How to Survive the (Gulp!) 24+ Hour Flight to Thailand

It’s a long flight to Bangkok, there’s no way around it. It is almost on the opposite side of the globe. It’s not quite as long as a flight to Africa, or India, or Australia, but it’s close. It’s a 2 hour 20 minute flight from SLC to SFO, a 3 hour layover in SFO, a 14 hour flight from SFO to HKG, a 3 hour layover in HKG, and a 3 hour 20 minute flight from HKG to BKK. It’s a long long day! And during this “day”, we pass through 13 time zones and the international date line. We miraculously land close to 2 days after we leave. You will have no sense of time or place; your body will be completely out of whack.

But there are ways to make this flight, if not completely enjoyable, at least tolerable. You have to do three things: bring the right things for the flight, wear the right things during the flight, and do the right thing during the flight.

Bring the Right Things: Having a few proper items on your carry-on can really make the difference between a miserable flight and a comfortable one. Make sure you have these things in your carry on:

  • The carry-on itself – Make sure it abides by the Hong Kong Airlines requirements for carry-ons. They have gotten a bit rigid in recent years. Make sure your carry-on is 22″x14″x9″, and weighs no more than 15 lbs. The carry-on should also double as your “everyday bag” which will be with you almost always, including in the vans. It can be a backpack or a courier-style bag, it’s up to you. Make sure it’s comfortable to carry around everyday.
  • Your valuables, camera/smartphone/tablet/electronics, anything fragile or delicate – I always carry my delicate electronics with me. Plus, I can use my smartphone/tablet for music or entertainment on the long flight, although you do have access to a very extensive collection of music and videos (including first-run movies) on your personal video-on-demand (VOD) system.
  • Passport, wallet, credit cards, ATM cards, identification, and all other documentation – This should go without saying.
  • Headphones and an airline headphone adapter – Although they give you a set of headphones to use on the flight, they aren’t the best. I prefer to use my own, especially since they are noise-cancellation headphones. But if you want to use your own on the VOD system, you need one of these adapters. They are cheap and a lifesaver on a long flight.
  • Extra batteries or external battery for your electronic devices – the SFO to TPE flight is over 13 hours long, which will stress your electronic devices, especially if you’re watching video. And at the airports, it seems every traveler is recharging their devices at every available outlet. An rechargeable external battery is very handy during these times. Prices have become cheaper and cheaper. Here is one that is powerful and cheap.Master 2010-05-0362605
  • A travel pillow – There are two schools of though on this. Some say just use the pillow that the airline gives you, while others suggest you bring your own. I think you should bring your own. Not only will you be using it on the flight, but also in the vans and in the villages. As for what kind, that’s up to you. The neck pillow (with a choice of filling, everything from feathers to memory foam to buckwheat) is very popular among traveling students, but some prefer a more traditional pillow.
  • Extra set of clothing, right down to underwear – Stuff happens. You spill your drink on your lap during the flight, or your checked bags are misrouted to Istanbul. If either of these happen, you’ll be glad you have an extra set of clothing with you. Make it something compact and packable. I usually carry a lightweight shirt, lightweight shorts, and boxer shorts in my carry-on.
  • Medications – Most experienced travelers suggest carrying your prescription medications with you on the flight, so that you still have them if your checked bags are missing. I also suggest bringing some other medications, such as ibuprofen/acetaminophen, Benadryl, eyedrops, decongestant (if you are congested or have allergies), Pepto-Bismo tablets, Ambien (with a prescription, of course), and whatever else you think you’ll need on a long flight.
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, some wet wipes, other small toiletries – Airlines provide these for you if you ask, but you can also bring your own. Don’t go overboard; you don’t need to carry on your entire toiletry kit. Besides, there are still limitations on the amount of liquids you can carry on. But brushing your teeth and generally freshening up during a long flight does wonders for your morale.
  • A book or two – One of the reasons I bring a tablet is so I can read my Kindle books. Otherwise, make sure you have a book or two to read if you don’t feel like sleeping or watching a movie.
  • A game or two – If you want to be more social, bring a card or other compact game. I plan on bringing Bananagrams and regular playing cards. It’s also fun to play games at the airport during long layovers.
  • Notebooks, journals, pens and pencils – You’ll have to fill out immigration forms, or you may want to journal on the flight. It’s nice to have these handy.
  • Copies of your flight and trip itinerary – You’ll need this information when you fill out immigration forms.
  • Earplugs and sleep masks – Airlines often offer sleep masks for free, so you don’t necessarily have to get them beforehand. But it’s not a bad idea to have one, just in case, especially if you are sensitive to light when you’re sleeping. And several sets of cheap earplugs are invaluable on a noisy flight, or early morning in the Thai villages, when the roosters crow at 5:00 am…
  • Slippers – You really shouldn’t go barefoot around the airplane; it’s not safe for you, and it’s rude to others. Luckily, airlines usually offer cheap slippers to all passengers.
  • Gum – If your ears pop a lot during flights, some gum can be helpful.
  • Mints – Because your breath won’t be great during a long flight.

Wear the Right Things: There are several schools of though on what to wear on flights. Some of the more “traditional” travelers suggest wearing something stylish and fashionable, harking back to when flying was considered glamorous. Others suggest that comfort is paramount, and that you should wear whatever is most comfortable. I suggest finding a middle ground. You can be comfortable without looking like a slob. The temptation will be to wear your pajamas. But don’t. Would you want to be seen in public in your PJs? At the same time, don’t focus on fashion so much that you’re uncomfortable during your 24 hours in transit.

So what should you wear? Here are some suggestions on what to wear and what not to wear:

  • Don’t wear high heels or flip flops. Instead, wear comfortable sneakers or your bulkier hiking shoes. They are comfortable, loose, and wearing your bulkier items will give you more packing space. Slip on shoes are great, both for getting through US airport security and for taking your shoes on and off repeatedly in Asia. As for flip flops…many people don’t like seeing feet. Pack your flip flops in your bag.
  • Don’t wear tight clothing. Instead, wear loose, comfortable natural fiber clothing that is breathable. Leave the skinny jeans at home. Wear something breathable and loose, so they don’t bind and constrict. This is actually can lead to deep vein thrombosis, a rare but potentially fatal condition that sometimes affects travelers on long flights.
  • Don’t wear too much cologne or perfume. You can wear a little, but be considerate of your fellow passengers. I’ve sat next to guys who didn’t realize Polo for Men wasn’t meant to be bathed in, and it was extremely unpleasant, even for a short flight. Also, shower before the flight and wear freshly laundered clothing. You’ll feel better, and your fellow passengers will appreciate it. I have also sat next to a man who smelled like he just finished a through hike on the Appalachian Trail without showering, and it was even less pleasant than sitting next to Polo boy.
  • Don’t wear clothing that is revealing or clothing with potentially offensive graphics or controversial statements. Passengers have been forced off flights because they were wearing “offensive” t shirts or wearing revealing clothing that was considered too “skimpy” (Southwest is especially notorious for this).
  • Don’t wear your summer outfit on the flight. Rather, wear layers. Strongly consider wearing long pants (or skirt) and a light sweater or sweatshirt for the flight. It allows you to wear your bulky clothing that would otherwise take space in your baggage. It also prepares you for the sometimes chilly airplane and airports during layovers. Yes, the airline will provide a blanket, but they are pretty thin and might not be very warm in the hyper air-conditioned interior of a Boeing 747.
  • Some people, when the sit for long periods of time, at altitude, can develop edema (swelling) in their ankles and feet. Some of you may already have experienced this. To combat this, compression socks are a good idea. Otherwise, try to move periodically, walk around the plane, do some simple stretches, etc. You can even do yoga on the plane.

Do the Right Things: Long flights don’t have to be terribly uncomfortable. Doing (and not doing) a few simple things will make your time on the flight much more tolerable:

  • Stay hydrated. Recycled airplane air is very dry, even drier than Utah air. Drink lots of fluids. All beverages are free during the flight, so there is no excuse to not keep drinking fluids.
  • Wear glasses instead of contact lenses if at all possible during the flight. The air is very dry and your contacts will dry out quickly. Plus, it’s just not as comfortable.
  • Lay off the alcohol. Yes, it is complementary on international flights. But do not overindulge. Alcohol is a diuretic and can exacerbate dehydration. And intoxicated passengers are annoying at best, dangerous at worst.
  • Move around. Walk around the plane and do some simple exercises in your seat. Sitting too much will increase the risk of deep vein thrombosis. Just don’t try to walk around when the flight attendants are trying to serve meals.
  • Stay moisturized. The dry air will also dry your skin. Use moisturizer and eyedrops.
  • Stay entertained. Catch up on movies on the excellent Hong Kong Air VOD system. Read that novel that you always wanted to but didn’t have time during the semester. Write in your journal.
  • Get to know your fellow travelers. Sit next to someone you don’t know well. Get to know them. Be social.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly. Airplanes aren’t the most hygienic environments. Wash your hands thoroughly or use sanitizer, and you’ll go a long ways in staying healthy.
  • Studies have shown that the tray table is one of the least hygienic surface on a plane, even less hygienic than the bathroom floor. You might want to bring some antibacterial wipes and wipe it down first thing. That said, still wear shoes when going to the bathrooms.
  • Try to brush your teeth and wash up periodically. It’ll help you feel fresh.
  • Be nice to the flight attendants. If you’re nice and friendly to them, they will be nice and friendly to you. And being nice to people makes you feel better.
  • Stow as much things as possible in the overhead compartments. This is particularly important for those who are taller. Legroom is already limited, don’t limit it further by stowing your big carry-on under the seat in front of you. I usually take out what I’ll need for the flight (headphones, iPad, a book, etc.), and put it in the seat pocket in front of me. If I have to, I can get access to my bag during the flight.
  • The flights are timed around meals. The Hong Kong Air flight from SFO to HKG is new to us, so I am unsure about the timing of the meals. My guess is that they will feed us an early dinner and then allow everyone to relax or sleep. If you can, you should sleep on this leg of the flight. We arrive in Taipei late afternoon local time, and you can have dinner in the airport (awesome noodles!) After the layover in Hong Kong International Airport, they will feed you again on the Hong Kong Air flight from HKG to BKK. This flight is relatively short, and it’ll be important to stay up during this flight, because once you land, it will be very late PM, and we will be heading to the hotel to sleep. That sounds easy, but it won’t be, trust me.

Did I miss anything? Please chime in if you have any other suggestions!

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