibacterial wipes. Drink water when it is offered and you can usually go to the galley and ask for more.

Posted by
359 posts

dressing in layers is good, have a light jacket it can get cold on planes I always bring snacks, sometimes the food is not great and it's no fun being hungry on a long flight also keep hydrated and get up and walk around once and while sleep and watch movies to pass the time
I keep a toothbrush, toothpaste and some items to fresh up with me so I don't feel like a total wreck when I arrive at my destination

Posted by
2765 posts

1. You can recline your seat
2. You can access your carry on. (As a matter of fact those folks in the bulkhead will probably HAVE to since they can't put anything "under the seat in front of them") Not sure why "what someone else does" is that big a deal but.... I second the noise cancelling headphones. I have never had much luck with the neck roll pillow but a lot of folks love them. Don't blow them ALL the way up at first. As the plane rises they "expand" (My mother had one explode, it was kind of funny :) ) Bring on a bottle of water. You have a couple of options. One is to buy a bottle at the airport, but they tend to overcharge IMHO. Option two is to take an empty bottle through security and fill it up at a water fountain.

Posted by
3 posts

Lots of good advice here, here's mine: OK, pre-pre flight: Go to the airlines seat map and find the seat they've assigned. Then, check once or twice a week to make sure they've not changed equipment or your original itinerary. If they've assigned seat 21A on a 767 and changed the equipment to a 777, or vice versa,it's a whole different comfort level. Pre flight: On check in make sure your passport is easy to get to, your bags have your ID and the agent has checked them thru to your final destination. Give lots of time for check-in, on AA if your bags aren't checked at least 45 min. before the flight they and you will not be on the flight. Don't overload your carry-on, if you can't lift it to the bin by yourself, lighten it up, the FAs aren't stevedores. On the flight: Be pleasant to the FAs, they have a tough job ahead of them. Don't take off your shoes, at the end of the flight your feet will have swollen and you sure won't want to go into the toilet with only your socks on. Post flight: Passport at the ready, make sure you're in the right line, not EU only. A pleasant greeting, Guten Morgen, Bon Jour is nice.

Posted by
19170 posts

I carry my netbook and anything else I might want on the plane in a small case with a shoulder strap. When I put it under the seat, I always loop the strap around my ankle. I've found that, with the seats so close together now, I can't lean forward far enough to grap the case, and I have to pull it out by the strap. And that's without the seat in front of me reclined. I wonder if people can assume that "crash position" with seats so close together.

Posted by
56 posts

Hi Vanessa
I agree with most of the above - I will add a few that I haven't seen mentioned. I personally travel better if I have been excercising (at least a few weeks, more if possible) before a big trip. Include stretches to prevent feeling stiff during your long flights. Getting enough quality sleep the week before helps prevent travel fatigue. Starting a trip feeling exhausted doesn't suit me! My body adjusts to the rigors of travel if I treat it well. I 'bounce back' quicker & feel in a better mental state able to deal with whatever during my travel. A few weeks before, I make it a point to drink alot of water, to be hydrated, avoid caffeine, no alcohol, avoid heavy rich food, alot of get the point. If you do not already use body lotion, do so the night before & day of flight. It will help your skin from feeling dry / itchy. Have a great trip!

Posted by
1976 posts

My two cents: Try to do carry-on only (no checked bags). Make sure you follow the 3-1-1 rule for liquids and if you check a bag, take your liquids baggie with you on the plane. Put the baggie in your under-the-seat bag for easy access - you can wash your face in the bathroom and brush your teeth, and in case your checked luggage gets lost, you'll have your shampoo and lotion and all that important stuff. Do bring earplugs and a sleep mask - they're excellent not only for the plane but also in case you're in a noisy/bright hotel. After you get through security, buy a big bottle of water for the plane. It's very important to stay hydrated and if the FAs don't come around often (especially when it gets late), you'll have water with you. I'm lucky if I get 2 hours of sleep on the plane, and that's with the reclined seat, earplugs, and sleep mask. Try to get as much sleep as you can but don't stress if you don't sleep much or at all. It's just one night and you will make it up. Follow Rick Steves' packing list for women on this site (with a little individual modification). It's a big help for packing light. Some airlines (like Continental) only allow 2 carryon bags per person - a suitcase and a personal item. I travel with a carryon-size suitcase, a backpack, and a cross-body purse/day bag. In baggage situations like this, I stuff the day bag inside my backpack until I'm on the plane. Suitcase goes in the overhead bin and backpack and day bag go under the seat in front of me. I always take my shoes off on the plane. I have yet to step in something unpleasant in an airplane bathroom.

Posted by
875 posts

If there is any way you can afford to fly in Premium Economy or Business class, by all means go for it. The increased leg room and seat recline in prem. eco. would always be worth the money on a transatlantic flight or longer. Be sure to take your own entertainment: book, iPod with music or audiobook, games, etc.
I use Ambien to help me sleep a few hours. That amount of rest helps me be more alert when I arrive, and then I can function well until bed-time at the new time zone.

Posted by
167 posts

- Drink a lot of water and go to the bathroom a lot as an excuse to walk around. - Bring an iTouch or iPad to distract yourself with entertainment. Pete

Posted by
277 posts

My wife and I check the seating plans and try to get into the side rows at the back where there are only two seats between the aisle and the window. Even if it costs a little extra, we like not having to play elbow-bump with the guy next to us. Sometimes, this also means that there are three areas under the seats in the rows in front of us for stashing our stuff.

Posted by
3050 posts

I was really worried about my 11 hour flight from SFO to Frankfurt, as I'd never been on a flight that long before. I am an anxious flyer, too, and a little claustrophobic. Strangely, it actually seemed to pass relatively quickly when I was on the plane. The best peice of advice I can give you is to be well rested before you get on the plane. Don't exhaust yourself in the days ahead of time, leave packing and errands to the last minute, etc. Make sure you're getting lots of sleep in advance, start "shifting" your clock to wake up/go to bed earlier a bit if you can, too. One you arrive, STAY AWAKE. No napping. I ended up falling asleep at dinner at like, 6pm our day of arrival (I was completely beat from organizing an international move with 2 weeks notice) and I was screwed - found myself being wide awake every day at 2am for a week afterwards. When people visited us we forced them to stay awake until at least 9pm and they experienced very little jet lag after that first day.

Posted by
629 posts

Stow my large bag in the overhead bin and place my small day pack at my feet. This small bag contains: sound cancelling head phones (work great & I don't like ear buds for extended periods anyways), Ipod, eye mask and travel slippers (very compact & comfortable). I usually carry a novel, crossword book, Acer notebook, all ID & info, hand sanitizer (use after returning from washroom), tissues, notebook & pens, and my P&S camera. I try to drink lots of water and as posted by Ken, always keep my seat belt on loosely. Sleep (nap) as much as possible. Have a great trip!