When you decide to travel from the US to Europe, you will likely have a couple of options. Leave in the evening, fly overnight and land in the morning OR leave in the morning, fly all day and land in the evening. I personally would rather book the overnight flight or red eye. I see it as getting an extra day of vacation. You can leave late on a Friday night, land early on Saturday and have most of the day at your destination or you can leave on a Saturday morning, land Saturday night and have time to find your hotel and maybe grab a bite to eat.
However, it's no surprise that red eyes are not fun. I can usually catch a nap on a plane without a problem but there is a big difference between a nap and trying to get close to a full nights sleep. A coach seat on any airplane is a far cry from the Ritz Carlton but there are ways to make your experience a little better. This is an overview of what has worked for me.
It is somewhat of a novelty to be served a meal on a flight since you definitely don’t get that on a domestic US flight. However, I suggest you forego that meal and eat something in the airport before you board your flight. I had dinner at Bobby Van's Grill in JFK airport and, big surprise, it was better than anything I would have received on the plane. More importantly, meal service will take about an hour of flight time and I prefer to have that time to rest.
Wear Something Comfortable
Do not wear your skinny jeans. Instead, try some leggings with a long-sleeved tunic over it. For men, comfortable jeans with a t-shirt and flannel are a good option. Layers are good, anything that’s tight, pinches or causes muffin top is not.
Your Seat Matters
A lot of people will tell you that if you want to sleep on the plane, the window seat is the best choice. For many people it is - not only are you away from the aisle and any movement that happens there, but you can use the wall of the plane to rest against. However, I have been on one too many flights where I've had to use the bathroom but felt trapped in my seat because the person on the aisle is sleeping. I personally prefer the aisle for that reason. Whether window or aisle, I always avoid the emergency row. I learned this the hard way - it gets really cold in those seats making it impossible (for me) to sleep.
Bring a Blanket
I don’t know about you but I like some kind of blanket when I sleep. Not to mention, planes get cold, even if you're not in the emergency row. I like to use a very thin travel blanket that takes up minimal room in my carryon. Ladies, you can also use a pashmina. I often see women in the airport looking very stylish with their scarf wrapped around them. Somehow, I can never quite manage not looking like a mummy so I stick with my blanket.
Having some kind of supportive pillow to prevent your head from bobbing is a must. I don't think that there is one pillow out there that works for everyone. I have tried a few different kinds, from the basic C-shaped pillow to a side pillow and I personally prefer an inflatable version. Not only does it take up less space when it’s not in use but I can inflate it to the exact level of support that I prefer.
Eye Mask and Ear Plugs
Even though they dim the cabin lights for overnight flights, it doesn’t get completely dark. An eye mask will help with that. The earplugs will help drown out the talking, coughing, sneezing and other random noises of your fellow passengers. Unfortunately, I don't have any suggestions for their random smells.
I can’t recommend any because I personally haven’t used any. I don’t like taking any extra medicine in general but this trip to Ireland confirmed that sleep medicine is not the best bet on a flight. We took off from NYC and were in the air for about 20 minutes when the pilot told us that we had to go back because there was a cargo door that wasn’t shutting all the way. We landed back in New York and had to wait a couple of hours for a new airplane. If I had taken any kind of sleeping pill, it would have been a struggle to stay awake and focused through this time.
Before You Land
You’ve made it through the night and hopefully managed to sleep a bit, but now you’re groggy and sporting morning breath. One way to help freshen up is to use a disposable toothbrush. It’s not as good as the real thing but it makes enough of a difference so you can wait to get to your hotel to brush instead of using the airport bathroom. Because, really, who wants to do anything in an airport bathroom? The other thing that helps me feel refreshed is to use these eye pads. Sure, it looks a little strange but it really helps wake up your eyes so you look and feel more alert.
After You Land
I’m not going to lie, even after following these tips, I still don't feel amazing after I get off a red eye. However, I’m always so excited when I first land – it’s a different country and I’m on vacation, so the morning is okay. It’s after I’ve eaten lunch that the time change and the lack of sleep catches up to me. I may get a little cranky and I definitely think about having a nap. Don’t do it! Power through as long as you can. Make sure you are eating on the local time schedule, get outside and do as much walking as you can. If you can last until 7 or 8 pm, you should have an amazing night's sleep and really be refreshed and ready to go in the morning, just as I was in Dublin.
Does anyone have a trick of their own that I missed? I'd love to hear them. Please share them in the comments.