HOW TO SURVIVE A RED-EYE
There are plenty of ways to help you get through a daunting long-distance flight
Ah the dreaded red-eye. No matter how often you fly or how much of an experienced traveller you are, a long-haul red-eye flight in economy is never high on anyone’s wish list. I’ve done plenty of them, including a particularly traumatic one recently, from Johannesburg to Perth, followed by a five-hour layover, and then a flight to Sydney, which roughly equated to my being awake for more than 30 hours straight. Ouch.
Overnight flights can be a one-way ticket to exhaustion – crossing multiple time zones, aching in a cramped position and woken constantly by the slightest turbulence or noise. Of course, the easiest solution is to upgrade to business or first class – anyone can handle a redeye flight when you’re tucked up in a flat-bed – but most of us don’t have the necessary bank balance to facilitate a left turn at the pointy end.
Thankfully, over the years I’ve developed a few tricks of the trade to maximise comfort and even, from time to time, get a little bit of shut-eye, all the while reducing the likelihood of committing air rage.
CHOOSE YOUR SEAT CAREFULLY
In my mind when on a red-eye there’s no question about which seat you should opt for: window. Firstly, the wall of the plane will support a pillow, secondly scoring a window is the only way to ensure you won’t be woken up by your seat-mates for trips to the loo.
When booking your seat, think about your preferred sleeping position. I always sleep on my right hand side, so I make sure to select a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. Also, consider stumping up extra cash for an exit row seat. And avoid seats near the galley and bathrooms, which are the hub of noisy activity.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
And by success I mean a decent sleep. Comfort is absolutely key when flying, so pack pyjama-like gear in your carry on. The temperature on an airplane is unpredictable, so wearing multiple layers means you can add or subtract clothing easily.
SKIP THE MEAL CART SERVICE
As tempting as it might be to get your money’s worth, do you really want to eat that? Eating late at night will put your poor body to work attempting to digest it when it should be sleeping.
My in-flight arsenal includes hand sanitiser (toilet handles, seat belts, armrests, meal trays and seat pockets are a hotbed for bacteria), lip balm (the recycled air will dry your kissers out in no time) and baby wipes (a shower in packet form, well, sort of ).
Earplugs are essential for blocking out background noise, engines and screaming kids. Also essential is an eye mask and I always take at least one other additional blanket or large scarf and a good-quality travel pillow.
LIMIT YOUR LIQUID INTAKE
While every travel expert and his dog spruiks in-flight hydration, paradoxically, on a red-eye when the goal is to get as much shut-eye as possible, drinking too much water isn’t always the best idea – the last thing you want is to be woken up to answer the call of nature. Instead, pre-hydrate to rehydrate. I gorge on water in the airport after security and then nip to the toilet before boarding.
Help signal to your brain that it’s sleepy time by re-creating your usual bedtime routine. Brush your teeth, wash your face and take out your contacts. It’s not just hygienic, it’ll make you feel better and help you sleep too.
CROSSING MULTIPLE TIME ZONES, ACHING IN A CRAMPED POSITION AND WOKEN CONSTANTLY
BUILD A SLEEP COCOON
This is where your packing list really comes into play. After I’m prepped and ready to hit the hay, I build my own little sleep cocoon. Earplugs in, I pad out the wall by the window with a pillow and a rolled-up jumper to build a makeshift sleeping surface.
Try to snag an extra blanket from an empty seat nearby or use the backup blanket you’ve brought (see above) which you can use to make a tent over your upper half.
STAY CALM AND CARRY ON
Accepting the situation means less stress, so just kick back and relax. Try listening to soothing, soft tunes. I always take lavender oil in my toiletry bag and have a good inhale while I practise a simple breathing meditation. Try downloading an app such as Headspace before takeoff for easy guided meditations to curb inflight anxiety leading to extra z’s.
BE A PILL POPPER
If sleep still evades you and you’ve tried everything to induce a slumber – including watching the latest Jennifer Aniston rom-com – you might want to pop a pill or two.There are plenty of natural and homoeopathic options and over-the-counter antihistamines often have sedating qualities.
BOARD WITH EXHAUSTED LITTLE ONES
If you’re travelling with kids on a red eye, keep them awake all day so that they’re on the verge of sleep upon boarding. After all, do you really want to fuel an incident when your bored child repeatedly kicks the back seat of the man in front?
FRESHEN UP IN THE MORNING
Your neck will be sore, your skin will feel bone dry and you’ll probably have death breath. I always take time before landing to brush my teeth, change clothes and spritz on some kind of fragrance.
MAKE TRACKS POST-FLIGHT
Once you’ve passed through customs and are in your hotel, don’t take a nap. Instead, head out for some natural light, which will help reset your internal clock to the new timezone.
Taking the right gear on board can help make a long-distance flight more bearable.