For many travellers, time on a plane can be considered an endurance sport. How do I stay entertained? How do I sleep properly? How can I avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT)? How many snacks can I pack so I don’t go hungry?

If long-haul travel truly is a sport, then the superstars in this arena are the business travellers who are always looking for the fastest way to travel between two cities, driving the demand for longer, direct routes.

Come 11 October, those doing business in New York City have cause for celebration. Singapore Airlines will unveil its new Airbus A350-900ULR and will take to the skies with the re-launch of its Singapore-New York flight route. An almost 19-hour whopper of a flight.

 

# Route Distance Duration Airline & Aricraft
1 Singapore to New York 16,700km 18hrs 45m Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900ULR
2 Auckland to Doha 14,536km 17hrs 40m Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR
3 Perth to London 14,498km 17hrs 20m Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
4 Auckland to Dubai 14,201km 17hrs 5m Emirates Airbus A380
5 Singapore to Los Angeles* 14,114km 17hrs 50m United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
6 Houston to Sydney 13,833km 17hrs 30m United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
7 Dallas to Sydney 13,801km 17hrs 15m Qantas Airbus A380
8 Singapore to San Francisco 13,594km 17hrs 5m

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900

United Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

9 Johannesburg to Atlanta 13,576km 16hrs 50m Delta Airlines Boeing 777-200LR
10 Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles 13,502km 16hrs 30m Etihad Boeing 777-300LR

 

*United Airlines will cease operations of its Singapore to Los Angeles non-stop service in end of October 2018. Singapore Airlines will launch its Singapore to Los Angeles non-stop service from 2 November 2018.

Direct flights definitely benefit travellers when it comes to productivity and getting the most out of your travel time. But you may also wonder what happens to our bodies after such a long flight, especially when flying can be physically exhausting, no matter how long the journey.

Dr. Raymond Choy, Senior Physician at Raffles Medical, tells us how to prepare for long-haul flights and travel 19 hours straight in complete comfort.

Alt text: Clocks showing different time zones.

Your body clock can take days to adjust to time zone changes.

Pre-flight preparations are essential

Tip #1: Gradually adjust your schedule – with light therapy

Jet lag is a temporary sleep problem that occurs when our internal body clock is disrupted due to travelling across multiple time zones. “Most travellers fail to take into account the leap in time zones they make in a matter of hours,” says Dr Choy. “It can take your body’s internal clock several days to catch up to that leap.”

To counter that, various studies have shown that changing your body clock gradually before travelling can reduce the effects of jet lag.

It’s possible to “mislead” your body clock by exposing yourself to bright light which simulates sunlight. “Our body clocks are greatly influenced by exposure to sunlight,” he says. “As we travel to places with a difference of more than four time zones, it is recommended to gradually adjust to the new daylight schedule. This will allow us to fall asleep at the usual times. Light therapy may help with this transition.”

Dr. Choy also advises to avoid travelling when tired and to get ample rest before departure.

Tip #2: Avoid ‘gassy’ foods to prevent bloating

As it turns out, changes in air pressure when flying can affect your digestive system. “Air pressure changes cause a build-up of gas in your body, which leads to bloating, constipation and other related gastrointestinal issues,” says Dr. Choy.

“In general, travellers are advised not to consume foods that encourage intestinal expansion, such as onions, cauliflowers, cabbages and baked beans, just to name a few,” he says. “These foods can worsen a bloated tummy when on board due to the pressurised cabin environment.”

Passenger in an airport lounge drinking coffee and waiting for departure.

Instead of loading up on caffeine, which can keep you awake, drink lots of water pre-flight to prevent in-flight dehydration.

Tip #3: Drink up – lots of water

You probably feel extra thirsty when flying, and your skin starts to feel dry. Dr. Choy says that when the body is exposed to the dry and cold pressurised cabin environment, passengers will feel dehydrated. “The cabin conditions can cause the mucous membranes of nose, mouth and throat to dry out,” he says. Dr Choy advises travellers to start drinking lots of water at least one day before the flight to prevent in-flight dehydration.

Tip #4: It’s time to get those shots

When you’re in a confined space for several hours, it’s too easy for viruses, like the flu, and other contagious illnesses, to spread easily throughout the cabin. To reduce the risk of contracting any illnesses, Dr. Choy recommends a consultation with your doctor to get the relevant travel vaccinations before flying. Vaccinations are often recommended based on illnesses you can contract at your destination, but it’s also wise to consider if there are any prevalent viruses being spread in your country of origin.

Take care of your body while on the plane because in-flight comfort isn’t just about the class you’re travelling on

Tip #5: Melatonin is the answer to insomnia

If you weren’t able to start adjusting your schedule, melatonin is a supplementary solution. “Melatonin is the chemical your brain releases to make you sleepy, and it is available over the counter,” says Dr Choy. “Some travellers find taking the supplement helpful when it comes to insomnia.” As melatonin is not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Dr Choy advises that you consult a doctor for medical advice first. There are other sleeping pills available that may help you sleep better on the plane.

Young woman sleeping in airplane.

Consult with your doctor if you have trouble sleeping on long-haul flights.

Tip #6: Whip out those compression socks

These are the real saviours if you want to avoid deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

DVT, also known as Economy Class Syndrome, is a blood clot which develops in the deep veins of the legs because of reduced mobility on the plane – and therefore reduced blood circulation. That’s not to say that those who travel on Business Class aren’t at risk. If you end up sleeping throughout the flight (in comfort or not) and not moving at all, then DVT risk is real.

Compression socks help because they are “specially designed to apply pressure to your lower legs, helping to maintain blood flow, and reduce discomfort and swelling,” says Dr. Choy.

Tip #7: Watch what you eat and drink

Pre-flight rules apply on the plane too. Drink lots of water – check. Avoid bloat foods – check. While air pressure causes gas build-up, irregular eating patterns and a disrupted sleep schedule can affect digestion, which can lead to constipation, says Dr. Choy. “Certain foods and drinks such as cabbage, potato, fried food, fatty meals, and fizzy drinks are also known to be contributing factors,” he says. A fix? Probiotic supplements can ease the symptoms.

Dr. Choy also recommends avoiding beverages such as alcohol, coffee and soft drinks, as they can cause you to visit the toilet more often. This increases the risk of dehydration. Drinking lots of fluids, including juices, not just water, can also reduce the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis.

Woman in premium economy cabin on Singapore Airlines’s new A350-900ULR.

Avoid caffeinated and alcoholic drinks to prevent dehydration.

Tip #8: Just keep moving

You’ve seen those in-flight videos. You need to stretch those limbs and move every now and then. “Regularly walking around the plane can ease the symptoms of bloating and reduce the occurrence of deep vein thrombosis,” says Dr. Choy. If you’re a bit of a yoga buff, then why not pose your way to better blood circulation – if you can find the space to do so.

Tip #9: Mask yourself

Vaccinations may not be enough. If you’re concerned about catching something, Dr. Choy suggests wearing a face mask and practicing good hand hygiene – try not to touch your face before washing your hands or using antibacterial wipes.

Adjust after the flight because it isn’t over yet

Tip #10: Exercise, exercise, exercise

The final thing you can do to beat jet lag is to exercise – in the sun. It may sound counter-intuitive since you’re probably tired. But according to Dr. Choy, “combining light exposure with exercises like walking, brisk walking or jogging might help you to adapt to a new time zone better and faster.” Another thing you can do is to keep your itinerary light and easy. 

Young, fit woman running on city road.

Fight jetlag by walking or running in the sun.

The great news is that there are no significant long-term negative effects of taking many long-haul flights, especially if you’re in “relatively good health, have regular health screenings, and live an active lifestyle.”

Looking for more tips to prepare for your next trip? Here’s your holiday checklist: 7 things to do before your vacation