As an American living in Australia, I’m quite familiar with the 20-hour long-haul flight from Sydney to New York. A direct flight to Los Angeles takes about 14 to 16 hours, depending on headwinds, and then there’s the stopover and then another five hours to JFK. As a poor student, I’m always on the lookout for cheap international flights, so it means I end up with a lot of red eyes and plenty of lengthy stopovers.
For this arduous long-haul journey, finding a good seat is critical. There’s nothing worse than touching down in Los Angeles at 7 am, having not slept a wink and then needing to wait another 8 hours at LAX to board a connecting flight to New York. Funny enough, I’ve never managed to get myself upgraded, except to Economy Plus, which gave me an extra inch of leg room – and a broken entertainment screen.
If you’re making the long haul for the first time, here are a few tips on picking the best seat:
Check in online. If you can pick a seat at the time of booking, go for it as seats fill up fast. Alternatively, many airlines will let you check in online so you can head straight to the gate without needing to queue at the airport. Many carriers also tend to release exit row seats on the day of the flight, so you have a better chance of securing some highly coveted leg room then.
Beware drafty conditions. There is nothing more irritating than not being able to sleep because you’re freezing! Entrances to the galley can create a wind tunnel, so seats right next to these can be quite cold. Ask for an extra blanket.
Watch for babies. Seats located in the front row directly behind the galley are often reserved for families with infants. On many international flights, a baby bassinet can be secured to the galley wall while the plane is in air. It can be exceptionally disappointing to get a great bulkhead seat only to have it come with a burbling baby.
Consider gambling on the back seats. A really nice flight attendant once pointed me to a row of five empty seats in the last row. Since most people tend to reserve seats in the front, the back rows are the most likely to be empty for you to sprawl out. The drawback of course, is most back seats are narrower so if you don’t get extra room, it can be quite disheartening. Red-eye flights tend to be emptier than other ones, so there’s a fairly good chance you’ll be able to catch some Zs.
Consult SeatGuru. This website has a great guide for picking a great seat for any airline and almost every aircraft. The trick to know what type of plane you’ll be flying in. You need to be on top of this, however, as sometimes airlines will change aircraft without prior notice – and then reassign your carefully picked seat!
Break up the long-haul flight. Another thought to consider, that I personally have come to prefer, is breaking up the long haul flight. Last year, instead of flying direct, I found a cheap flight to New Zealand that then connected to Los Angeles. The process of getting off the plane after the first three hours to stretch my legs and then hopping back on a flight that only lasted 12 hours was actually a lot easier on the knees.
If you have more ideas on how to make a 20-hour flight more pleasant, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have a great flight!
Paige Green is DownUnderGal and she writes and blogs in Australia. Originally from the US, she’s always on the lookout for last-minute holidays and deals to pop back home.