So, flights. Long flights, in particular.
Even for the seasoned, jet-setting traveller, flights often inspire either a sense of dread – what if you’re stuck next to a screaming infant? – or a sense of excitement – you haven’t had this much time to sit, do nothing, sleep, or watch a movie in months. But still, so many questions that need answering present themselves throughout your airborne experience.
Aisle, window, middle, which seat do you go for? When’s the least annoying time for a disruptive bathroom break? What’s in your carry-on bag? How far back is too far back when it comes to chairs? Are YOU that annoying passenger everyone dreads sitting next to?
Whatever your take on sitting in a large vehicle powering through the air and soaring over seas, there has to be a method to this madness, and it’s a method best schemed before you’re about to board. Buckle up, return your seat to an upright position and start planning for your next flight now.
BEFORE YOU FLY
A necessary reminder because it happens to the best of us – forgetting to order your special request meal in advance. If you need a vegetarian or Halal meal, do it as soon as you can. There are few things worse (and we’ll get to them soon) than having a long flight and nothing good to eat on it, and a person cannot live on pretzels and bread rolls alone.
Or perhaps, you could, but I’d be willing to wager that you wouldn’t be the happiest passenger on that plane.
So order your damn meal, even if this isn’t an easily clickable option online, and it means having to send an email (the horror!) or make a phone call (don’t get me started) to the nearest airline representative. You’ll thank yourself for it later.
Almost as crucial as making sure you’re adequately fed and watered while you fly is choosing your seat, which brings us to: The Seat Situation.
THE SEAT SITUATION
As a child, I used to think the window seat was the obvious choice. Looking out at clouds, mountains, and faraway cities for hours was the best possible way to spend time. In time for a sunrise or sunset? Even better.
These days, the thought of a window seat, especially if you’re travelling on your own and are seated next to strangers, is not nearly as attractive. There isn’t a sunrise in the world that could make up for the awkwardness of having to make people move for you to use the bathroom – god forbid you’ve got to go twice.
So there you sit, and you wait, hoping that one (or both!) of your new flight friends have to go soon, too. How long do you wait before you decide to just hold it in until you’re at the airport? There are no right answers to these questions.
Instead, the aisle is where it’s really at. Wander about as you please, and keep an eye on the bathroom so you’re not stuck waiting in line. If someone else needs to get out? Not at all a problem for you, the kind, generous, appointed guardian of your row.
You’ll stand with a smile and be so glad it wasn’t you who made everyone else emerge from their flighty cocoon of blankets, seat belts and the latest Morgan Freeman movie (there’s always at least one).
Now let’s say you’re stuck in the middle, which is never an ideal place to be. You don’t get a good view, you still need to bother someone to escape, and you’re never sure which armrest belongs to you. (Hint: Take both, most people understand that you’ve got the worst deal of the three of you).
Whatever your preference, select your seat early (with that pesky vegan meal of yours) and hope for a flight that isn’t full so we can all have a bit more space.
CARRY ON FOR COMFORT
Once you’re settled in and seated, it’s time to review what you’ve decided to take with you. A book, for sure, because what better time is there to sit and read? A notebook, if you’re the journaling type, because being thousands of miles up in the air makes a fitting place for documenting your fleeting thoughts. A water bottle is a handy addition, brought through security empty and filled up at a water cooler after – you won’t need to bug the flight staff every ten minutes or so if you’re the thirsty sort. A neck pillow, though I think it’s safe to say that they look far more comfortable than they really are, and comfortable shoes that are easy for kicking off – this works well for both your flight and in the event that you need to take your shoes off during security screenings. Your superior headphones which you always carry with you, and the knowledge that there’s always the chance that there’s often a seat that has a broken entertainment system. It has been mine, and it could be yours. Bring enough entertainment for yourself in the unlikely but incredibly unfortunate event it might happen.
There’s a time and place for everything when it comes to flights – you eat when you’re served, you belt up when required (but for your safety keep your safety belt on at all times when seated) and you return your seat to its upright state during take-off and landing.
What you’re not told when to do, though, is when to use the bathroom. Right after take-off – but if you’re stuck in the window seat are you using up your get out of seat free card, because what if you need to go again in the not too distant future? What if you try too close to landing and the flight attendants won’t let you go – annoying for sure, but they’ve got our best interests at heart – and what if you pick primetime when everyone else is lined up too? Do you go before your meal or after?
This one’s a puzzle you’re going to have to figure out yourself – but I direct you once again to the Seat Situation section above. Seriously, go for the aisle seat and your worst bathroom fears will never be realised, leaving you free to pace or piss as you please, and on your own schedule.
THE FLYING RECLINERS
In an ideal world, no one shifts their seats back, and everyone (except for the emergency aisle elite) has more or less the same amount of space. Such fair practice and dreams of aircraft utopia are far from reality, sadly, and if the person in front of you is a leaner, you’ll likely be forced to do the same.
Despite the poor manners of fellow passengers, though, we can all do our bit to see that chairs are upright as far as you can manage, and most definitely during mealtimes. With some potentially misplaced faith in humanity, I hope that the person who’s making you eat your breakfast off your knees is open to compromise and rectifying action – failing which, determined but subtle seat-kicking can often get the point across.
For every flight and each person, we’ve all got our own preferences and annoyances – and with that comes an obligation to be the best co-passenger you can be… or at the very least, to not be the passenger you might hate yourself.