Francophile Turns Anglophile: Rage, Rage Against the Transatlantic Flight

The Francophile writes today from the opposite side of the Channel: Northampton University in the UK. I am here in my capacity as Director of International Programs to start the process of building study abroad, student exchange, and faculty exchange opportunities between NU students and MGA students. After leaving Atlanta at 8:00 EST last night, I arrived at Heathrow at 9:00 GMT this morning. Obviously I’m a little jet-lagged but trying to follow my own best advice: coffee up, power through, no naps! This trip is special for me as it’s the first time I’ve traveled on university business rather than leading students or going to a conference. I’m on my own–which is fine, solo travel doesn’t bother me*–and since I didn’t know exactly what awaited me at the destination, I wanted to arrive looking and feeling a little better than I sometimes do after crossing the Atlantic. During the last hour of the flight (which seems to last a week) I started thinking about making a list of tips & tricks for flying to Europe and avoiding the sensation of having crawled there on one’s face. Students sometimes ask me about the flight–how to avoid being scared/nervous/crippled by jet lag–so here are my best ideas based on very recent experience (i.e., I got off the plane only about 5 hours ago).

  • A 7- to 8-hour transatlantic flight has a rhythm to it almost like the flight attendants are following a script. You’ll be more comfortable if you know what’s coming:
    1. Boarding: take your seat, stow your carry-on(s), get out things you’re going to use so that you’re not constantly rooting around in your bag. If your flight isn’t full, claim two or three seats (if you can) to stretch out and sleep or at least avoid “manspreading” by your seatmates.**
    2. Snacks & drinks: as soon as the flight crosses the 10,000 foot threshhold, the flight attendants will give everybody hot towels to wipe their hands with (even though these are paper towels, not real ones, it’s pleasant), then serve a drink and a snack such as pretzels or peanuts. Alcoholic drinks are usually free of charge on international flights but I hew to the wisdom of avoiding alcohol when flying. It’s too dehydrating and the altitude may cause the alcohol to affect you differently.
    3. Meal service: This item is part 3 of the script but it actually requires you to take action before the day of your flight. Here goes: Order a specialty meal. I became a vegetarian in October so I ordered a vegetarian meal. The conventional wisdom seems to be true: the specialized meals are better than the standard ones. Equally important, they distribute the specialized meals first, so you never have to be the last person waiting to be served dinner as the meal cart starts waaaaaay at the other end of the plane. (If you’ve changed seats per #1 above, just make sure the flight attendant can find you to give you your meal.)
    4. Sleepy time: After dinner is cleared away, the flight attendants will turn down the cabin lights and everyone will (hopefully) settle in for a few hours’ sleep. Resist the urge to watch 3 movies in a row. If you can manage to sleep from the moment the lights go down to the moment they’re turned back on again for the morning snack, you’ll get 4-5 hours of rest and feel, frankly, a LOT sharper than I do right now. (I slept about 2.5 hours and I feel pleasant but not very smart.)
    5. Morning snack: About 90 minutes before landing, the lights come on and the attendants serve a snack/light breakfast along with coffee/tea/juice. You’re almost there!
  • To make the most of the experience outlined above:
    • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you’re awake, you should be drinking some water. 8 ounces per hour is a good guideline that I’ve heard.
    • Use the earplugs and eye mask the airline (hopefully) provides, or bring your own. The sensory deprivation aids sleep.
    • Women and other wearers of cosmetics, watch some YouTube videos of “in-flight beauty routines” and create your own system. On this flight I took my make-up off once the plane was in the air, put on moisturizer, kept reapplying lip balm & hand cream, and then did fresh makeup before landing. (Michelle Phan does about 15 more steps than that.) The passport control staff can’t possibly care but it at least makes me feel better to know I’m not entering a foreign country looking like a smudgy greaseball.
    • Forget what time it is at home. No need to think about that unless you’re calling home. Reset your watch or phone to the time at your destination.
    • Corollary to the above: when the lights come on near the end of the flight, it’s morning whether you like it or not. Get ready to tough it out and…
    • NO NAPS. This rule is my most powerful anti-jet-lag trick. I didn’t sleep in the cab on the way here from Heathrow; I’m definitely not going to lie down this afternoon. If I go to bed around 8:00 tonight I will sleep like a rock and wake up on UK time tomorrow with very little trouble. 

So those are my best transatlantic flight survival tips. Tune in next time to learn more about Northampton U., my new friends/colleagues here, and maybe some Ways to Tell You’re In England.

*Except that I miss Daniel!
**If you are a man and you don’t know what “manspreading” is, hie thee to the nearest Google. Women will thank you.

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