, , ,

Try to get a window seat - the view coming into Shannon airport is beautiful!

Last year on a flight back from Ireland, somewhere over Greenland, a woman seated in the back of the plane went berserk and tried to storm the cockpit. She made it as far as the curtain between coach and business class before she was subdued by the flight attendants and the heretofore unidentified sky marshals. She spent the rest of the flight with her hands ziptied behind her back, only slightly more uncomfortable than everyone else in coach.

Rumor quickly circulated around the cabin that she was mentally unstable. Ya think? I had to wonder if she was insane before she boarded the plane, or if conditions on board drove her to it. I mean, how many times can you expect people to watch “Zoolander” without consequences?

It’s no secret that flying isn’t what it used to be; gone are the complimentary cocktails, comfy seats and gracious flight attendants. Nowadays you’re lucky if your tiny bag of pretzels are fresh. Forget about peanuts – too expensive.

Large sweaty seatmates, cramped bathrooms and really bad movies are hard enough to take on flights across the continental United States, but they can be downright unbearable on flights lasting from five to 10 hours – the time it takes to get to Ireland from the U.S. But with a little advance planning, your flight to Ireland can be bearable, maybe even enjoyable.

I’ve flown to Ireland six times round trip, so that’s 12 flights, with at least one plane change on each flight, so 24 different planes. Services tend to be going downhill each year, which means the savvy traveler has to be much more self-sufficient.

Here are some items I find essential on the long flights:

1. Comfortable clothes. You’ll be sitting for a long time, so leave the sexy skinny jeans home and opt for something stretchable and wrinkle-proof, like yoga pants or leggings. I like black stretch pants with a loose fitting cotton top; dressy yet comfortable. Airplanes tend to be hot and stuffy, so dress a level cooler and cover up if you get chilly. Which brings us to number two:

2. Pashmina or similar large, lightweight scarf. This is an all-purpose item that will serve for many purposes on your travels. It makes a great lightweight blanket, you can throw it over a light jacket to dress up a look and add warmth, or you can put it over your head when you dash out into the rain in Ireland.

3. Slip on shoes. These will not only make getting through security easier, your feet will thank you on the long flight. In summer I love my Birkenstocks, in cooler weather I go with zip up ankle boots. The close seats don’t allow room to bend over and tie your shoes and you don’t want to leave them untied on the way to the bathroom!

4. Noise canceling headphones and portable music system, or earplugs. It seems to be the law that the longer the flight the more crying babies there will be. And they will always be right behind you. Just be glad you are not the parent, and turn up the music. In severe cases, use earplugs and headphones.

5. Audiobooks or e-book reader. Audiobooks also help to drown out noise, while e-book readers are much lighter than lugging books along. I like David Sedaris or other humor writers for long trips. Travel books about your destination are also good. For Ireland I suggest “McCarthy’s Bar,” by Peter McCarthy.

6. Trail mix-type snacks. A hungry passenger is a cranky passenger, and it can be a long time between “meals.” You can take control and head off hunger pangs by bringing your own snacks. I suggest high protein munchies such as trail mix, and of course chocolate. Be a pal and offer some to your seatmate. Try to avoid smelly things like tins of sardines. Trust me.

7. Bottled water. So far most airlines aren’t charging for water, but it’s best to bring your own anyway. You’ll need it for washing down your snack, and for preventing dehydration in the arid enclosed space. Also good for washing down painkillers (see below).

8. Painkillers. After this many hours on a plane, you will get stiff and sore. You can head off many aches and pains with a preventive dose of over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

9. Neck pillow. I used to think these looked silly, but after one stiff neck too many, I caved and got an inflatable one. All I can say is, ahhhh! Airplane seats seem to be designed to be uncomfortable for all body types, curving in all the wrong places. You can mitigate this with an inflatable pillow, plus the tiny pillow they may give you can be used for lumbar support.

10. Infinite patience and a sense of humor. OK, that’s two things, but both essential to surviving a modern-day transatlantic flight. Just remember, the flight will end and you will be landing in beautiful Ireland!

What do you do to make flying more bearable? Please share your tips and tricks with us!