Tuesday, May 7, 2013

How to Fly for 13 and a Half Hours in Coach

I’ve got the long-haul plane flights down to a science by now. The important thing is to get an aisle seat so you are not trapped by the passenger who announces he hasn’t slept for 48 hours, pops an Ambien, and sinks into so deep a sleep that you can draw pictures on his arm. Not that it happened exactly that way. At least not the pictures part.

The downside to the aisle seat is that if you cross your legs, letting your foot jut even two inches into the aisle, you can guarantee that some fast-charging person will knock into your foot hard just as you’ve dosed off. But it’s still better, especially if you grab every cup of water that is offered and need to hit the bathroom every two hours. Which you should, even if you are on a plane full of Chinese passengers who invariably manage to pee all over the bathroom. And I mean all over.

In any event, this is what I did on my most recent flight, which is pretty close to my m.o. on nearly every one of the five trips I’ve taken between the U.S. and China in the year and a half we’ve been in China.

1.     When I leave on a Sunday, there’s nothing I like more than reading every word of the Sunday New York Times, which allows me hours of uninterrupted reading pleasure even as it blackens my hands. I read all of it: weddings, movie reviews, news out of random small countries.
2.     I read New Yorkers on my iPad, which I’ve fully charged so that it can last me the full ride.
3.     I read my book club book on my Kindle, also fully charged.
4.     I jot down notes for my to-do list and story ideas on my iPad.
5.     When I find that I’m dozing off, I start watching the video offerings. This flight, I watched four hours of Ken Burns’ impressive series on the Dust Bowl. I may have dozed off after the 12th video of a dust storm, but I saw most of it.
6.     When I really want to veg out, I watch fun things like “What Not to Wear.” It’s interesting that I didn’t have to sink to the level of “Honey Boo Boo.”
7.     When I’m too tired to keep my eyes open for TV, I listen to podcasts. I usually start with “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” move on to “Prairie Home Companion,” and then, when I want to doze to a soothing voice, transition to Krista Tippett’s “On Being.” Yes, it’s sometimes too earnest and love-thy-neighbor for my tastes, but if I have to have a voice in my ears when I sleep, let it be Krista’s.
8.     I generally eat at least part of the three meals served, although my new health kick means that I’m now pretty good at skipping the brownie and that little hard roll that comes with dinner #1 and dinner #3. As Bob says, it’s something to do.
9.     This time, I skipped the alcohol. I used to think, free cheap alcohol is better than no alcohol. But then I discovered that the white wine was always chardonnay and the red wine was always something sweet and nasty that made my teeth blue for 10 hours. And the beer is never ever cold enough.
10.  Speaking of cold, I always bring a warm scarf on the flight, even in the middle of the summer. United in particular has a particular knack of making the flights feel about 62 degrees and I find that even with layers, a blanket over my legs, and a scarf wrapped around my shoulders I’m so cold that I’m almost shivering.
11.  I try to be nice to the flight attendants even when they are a little snippy. You never know when they might slip you an extra Dixie cup of ice cream. Not that I did that. But they do have it in their power to make your experience even more miserable than it already is, so I’ve totally got the Stockholm syndrome when it comes to long flights on United.


  1. Debra, you should hang out another shingle as a travel journalist. Or have you already done that?

  2. Shingle is out, Henry, shingle is out. But thanks!

  3. Waiting on the return flight to land in Albany soon.... ;(