Any tips for international flights?

The missus and I are planning a trip to the UK and France this spring, and while I was researching something or other for the trip, I came across the following tidbit of infopinion.

Any truth to that? For that matter, is there any way to know whether a given plane is new/old, retrofitted with AV on demand, new seats, has “better” seating configurations (whichever ones those may be), etc.? (We’ll be flying American, if it matters – it looks like most of our options are AA-branded British Airways flights, so perhaps it doesn’t --and and/or ITA lists the plane types, so that’s something.)

Besides that, any other tips are welcome. Thanks!

Seat Guru has seating charts with notes for just about every airline/plane type.

Gah, got scooped on that one. I also came in to recommend Seat Guru, it’s really helpful when choosing seats on flights, particularly long flights.

I just flew from San Francisco to Copenhagen. I’ve never found the AV very good, especially now you can bring your own. Is anyone really still flying 747s? I suppose so.
The most important thing is seating - where you sit and seat pitch. You should be sleeping for much of the trip. Try to avoid planes where you can be stuck in the middle of a long row of seats.
As for airlines, remember that there is a lot of code sharing, so you may think you are on a European one but actually are on American or something equally horrible. My daughter was flying British Air from Germany when she got stuck in Heathrow during the Christmas 2010 disaster. No one working for that airline gave a crap. I’ve had success with Virgin Atlantic, but haven’t flown them for a while. We flew a Lufthansa code share, and they were not nearly as good as they used to be, though somewhat acceptable.

But notice that all ads for international airlines these days are target to those flying first or business class, with big seats or even little rooms. That is who they care about. The 99% in steerage are just a bother. So, be warned.

This past year I’ve flown once on a 717 and twice on a 737. Those were pretty decent, though the 737 was a bit more uncomfortable to my ears, though we may have been flying higher. I’ve also flown on CRJ’s and a DeHavilland Dash and those were pretty decent. I think I’ve been on an Airbus but I’m not sure, and there wasn’t anything especially bad about it. I’ve only flown within the US, within Canada, and between, so a transatlantic flight might be different.

If you can get a code share with an Air France flight instead of BA, the food is amazing.

Most of those don’t fly international. The 737 is aka the planes Southwest uses. Could be better, but okay. I flew a deHavilland/Bombardier Dash-8. That one was interesting (small turboprop), and very enjoyable, but that might also be because Horizon Airlines is/was providing complimentary beer and wine.

I think I flew a 767 last time international, judging by the charts. A little tight, but for me enjoyment means I get the aisle. I was on the right side for at least part of it, at the window, and the middle was unoccupied, which was tolerable. My worst flight was a red eye to Ft. Myers from probably Phoenix, SLC, Las Vegas, etc. Middle seat, the sleeping guy at the window kept trying to make me a pillow. I watched animal planet (at least the screens were private) and stayed up all night, finally nodding off minutes before landing.

Oh, and what ever I flew on with SAS sucked, because they are cheap bastards.

My last (international) flight was like this:
6:30pm scheduled departure - we’re on the plane, we’re off the plane.
We’re on a new like-model replacement plane. Certain few people, including me, have their seats changed, though I can’t tell you why.
Depart @ 11:30 - I have no sound in my on-demand seatback entertainment system. They try & reset it a couple of times, but I moved as soon as dinner was over. It’s now 12:30-1:00, I’m tired so go to sleep w/o watching anything.
Moral: your equipment could be changed at last minute, or even your seat; you’re not guaranteed “better” seating configuration.

Oh, & take food (cookies, energy bars) in your carry on. If you wanna pretend to be in first class, take some (spreadable) cheese or pate, a box of crackers, & a (plastic) knife. :wink:

Bring a pair of warm comfortable sock and benadryl.

Do not fly through New York, especially on the weekend.

They’re still in production, and a new model came out relatively recently, so I’d think so.

We got some good advice from our travel agent years ago–if the flight is lightly booked, change your seats to the way back–i.e. not desirable–in mid row. If you’re lucky they won’t book around you and you can lay down. A little risky, but it paid off for us. You must claim your territory quickly, though–other passengers will be prowling.

Seatguru is your friend. We’ve had good experiences on 777s and 747s. The 47s are FAST–we broke 700 mph once as I woke up. A friend speaks well of the 380s, but American doesn’t have them, and 500+ pax on a plane is scary.

I’ve done both the 757 and 767 transatlantic and can confirm the 757 sucks serious butt. Generally claustrophobic, a single aisle and all the bathrooms (for coach) are in the back. This was back in the mid-90’s, and I thought they’d phased them out of intercontinental service, but looks like just lately they’ve been bringing them back. Maybeeeee they’re better now, but there’s not much they can do with the dimensional constraints of the plane. (Also since many of the routes to Europe are pushing the 757’s range, apparently they occasionally have to make unscheduled fuel stops!)

The 767 was primitive in terms of amenities, but otherwise pretty nice.

I’ve had two round-trip transatlantic flights on 757s and I still get a little twitchy just thinking about it. I didn’t think I was claustrophobic until… :eek:

I don’t mind 767s, though. They’re wider and give less of the seven-hours-stuck-in-a-tube feeling.

My advice for the eastbound trip, which will almost certainly be overnight, is to do what you can to get as much rest/sleep as possible. Eat before you board so you can refuse dinner and start getting into sleep mode. (You won’t want to recline your seat yet, since the people behind you are eating, but you can start physically and mentally preparing.) If you’re worried you’ll get hungry in the middle of the night, pack snacks, but I’ve never wanted them and neither have the flodkids since they were small. Brush your teeth and do your other pre-bed stuff (removing contact lenses or what have you) while your fellow passengers are enjoying their Mystery Meat Stroganoff. Bring warm socks, a comfortable sweater or sweatshirt, eyeshades, earplugs, and a neck pillow. Settle in as best you can as early as you can and get some shut-eye.

On the west-bound trip, entertainment will be more of an issue, but do try to take a nap or at least a short rest with closed eyes. The sleep things I mentioned above can be very helpful, particularly the eyeshades, earplugs and neck pillow. If nothing else, they send out a powerful Leave Me Alone, I’m Resting signal that merely closing your eyes does not, for some people.

If what you’re flying is actually BA, consider that BA has an Economy Plus option on international flights (as do other airlines, possibly including AA). This will get you a larger seat with more legroom, better entertainment options, and some other goodies, for more than Economy but quite a bit less than Business Class. Only you can know if your budget allows this and if it is interesting enough to you to be worth the money. I ended up in that section once, quite by accident, and slept like a baby for four blissful hours :slight_smile:

Don’t fly American. They’re currently experiencing a not-quite-official work slowdown due to labor issue stemming from the bankruptcy, and delays or cancellations are likely for the foreseeable future.

Economy Comfort (or the equivalent) is worth every penny. You get a few extra inches of legroom, free booze, and get served dinner first, meaning you can get to sleep faster. Which leads to my next point.

A 7 hour flight is better than a 5 hour flight. It’ll take an hour to take off, get to cruising altitude, and serve dinner, meaning that by the time you eat and get settled in, you only have a couple of hours to sleep if you’re flying from New York to London. Try to book the Transatlantic leg out of Chicago or Atlanta if you can; that way you’ll have an extra hour two to get some shuteye.

In my experience, landing in the early afternoon is best, so that your room is available by the time you clear customs and get to the hotel. You’re going to want to crash for a couple of hours to shake off the first day jet lag. Some people are of the opinion that you should go for as long and hard as you can after you land and try to go to bed at a normal local hour on the first night, with the assumption being that you’ll adjust faster that way. I’ve tried that method a couple of times, and I always end up stumbling around like a zombie before crashing at some ridiculously early hour of the evening, anyway. Better to catch a few Z’s in the afternoon and go out to dinner feeling somewhat human.

You don’t mention how long the flight is or travel details, so this may be a bit vague.
By all means, you can select your seats to get extra space. That means nothing if the arseholes in front immediately put their seats back as far as the pitch allows so they can sleep. If there are vacant seats opposite- don’t worry- some bogan with a few kids will fill them so the kids will sleep until they wake up (allow ten minutes) and then run up and down the aisle.

Then someone will fart. Not a normal fart, but one that will raise the dead. It will make you wheeze and everyone on the plane will wake up.

Otherwise, drink heaps of water, good book, take things like candy snakes, songs on an Ipod, and be nice to the stewardess’. They are your friend. I do a 30 hour trip in afew weeks (not all hours in the air).

Try to fly on a European carrier if at all possible-- my experiences on American carriers recently have been heinous. The seats were crammed so close together that I could not bend down to get into my backpack located under the seat in front of me. I am average-to-small in size, and I found the seats uncomfortable.

Bring extra food for yourself, and plenty of entertainment material. Bring an extra coat or something like a blanket to sleep under, because what the airlines provide is like tissue paper.

Finally, buy and wear compression socks! They keep fluid from pooling in your legs and feet if you’re sitting down for a long time. This will help keep you much more comfortable.

The 757 is evil incarnate. What a piece of shit airplane to subject the public to. Even for relatively short trips, it sucks, and even first class is hopeless. I fucking hate that plane.

Seatguru as above for finding/booking good seats. Remember, lots of folks use that site, so book early as the green “good” seats tend to go fast.

Take a plastic resealable baggy. You want clear plastic ziploc style, so security can view it without having to open/spill/paw through it. One for you, one for the wife. Fill it with the following items:

One pair of thin socks, you will want to take off your shoes for comfort and you will put the thin socks over your regular socks, so you can move around as necessary without putting your shoes on, and not disturb others with your foot odor. They become your flight slippers, so to speak.

One set of earplugs: Best you find out what kind you like before the flight, if you can. There’s a couple different types, and believe me, you will be thanking me with a card when it saves you from 7 hrs of a teething infant.

One set of eyeshades: As above, use for sleeping. Check out ones that have a lighter colored side on the portion facing outwards from your face. Then you can write in magic marker “wake for breakfast” or “don’t wake for breakfast”. Easier on you and the crew.

Individual packs (sometimes thought of as sample packs) of:
Loperamide (Immodium, anti-diarrheal). It’s very likely the time/weather/food/water change will make you miserable. This can help mitigate that.
Benadryl (both to help you breathe and as a sleeping agent).
Tylenol or other simple pain reliever.
At least a few doses of any medication you take regularly.

Odds and ends:
A ballpoint pen. You’ll need one for the customs and immigration forms
A plastic comb or very small brush (for the Missus)
A couple of moist towelettes, I like the lemon scented ones. You’d be amazed how they can make the difference. just wipe down your face and arms, ears and neck and you’ll feel a lot cleaner. The wife might want makeup removing wipes, so check with her.
A minipack of tissue
A travel pack of toothpaste and a travel toothbrush (folding or just a cheapy throw away). It’s really nice to brush your teeth as you arrive in country, it helps you wake up and still feel functional and refreshed.

Each of you should have your own.

This more or less mirrors (to some degree) what you get in a first class or business class international amenity kit (minus the drugs).

I’ve traveled a lot for business, still do, and I get a lot of the smaller, travel sized items from one site. I don’t want you to think I’m endorsing anything, just pointing out a resource.

BTW, if you think about it, you’ll realize the little kit I’ve recommended to you can sit in your car pretty much indefinitely, as an emergency overnight kit.


Wear warm layers, flights are often drafty and you won’t sleep if you are cold. Use earplugs or even earphones to mute noise. Drink plenty of water, bring an empty bottle in your carry on that you can fill up from a fountain once you are through security. Take an aspirin to prevent blood clots.

Take compression socks for your legs.