Ewan’s Guide To Surviving Long Haul

Not that I’m an expert in any way, but pulling an average of three return transatlantic flights a year (plus a number of internal flights in the UK and USA) I’ve built up my own personal notes on how to survive long haul flights. These all work for me, hopefully it should give you some idea.

LHR-EDI Dec 11thSort Out Your Seats and Aircraft Type
Unless you’re using the low budget carriers such as Southwest or Easyjet, you’ll be allocated a seat when you book your flight. This seat will have been computer assigned to follow a pattern to fill the aircraft in an efficient way for the carrier. Your job (which is quite easy) is to change this seat to your advantage. Look up your reservation on the airline’s homepage (If you booked through a travel agent, the airline’s call centre should be able to find your record and tell you how to get to this online). Now the seating plan on the airline site gives you a rough location, but doesn’t tell the whole story. Somewhere like Seat Guru will point out the quirks of each aircraft, highlighting good, bad and average seats, plus notes on power points, legroom, and other vital elements of your travel.

You might also, at the booking stage, make sure you choose a flight on an aircraft type that you prefer. In my case, most of the flights home from Miami to London offered to me (for the March USA trip) were on Boeing 767′s, which aren’t the greatest transatlantic experiences. Careful choice of flights made sure I could get on my personal favourite, the Boeing 777. My experience of previous 777′s means I know where I can sit in comfort… which is either one of three exit row seats, or the very centre of the centre row. The window seats have too much fuselage curvature to get comfy, the aisle seats get too many nudges as people go up and down, and the 2nd and 4th seats in the block of 5 have hulking great ‘entertainment system boxes’ taking up half the legroom.

Final seating tip, it is better to a disturber when going to the loo, rather than the disturbed. Another reason to avoid the aisle seats.

Consider Splitting Your Journey
Another one for consideration at the planning stage is the length of the flight. I’ve done the London-Los Angeles flight once, and eleven hours in cattle class, no matter the seat, is just too much for me, I need to build my flight stamina up before trying this again. That one flight, and the extra time it took afterwards to recover, ensured that every subsequent flight from the UK to the West Coast would include a stop-over at either Chicago O’Hare or Dallas Fort Worth. This has the advantage of letting me stretch my legs, go to a decent toilet, and grab some food that at least bears a passing resemblance to something edible.

Rabbi JoeBring Your Own Snacks
Which leads me to in-flight catering. Put simply, I don’t trust it. All they’re good for is waking you up ninety minutes out of London on an overnight flight just as you fall asleep. What I do is nip to the supermarket on the way to the airport, and pick up a ‘family value’ pack of a dozen rolls, some spreading cheese, cuts of sandwich meat, two or three 500ml bottles of water, and some decent biscuits. Ginger Nuts are good, go for something not especially crumbly.

Grab a plastic knife in the departure lounge, and you can have a picnic whenever you feel the need throughout the flight, without having to wait on the cabin crew. Plus making up the meals will give you something to do in the air. Just try not to sit next to a Rabbi when you prep your ham sandwich.

Work Out If You Are a Sleeper, Do-er or Dozer
Part of getting through a long haul flight is knowing how best to get through a long haul flight - which comes with experience. By my reckoning, there are three types of flyer. The lucky ones (the sleepers) sit down, close their eyes, and no matter what happens around them wake up, refreshed, at their destination, with a chirpy “Oh are we there already? It’s like I Just got on board.”

I’m not one of them. Neither am I the other extreme, which is someone who can do work and be productive during a flight. You’d think that multi hour flights would be great places to get some writing done - maybe for others, but not for me. I’m a Dozer. I might get my head down and loose 30 minutes of the flight in a near-sleep state, but I’ll bounce from mindless activity one to mindless activity two, never able to fully concentrate on any one task. So it’s important for me to make sure I have lots of little tasks and things I can do.

Take a Light Book, Not A Good Book
Reading is an important one. I always want something that I can keep reading even if I loose my place. So this means something with a ludicrously simple plot, or a story that I know like the back of my hand. For the March flight, my reading plans are (1) pick up the new “Young Bond” novel from Charlie Higson, Blood Fever. Last Etech I took the first Young Bond, Silverfin, so this is a bit talismanic as well. Also in the gadget bag will be The “Draco” trilogy of Harry Potter Fanfic by Cassandra Claire, and probably “Failure is not an Option” by Gene Kranz.

Blood Fever might be a brand new story, but Higson writes a good simple book, is very close to Fleming, and appears to be perfect light reading. The “Draco” Trilogy is a case of knowing the story back to front, but always enjoying it. While “Failure” might be a book I’ve never read, the setting (Mission Control from the Mercury flights to the end of the Apollo moon flights) is something I’m familiar with, so a different spin on something I’m comfortable with.

The Ultimate Ears in ActionChoose the Right Music
Again this comes back to knowing what sort of person you are during your flight. Much like a decent soundtrack, choose music that suits what you do through the flight. If you can stay active and do things, then you’ll want music to work with. If you’re like me, a Dozer, then you need to have music that helps you reach ‘almost sleep’ when you want to be there, and some wake-up/stay awake music for the end of the flight. I’ve made up a mini-disc that’s labelled “In Flight/Relaxing” for this, and there are three albums that I’ll use on long flights. 50 Golden Greats, by The Shadows; The Essential Status Quo; and the four soundtrack albums from Cowboy Bebop (Yoko Kano and the Seatbelts).

Choose the Right Headphones
Actually, my last flight back from the USA was a pretty strange one - I stopped being a Dozer after the in-flight movie and attempt at a meal. I had settled down with a pair of Ultimate Ears Super.Fi 5 Pro in the ear headphones. They’re designed to both block external noise, and produce a great sound through two speakers in each ear. I started the Cowboy Bebop album and four hours later I was woken up for my in-flight breakfast. I had finally fallen asleep and lost four hours of my eight hour flight to unconsciousness. You cant get a better recommendation than that.

I will point out that Ultimate Ears supplied me the headphones for free (normally they are $250 a pair) and they are a recurring advertiser on TPN Rock, but having heard the difference they make, I’d have no hesitation in plonking down cold hard cash for a replacement pair if the need ever arose.

7 Responses to “Ewan’s Guide To Surviving Long Haul”

  1. Rachel says:

    I always advise taking a pillow as well - makes the dozing a little more confortable

  2. Martin Little says:

    I’ve got a few to add to your list of good suggestions:

    1. check ViewTrip.com to see your seat and booking details. All you need is your reference number and last name.
    2. AirlineQuality.com has some good information, similar to seatguru.com
    3. always bring some big, comfy socks with you, so that you can take your shoes off and stay warm on the feet
    4. (especially for the US) keep your passport with you when you sit down, so that when you have to fill in those pesky forms, you don’t have to work out where your stuff is.
    5. ditto pen — always handy … especially for Sudoku

  3. Ewan says:


    With the pillow I know that American Transatlantic (who I’ll be flying with) will give me a pillow and blanket pack, and then I can use that for the rest of the trip - saves a touch on what to bring home. But if you’re on the low cost, great idea!

  4. Ewan says:


    Great advice - just added ‘socks’ to my shopping list (crickey I’m turning into Dumbledore!). With the passport, I’ll also add that it’s a good idea to photocopy the details page and have that seperate in your luggage in case you and your passport get separated.

  5. Mobile Phone Fan » Blog Archive » AllAboutSymbian.com sinks says:

    [...] It looks like Ewan is traveling far away and doing some podcast about rock in the podcasting network owned by Australians (when I write this news item their server is down, so I can’t link). [...]

  6. Mobile Phone Fan » Blog Archive » AllAboutSymbian.com sinks says:

    [...] It looks like Ewan is traveling far away and doing some podcast about rock in the podcasting network owned by Australians (when I write this news item their server is down, so I can’t link). [...]

  7. Bryony says:

    you could take a portable games console, as I will be doing this tomorrow, as I will be jetting off to Egypt, Marsa Alam.

    Books and a pillow are a must, although I never can seem to remember the pillow, or fit it into my hand luggage.

    Also, a pen and a few magazines with puzzles inside them will be very handy, if you’re travelling with children (which you probably are not but this advice is for other readers, too).

    Thanks for publishing this!
    Bryony Grimshaw
    Age: 12