We all take them at one time or another; but how do you survive a long-haul flight?
I have always deeply envied those people who can get on an airplane, buckle themselves into their seat, and drop into a deep sleep that is broken only with the impact of the plane landing at their destination. How do they do that, I wonder, as I lie awake with the background noise of their gentle snores wafting around me. How can they possibly be so relaxed that they can nod off even before the seat-belt sign has been switched off? How is it possible that the noise of that wailing child or the hustle and bustle of the dinner/lunch service does not rouse them from their slumber?
What exactly are these people made of? Well, they are certainly made of sterner stuff than me. Despite the long decades I have spent racking up frequent-flyer miles, I have yet to master the art of sleeping through a flight. Sometimes when I am desperate to catch a few winks, I scoff a couple of glasses of champagne and lie back and hope for the best. But no, the best I can manage is an hour or so of fitful sleep before I am wide awake once again -- and now a little sore in my head for good measure.
But what all this wakefulness has meant is that I have developed some sure-shot measures of surviving long-haul flights over the years. And this Sunday morning, having just got off a 16-hour non-stop flight from San Francisco, I am going to share some of them with you:
* Try and create your own personal bubble on the airplane. I know, it's tough (and impossible if you are travelling with kids) but give it a try. The first step in this process is slipping on your noise-cancelling headphones -- buy the expensive ones; they will more than pay for themselves in the long term -- if you don't intend to watch a movie or listen to music. Not only will this insulate you from the noise in the cabin, it will also deter the man/woman in the next seat from engaging you in dreary conversation for hours on end.
* Don't depend on the in-flight entertainment provided by the airline; all too often it consists of old releases and TV series that are a couple of seasons past their see-by date. Instead, download a couple of movies or TV shows that you would really like to watch on your iPad or tablet. If movies aren't your thing, then pack a good book or two. Or do what I do to keep my hand luggage at a minimum: download the latest bestsellers on your e-reader -- there really is nothing like a long flight to catch up on your reading, without any fear of interruption. (The added advantage of e-readers is that they don't strain your eyes the way reading fine print in the less than ideal illumination provided by the overhead lights does.)
* Extend the idea of customisation to your clothes as well. Even if you are travelling in Business Class, where you will be handed a pair of socks and an eye-mask as part of the service, do your own thing. Pack a pair of cashmere socks and a cozy cardigan to slip on once the air-conditioning hits Arctic levels. I always say no to the airline blanket (mostly because nearly all of them, no matter which the airline, set off my allergies) and carry an oversized pashmina shawl instead. You have no idea how comforting it feels against my skin as I settle down to read the latest Elizabeth George on my Kindle.
* And yes, shoes. Shoes are the key. I have always looked at those ladies who think nothing of negotiating airports and airplanes in four-inch heels with a mixture of awe and pity. But believe me, you do not want to be one of those women. So, step away from the stilettos and wedges and slip on a pair of comfortable shoes. Make sure they are a loose fit because your feet are guaranteed to swell up during the plane ride, and squeezing them into shoes that suddenly seem a size too small is nobody's idea of fun.
* I think we can all agree that airline food is dire. Which is why I try and avoid eating on planes as much as possible. But what do you do on a flight that lasts more than nine hours? Starvation is not an option; at least not for someone like me who likes her food. And nor is packing parathas or theplas -- just too much of a palaver, if you ask me. So, I use this time to indulge in all those guilt-inducing treats that I would normally eschew on terra firma: bags of Kettle chips; snack-sized bars of Snickers; buttery salted popcorn; and tubs of ice-cream if the airline is kind enough to serve it.
* 'Stay hydrated' is the mantra that all air-hostesses follow. And I guess they know a thing or two about surviving long-haul flights without looking like complete wrecks at the end of it. So, drinks lots of water, spray some of it on your face, and slather on the moisturising cream.
* And last, but not the least, never forget to pack a pair of killer sunglasses. That way, when you step off at the other end, all bleary-eyed and puffy-faced, you can slip them on and look glamorous -- even if you don't quite feel it.