I have my fear of flying fairly under control these days. This is mostly thanks to exposure therapy (aka traveling for work) and those magical Gin Gins that set my mouth on fire to distract me from the turbulence. But holy hell the flight I just got off almost had me back to my crying on strangers days.

To be very honest I think I would have cried on strangers if it weren’t for the fact that I was sitting in the middle seat and the man to the left of me clearly had the flu, and the girl to the right of me was a statuesque ice queen who stole my arm rest. I was out of crying options. From the moment we took of until we were just outside Stockholm it was horrible turbulence. The sort of turbulence that is reminiscent of a roller-coaster from an illegal Disney theme park where there are ‘hidden Rickeys’ everywhere.

It was all because of some fucker called the jet stream. According to my extensive research (I googled it) jet streams are the mammoth winds that move weather systems around the globe. For a pilot it means fun times because coasting along in one like a metal albatross makes the plane go faster. For me the jet stream means spending two hours in the middle seat of the last row of the plane, frozen with fear as I imagine the fiery death in front of me.

Of course (spoiler) I didn’t die. I am currently in the back of a taxi and have just had a lovely chat with my driver who is Somali and lives in Sweden but studies Italian. I don’t understand how flying still causes such a fight or flight reflex in me. Yes I am better, and long haul is easier because I try to fly on A380s or Dreamliners, but still a smallish plane and non-stop turbulence can take me right back to square one.

Part of me wonders if it is imagination. Whereas James Bond can walk into a room and see 100 ways to kill people, I can walk into a room and see 100 ways that I will fail at life. When I fly I can’t just accept the science and statistics, I KNOW that things can go wrong (even if there is an almost 0% chance) and my brain just extrapolates from there.

It’s not going to stop me travelling of course, mostly because it is literally my job and and quite like being able to pay rent. But as I check into my hotel and try to unwind my tense mussels I will be cursing the jet stream with every creative word I know.

Worlds longest flight

For once this is not some sort of click-bait title, I legitimately went on the worlds longest flight (by distance) to fly from London to New Zealand a couple of days ago. The reason this post is a couple of day delayed is because HOLY CRAP THE INTERNET IN NEW ZEALAND IS BAD. And my 3G is not working. And I got distracted by eating my body weight in burger rings and weet-bix. But now that I have finished work, found some internet and there is no food in immediate reach I can tell you about all the things that went wrong on the worlds longest flight.

The first issue was that I was unbelievably hungover. I didn’t think I drank much at the Christmas party the night before, but then I found 98 photos of me putting on lipstick and cried when I couldn’t find my UK to NZ adapter.  So yes, maybe I was a little hungover.

When I arrived at the check-in counter it seemed to take a long time, far longer than I was used to anyway. There was Christmas travel chaos around me with kids clearly forgetting that Santa is making a naughty list and staff treating the travelers like a military incursion. My check-in guy had to go away and make two phone calls, looking at me suspiciously throughout (again, I was quite hungover so I couldn’t tell if this was just prosecco based paranoia). Once he was off the phone I asked what was wrong; turns out there was a do not fly tag on my passport. This was not what I wanted to hear.

The tag was on the final leg of the flight aka the arriving in New Zealand part. Yes, the New Zealand government didn’t want me back. Maybe they heard that I was cheating on them with the UK? My stressed out check-in man had to call the New Zealand boarder control and say ‘she has a NZ passport, whats up with the hold’. After half an hour at the check in desk, with hundreds of families glaring at me for taking so long, New Zealand finally said I could come back and took the hold of my passport.

So that was the end of that right? Nope. Because I’m an idiot. I thought when I booked that I was flying London>Dubai>Sydney/Melbourne>Auckland because that is what had happened every other time I had flown Emirates. When my check-in man handed me two boarding passes I got in a strop and demanded “why have you given me only two boarding passes”. He looked at me like I was a bit special and said “because you have two flights”. Oh. Turns out I had accidentally booked the longest flight in the world, the mega 16.5 hour flight from Dubai direct to Auckland. I am an idiot.

How do you even tackle a 16.5 hour flight? HOW? Lady luck was shining on me a little because I was in the only row without small children (never ever fly at Christmas, its like Santa’s workshop except no one is making toys and all the elves cry during takeoff) which meant I could down three gins without judgement. I then drugged myself senseless and slept for as long as possible – which turns out is five hours. Sleeping for 5 hours on a normal flight is a miracle, sleeping for 5 hours on the worlds longest flight still leaves you with 11 hours to fill.

Thankfully Emirates seems to have catered for me specifically. The entire Starwars collection was on their entertainment system, and since I am a self confessed dork who SHOCK has never seen Starwars it was a dream come true. I made it through the first two before I moved on to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, and initial Star based thoughts are:

  •  Where are all the women?
  • Why did the little round robot not just take the plans to the rebel base right away, what did the old dude have to do with it?
  • How does Leia always have such nice hair?
  • I want one of those walking robots from the ice planet, they look cute and could be a replacement cat.
  • If I were the rebels I would not just move to another base, I would have ten bases with ships of strategic importance divided across systems.
  • I want an egg office like Darth Vader.

Oh and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is the best movie ever. Not Starwars related, but important none the less.

I eventually made it to Auckland and landed face first into brunch and a hug. I don’t know how much blogging I will be able to do until I make it back into a civilised country  with good internet, so if I don’t see you MERRY CHRISTMAS.

Make travel memories

I have flown to New Zealand from London three times this year, which while amazing & lucky that I got to see my family so often, is also marred by the fact that I am terrified of flying. Being trapped in a fiery tin can of death for about a week of my life this year has taught me a few things:

 

Crying on a stranger is not as awkward as you think its going to be.

Old men are the best because nine times out of ten they will offer you their tie or handkerchief to mop up your tears. Drunk youths are a good option too, they will regale you with a story of the time that their mate Gary forgot to pack any clothes on his trip to Magaluf and spent the entire week in the same outfit. Lol through the terror.

A double vodka is always a good idea

Yes the person next to you will think you are an alcoholic, but the besmirching of your fine reputation is totally worth it if it dulls the terror a little during takeoff. Most airlines will also offer something unique on long haul flights (Qantas with gingerbeer, Singapore Airlines with the Singapore Sling) and if its not a cocktail already adding vodka to it will really create something special.

A pilot making a sudden left hand turn is never good

Fuck you pilots.

Never watch action movies while in the air

As much as you want to watch Mad Max because you hear its actually a feminist fun fest DON’T DO IT. The soundtrack of an action movie along with the crash, bang, pow will keep you on the edge of your seat – not good when the terror is already bubbling just beneath the surface. Rent the movie when you are firmly on terra firma and stick with a rom com, Disney or Gilmore Girls while you are at 37,000ft.

I will always be calmer if one of the flight attendants has a moustache

I have no idea why, but having an older guy with a moustache hanging around the cabin really puts my fears at rest. Maybe a part of my brain thinks it will be something to hold on to while we all plummet to our dooms.

The new A380s are amazing

These planes are a totally game changer. The turbulence is less sharp and more swaying, it really takes the ‘IMABOUTTODIE’ factor down to about an 8/10. I would pay extra to fly with an airline that has them, and coming from a girl that few China Southern for the price that is saying something.

Children are terrifying

I could not care less about your child crying during takeoff, that’s what headphones and Taylor Swift on repeat are for. However if your child suddenly darts to the bulk head door and starts playing with all the levers I will kill them.

My super power is making turbulence start as soon as I a) get given a hot drink or b) go to the bathroom

Every. Single. Time.

Audiobooks are a game changer

Sometimes music just can’t quite drown out the feeling that at any moment a missile that the Russians have sold to someone might shoot you down, audio books are the answer. Choose an author that you have read before, make sure that the narrators voice is soothing and away you go. It will be interesting enough to focus on during turbulence but soothing enough to lull you to sleep if possible. I have about 20 different Terry Pratchett books on my iPod and I am saving up for Harry Potter – because anything narrated by Stephen Fry is literally the dream.

Reading a book about an escape from North Korea works pretty well too

On my most recent flight I read this incredible book by Yeonmi Park, about her life in and escape from North Korea. Reading about such a horrific tale (written so well) really puts this temporary fear into perspective.

Its always worth the terror to get to the destination

I got to hug my cats at the end of the flight. Totally 100% worth it. Oh and my family, they are great too.

Planes don’t always crash

Every single plane I have got on to in the last few years I knew in my heart of hearts that it would crash and we would all die in a horrific flamey way. Turns out that even though I was utterly convinced it would happen…it didn’t.

No.1 Heathrow

I told you in my last post how flying and me are not best friends. Actually make that frenemies, flying gets me to amazing locations and fun adventures, but I just freak out at the actual being in the air bit. Now annoyingly not only am I a Kiwi living in London,  but also a fledgeling travel blogger so flights are almost a guarantee in my future. My life mission therefore is to make flying as good an experience as possible.

One of the biggest impacts on my flying happy is getting on the plane stress free. Now given that travel is an activity that regularly causes tears, grumps and family arguments (along with the laughs, amazing sunsets and best times of your life) it is hard to make it onto the plane with a smile on your face. But I think I have finally cracked the secret to a stress free flight.

First is leave an hour earlier then you think you are going to need. This seems like a massive waste of time, but especially in London it always pays off. I have had everything from major delays on the Piccadilly line, trains cancelled out to Gatwick and on my most recent trip home all flights being grounded over southern England. Trust me on that extra hour. The worst that can happen is that you get through security early and have longer to pick out a magazine, the best that can happen is that it totally saves your bacon when faced with unexpected delays. Take the extra hour.

My second tip is just simply airport magic, and it was given to me by my frequent traveler friend Jane. That is the No 1 lounge. I have always looked rather enviously on my friends who have lounge access. On the couple of times I have blagged my way in to lounges they are not only serene, but also give you free drinks and food i.e. the best possible way to be at an airport. I always assumed that this luxury was out of my reach, until Jane looked at me like I was a simpleton and told me to use No 1.

Essentially it is a pay as you go lounge that anyone, even terrified kiwis, can use. The entry fee is £30 which at first glance is a little steep, but when I thought about how much I normally spent before a long haul flight (overpriced sugary coffee, water, snacks, dinner) it was pretty much the same, except with No 1 you get a calm environment, comfy seat and wifi glorious wifi.

I was comped this visit, but have paid two or three time before so I really believe what I write. As part of your visit you get one item off the menu (this time I went for the vegetable lasagne, at breakfast they do a bacon sandwich) unlimited drinks and a snack table with cheese, bread, salads and sweet treats. I wasn’t convinced with the vegetable lasagne, it was all a bit dry and tasteless; but to be fair so is all other airport food so meh.

I spent two hours (read earlier paragraph about arriving early) drinking fruit tea, snacking on cheese and writing up my trip to Paris. There was no stress, no madly trying to get a seat and plenty of calming cups of tea (one with a shot of gin, just to make sure I was calm). I stepped onto that plane chilled like a chill thing and ready to fly home.

I know No 1 isn’t for every trip (not at £30 a pop), but for the super early morning flight, or prepping for long haul it is an absolute godsend.

Oh and sorry for the official photos in this post…I really didn’t want to be a creeper taking photos in an airport lounge!