There are so many ways to make a flight more pleasant. Over the years, I’ve uncovered things by happenstance and I was well aware that long flights with neither breaks nor little bits of comfort would make traveling unbearable.
As I try to visit more distant lands, the time to get there and the extra legs of flights add up and get to be extremely tiring. This time, the journey to Bhutan took 48 hours (albeit with a 12 hour sightseeing layover in South Korea in each direction). The following is a brief rundown of how the legs of the flight went:
- Take taxi out of NYC at 11PM
- Arrival at JFK at 11:30PM
- Flight from JFK to Seoul at 1AM (15 hours in flight)
- Arrival at Incheon Airport (South Korea) at 4:30AM
- Departure from South Korea to Bangkok at 7:20PM
- Departure from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan at 6:30AM
- Total: 48 hours in transit, 60 hours before I would have a chance to sleep (since I needed to sight-see all day in Bhutan)
With 3 legs and lots of layover time, a traveler must have a plan and lots of creativity to have a satisfying transit.
First, it’s always helpful if you make at least one leg of your journey go through a good airport. Currently, there are a number of really great transit airports. The top three that come to mind are in Singapore, Seoul and Dubai. Personally, I’ve only experienced the latter two, but have read and heard from fellow travelers about Singapore airport being top notch (it has an Olympic sized swimming pool. I think, that alone, makes it a great airport!)
Second, it helps to take a few minutes and research the airports you’ll be going through. This doesn’t take a lot of time–it’s easily done during a lunch break with the help of google, going to the airport’s website or reading travel forums.
Third, get creative! If you need sleep, there are always places where you can grab some rest. Stick your leg through your bag straps and set your alarm for a little extra security. Stock up on snacks and water bottles on the plane (they always give away a lot of that stuff on international flights). Always look for the comfy recliners at the airports to take naps. In Incheon, you can go to the “rest and relax” lounges on the 4th floor of the airport and in Bangkok, they are on the third floor, past the Emirates lounge, a perfect place to nap if you don’t have access to an airline lounge. The above pic is from Bangkok.
Fourth, if you can, upgrade your flight to a better class. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am generally a frugal traveler, so unless I have miles or am getting sent to a country on business, I will not fly business or first class. However, on flights going to certain countries, an upgrade could cost only a few dollars and then it is worth it for many reasons. Reason #1 is the airport lounge! There is nothing like going into a lounge, being handed a towel and toiletries and taking a hot shower after a day of flying. Then, after you are nice and clean, you have access to computers and wifi, a score of magazines and newspapers and your fill of delicious foods and alcoholic beverages.
Reason #2 is the fun of sitting in 1st class, although it’s more of a secondary concern for me, because I can get comfortable anywhere. It is all about the state of mind–trust me, if I can get comfy in a 2 dollar a night hotel in Calcutta, while sleeping on a wooden bed with a thin coconut fiber “mattress,” meanwhile, the room next to me has a rat’s nest in their bed, I know it’s all about attitude!
In my case, when flying from Bangkok to Bhutan, an upgrade to first class cost me an extra 40 dollars. This is not bad for a 6 hour flight. I found it quite worth it when I was in transit for 2 days. The sky-lounge, the shower and the rest I received was worth it to me.
Since I knew I had a full day of exploring Bhutan after I landed, before I would finally get to sleep in a bed, I realized that getting creative was important in this flight time. Otherwise, this would have been 60 hours of little to no sleep or rest if I had not found little ways to make the traveling easier.
Another tip I learned from a fellow traveler and good friend, Amber, is “Tylenol PM and wine.” It’s Lent right now, so I’m excluding any glasses of wine right now; however, I’ve definitely brought along Tylenol PM. No matter if a baby is kicking the seat behind you, while crying, or if elderly people wearing headphones are shouting that they can’t hear or the lights are on in the cabin, I can sleep at least 10 hours while sitting up in economy class thanks to Tylenol PM.
As I mentioned above, researching the airport is fairly important. I always like to see if I can explore the city that my layover is in, at least for a few hours. It’s also helpful to know that information in advance when you’re filling out your customs forms on the plane and you need a departure card or just a transit through the airport. Some airports (and increasingly more, now that everyone is catching on) have transit tours. South Korea has about 10-12 tours you can choose from dependent on whether your layover is 3 hours or 12 hours long.
I also have to mention that Incheon airport in South Korea has so much to make time fly and your layover feel like you spent your time well. After my tour of the DMZ, I had a chance to breathe in the powerful smells of the botanical gardens on the 2nd floor of the airport. Afterward, I had a chance to sit in the cultural center and paint my own version of traditional Korean art.
A transit passenger can also shower for free at that airport and go to a spa (but I think you should do the spa stuff in Bangkok, instead because it’s so much more expensive in Korea–in fact, I had an hour long FANTASTIC massage in the Bangkok airport for 15 dollars).
Happy (and comfortable) traveling!