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Trans-Atlantic Flying Tips for the First Timer

Linda Byard

If you can figure out a way to go business class, definitely give it a go. Travellers do, however, survive economy class and often have a wonderful time later on telling everyone how much they suffered. Here are ten strategies to make your journey better:


There is just not a lot of space in economy but you can probably arrange to have either a window or an aisle seat when you make your reservation. The advantage of an aisle seat is that you can easily stand up and move about the cabin without climbing over the people next to you. You can also spread over a bit into the aisle although there is the danger of getting bumped by carts and wandering people. The advantage of the window seat is of course the view, although it is not necessarily compelling at night or when flying over the ocean. The window seat also allows one a solid wall to lean your foot, leg, arm, or head on which increases the comfort factor. This of course depends on the way the plane’s sides are configured and the way your own body might intersect with it. No one has yet to think of an advantage to a middle seat. Usually one hopes that middle seats are empty so that you can spread into it, especially if the arms of the seats go up. They don’t always.


While the food in business class may be passable, the food in economy is mostly one might say, hard to stomach. You will be tipped off about this by its appearance. Passengers are supposed to feel grateful that any food at all is still offered on long flights. Try to think of mealtimes as a welcome break from the tedium of a very long ride. Remember the details so that you can describe the vivid colors and strange textures accurately when reciting your travel woes after completing your trip. Most overseas flights (US to Europe) depart in the evening and a nine or ten o’clock dinner time is not unusual. Eating at the equivalent of two in the morning London time could be memorable. One strategy to consider is to bring your own food onto the plane so that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want.


Count on having to amuse yourself. Don’t assume on there being a movie you will like. Don’t count on being able to see the screen. Don’t count on the earphones being comfortable or that you will be able to hear the sound clearly. What does work: i-pods, video games, playing cards, crossword puzzles, or writing. Reading is perhaps the most common past time on planes and your flight may be a perfect opportunity to become absorbed in a mystery – likely you will have enough time to find out “who did it?” Any kind of book will work though although many prefer to leave the airplane thrillers at home. Probably it is best to save the truly heavy literature for when there is more oxygen in the air mix.


Keep in mind that the weight and size limitations on luggage are different on different airlines, and in the US, and in Europe. One of the new joys of flying is that regulations change all the time so do check before you pack. For example, you may be allowed a certain weight and size bag going from the US to London. But if you fly a few days later from London to another city even on the same airline, it will probably be a whole different story, and it may not be one with a happy ending. In general, American weight and size allowances are more generous than European ones. Some airlines now look at non-conforming luggage as a source of revenue. Be careful!


It may sound impossible, but many people pack into their “carry-ons” only and don’t check in any baggage. Doing this generally eliminates the weight difficulty. Plus you don’t have to wait for your luggage to arrive on the carousel, or wait for it to not come at all. The challenge is, of course, to pack what you need into this small suitcase, but you will be surprised at how much you can fit into a “roller board” of the largest permitted carry-on size. Generally you will be allowed one carry-on bag plus one “personal item.” As your personal item, choose the “small back pack” which will give you still more space. Choose layers of clothes that all work together. Find an attractive and sturdy pair of walking shoes, and try to resist taking other foot ware. Packing lightly works especially well if you will only be with strangers and don’t need a different look very often. If you run into an emergency, remember that there are stores throughout most of the world. Some shopping in another country can actually be fun.


Wear layers of loose comfortable knit clothes. The more you wear, the less you need to pack if you are trying to travel lightly. You may not have room for a jacket in your suitcase, but if you wear one, you can always take it off and stow it in the overhead bin. An overnight flight is definitely not the right place for “tight.” Take your shoes off and know that your feet are probably going to swell a bit. Not to worry, they will go back down when you do. Do some in the seat exercises to help keep your blood circulating even if you do look a little silly. Also, don’t forget to get up and walk around from time to time. The plenty of fluids you should drink to keep from getting dehydrated will encourage you to find the restrooms. If you like small spaces, you will find these delightful. Just be glad that there is more than one and that they work.


Some people are able to sleep on overnight flights. For many, dropping off is an exercise in frustration. Don’t fret if you arrive in London without sleep, you will still be able to function, and in fact you should try very hard to get on the new schedule immediately. Plan on being active that first day. Walking is very good because in so far as you might not be able to sleep on the plane, it is even harder to sleep while walking. If you can stay awake until say nine in the evening that first day in London, you will most likely sleep very soundly through to the next morning. You will feel refreshed and ready to experience life abroad.


Leave any feelings of righteousness or attitude on the ground in the US. Try to be mellow. Practice meditation or relaxation exercises. People do annoy each other on planes. They snore. They trip over you. They spill things. They are loud. Their children cry and maybe even worse, some kick the back of your chair or play video games with repetitive and squeaky noises. They whine. They drink too much. Yup, they do all those things. Don’t take it personally, and if you are lucky, you will never see them again. Unlikely, but it is possible that your seatmate will be a delightful flying companion. You just never know. 


Research in advance and know what you are going to do after you land in order to get to your final destination. Take that expensive taxi if that is what you want to do, but if you do a little research, you may find that a bus or train might do the job much less expensively, and just as well. If you buy a bus or rail pass in advance, make sure it will really take you where you want to go and also make sure it is really the bargain for you that the travel information suggests.


It is really quite a wondrous thing to be able to watch the sun set over one continent and wake up to the dawn of another. If your flight turns out to be full of unpleasant characters, wiggly monsters in the next seat, and one annoyance after another, think about how you can embellish your tale of being squished like a sardine into a big whopper story. Your flight back will surely be better – that is, unless it turns out to be worse. Whatever happens, enjoy your adventure! 

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