the good, the bad, the sheer

Friday, September 17, 2010

Things I Learned From My 18-Hour Flight From South Africa

One of the boldest parts of my recent trip to South Africa was the flying itself. For someone who hates being on a plane, this was a real challenge for me. 100% in coach, 100% cut off from the world, 100% exhausting -- it made quite the impression on me. Here are some of the things I'm taking away from the experience.

1. Always order the vegetarian meal. Your food will come out separately (likely before everyone else's), and it's usually pasta or a safer bet than the main meal choices. On our flight to South Africa, we ate baked ziti, while the rest of the flight was stuck with the choice between fish and chips or some derivative beef option.

2. You'll get sprayed. That's right! On the return flight to NYC, South African Airways makes a stop (9 hours into the flight) in Dakar. The lights get turned on, your Ambien wears off a bit, and people come on board to search bags. The crew gets switched for the final leg across the Atlantic, and then ... flight attendants spray disinfectant throughout the air. The stuff is pungent, be prepared to cover your face with a blanket or sweater.

3. You'll feel kinda crazy. Indeed, waking up and drifting off, drinking wine and drifting off, walking to the bathroom 7 times on one flight... it becomes something of a dream state that starts to make very little sense after the first 10 hours. Do. Not. Panic!

4. You'll watch movies that you don't want to admit to. Being stuck in that seat will SEVERELY lower your entertainment standards. I'm talking "Prince of Persia." I'm talking "The A-Team." I'm not revealing anything else.

5. Pills. Don't forget the pills!

6. You will be able to say that you were on one of the longest nonstop flights in the world. And all you got was this lousy leg cramp.

7. It can be kinda dark. The flight back from Johannesburg to JFK departs Jo'Berg at nightfall, and follows the timezones throughout the night. That means you only see the blue skies again right before you land in NYC... it might not sound too crucial, but being in a vacuum of darkness for 18 hours makes the situation all the more surreal.

8. No flight will ever seem long again. Hopping on a plane to Europe will feel like a day at the spa compared to this intense haul.