14 hours and 27 minutes in the air. Is this a vacation or a prison sentence? And that’s just from LAX, the world’s worst international airport. Before you can hop the Pacific, first you have to figure in another 6 to 8 hours to get to LA, San Francisco, or Seattle if you live on the East Coast. Flights to China, Korea, Malaysia, and Hong Kong are just as long but there is something about a flight to Australia that just seems to drain the soul and crush the spirit.
There are lots of things you can do to make the time more enjoyable. You will get earphones on the plane but if you have a favorite pair of phones or earbuds, bring them along. Airplane equipment by definition is made cheaply and performs poorly. Listening to music can make the miles pass faster.
Modern airplanes have video screens built in to all seat backs. Some airlines have a wide variety of TV shows and movies for your viewing pleasure. Virgin Australia, unfortunately, does not. It features just about every Nicole Kidman movie ever made (Kidman is an Aussie) and very little else.
Booking flights today is an inexact science. You need to be aware of both how much your ticket costs and how long the flight is. Expedia has started playing mind games with its customers. The low fare you find often jumps by $1,000 or more as soon as you start the booking process. I have used Expedia for years, but now recommend contacting the airline directly. Expedia’s mind games and its bait and switch tactics are annoying at best and infuriating at worst.
Return flights are often significantly longer than the flight out. I found one flight that was a total of 27 hours from the East Coast to Sydney, but the return was an excruciating 56 hours long with long layovers in airports I had never heard of.
Keep in mind that Australia and Asia are on the other side of the International Date Line. If you leave LA on Friday, you won’t touch down at your destination until Sunday. Where did Saturday go? You will find it on your way home.
Planning your route can pay dividends, especially if you are traveling in the winter months. Try to avoid stopovers in notorious bottleneck cities like Chicago, Detroit, or Washington, DC. Spending time in an airport because your flight has been cancelled is the definition of aggravation. If you are on vacation, who needs that? Make connections through Atlanta or Dallas instead, where delays due to bad weather are unlikely.
You can’t bring water through security these days but you can bring an empty water bottle with you. Fill it up on the other side before you board. Keeping hydrated is essential to avoiding leg cramps and long waits for flight attendants on crowded flights.
Food on airplanes is so-so at the best of times. Bring some snacks with you. Granola bars, brownies, and trail mix are all good to have along to keep the hungries away while you are flying along at 40,000 feet.
If you are traveling with a partner, have a plan in mind in case you get separated at customs or immigration when you arrive. When I arrived in Sydney, an automated camera was unable to match my face to my passport photo which is nearly 10 years old. My wife suddenly found herself wandering around a strange airport with no idea where I was. It took about 30 minutes for me and several others who had a similar issue to get cleared through immigration.
My wife was nearly frantic by the time we were reunited. Cell phones and texting are forbidden before clearing immigration, so make a plan to meet someplace like baggage carousel 3. There is nothing as disorienting at the beginning of a long trip than being dazed and confused in a foreign airport wondering where your partner is.
Getting their is half the fun they say, but that doesn’t apply when you are travelling 30 hours or more. Get up frequently, walk around the plane if you can, do some deep knee bends to get your circulation moving. Run cold water on your face. Meditate if that helps.
If you have a choice, choose an aisle seat. It will give you a few precious extra inches of leg room. Offer to sit next to an emergency exit. Those seats have extra leg room as well. Bring a sleep mask (many airlines provide them on long flights). It may help you get some rest, especially if you are travelling in the daylight hours.
Perhaps the best way to get through a long flight is to close your eyes and imagine yourself on an exquisite beach with a good book. Nothing makes the time go faster than thinking about the wonders that await you when the flight is finally over.