I’m generally a fan of moderation, in just about every way. According to oxfordreference.com, the Greek poet Hesiod stated – about 2700 years ago – “observe due measure; moderation is best in all things.” And his thought was echoed by the Roman comic dramatist Plautus about 450 years later, who wrote “moderation in all things is the best policy.”
But they never had to take a really long flight. I throw caution to the wind and utterly embrace extremes when it comes to traveling on long flights. For these purposes, long flights are flights between continents, flights between hemispheres – any flights that is so long that you don’t exactly remember how long it is, just that it is ... really long.
In recent months, I’ve taken a few such flights including New York to Johannesburg on my way to Namibia, and New York to São Paulo. And here is my conclusion based on dozens of hours in the air – in order to manage a really long flight well, be selectively immoderate. More succinctly, do several things a lot.
Drink a lot – of water. A whole lot. As much as you can stand. If you find ordinary water uninteresting, ask for sparkling. Try to avoid soda – either the sugar or the sweetener won’t be helpful.
Walk a lot. Before and during and after the flight. When you are awake, get up and walk at least once an hour, ideally a couple of laps of the entire plane. When you awaken from a sleep, do the same thing. Walk, walk, walk.
Make as many new friends as possible. You will meet interesting people in business class (if you are lucky enough to be there), and you will meet really interesting people in coach. Whatever your destination, more locals travel coach. And you will enjoy getting to know them.
Be nice to the parents traveling with kids. Be especially nice to the parents traveling with fussy kids. This can be difficult at first because, honestly, fussy kids aren’t fun on a plane. You may find yourself tempted to become fussy yourself – but when did more fussy people ever improve a situation? And perhaps you traveled with your own fussy child at some point – remember how grateful you were, or would have been, if someone had been nice to you? You will earn the deepest gratitude of the parents and maybe you will make a friend too (see above). And heck, we were all kids once.
Eat at regular intervals – really. It’s quite unpleasant to wake up and discover you are gnawingly hungry with no meal coming for hours.
Watch a movie, even if (like me) you usually don’t watch movies on planes. It will pass the time and the novelty will be interesting. But keep it light. If you like it, watch it again, maybe in a foreign language with subtitles. There’s one airplane movie that I’ve now watched thirteen times.
Work if you can, but forgive yourself if you can’t. The second point is more important than the first.
And remember to look out the window from time to time! I’ve seen wind farms in the North Atlantic, vast stretches of the Namib desert, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, sometimes on the same flight, and more.
When you land, feel a bit of gratitude. What the heck, feel a lot of gratitude – if you are away from home, for the opportunity to be somewhere new, if you are returning home, for your safe return. If it suits you, feel immoderate gratitude. Thank someone – the flight attendants, the pilots, your seatmate, the person who helps you get your bag into and out of the overhead compartment. Let that person in a hurry (or a tight connection) go ahead of you.
And if you have a good tip for surviving an intercontinental flight, please share it!