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Managing the 11 Hour Flight

I would love to hear all of you seasoned travelers thoughts and tips on how best to manage the long flight to and from Europe. Is it best to leave later in the evening, first thing in the morning? Does a flight with one stop help break up the long flight or just make it feel even longer? Do sleep aids work for people who "can't sleep on planes"? If you arrive in London at 7:00 a.m. should you take a nap or just stay up until bedtime? With only fourteen days for my trip, I hope to minimize the jet lag issue! I appreciate all your help!

Posted by
264 posts

Midday arrival is ideal! Especially, since your hotel won't let you in until 1 or 2 in the afternoon!

Posted by
1976 posts

Hi Nancy. We can only answer your questions with what works for us. Everyone is different and you'll have to find out what works best for you. 1) I'm not aware of any transatlantic flights that leave the U.S. in the morning. Flights depart in the evening so that people arrive in the morning, and not in the middle of the night. 2) I'd do a nonstop flight if it's an option and not outrageously more expensive than a flight with one stop. Flights with at least one stop do make the travel longer, and therefore feel longer. 3) I've never taken a sleep aid on the plane. I try to sleep and if I get a couple of hours, I consider myself lucky. I'm wary of possible "hangovers" and side effects from sleep aids. 4) When you arrive at your destination, listen to your body. If you feel like walking around, do it. If you have no energy, go to your hotel for a nap. I'm awake on and off during the night whether I take a nap or not. But for me, jetlag in Europe lasts only the first night. The next morning, I'm tired but definitely on European time.

Posted by
4647 posts

Just FYI for Sarah ... there are several transatlantic flights that depart the U.S in the morning and arrive in London the same day. I've taken a flight from Dulles to LHR that departs about 9:30am and arrives in London about 10pm at least half a dozen times. I love that morning flight and often start my trip in London to avoid the overnight on a plane. I believe there are other morning flights to London out of Chicago, New York, and Boston. Unfortunately, these flights really only work for people who live near these cities in the East. Nancy, I prefer to take the most direct flight possible. To me, the connection just makes things worse. I also prefer to arrive later in the day rather than first thing in the morning. I try to stay up until at least 8pm on the day I arrive without a nap. I can't sleep on planes and taking OTC sleepaids just makes me groggy. I've heard the prescription sleepaids do a better job.

Posted by
1425 posts

Given that we live on the west coast, the flights we take are always in the evening. My husband sleeps on the plane almost the entire way, but I never sleep AT ALL. Though I've considered it, I've never taken a sleep aid. A direct flight works better for us because it's just that much longer to get there if we have a stop. I walk frequently on the plane - usually I'm up every half an hour. Mostly we stay up til bedtime (an early one) when we get there. On a few occasions we did lie down for a couple hours. It just feels good to check into your room and be able to lie flat after having sat up for so long. And, it's good to walk once you're there to keep yourself going until bedtime.

Posted by
21665 posts

There is no magic way. Each person over time develops what works for them. We tried the stay up the first day until your . We now find it works much better for us to take a one to two hours nap - no more - around 3 or 4 pm. Then go bed at the normal local time of 10/11 pm. In the prior week to leaving we try to time shift three or four hours by moving up our sleep and eating pattern. We get up very early - close to European time - on the day we leave and try to function on the local European time during that day. Have a nice evening meal prior to boarding the plane. We ignore all activity on the plane. Use eye shades, ear plugs and try our best to sleep on the plane. It works for us.

Posted by
68 posts

Thank you for all of your feedback! I guess I am just trying to decide if it is better to fly all night and try and catch a little sleep or fly all day when I would not be sleeping anyway. It does seem like it would be preferable to arrive mid day as opposed to 7:00 in the morning.

Posted by
21665 posts

You really don't have much choice. With the except of a few flights from New York, Washington, that arrive late afternoon into London and Paris, everything else is an evening departure so that you arrive early to mid morning. And then that plane turns around for a PM departure back to the states. And especially from the west coast which adds a couple of hours. If the room is available, you hotel will let you check in whenever you get there. We have checked in as early as 10 AM. Only a couple of times have had to wait until 1 or 2 pm.

Posted by
1976 posts

Laura - I didn't know there were any transatlantic flights that left in the morning. Is jetlag any different on those flights? (i.e. Do you fall asleep as soon as you get to the hotel, wake up in the middle of night for a couple hours, etc.?) Aside from my above statement about preferring a nonstop flight, 11 hours is different from 8 or even 9. If I were flying from the West Coast, I might be tempted to change planes on the East Coast just for a break. The problem with that, besides extending travel time, is the possibility of missing your connection.

Posted by
1010 posts

Hello Nancy,
My hsuband and I have been to Europe three years in a row. We have always used "No Jet Lag" pills. They are a supplement. We bought them at the Magellan Travel Store in Santa Monica. You can also get them on-line from Magellan.com. They always work for us. We also used them when we went to Australia five years ago. We have never had jet lag. You take one tiny pill on take-off. Then you are supposed to take one pill every two hours during your flight. The package says that if you fall asleep, you can take the pill at four hours intervals. Then you take a pill on landing. They are wonderful. Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
21665 posts

Except that I do not think is any medical evidence that the pills work and, to the contrary, that in blind studies they do not. It is mostly psychological so, if it works for you keep doing it.

Posted by
3696 posts

No matter what time I leave sleeping on the plane definitely helps. After dozens of long flights and no sleep I finally found what works best for me is a good pair of noise cancelling headphones. I just put on a movie (preferrably a boring one that I have seen before, or listen to music) and I am now able to fall asleep a little. I would not take any sleep aids and I don't do any more than one glass of wine on the plane. I stay up when I arrive and call it a night relatively early... next day I am right on track. If I am so sleepy I need a few minutes I will try to snooze outside..just close my eyes for a few minutes on a park bench . I am not a napper, so if I did lay down in bed it would probably be 8 hours before I could get back up.
Usually I am so excited when I arrive I am good for a number of hours.

Posted by
12950 posts

Nancy, where are you seeing 11-hour flights to London departing in the morning? Looking on Kayak.com for non-stop flights from LAX to London Heathrow, all I see on the first several pages (starting with lowest price) are 10+ hour flights departing in the later afternoon or evening. For example, British airways has flights departing at 7:50 pm and 9:20 pm, arriving at LHR at 2:15 pm and 3:25 pm respectively. These are 10 hour, 5 minute flights. United has something similar (but I wouldn't fly them, personally). Virgin Atlantic has a 5:35 pm departure that takes 10.5 hours, arriving at 12:05 the next day. all of these sound very reasonable. Flying from the west coast, we like British Airways and the 6:15 pm departure we get from Seattle. We have dinner, start watching the movie, and I am able to sleep. My husband doesn't sleep, but he still prefers this schedule to flying in the daytime. What you get, in essence, is a short night. With an early afternoon arrival, we go to the hotel, shower and maybe nap for an hour at most. Then we go out and walk, have a light dinner, and go to bed around 9 pm local time. Next day we are fine. We have done this many times, always with good result. The only time I have experienced real jet lag was on returning from Japan, but never going to Europe.

Posted by
4647 posts

Sarah - The daytime flights from the east coast eliminate the travel fatigue you get on an overnight flight from losing a night's sleep, but they don't eliminate jet lag since you still have to deal with the time difference. For me, I find it easier to adjust when I take one of these. I just go to sleep a bit late (around 2am), sleep in a little bit the first day (to about 9am) and then feel pretty good the whole first day. Nancy - I'd choose one of the direct flights that Lola pointed out. Regardless of what flight you choose you will be travelling overnight. I've been satisfied with both BA and United.

Posted by
231 posts

Nancy,
I'm just "up the road" from you and my husband and I have taken both the Virgin Atlantic 5:35 p.m. and 9:20 p.m. flights from LAX. The earlier flight gives you a bit of time the first day to get out and see something in London, but we do better avoiding jet lag with the later flight. That said, my husband can sleep anywhere and I have to use the air sickness patch and that pretty well knocks me out, so we do sleep on the flight. We find that making sure we walk around a lot the first day or two helps with adjusting to the time difference, plus all that exercise makes for better sleep.

Posted by
1664 posts

We have tried every possible combination for our flights across the pond. Frankly, none of them are very pleasant, but the experience once we get there makes it all worthwhile....... One thing that does help is to book flights well in advance so you can score two seats on the side - some planes are configured that way and we think it is worth paying a bit extra not to endure a middle seat......I hate being confined on a plane for long flights; I prefer flights with one stop so I can get off and stretch. However, DH hates doing that.........Our flight on Virgin Atlantic leaves SFO at 16:30 and arrives LHR at 10:40 the next morning. By the time we arrive in central London, we can usually get into our hotel room. It works best for us to try to stay up until 9 or 10, but staying awake until then is not easy. We find going for a walk does help......

Posted by
2978 posts

I think the best advice is to be well rested before you get on the plane. I'm odd in that despite having travelled a lot around europe, I've only taken one trans-atlantic flight (from California, departing in the afternoon, arriving in the morning) and that involved a very hetic and sudden move so I was completely exhausted. My jet lag lasted for about a week. The advice we've given to people visiting us, however, all flying from California on afternoon departure flights, is to stay up once they get here until an early but "normal" bedtime at the local time. This has worked for all of them, they were all able to sleep through til morning the next day (which is the most annoying aspect of jet lag for me - your body clock being on a different time zone, so waking up at 2am unable to get back to sleep, etc) Some people say they can nap and still go to bed at a good hour and not be jet lagged, but I've also read that the napping can just further confuse your body and doesn't help with adjusting to the new time zone. It seems very individual. But if you're well rested before you depart, you will probably be able to stay up for the whole fully day upon arrival here without too much difficulty. Too many people don't get good sleep before travel because they leave a lot of arrangements and errands til the last minute. Don't do that!

Posted by
359 posts

I fly non stop when possible but that is not always an option. I sleep as much as possible but that is usually not much solid sleeping. I watch as many movies on inflight entertainment to pass the time. I drink water, walk around every so often. Once I land I try to go with the flow and get on the local schedule, at some point I get a little more tired and go to be little early or take a very short nap and I'm good to go.

Posted by
440 posts

Most of the flights from Houston go to a "hub" like Miami, Newark or Atlanta. I usually leave about 1P.M. and don't get to my destination until about 8A.M. I try to get a few hours sleep on the plane and I'm so excited about where I am that I don't get really sleepy until about 8 P.M. I have an ipod with movies loaded to keep me occupied on the flight. I haven't had a real problem with jet lag, at least not yet! Have a great trip.

Posted by
1831 posts

I/we have been on a number of these flights and one fifteen hour flight.
You don't manage the flight, the flight manages you. All you can do is make youself as comfortable as possible.

Posted by
5407 posts

It's all what you're used to. Honestly, take a couple flights from the US to southeast Asia, Australia or New Zealand. You will never complain about the short 11 hour hop to Europe ever again. Seriously.