Flying to and from the UK is a necessary evil for most international boarders. We figure that most of our international boarders probably have to fly in and out of the country about six times a year. In fact, in a couple of days’ time, some of them will have to fly back to the UK, so for part one of our Ultimate Boarders’ Guide, we wanted to highlight the art of travelling and share some tricks of the trade.
For some, the process starts with obtaining the correct VISA but provided you have already looked into this, you’ll be ready to look into airline tickets. We tend to do the entire process online and look into the best prices, the best times and the best itineraries. In addition to the airlines’ own Websites, there is a great variety of booking Websites that check all the airlines in one go. Sites such as Skyscanner or Skiplagged can provide a lot of the leg work for you and compare prices and itineraries. However, most of us do agree that when it comes to booking the flight you have chosen, it is better to complete the process on the airline’s own Website. Sites like Skyscanner may not list all the extras, which means you could run into costly surprises at the airport when you find out you haven’t paid for your carry-on for example.
Another thing to bear in mind when booking your ticket is not to focus too much on price alone and check for appropriate flight times and flight durations as well. There’s nothing like bagging a blinding price for an airline ticket and then finding out you’ve got a nine-hour layover at the most boring airport in the world. It’s also no good arriving into the UK after midnight or having to depart the UK at 5am. It’s difficult to find anyone to share a taxi with, trains don’t operate and don’t even get us started on the crazy o’clock wake-up calls. If you have options, then look for appropriate departure and arrival times.
Finally, when you have managed to find and book a decent flight, please do let your Boarding Administrator know. We don’t know about the administrators at other schools but ours grows extra grey hairs each time she has to chase students for arrival and departure times for weeks on end.
Boarding administrator informed, it’s time to pack your cases, which, we realise, is a highly personal experience. We don’t know how some people manage, but they can pack six weeks’ worth of personal belongings in one overnight bag. Other people need four cases to go away for the weekend. Unfortunately, we’re no good at giving advice here but we do know that there’s an army of YouTubers and a plethora of Websites that’s happy to give (read: product place) you advice on packing (here’s one example: https://youtu.be/8kq3EVso_8o). In addition to whatever the YouTube stars are telling you, here’s our own wisdom bomb with regards to packing: Check the weather! Wherever you go, always check the weather and when you go to the UK, check it twice!
With your packing done, it’s time to hit the airport. Now we do not want to sound like the Ministry of the Bleedin’ Obvious but try not to be too late. We know. We know – you know the quickest way to the airport, you know when traffic’s bad, you know when the queues for immigration and security are worst and you know where your plane is waiting for you. You’ve done this a dozen times. All this may be true but the fact remains that missing your flight because you left things too late is just so pointless. You only had one job!
It’s not like we don’t know why you’re leaving things too late. Upon the twentieth visit, even the most exciting airport is a pretty dull affair. What are you going to do there this time? Buy a $20 sandwich? A scarf worth twenty times that? If you do find yourself with time on your hands – say your plane is delayed – here’s a blog post that might help you out.
In the air
You may be lucky enough to fly a travel class north of Economy but we’ve come to the realisation that even in Business or First, the flight takes just a long and that air travel is pretty boring. There. Is. Nothing. To. Do. Well, it’s not like there’s nothing to do but there isn’t much to do either. Your choices are limited to watching the onboard entertainment system, watching whatever you’ve downloaded, playing games, eating, doing your homework, getting frustrated about the onboard WiFi, eating some more, chatting to passengers or talking about them behind their backs. If all else fails, you can always eat.
If you’re a nervous passenger and you sit there, anxiously wondering why the plane’s bumpy and where all the noises come from, then you could read this article from thetravel.com. Actually, we thought it was quite a nice article even for non-nervous travellers. There are tons of hidden gems on aeroplanes. Did you know, for instance, that the tiny triangle above the windows suggests that this window gives the crew the best view of the wing? And did you know there’s a magic button at the bottom of the arm rest that might provide you with extra legroom? That said, if you want to shut yourself off from all the sounds and sights of the plane, we suggest you invest in some good earphones and a face mask (there are tons of articles and YouTube videos about carry-on essentials)
A sensible thing to do on most flights, and especially long-hauls, is to drink plenty of water. Bottled water preferably, since the water on flights can be a little unsavoury to say the least. Come to think of it, you might want to stay away from coffee and tea as well. Staying hydrated is the best onboard advice we can give you. The second-best is to avoid eating too much. In general, the type of food to avoid are bread, pasta and noodles. The reason behind this is that your body is largely motionless during flight, which means you digestive tract is not processing food as quickly as it normally would. It leaves a lot of food just sitting around in your body. On that note, it is also best to avoid eating if it isn’t time to eat yet. What do we mean by that? As you probably already know, meal times on long-hauls often make very little sense other than that they’re served just after take-off and just before landing. They do not take into account when you would normally eat or when your body would like to think you should be eating. Having a large dinner when it is, according to your body clock, time to sleep, means that your body goes a little nuts. Again, food is not digested properly, which leads to bloating and increased jet lag.
You could think about bringing your own snacks. The Website Packsmith wrote quite a handy blog post on what to prepare in advance. Personally, we’d avoid the pasta salads they recommend (because otherwise the previous paragraph makes very little sense) and we’d like to make it clear that while it is fine to bring food on an aeroplane, do check whether you can take it out of the plane in the destination country as well!
By the time they’ve cleared the trays on your long-haul, you’ll find that you have reached your second or third hour of flight, which is usually when boredom truly kicks in. As a matter of fact, you may be caught by the inescapable feeling that this flight is going to last forever. You may be fortunate enough to be able to sleep on a plane. If so, please do catch up on some Z’s. If you cannot, here are our six tips on how to sleep during a flight:
Choose the right seat! Check seatguru.com for the best seats for sleeping for you.
Get the temperature right! An ideal way of doing so is to stand up, wrap your blanket around you and sit down again. Then buckle up and you’re good to go (to dreamland).
Support your head and neck! Yup, it’s all about hand-and-neck support. If you’ve brought a travel cushion you have been wise. If the pillow provided does not give enough support, get another or use a coat, a jumper of anything else soft and squishy.
Straighten those legs (a little)! We’ve seen people curl up like little balls or attempt frantic auditions to get this guy’s part in Ocean’s Eleven but all things considered, the legs straight with a slight bend at the knees is probably the most effective way to sleep.
Keep your head clear! Your mental state definitely influences your sleep, so being a nervous flyer is unlikely to help you sleep. Whatever you do, please (re-)consider taking any medication to help you sleep. Most professionals would advocate against this. Some people swear by noise-reducing earphones but, again, this is a personal choice.
Bring a Do Not Disturb sign! Well, maybe not, although some travellers do let flight attendants or crew know that they would prefer not to be disturbed.
And with all that out of the way, here’s why you probably shouldn’t sleep too much on a flight: Sleeping too much can enhance jet lag. Imagine getting on a flight at 9am, sleeping ten hours and arriving at 11pm. How will you sleep when your head hits the pillow (a real pillow this time) in two hours from now?
Staving off jet lag is probably at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think about air travel survival. Actually, quite a few things we’ve discussed in this blog help reduce jet lag. Avoiding carbs, avoiding caffeine, sleep tips, selecting flight times strategically and getting to the airport on time all help the effects long-haul travel has on our circadian rhythm.
If you find you’re suffering from jet lag even in spite of our best tips and your best efforts, the best ways to fight it are to expose yourself to plenty of sunshine (please, no jokes about sunshine in Scarborough) and eating at standard mealtimes, even if your body is indicating it’s hungry. The key to combatting jet lag is to adapt to the new time zone as soon as possible. In our experience, when we do find ourselves wide awake at 4am, we try not to get too frustrated at the prospect of having nothing to do for the next three hours. Remember the clear head! Perhaps it’s best to adopt that strategy even long after you’ve deboarded.
On the subject of deboarding, once the plane has arrived at its destination and the people who cannot wait have gotten up mid-landing to retrieve their carry-on from the bins, it is time to think about the problems that may lay ahead. Mind you, we do not recommend getting up before the captain has given you the green light to do so but some people seem to think they can beat the crowds, even if they are sat at the back of the plane. Better to do a quick mental check and see if you have got all the relevant documentation to clear passport inspection. Do you need to complete a landing card? We know that a lot of people leg it to passport control but familiarise yourself with your surroundings as well and take it easy. Your checked bags may take a long time to clear anyway, so treat yourself to a pit stop on a toilet that’s not basically a hoover (like the one on the aircraft). Brush your teeth or fix your hair. You’ve arrived! That means you’ve done the hardest part. You’ve sat inside a steel tube with ten hours’ worth of compressed farts emitted by well over 200 passengers. You’ve done it and you should reward yourself with a little bit of you-time. Or one of those giant Toblerone bars at least!
A Tiny Bit of Onboard entertainment: which fellow travellers to avoid!
Clearly anyone who’s going to mess with your personal comfort, and by that we mean sleep, is a fellow traveller we’d personally try to avoid. This includes the people behind us kicking our seats. What are these people doing anyway? Why kick a seat? The list isn’t limited to the ‘kickers’ of course. High on our list are the ‘immediate recliners’ and the ‘headrest grabbers’. The former attempt to go fully horizontal well before the plane has levelled out while the latter cannot seem to get up without using your headrest as some sort of pulley system. We try not to sit near either though they can be difficult to spot before take-off.
Anyone who makes a lot of noise, including, but not limited to, people who decided to bring games and a tablet full of movies but no headphones, people who immediately want to strike up conversations with you and people who travel in a party that’s larger than four. We haven’t tried taking a Do Not Disturb sign and we feel that perhaps it’s too passive aggressive a gesture but who knows. It may work. Little children can be a nuisance too but at least they didn’t ask to be on this flight and they often don’t know what’s happening to them. So long as they don’t scream the plane down for more than two hours, we can cope.
Anyone who’s alien to the concept of personal space. Seen the pictures of long hair draped over the headrest? Well say no more. But we’re also thinking about the people who insist on reading broadsheet newspapers all across the three seats or the person in the middle who seems to think the two armrests next to him/her are theirs.
Anyone trying to avoid any other passengers for belonging in categories one to three. Yup, that’s right: It’s us. Let’s face it, we’re all in this together, quite literally so, and we have to make the most of our time on the bus or just grin and bear it.