Ever so often or maybe just once in a while you find yourself on a long flight. This can very often be an unpleasant experience, regardless of your destination. Usually going home is worse, probably since you're not traveling to something, just from. And then there's jet lag. This brief guide is an attempt to provide some hints and tips in order decrease the stress you might feel when traveling. Most of these are time saving steps before the actual flight. 

I've done a fair amount of business traveling. I've also done a fair amount of leisure traveling, but because of the former, the latter is usually not by air. I use my frequent flyer miles for upgrades instead of award travel, since the monopolistic and non-service oriented airlines have an intricate system of restrictions (blackout dates etc) in order to keep their frequent flyers from using their award miles. 

Now. "Long" is of course a loose term, but more than 6 hours in the air I think is a fairly acceptable definition of a long trip for most people. A 6 hour flight usually mean that the total travel time is much longer, since there are more things to factor in than just the flight time:

  • Check-in in advance: 1-2 hrs - international flights, less for domestic, depends on size of airport
  • Transport to and from airport: 1/2-3 hrs - can easily be a lot more if you don't travel much and therefore don't mind living in the beautiful countryside
  • Connections: 1-4hrs - luckily delays can make your layovers shorter, but on the other hand, the layover time is extended in order to compensate for delays...
  • Time zone difference: 0-4 hrs for a six hour flight. This spells jet lag
  • Delays: 0-X - most flights are not on time, although delays in arrival time is small when the flight leave on time.

Well now, what can you do about this ? There are basically three significantly different parts of the trip, and I will give you some tips for how to deal with them. The parts are Getting to the airport, At the airport and In the air

  1. Getting to the airport
    The best is being dropped off by car (traffic permitting), closely followed by public transportation that drop you off at the terminal. You might think that driving your own car would save time when compared to public transport. This is not always true, however. The parking situation at most airports is such that it penalizes people taking their car there, not only financially, but also time-wise. Transport to and from parking lots can take lots of time, especially during rush hours and considering that most airports are permanently in a state of a major construction. You can usually save considerable time if there's a dedicated train or subway to the airport, which is fairly uncommon in the US, but common elsewhere. Have someone drop you off at the station, instead. Usually you can find a lot of information about how to get to and from the airport most conveniently at the airport's website. Or just call your airline at the airport. They know about and suffer from the traffic situation every day.
  2. At the airport
    A great deal of the unnecessary time spent on travel is at the airport. This is because all airlines want you to check in as early as possible, in order to know how full the flight is. Many flights are overbooked, since there are a high percentage of passenger no-shows. This is not your problem, however. If the airline wants you to come 1-2 hrs in advance, come 50 minutes in advance. Note: It's a good idea having a margin in getting to the airport, while you don't need much time at the airport. In general, you don't need to spend much time at the airport. There will always be a line at the check in time, and if you're in it you'll get on the flight. If you want to do duty-free shopping, allow time for this. Flights will start boarding some 45 minutes before scheduled take-off time. 

    If you can and have few layovers, only carry hand luggage. You can save a lot of time by not having to wait for you luggage and by not having to fight with all your co-travelers for a cab

    An important thing to do at the airport is to make sure that you have a good seat. Ask for a better seat at check in, even if you have done so at the time of booking.  Spontaneous upgrades are usually only available when flights are full, but there's always a chance that you can get an empty seat next to you. If not, monitor the occupancy when aboard the plane, and then switch when the stewardess announces "Boarding completed"

    Alternative: If you have access to an airline lounge, by having a business class ticket or just for being very faithful to the airline - VIP member of a frequent flyer program - you can give yourself more time at the airport. Very often the airline lounge provide better food than will be served in the air, so you can eat in the lounge and skip the meal on the flight. You can also get some work done in the lounge. Or just hang around reading papers, drinking Bloody Marys.
  3. In the air
    If you have to deal with jet lag, you better have a plan. If you're not blessed with the ability to sleep anywhere, anyhow, you need to plan your trip. Plan for 3 hrs sleep. In order to get this, it's a good idea to ruin previous night's sleep. I usually do my packing late the night before ("Where the hell is my gray shirt?" "Honey, you're wearing it...") and then get up as early as I can. This ensures that I will be dead tired on the flight. A flight in coach/economy class usually means that your first wait, get a drink, then wait, then get dinner, then wait, then they show a movie, then wait, then wait, then a lighter meal before landing. A good plan is to sleep thorough the middle waits and the movie. A key to do this is alcohol. Note: If you're flying in a morning and have to be at your best when you land, you might want to be a little easy on the booze. Otherwise, get a beer or some champagne. Then have a (tiny) bottle of wine to go with the food and a whisky or cognac after the meal. This should get you a bit tipsy and sleepy. With the previous night's preparation, this should be enough for 3 hours sleep, which is a good start in fighting off the jet lag. Don't drink and drive

    Take off your shoes. Remove your contacts.

    Flirt with the air hostesses. Be very kind to them. Compliment their service. This always pays off, sooner or later. You know that you've been good when they ask you to fill in one of the airline customer satisfaction surveys right before landing. 

    Important to air travel is your equipment. You should always have loosely fitted, comfortable clothes. Skip the tie. Bring earplugs and one of those stupid eye covers. Also bring a book, a magazine, a bottle of water, lip balm and a laptop. The last is of course luxury, and if you have no use for it at your destination, you really have to think about its usefulness, since you'll end up with back problems from dragging it around. There are two things that you can do while in air that are invaluable: surf and node.

    Surf how? Easy. Just spend 30 mins downloading your favorite sites from the net. There are several tools for this, and if you don't run a do-it-all-your-bloody-self OS - which you probably aren't if you have a laptop - and use Windows instead, Internet Explorer has a fairly easy to use tool for downloading of sites for offline browsing. Just go to ENN and tell IE to download it all at one links depth. It's fantastic to be on e2 offline, trust me. No disturbing chatterbox. And when you eventually find something really interesting, do what I do right now. Node.

Yes, as the following noders say, be careful with the alcohol. Drink lots of water, hence the bottle of water that I mentioned.