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7 Unique Ways to Beat Boredom on Long-Haul Flights

Travel Airports + Flying
by Eben Diskin Jun 1, 2018

We all know how tedious a lengthy flight can be. Maybe you have a book to keep you busy, but reading for nine straight hours is quite the feat. In-flight movies can while away a couple hours, but sooner or later your eyes will get tired of staring at the screen, and you’ll find yourself looking around the cabin wondering, “so what am I supposed to do now?” Unless you’re one of the lucky ones who can nap anywhere, anytime — we truly envy you — nothing is worse than sitting in your cramped airplane seat, wide-awake, thinking “are we there yet?” every five minutes. If you’re willing to get creative, there are a few things you can do to make that trans-continental flight go by in a snap.

1. Invent backstories for your fellow passengers.

When you’re on a long flight, you can’t help but notice the people around you. But since you can’t exactly get to know every single person — nor would you want to — a good way to pass the time is by inventing their backstories yourself. This is especially fun if you’re traveling with a friend. Notice a husband and wife who haven’t spoken a word? Maybe last week she caught him with a mistress. That tattooed punk rock-looking guy who hasn’t taken off his massive headphones? Maybe he’s a rockstar in whatever country you’re visiting, and he’s about to get flocked by fans in the airport. You’d be surprised how much time you can spend doing this. And who knows? Some of your stories might end up being true!

2. Singalongs

If you’re sharing the plane with a bachelor or bachelorette party, you’ll soon realize a whole new level of in-flight entertainment. On my flight to Tenerife, there was a bachelorette party occupying the last four or five rows of the plane, singing songs the entire way, in which many passengers joined in. They would also chant, “do a forward roll, do a forward roll!” whenever anyone tried to walk past them to the bathroom. I didn’t even know if I could do a forward roll, so it made me a little nervous to leave my seat.

Then, an old British lady — at least seventy years old — returned to the seat next to me, and said “funny bunch, eh? I was going to the bathroom, and they wouldn’t let me pass till I did a forward roll.” I laughed and felt a little sorry for her. “So, what did you do?” I asked. She looked at me like I had asked a stupid question, and said matter-of-factly, “I did a forward roll.

3. Bring your own food and snacks.

Nothing makes time crawl like being hungry. Yeah, intercontinental flights may have meal services, but they can be pricey, spaced far apart, and not exactly of the highest quality. To keep your stomach satisfied, pack your own food. These can be homemade sandwiches or snacks you purchased at the airport. The luxury of eating on your own schedule, without relying on the timeliness and portion-size of in-flight meals, will take your mind off “getting there already.”

4. DON’T watch the flight map.

This might not be a way to beat boredom, but it’s definitely a good way to avoid making it worse. That handy little feature on your entertainment screen can be pretty tempting. It shows the time until your arrival, local time at your destination, weather conditions, altitude, and a cool interactive map that lets you pinpoint exactly where you are in the world. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of checking the flight map every few minutes, and watching the time tick slowly away: 6hrs 50mins to destination…6hrs 47mins to destination…6hrs 46mins to destination. A watched pot never boils, and a watched flight icon never lands.

5. Exercise.

By exercise I don’t mean doing suicides or a 40-yard dash in the plane aisles; just some unobtrusive stretching. Besides going to the bathroom, many people forget to leave their seats on long flights. Not only will sitting in the same position make time pass slower, it can also be detrimental to your health. Try to get up at least once an hour, go to the back of the plane, and stretch your arms, your torso, and your legs as if you were getting ready for a gym session or a run. You can even take a few laps around the plane (walking, not running), to get the blood flowing. You’d be surprised how it makes the time fly.

6. Talk to the person next to you.

Sometimes, starting a conversation with your seatmate can seem forced and unnatural. But even if it’s not the most mind blowing discussion in the world, it can really help pass the time and make the trip more comfortable. On one transatlantic flight, I happened to be sitting next to the goalkeeper for the Israeli women’s national soccer team. I learned more about soccer that trip than ever before, and the flight was over before I knew it. I can honestly say it was the quickest transatlantic flight I’ve ever taken.

If your neighbor isn’t chatty, find a new one! Treat it like a ballpark. Wherever you see an open aisle seat — especially if you like the look of your new seatmate — don’t be afraid to switch it up.

7. Have a few drinks.

If you’re not in a talkative mood, booze can help change that — you’ll quickly find that your dull seatmate just became a whole lot more interesting. And for those who can never sleep on planes, this might be your ticket to that much-needed snooze, once the buzz wears off.

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