Armrest. The middle person gets both armrests; the aisle person has the outer one and the window person has the one on the wall. The middle person should try to keep their arms tight and not extend beyond the armrest into the neighboring passenger’s space.
Alcohol. Liquor in bottles under 3.4 oz. may be included in the liquids bag. These can be the regular mini-liquor bottles available at any liquor store, or the liquor of your choice can be poured into any liquids-appropriate container under 3.4 oz. Reusing liquid medication antacid, cold or cough medicine bottles reduces hassle. I bring Bailey’s Hazelnut crème liquor to use as creamer in tea and coffee since it doesn’t need refrigeration and I dislike powder creamer.
Tip: be discreet when making your own mixed drink on the plane. Not covert, just don’t draw attention. To be legal, the rule is the liquor is to be handed to the flight attendant so he or she can make the drink, and hope they are as cognizant of the rules as you are so it will not be confiscated. Or, you could simply pour ‘cough medicine’ into orange juice after the serving attendant has moved three rows down and no one is looking.
Temperature on the plane. Once the plane is in the air, whether summer or winter, it’s below zero out there. You’re above the treeline, above the snow-covered peaks of mountains. It gets cool on the plane, and down by your feet it could be 55° F. Don’t select footwear with the baggage scanners in mind because that’s thirty seconds of inconvenience; pick footwear for the long hours on the plane.
That said, planes may pause on the tarmac waiting their turn for a long time. In warm weather it can be miserably hot. Airplanes have the inexplicably poor design of providing neither heat nor cold air when the plane is parked, or not enough to be effective. Dress for cool weather even in summer, but a tank top under your clothes can be handy. If you’re in for a hot wait after taxiing out, immediately divest those shoes, get to bare feet and tank top if it was underneath your clothes. Don’t maintain dignity until you’ve sweated off twelve ounces of fluids you’re going to need. Some of these waits are horrible, and it’s unclear why the flight crew are unwilling to do small things to make it more bearable, but count on that to be the case.
Sweaters, fleece scarves and jackets make wonderful arm rest pads; balled up, they make acceptable pillows.
Above every plane seat is a valve that rotated one way points a cool air stream at that seat only, and turned the other way will shut it off. There is also a light aimed at each chair, with an on-off button.
These two controls are yours to do as you like. Please turn on the air on whenever you feel warm and turn it off when you don’t want a breeze anymore. Turn on your personal light when you’re going to read or do puzzles, and turn it off when you wish to nap.
Most people never alter the settings that were there when they arrived, even if they suffer chills from the constant cold air blowing, sweats from no air, or can barely see their book. There’s no reason for this. Flight attendants ceased telling travelers about these twenty years ago, figuring everyone knows. I estimate about 70% of travelers do not know.
A third button is there, the ‘call stewardess’ button. Use this button for anything the flight attendant might help you with, but also to inform them if you need to race off the plane to make your connecting flight or need them to arrange a golf cart transport to rush you to your connecting flight’s gate. While you can’t make phone calls, they can. They can even hold the connecting plane for five or ten minutes—but only if you tell them a half hour or more before the connecting flight is scheduled to take off.
Ear adjustment to pressure. Everyone is different, and there’s no telling who has big wide Eustachian tubes that normalize the pressure behind the ear drum quickly and who doesn’t. The Eustachian tubes are two normally closed, seldom-used tubes running from the back of the throat to each ear, into the pocket behind the ear drum. The purpose is for swimming, so our eardrums don’t burst every time we go below fourteen feet of water, which is 20.7 psi. Water depth psi is way more dramatic than the tiny psi differences on a plane.
Sometimes there is no pain, just an odd deafness. This usually goes away in a few hours, or you can speed it along using #6 below.
It’s inevitable a first-time flyer is going to have some ear pressure discomfort. Here’s a plan of attack. If you find other advice, by all means give it a shot. The bottom line is, do what works for you because everyone is different. The more you fly, the less you suffer from this.
1) Take ibuprofen about one to three hours before landing, so it’s in full effect. I’m puzzled why they don’t sell liquid ibuprofen for babies right next to the glass of wine on the cart.
2) Stress, or focusing on your ears can cause them to tighten up. Distract yourself with a crossword puzzle, Sudoku, practicing your Italian, whatever serves to distract you. Being asleep is good too.
3) Chew gum. Work the jaw and swallow, wiggle that Eustachian tube around until it lets some air through.
4) Yawn. Or just pretend to yawn, same thing.
5) Some people say the kind of antihistamines that open air passages also open Eustachian tubes.
6) When discomfort starts heading into pain, you can force air into the low-pressure cavity by pinching your nose tightly closed, then blowing your nose as hard as you can until you hear a squeak and one ear feels fine. Repeat as needed.
7) Pinched your nose and blew, but still no help for the other ear? Sometimes, pinch/blow while plugging the good ear very firmly with your finger will cause the air to go to the still-hurting ear. Worth a shot.
When ears start to hurt upon landing, pinch nose closed, take a breath and then ‘blow your nose.’ With luck a bit of air will go up the Eustachian tube of the worst ear for instant relief.
Walking around. You may hear lip service for this, but airlines do seem to discourage it. Please make an effort to arise two hours after take-off on longer trips, unless you’re sleeping.
Men: Do not sit on your wallet. If normally in your back pocket, put it somewhere else. Sitting on this lump is a major cause of circulation problems. While it may be fine in the car, here the stress, thin air and thinly-padded seats will collude to cause more damage in less time.
The best way to handle jet lag on trips over four hours is to force yourself to follow the day at the destination time zone. North-South flights do not cause jet lag when less than two time zones were crossed. Anyone who says they have jet lag when flying from New York to Chile has either napped too much during the day or didn’t sleep at all during the night while on the plane.
The 1 PM Rule works for flights going in either direction. If your landing time is before 1 PM, nap on the plane. If your landing time is after 1 PM, do not sleep on the plane and stay awake as much as you can.
Either way, go to bed no earlier than 7 PM that first night. By the second day bedtime can rotate to 9 or 11 PM, or your usual bedtime.
A general rule for short flights, when you’re in the air for under three hours, is to stay awake. Nap only if you didn’t catch enough winks the night before.
The 1 PM rule was written by a flight attendant, and I’ve been trying to poke holes in it for two years. So far, it’s perfect.
Most US to Europe flights, even with a stopover somewhere, land between 5 AM and late morning. So grab every possible minute of sleep on the flights over. Drifting off at 4 or 6 PM once you sit down on the plane is less hard than you imagine, because the night before you will get next to no sleep. You’re primed to doze off.
They serve a dinner and play a movie. Skip those. You just sleep. Who the heck eats dinner at 2 AM and watches a movie at 3 AM? That’s what you’re doing if you land at 8 AM and ate their goofus meal six hours ago.
The return flight is a different story: watch movies, start conversations, read, play games.
Neck pillow, the Embrace collar, available on Amazon.com. Wrapped around a purse strap or belt loop in the airport, it doesn’t count towards weight limits.
For a flight heading East, or from the US to Europe:
Ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones
Eye shades or hat over the face
Coat, sweater, airline-provided blanket or all three
Support socks (if over 40)
Sleep aid (read on for tips)
Water bottle (filled or purchased after the scanners)
On the plane, nothing says “Leave me alone” like a baseball cap or hat pulled down over the face. I like eyeshades, which accomplish the same thing, but many people can’t stand them.
For a flight traveling with the sun or points West, i.e. home:
Caffeine gum, energy strips, 5 hour energy bottle, etc.
Interesting book, Kindle, Sudoku, games, movies stored on your phone
Water bottle (filled or purchased after the scanners)
Accept the little pillow the airline hands out even if you brought a neck pillow. The armrests are often hard and cut off circulation over time. The airline’s pillow can pad the armrest between passengers.
If you do not put on eyeshades or put the hat over your face, the flight attendant or your seatmate WILL poke you at mealtime, poke again to see if you want to buy a headset, and poke again to ask if you want a juice. Just closing your eyes with a blanket snugged to your chin won’t stop it. You will get so pissed you won’t be able to fall back asleep. Wear eyeshades or a hat over the face as an announcement, not because you need to.
Earplugs are a significant help in blurring the noise so you can sleep through all the unfamiliar sounds. People have different ear canal sizes so select a pair that fit your ears and are still comfortable six hours later. Noise-cancelling headphones work for some people.
I put my ‘water’ bottle, which is really a repurposed iced tea bottle, in the seat pocket. When I half-wake because my mouth has become so dry I can’t swallow, I’m able to wave about, land on the bottle, and take a drink without removing the eyeshades. Luxury.
The airplane meal is no big loss. When you land, you’ll be ready for a meal in the destination, which is great.
Going West: to stay awake, watching the movie is good, but often it starts late and there’s a gap between movies. Bring entertainment, or start a lively conversation with a seatmate.