Surviving a flight in coach

Guess what? I fly coach. Even when I begin the day in Helsinki, catching a cab from Hotel Arthur at 4:30 AM (only because the 615 bus doesn’t run at that hour), flying to Frankfurt at 6:25, then to Chicago at 10:30, then to St. Louis around 15:00, getting home about 16:10. With time changes, 8 hours from Helsinki now we’ve moved off daylight savings time, that is nearly 19 hours travelling.

I think about Michael Purugganan’s Facebook posts on wonderful free upgrades from sympathetic fellow Filipinos, on climbing yet again up the steps to the first class on a 747, a place I have never been. I suppose I could say I love coach, love the egalitarian nature of it, the children, the people discovering a new place for the first time. I don’t. It’s just my destiny and how funds get spent, decisions I agree with.

I know everyone has their tips for travel, but I still have 2:17 (hours and minutes, not minutes and seconds, unfortunately) left in this flight to Chicago, 15% on my computer battery and need a little intellectual break. My secrets involve enough water, a cheap whiplash collar, knee high support running socks, melatonin, a weak sleeping pill if I’m missing a night, a small bag just for the stuff I need on the plane, and a little bit of restlessness.

Water. Once in Rome, after a long flight, I felt really, really terrible. It took a long time to figure out how dehydrated I was. I know my kids will find that hard to believe because I’m such a water pusher, but it’s true. When you mess with your sleep cycle, you mess with your drinking cycle. If your body thinks it is the middle of the night, you won’t get thirsty. But you should drink. Carry a plastic bottle and fill it so you can drink often. Calibrate it by how often you pee, not by how thirsty you feel.

Support socks. They say these are good for avoiding deep vein thrombosis. That is a good reason to wear them. I find on long flights they just keep me feeling good overall. This also holds for long car trips, as when we blast across Texas to Big Bend National Park.

Whiplash collar. I have used any number of kinds of things to keep my neck supported during sleep. These are the best. They Velcro on, cost very little, take little space. I tied a bandana around mine, so I won’t look injured should I score an exit row seat. I even keep mine handy for daytime flights longer than a few hours since I’m a big napper.

Small bag. I almost always carry everything on in a very small suitcase, the kind that will fit even on the regional jets that fly to St. Louis and a backpack. But for on the plane it is handy to have a small, light cloth bag with essentials, including my computer, the water bottle, something to read etc. This is especially important if you get a bulkhead seat. You can just tuck the little bag unobtrusively next to you and use it also for an extra arm rest.

Melatonin and a sleeping pill. I’m a believer in the effectiveness of melatonin. The studies I’ve read say the active dose is around a third of a milligram, so I hunt around for the one-milligram pills, and break them. The three milligram ones are too much for me. I’ll also take a weak sleeping pill like Sonata if I’m not at all tired.

Restlessness. They don’t like it if you are restless, but it is not a bad idea. Move your feet. Do your kegels. Go to the bathroom repeatedly. Sit back. Put your head on your tray. It is unnatural to stay in the same position for too long.

That’s it. Now I have only 10% on my computer battery. We are somewhere north of Montreal. There are under two hours left on this flight. I wonder how they are doing overhead in first class. But I’ll get back to my book after I twirl my feet around about 50 times and go to the toilet. By the way, I do eat the food and drink the wine if it’s free. I also always carry some emergency food for unplanned middle of the night stops in New Zealand, or dinner if you get in late and are hungry. If I’ve made Star Alliance Gold, I get to use the lounges and I do. The one in Frankfurt is very nice. Can’t wait to get home!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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5 Responses to Surviving a flight in coach

  1. Joel Parker says:

    Good advice. I would add a pair of slippers and a light jacket/sweater with big pockets to your list.

  2. Yes, something to stay warm is good. I don’t have any sweaters with pockets, but if I’m going to the tropics or will be hiking a lot, I wear one of those lightweight vests with tons of pockets. I don’t wear slippers, but have shoes that slip off easily, usually running shoes, the only pair I bring if I’m feeling extreme about packing light.

  3. Sarah Edmonson says:

    Snug supportive socks definitely help and I’ve looked for taller ones without success. I’ll check sporting good stores for running socks. I find it hard to sleep with my feet below me, and so I often will wear onboard a sweatshirt that is bulky enough to tuck my legs up inside it, so they won’t slip back down to the floor as I relax into sleep. And if you get a water bottle with a caribeaner (spelling) clip attached to it, you can hook it to the edge of the magazine pocket so it won’t fall over or spill as you move around.

  4. I got my support socks from a good on-line running store. I’ve heard some people use the seatbelt to tuck up their knees. I’ve actually had my carabiner confiscated by security in Germany.

  5. Willy Sondles says:

    deep vein thrombosis can be dangerous and life threatening if it is not treated properly.,

    Our own web blog

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