I have made the trip to Brazil from various locations in the United States close to 40 times over the last decade. It tends to be a 10 to 11 hour flight.
Fortunately, 90% of the time I fly in Business class because I use a buddy pass from some of my Delta friends. However, there is no guarantee of flying up front, or even getting on the flight for that matter because you fly stand-by.
It depends on how full the flight is and if anyone shows up late to boot you out of first class. Generally, I know before I go to the airport whether or not I am going to get on the flight because my friends can look me up on their internal system and see where I am on the priority list. If I am not almost certain to get in Business class, I will not even go to the airport. I have that luxury since the buddy pass is an open ticket with no penalty for choosing another date.
However, there are those rare circumstances where I get stuck flying coach. Usually it happens because someone shows up late. In any event, when they call my name at the gate and hand me a ticket in the back, I nearly cry. In fact, there have been a couple of times where I seriously considered handing it back to them and going back home that night to avoid a coach flight. I have that luxury since my home city has a direct flight to either of those places in Brazil, so I never have to deal with connecting flights.
So out of all of those trips down south, I have probably spent four or five flights in coach. After flying up front in Business class so many times, it is particularly jarring to my senses.
However, I have developed a game plan on how to make it a little more tolerable.
Here are my top international travel tips for surviving coach when traveling internationally.
Booking Your Ticket - Get the Aisle Seat
Preparing for coach on a long flight begins before you ever leave home for the airport.
When you book your ticket, try to get an aisle seat. I know, the window seat provides a place to rest your head, and yes, you do get a little more room that way. I used to try to get the window seat all the time before I started taking long flights. You want easy access to the aisle for a couple of reasons.
First, after you have sit there for hours, you need to get up and walk around and if someone is blocking you, we all have a tendency not to want to inconvenience them as we get up and down all the time. If you are traveling with a family member, you can ignore this advice. Get the window seat and bother them all you want.
I have been in such pain and misery in coach before that I got up and went and stood in the back galley near the bathrooms. I stayed there for 15 or 20 minutes letting people go in front of me every time just so I could stand up longer.
The other reason you want the aisle seat is that you want to be able to go to the bathroom when you want to not determined by someone else sitting in the aisle seat.
So take my advice, if you are on a flight longer than 5 hours, get the aisle seat especially if you are on a large plane with a middle 3-seat row. You do not want to be stuck in that middle seat.
The last time I came back from Rio, I was in a hurry to get back home, so I took whatever flight I could get on. I was flying stand-by once again, and I made it on the flight, however, it was in the back in the worst place possible. It was in the middle seat of the three seat middle row. I almost died on that flight. Yes, I am being dramatic, but I will never do that again.
What are the Best Airlines for International Travel?
I have flown on American, Continental (merged with United) and Delta. I have to say that the one flight on Continental out of Houston was nice, and yes, I did ride in coach. I've also taken one flight on American through Miami, again in coach.
However, my preferred airline is Delta for various reasons. I get my buddy passes through them, however, I find the planes to be newer and more comfortable. They also fly direct to many cities in Brazil out of my home city.
Pack a Flight Bag - Travel Packing List
There are things you need to pack in a survival bag that is easily accessible and can be stored underneath the seat in front of you. This is your in-flight survival bag and here are your travel packing tips.
When you fly, you get one carry-on bag and one personal item. Most people use their carry-on for clothing and their personal item is a bag for their computer. Do this instead.
When packing for international travel, leave enough space in your carry-on luggage for your laptop. Then use your personal item bag for your flight survival items to make your life as comfortable as possible during your ordeal. It needs to be a backpack or a small duffle bag to fit underneath the seat. You do not want to put it in the overhead compartment because that makes it harder to get to, and sometimes there are long periods during the flight where they won’t let you get out of your seat because of turbulence or meal service.
Here are some of the items I put in my flight survival bag.
International Travel Checklist
- Memory foam neck pillow
- Small travel pillow
- Hooded sweatshirt
- Toothbrush and tooth paste
- A bottle of water
- Aleve or Tylenol
- Sinus pills - drowsy
- Kindle Fire HD
- iPod Shuffle
- Bag full of nuts
- Hand Sanitizer
- Lysol wipes
The Kindle and iPod are particularly important in case you do not have in-seat entertainment on the head rest in front of you. Most planes have been converted to that, but occasionally you get stuck on a plane that still has the tv monitors spaced throughout coach, not the back of the seat in front of you.
Some people do not like neck pillows. It depends on the kind you get. I have found the memory foam kind give enough to make you more comfortable. I have tried to use some others that actually hurt my neck and made me stiffer.
Also, if you have room, you might want to bring a small blanket. The ones on the airplane are usually filthy and they do not wash them after ever flight. They simply re-seal them in plastic. That’s not my opinion, that is a fact. I have talked to flight attendants.
I try to change into a more comfortable shirt when I get on the flight, sometimes a sweatshirt- hoodie type pullover. It serves two purposes. It give you more privacy when you pull it over your head and it helps drown out some noise.
Also, you may want to bring an extra pair of thick socks to put over your existing ones when you take your shoes off.
Meal Prep Before Your Flight
If you do not want to be miserable on a long flight, it is important to eat the right kind of food the day of your flight and avoid certain foods during the flight.
Sitting in a small area where you cannot move around a lot, combined with a pressurized cabin will hinder blood flow. This most noticeable sign of this is swollen feet. If you take your shoes off during the flight, you will notice as you put them on before landing that they are very tight.
Therefore, this swelling and lack of blood flow will occur naturally, but you do not want to help it out by eating heavy, fat laden foods with lots of salt. Salt will make your body retain more water which will make you feel miserable during a 9 or 10 hour flight.
You also want to avoid the foods that will produce gas in the body as they digest. The obvious ones are beans, but there are a lot of foods that cause gas that you would never suspect. In fact, there are too many to mention here but a little planning on the day or night of your flight will benefit you and the passengers around you.
You also want to avoid any carbonated drinks before and during the flight. Stick to water or tea but make sure it is from bottled water if you get it on the airplane. Never drink any coffee or tea made from the water stored on the plane. I have read about study after study that has revealed the water tanks on airplanes are filthy.
So skip that morning coffee when you wake up. Ask for a sealed bottle of water instead.
This applies to before and during the flight. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make you feel terrible. The dehydration in the body is actually what causes hangovers, but you do not have to be drunk to experience this. The altitude will worsen the effects of dehydration also.
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What to Eat Before Your Flight
Load up on Vitamin C by either eating oranges or juicing the day of your flight. Also drink a lot of decaffeinated green or herbal tea. Make sure it is decaffeinated because caffeine will dehydrate you.
Eat a lot of plain Greek yogurt the day of your flight which will add some natural probiotics into your stomach to help you fend off the nastiness of an airplane.
Drink plenty of water the day of your flight and always have a bottle with you before you board the airplane. Yes, you will have to pay big bucks for it in one of the shops in the terminal, but it is worth it. When I sit up front, I do not have this issue because they will hand you a bottle of water as soon as they see yours is empty, but in coach, let’s just say they don’t treat you as well.
Pack some walnuts and almonds in a ziplock bag for snacks during the flight. That will give you a little protein as well as curb your appetite without eating a sugary breakfast bar.
Lastly, on the day of my flight, I will make a couple of smoothies and drink them throughout the day. These typically include kale, spinach, blueberries and a lot of the healthiest things on the planet.
What you eat before and during the flight will also determine how well you sleep over the next 7 or 8 hours and believe me, you need to go to sleep to pass some of the time. So try to go lite on whatever they put in front of you because you do not want to feel bloated for hours.
Tips for Sleeping on a Long Flight
If you want to know what it is like to be on a 10 hour flight, try this. Go in your living room and sit upright in a chair or on the couch for that amount of time. You can only get up to go the bathroom and then you have to return back to the spot. Try to do that for 10 hours.
That is what it is like to be captive on an international flight. So it is imperative that you pass some of the boredom away by sleeping.
So what are some of the ways to make you sleep?
It is tough to sleep in coach. Not only are you in a cramped space unable to twist and turn, but there is a lot more noise than up front. Also, the seat does not recline that much, if at all. It is difficult to sleep sitting up. Try it at home sometimes.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane
The best thing you can do the day of the flight is to tire yourself out. Definitely do not skip your workout that day and that should be easy give the fact that most international flights leave at night.
Do not take a nap the day of your flight. You want to be exhausted by the time you get on that plane.
As I board a flight, I usually take a drowsy sinus pill however, it is not solely used as a sleeping pill. My sinuses tend to act up from the cabin pressure so that by the time we arrive the next morning, my head fills like it is going to explode. The sinus pills help a lot.
Do not drink alcohol on the airplane. Contrary to popular opinion, alcohol will not help you sleep at a high altitude. Stick to water.
This should not be a problem in coach because most alcoholic drinks cost extra, however, in Business class, they keep bringing it if you want it.
For actually sleeping, I usually put on a hoodie and pull it over my head for more privacy and noise reduction. I also use a neck pillow, especially if I am sitting in the middle seat.
Having said all of that, it is still extremely difficult to sleep in coach. At best I can grab 30 minutes here or there before I wake up.
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Arriving at Your Destination the Next Morning
As your long flight nears its end, you will have a strange combination of feelings. On the one hand you will be happy because the torture is almost over. On the other hand, you will feel like crap because you are dirty, tired, and probably hungry. Basically, you are so far out of your normal routine that you just feel like never traveling internationally again.
As the plane descends, your ears will begin to pop again. I usually take another sinus pill at this point and down a bottle of water.
I usually skip whatever they are serving for breakfast on the airplane and delve into my own goodies in my survival bag at my feet. Typically I have a stash of nuts and occasionally a protein bar. Yes they are loaded with sugar, but you are in survival mode at this point and you need energy from protein and carbs.
I usually try to get up before the herd starts to wake. I use this time to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and change my shirt again. People stink really bad when they get off a long flight so I would advise you to take the time to do the basics including changing your shirt. When is the last time you slept in your clothes, then got up the next morning and went out?
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Once you touch down on an international flight, most of the nightmare is over. Hopefully you were on a direct flight to your destination but if you are flying to parts of southeast Asia, you will be on several flights with hours of layovers more than likely. There are free travel apps available to help you get through this experience.
Yes, I am somewhat spoiled by sitting up front most of the time, but that is almost a curse. It makes the few times I do get stuck in the back all the more jarring. To give you an idea of what I am used to, I typically have my own pod with my own entertainment center, all of which have recently been updated to lay-flat seating.
If I knew nothing but coach, it might be a little less torturous, but I doubt it.
Whenever you land, you still have to get through customs and claim your bags and that can be its own nightmare. Then you have the pleasure of trying to get from the airport to your hotel which can be another nightmare depending on where you are in the world.
But once you are at this point, at least your temporary nightmare is over and you can relax and enjoy your vacation. Just try not to think about the flight home.