Long Flights

The delay since my last post is due to a business trip I had to take.  It involved a couple of really long flights on really large planes.  It left me with a couple of thoughts.  So this post is in the outstandingly unlikely hope that some influential person in the airline industry is reading and acts on these comments.

First, airline food has improved quite a bit from what I remember.  Domestic flights rarely offer you more than salted pretzels, but this 12 hour between Detroit and Nagoya, Japan, had two full meals and a large snack.  Each dinner meal offered a choice of chicken or beef (sounds like a wedding reception) and each breakfast meal offered a choice between chicken and eggs.  I went with chicken for dinner and eggs for breakfast.  It was surprisingly edible...not something you would seek out of course, but definitely better than, say, elementary school cafeteria fare.  My only recommendation here would be to include more non-soda options for drinks, chocolate milk being at the top of my list.

Seating was a bit improved from my previous trans-atlantic flight.  Flying economy from Detroit to Amsterdam ten years ago, my knees were solidly wedged into the reclining metal hinge of the seat in front of me.  Whenever the passenger in front wanted to recline it resulted in spasms of pain and shuffling around on my part.  This flight gave me a good two inches between my knee and the next seat, which was greatly appreciated.  There is still a long way to go before this can be called comfortable though.  I opted for a window seat on all occassions because I like the view and I feel I'm bothered less in that spot.  Still, a cold war sprang up between me and the passenger next to me for ownership of the arm rest.  The "reclined" position of the seat is about a two degree difference from the upright position.  The worst part for me was that I could not get my head or my legs into a comfortable position.  The headrest of the seat seems to be sloped to intentionally cause the drowsy travellers head to crash into either the wall or the passenger next to you, leaving your neck sore.  I had a travel pillow, which was good for keeping my head in place but offered just enough padding that my head was always pitched forward.  There was nothing to be done about my legs.  I found the best I could manage was to put my duffle bag under my feet to elevate my legs a bit.  Getting up to take a stroll isn't really possible in the economy section.  Fortunately I'm not afflicted with claustrophobia, but after 12 hours of being held captive in tight quarters I was feeling a little delirious.

A couple of movies were shown during the flight as entertainment.  Honestly I would have preferred that they just leave the telematics data on display, as I found it more entertaining (we cruised at close to 600mph with an outside temperature hovering around -100 degrees btw).  The movies played were Baby Mama, Bonneville, and Swing Vote.  I'm sure some committee got together to determine which modestly recent films would be the most inoffensive to the widest possible audience.  Seriously, if those are your criteria, just shut the thing off.  IMDB has these films rated in the solid 6 out of 10, and barely making that 6.  Very few passengers were paying any attention at all to the screen.  Most were either a) trying in futility to sleep, or b) engrossed in some personal entertainment gadget or book.  

Storage was actually surprisingly good, although I wasn't carrying much onboard.  I had my laptop briefcase that I didn't want to leave my site, and a small messenger bag with books and gadgets in it to keep me entertained.  The overhead bins had plenty of room, and my bag fit comfortably under the seat in front of me.

The cabin temperature was nice and cool for the trip, possibly a little too cool.  It didn't bother me while I was reading, but when I tried to fall asleep I felt a distinct chill.  The provided blanket is some relief.

So here is the short form of the tips for the airline:
  • Wider arm rests
  • Chocolate milk
  • Better in-flight entertainment
  • Power outlet at the seat (even a powered USB port would be good)
  • Foot rests
Here is a crazy idea: how about bungee cord stirrups under each seat.  This would allow some resistance to stretching your legs without requiring that I disturb the other passengers to get up and walk.

Also, for any passengers out there readying for a long flight, here are some tips to help you survive:
  • Get a (thin) U-shaped travel pillow
  • bring a small bag with entertainment to stow under the seat
  • Use the airline blanket like a shawl, not like a blanket. Your legs will be warm because you are wearing pants like a sane person.  Your arms will be cold, so wrap the blanket around your back and neck and drape it across your arms
  • Use the airline pillow for lumbar support
  • Books can be read at anytime, unlike electronics that must be switched off
  • An iPod can be enjoyed with your head leaning back unlike a book where your head is pitched forward.
  • Bring a snack.  You may not like some of the food, or you may just get hungry.  Cookies keep well and are easy to stow in the seatback.


Jade Mason