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I fly a fair bit, a little over 100,000 miles a year in the last few years. There are many people in Cadence who fly a lot more than me, but I write a blog and they don't. So I thought I'd write down my advice on how to travel on long-haul flights. Most flights I take are 11 hours or more. A flight to New York from California is under 5 hours, which feels more like getting close to my destination on intercontinental flights. The longest flights on 787s, such as San Francisco to Tel Aviv, are 15 hours and up (the longest scheduled flight in the world is over 18 hours from New Zealand to Doha, at just over 18 hours).
As I said, I fly over 100,000 miles most years. I was a 1K member on United (100,000+ actual flown miles) from about 1988 to 2002. Then, I rejoined Cadence in 2015 and I've flown about 100,000 miles each year since. Unfortunately, United has changed the rules and to be 1K you don't just need to fly 100,000 miiles, you also need to spend $12,000 (excluding the taxes) which I never have. Last year I passed two million actual flown miles on United over the years, although some of them were on Pan Am (remember them?) from whom United acquired a lot of routes when they went bankrupt. There are two big advantages of being 1K, that you are much more likely to be the person kicked up from economy class if there is room in business, and people on standby in economy, plus you get a few free upgrades that you can use on international flights. Having flown those two million miles, I am United Platinum for life, but I never get upgraded. At the Platinum level, I only get domestic upgrades that usually expire unused through a mixture of not flying that much domestically on United, and losing out in the competition to get upgraded when I do. So all my flying is in economy class.
I have status on United so I get to sit in Economy Plus for free, which has a longer seat pitch making it easy to open my computer and work. When I'm in economy on other airlines, it is next to impossible to work, especially as some airlines (Air France, I'm looking at you) don't have WiFi. I prefer an aisle seat, since then I can get up and stretch my legs if I feel like it, even if people are sleeping. On two-aisle planes, I go for the aisle seats of the center section, since the inner seats, especially if there is only one, are the most disliked seats and so the last to be filled, raising the probability of an adjacent empty seat.
I am not very tall, so I don't try for exit rows and I avoid the bulkheads since there I can't put my computer bag under the seat in front. Further forward is good, since the lines for immigration will be shorter, the people behind you in the plane will be behind you in the line for immigration.
I try never to check any bags. The motivation for that is two-fold. Firstly, you usually get through the destination airport about half-an-hour faster unless immigration is really backed up and slow. The second reason is more important, which is that if a flight is delayed or canceled, and you end up connecting on a tight-schedule, then your bag will make it by definition. So long as I'm flying on United, I have status and get to board early, so there is never a problem finding room in the overhead bins.
If you travel much, then get yourself a separate toilet bag for travel so you don't have to gather everything from your bathroom. I have a beard so I don't need shaving equipment, so mine is very small. I buy trial/travel sized toothpaste, mouthwash etc which doesn't take up much space and meets the 3 fluid ounce limit if they are being strict at security. My toilet bag is transparent so I can just put it through the x-ray separately in countries that make you take it out (the US officially cares but they don't in practice). Weirdest one of those was Japan, last time I was there, which insisted that we had to get umbrellas out of our carry-ons and put them through separately.
I have a collection of wallets, one for each country I visit regularly (counting the Eurozone as a country). I don't change foreign currency back into dollars, I just keep it in the wallet for that country until next time, along with things like subway cards, and anything else unique to that country. It is great to arrive in, say Shanghai, not have to worry about changing any money, and get on the subway without needing to buy a ticket. I have a personal foible, that I don't expect anyone else to share, which is that I try to avoid using taxis and force myself to work out how the transportation system works. It feels a lot more like arriving in a foreign country when you arrive in Tokyo or Munich and take the subway to your hotel.
I also have a collection of electrical adapters for all the countries I visit. The type on the right is my favorite. It plugs into the outlet, and provides both an outlet that will take a plug from any country, and another one on the top that is just the right size to take an iPhone charger too. I don't use the type of universal adapter with lots of sliding pins, I have found them not to be reliable. I don't bother with converting voltage either, since everything I have like my computer has a universal power supply that operates at any voltage.
Over the years, I have taken various approaches, but here is what I currently wear.
I start with a long-sleeved T-shirt. Planes can be too cold to be in a short-sleeved shirt, but they are not usually so cold that it is comfortable to put a thick fleece or pullover on. Over that I wear a vest (like the one on the right) with lots of pockets. Inside there is a pocket where I keep my passport. In the right pocket I keep my glasses. In the left pocket, I keep an eye-shade, a USB cable to charge my phone from USB outlet, and my Bose noise-canceling earbuds. I also have a pen for filling in immigration forms. That way I can find anything easily while sitting in an economy class seat. Although it fits just fine, I rarely keep my Kindle in the big internal pocket since it is too heavy to be comfortable.
I just wear a pair of comfortable jeans, usually. I swap out my normal belt for one with a plastic buckle so I don't need to take it off to walk through metal detectors (although often they still make you take it off anyway, because they can).
I have a pair of what are called "compression socks" that I wear. These supposedly minimize the risk that you might get DVT (deep-vein thrombosis) from sitting for hours barely moving. It is probably self-delusion, but it does seem more comfortable than regular socks. I wear a pair of shoes that I can kick off and slip back on easily, without any laces. And on that topic, if you are going to Japan (or many other Asian countries) you may find yourself taking off and putting on your shoes a lot, and so shoelaces are a pain.
I used to leave late and not spend extra time at the airport since there was little to do. But now that WiFi is ubiquitous, I can get as much done at an airport as at home or the office, so I leave earlier, and have a stress-free time at the airport since I'm already through security with time to spare. If I'm on a United International flight, then I have automatic access to one of the airline club areas (a partner airline if United doesn't have their own) so I tend to hang out there. Even if you don't have that privilege, it is usually easy to find a seat (try a gate that is not in use if your gate is crowded). A few years ago, it was often hard to find an electrical outlet (outside of the clubs), that that problem seems to have been solved. San Francisco is especially good and seems to have outlets at every seat at every gate I've departed from recently.
I normally don't eat on planes. The food is not that good. Most people are eating not because they are hungry but because they are bored. I try always to avoid doing that. Plus, if I was using my computer, I can't start to use it again until they finally come round and take the tray away (unless I am next to an empty seat). Instead, I eat something more substantial in the airport, and ignore the food on the plane.
I don't drink alcohol on planes (yeah, no food and no booze, boring I know). I typically just drink black coffee and water.
So long as there is WiFi, I mostly use my computer for work, for reading interesting things on the net, and chatting on pretty much any chat system other than WhatsApp (which requires your phone to be accessible, which it won't be if your computer is the device using your WiFi connection).
As a writer, I find planes are great for writing blog posts. There is little distraction, and I can just focus on writing and get "in the zone". On a long flight, I can easily write three or four blog posts. When I was a manager, there was less I could do on a plane. Work on email and Powerpoint, of course, but you can't really "manage" from a seat on a plane. My current job I can do from anywhere.
I don't have any secret for jet lag. What I do is simply try and live in the timezone I'm in as much as possible. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I don't get up or turn the light on, I just lie in the darkness. I find that is the best for getting your body adjusted. I always have a big breakfast on the first morning, that seems to jolt your body into action, especially if it is the first meal in the new time zone. I take 30mg of melatonin before I go to sleep, which supposedly helps, but I'm not really convinced that it's not just a placebo effect. I have never taken Ambien or anything strong like that.
I try and get outside before or after breakfast, especially if it is sunny. Also, mid-afternoon seems to be the time when sleepiness hits, and going outside seems to help a lot. Your circadian rhythms are apparently triggered by blue light, and there is lots in sunlight. On the other hand, it is good to run something like f.lux on your computer that takes out the blue in the evening so you can go to bed at the appropriate time and also go to sleep without delay. But beware, f.lux doesn't adjust automatically to your latitude and longitude, which it should.
I wrote in my post Last Chance to See Tsukiji Fish Market that Tsukuji is moving. Well, it finally moved. So any San Francisco (or elsewhere) restaurant that tells you that their fish is flown in daily from Tsukuji isn't up to date.
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