The Kama Sutra of Airplane Sleep: Surviving a 17 Hour Flight

“Your flight time will be 16 hours,” the flight attendant nonchalantly announced after going through the safety procedures.

This was the second time in four months that I would take this hellish route from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia back home. Having to endure this much time in the air never gets easy, especially when flying cattle class in a 2-3-2 configuration.

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Be wary of the bait and switch tactic from 787 Dreamliner to 777.

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So how do you pass the time when there is no WI-FI, a movie selection that is uninteresting (seriously the episode of “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” needs to be changed), and your best efforts pleading for an upgrade to business class have been denied? The answer is sleep. But that is easier said than done.

Let’s go through all the annoyances that eliminate the chance of having a marginal night of sleep on the airplane.

The Annoyances

1. Meal service

Just when you are about to get cozy with that disgusting, old blue blanket, the flight attendant taps you on the shoulder and asks you if you would like dinner service. Groggy, you opt for the chicken because fish for dinner is out of the question.

2. The talkative seatmate

After that microwavable meal, you are about to sit back and relax, as far back as you can go, when the person next to you engages you in a conversation. Not wanting to be impolite, you soon find yourself listening to this stranger’s sad experience playing defense for his first AYSO soccer team. Hours later, the conversation finally ends when your new found friend excuses himself to go to the bathroom. With only seconds till he returns, it is time to find that perfectly uncomfortable position and play possum.

3. The flight attendant

But wait, just as you finally have found the one spot on that silly 2*4 inch white, hospital bed pillow, to perch your head on, you are, once again, awoken by the flight attendant. “Sir, do you have your seat-belt fastened?”

The new regulation requires you to have the seat-belt on top of your blanket which is almost impossible to do comfortably.

4. The reading light

Seat-belt fastened, food cleared away, tray table up, serenity is here at last. Not so fast, as the blinding light of the Luxor Vegas shines in your face. Your gregarious neighbor suddenly has found the energy to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

“I’m sorry does this bother you?” he asks.

5. The fuel stop

Exhausted, beaten, and distraught, at this point no light, no meal, no flight attendant warning, not even a loss of cabin pressure, could stop you from passing out. Then due to the limited range of the airplane, the plane must make a planned stop in Rome, Italy for refueling. The refueling takes 45 minutes and during that time you are not allowed to use your phone or go to the bathroom for security reasons. The cabin lights are turned on and in preparation for takeoff your seat that barely reclined in the first place must remain in the upright position. You sit there and wait too tired to complain, too tired to sleep.

Gassed up, ready to go, the plane heads down the runway bound for insomnia at 30,000 feet ready unfazed if annoyance 1-4 to happens all over again.

6. Wah!

Wildcard! How could I forget about that baby crying at the most inopportune time. Speaking of babies, I will say that turbulence for me is not an annoyance. It turns me into a happy baby, rocking me right to sleep.

But wait, there is a strategy for survival. It is the real mile high club- the Kama Sutra of Airplane Sleep.

The Kama Sutra of Airplane Sleep

1. The window

This is my personal favorite, I shove the pillow between the seat and the window and let the drooling commence.

Possible interferences: a) the window that is not correctly aligned with the seat making reclining and leaning impossible. b) the neighbor behind you bumping your chair forcing your pillow to fall.

2. The table

Put your tray table down, take out your portable Lysol spray, and plop your head straight down. Think of it like sleeping in class which by far was the best sleep.

Possible interferences: a) the neighbor ahead of you reclining his chair and smashing your neck. b) the delay of the flight attendant to clear your food.

3. The lean back

Push your chair back as far as that stupid, cold gray button will allow. Do not worry if your neighbor to the rear complains, etiquette allows for you to recline all the way. He can do the same. Then do your best grandpa after Thanksgiving dinner passing out in a recliner imitation.

Possible interferences: a)your neighbor is violent and intimidating. b) your neighbor acts out his violence by kicking your chair.

4. The brace position

For takeoff and landing, if you want to pass out quickly and you don’t want to take a chance of being disturbed by the talkative neighbor or the overzealous flight attendant, follow the safety video and embrace the brace position by putting your head between your legs and falling asleep.

Possible interferences: a) ribs grinding against you. b) neck cramps.

5. The friendly neighbor

Remember our scholarly neighbor? Well, if he or she was comfortable enough to talk to you forever, then surely he or she won’t mind if you lean on them for the duration of the flight.

Possible interferences: a) arrest. b) criminal prosecution.

6. The yoga qi

The yoga chi is an art that I have perfected over the years. It is my quest to find a holistic balance where it doesn’t matter if I am sitting in the window, middle, or aisle, because I can make myself comfortable, refusing to let the airline deny me good sleep. It is mind over matter at its finest.

Possible interferences: a) the image of walking through first-class and seeing lie-flat seats b) 16 hour flights.

7. The contortionist

The only way to sleep on a plane is to be a Cirque du Soleil contortionist and unconsciously cycle methods 1-6 throughout the flight. It would be hilarious to have a time-lapse video of me trying all of the Kama Sutra sleep positions all the while keeping my eyes closed- a requisite precaution to not get sidetracked by the annoyances.

*A quick note on performing enhancing devices: People who bring those silly pillows and accessories look dumb. I’d rather work on my qi than be the clown with an inflatable inner-tube pillow pretending to rest comfortably.

The Outcome

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are arriving in Washington D.C.” . . . and somehow you have survived another flight and you swear to yourself you’ll never fly coach again, promising to read Points101 and fly business for free.

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