Too often do potential travelers bemoan: “if there’s a long international flight, there’s no point going for only one week”.

Nearly a decade working in New York City while family have been entrenched in London has made conquering the overnight flight (in business parlance “the red-eye”) a necessity.

Some top tips to make sure that long flight does not become an excuse for avoiding fabulous far-flung destinations:

  • Stick to direct routes …  Wherever possible.  Layovers may seem appealing as a way to break up a long flight, but they just delay getting to the really fun stuff at your final destination and limit your ability to get uninterrupted rest (see below).
  • But if you have no choice but to take use connecting flights … Own the layovers and make them additive to your whistletrip fun.  How?  If connecting through one of the world’s interesting city hubs – such as Bangkok, Amsterdam, Hong Kong or Dallas – then consider spending a night at an airport hotel, dropping your bags, and heading out to explore!  Airport trains can offer fast access to the city center, and a long walk around key sights is a fantastic way to stretch legs after a long flight and get in the adventurous spirit before arriving at the main event.
  • Check in online …  Always.  As early as you can.  Unless you have status on your airline of choice, avoiding that middle seat means checking in as soon as the online window opens.  For most airlines, this is 24 hours before take-off.  But check the exact time when you book your flight and set a reminder in your phone calendar to get this done at minute zero.
  • Sign up for accelerated airport security clearance programs.  In the USA, this means TSA Pre-Check to keep shoes on, toiletries and laptops in bags, and swifter movement to your gate.  It means less stress before getting on your flight, starting your precious vacation in as relaxed a manner as possible.  Global Entry makes the return to US airports from abroad exponentially more bearable.  For $100, you get to skip the long immigration lines when you land from your international flight and register instead with a simple-to-use booth.  Both programs require some work before travelling – an online application and a short (10 minute) in-person interview at select enrollment centers.  For families travelling together, each individual family member must enrol in order to move through the special TSA Pre-Check and Global Entry lines together – otherwise you will be split up at security.  Nevertheless, for any eligible participants looking to make a few whistletrips in the next few years, enrollment is well worth it.  And if all-domestic, and no international, trips are planned, TSA Pre-Check (without Global Entry) is still a major blessing.
  • Sleep on the plane! The movie list is enticing, your book is riveting, and in-flight wifi seems to be more available than ever.  But to avoid the double whammy of a lost night of shuteye and jet lag … Plan to sleep. For as long as possible, particularly when it would be night time at your destination.  No matter how entertaining anything else might be.  Losing the first two days of precious little vacation to cranky tiredness is just not worth it.
  • Skip any meal close to sleep time.  Take for example the roughly 7.5 hour evening flight from the US east coast to Paris.  Cabin lights will dim only after dinner has been served, perhaps 90 minutes after take off.  Breakfast will be served with lights up perhaps an hour before landing.  Squeezing in sleep between the two meals allows for maximum 5 hours of rest.  Eat at the airport and take on board enough food to be able to skip an in-flight meal.  It never tastes that good anyway.
  • Do not drink alcohol.  It may help you sleep – but only until you wake up parched and with a pounding headache.
  • Use airmiles for upgrades.  I used to hoard airmiles to gift flights or substitute for cash tickets.  But the best bang for the buck is using them to upgrade economy seats to business class.  On American Airlines, for example, 25,000 airmiles  + $350 bumps you from discount economy to business for routes North America to Asia.  Though the same number of airmiles could instead get you a free flight to Europe, this presents much lower value than the thousands of dollars you would have to pay for a one way business class flight to, say, Hong Kong.  And with lounge access to escape the fray of the airport, early boarding, tons of personal space onboard, the ability to lie flat, flexible meal times and complimentary Bose headsets on loan, that 14 hour flight goes from being the reason not to travel, to an appealing prospect of hours of uninterrupted relaxation!
  • Pack small overnight accessories, even for daytime flights.  A light, dense sleep mask and comfortable ear plugs are a must for any long flight.  As is a warm pashmina or extra sweater – flights seem to be getting colder and colder.  But a toothbrush and a travel-sized tube of toothpaste boost mojo: after all that dry air and salt-laden food, getting minty fresh has you landing at arrivals feeling ready to explore!

© The Whistletrip.