ADVERTISEMENT

Flight Attendants’ Tips for Sleeping Well on a Plane

By Yahoo Travel
July 6, 2015
Flight Anxiety Marquee
Michaeljung/Dreamstime.com

This article was written by Sid Lipsey and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.

It’s one of the most unfair things about flying—other than being charged a fee to check a single bag (We won’t be getting over that one anytime soon, airlines.): Some passengers are able to fall asleep before takeoff and snooze soundly until the plane lands, while others struggle to get even a moment of shut-eye.

“Everyone wants to get some rest on the airplane,” says flight attendant Betty Thesky, author of Betty In the Sky With a Suitcase: Hilarious Stories of Air Travel by the World’s Favorite Flight Attendant. "But crowded airplanes, small seats, and crying babies don’t always dovetail with restful slumber.“

Flight attendants witness first-hand passengers’ struggles to sleep on planes. Thesky says some sleep-deprived passengers have gone so far as to ask her for sleeping pills (as if a pill cart comes down the aisle right behind the beverage cart). 

Related: Secrets of the Skies: Flight Attendants and Pilots Tell All

"I was flying back from Hawaii and a woman rang her flight attendant call bell and told me, ‘I called ahead and told reservations that I needed to sleep on this flight and they said I would be able to sleep,’” says Thesky. Apparently the passenger thought her sleep reservation entitled her to a bigger seat or a bed. “I told her that every single person on the airplane wants to sleep,” Thesky says, “and the reservations operator probably got a good chuckle when you called in with your 'sleep request.’”

Thesky tells of another passenger who had an even stranger request straight fromThe Twilight Zone. “Once, an odd-looking guy at the window seat asked me if he could go and sleep out on the wing,” she remembers. "He then explained that it said in the in-flight magazine that you could sleep on the wing.” Not only did the flight crew reject his request — because,of course!!!! — they moved him out of his exit row seat. Apparently, someone who asks to sleep on the plane’s wing may not be all that reliable in an emergency. 

But Thesky does offer a word in the passenger’s defense. “As I retold the story to a coworker she said, 'Oh, there is an ad in the in-flight magazine with a cartoon of a passenger sleeping on the wing,’” she remembers. “So at least he had some reference to his wacky request!"

But funny stories aside, flight attendants have unique insight into what works, and what doesn’t, in the quest to get some mile-high shuteye. Here are their best tips.

Adjust your expectations

The first rule of successful in-flight sleeping: Don’t go into a flight expecting to sleep. "Passengers will often have unrealistic expectations on a all night flight,” Thesky says. “They think, 'I’ll sleep on the plane and be ready to hit the ground running’ when they land at their destination many time zones away.”

Such a mentality is a recipe for a sleepless flight. “Putting pressure on yourself will almost guarantee that you won’t dose off,” Thesky says. She suggests trying a little reverse psychology on yourself and adjusting your sleep expectations. 

“It’s easy to fall asleep when you’re supposed to stay awake, like in a boring classroom or at jury duty,” she says, “so set a plan that you’renotgoing to sleep on the flight and instead catch up on all the movies you haven’t seen. You just may wake up as the wheels are coming down.”

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Sleeping on the Plane and Beating Jet Lag

Get a window seat

A window seat gives you a nice flat surface on which to rest your head. But flight attendant Lauren McLaughlin has turned this no-brainer into a science: “On most of our planes I look for the indent in the window,” she says of her efforts to find a window seat most conducive to sleeping. “If the window indent is an inch or two in front of the seat, it’s the best place for your head to lean into."

Of course, when you book a flight online, it’s impossible to tell which seat has the magic sleep-maximizing indentation. Hey, SeatGuru, you guys need to get on this!

Dress for sleep success

Good airplane sleeping can be a matter of what you wear. "On long flights it helps to have on comfortable clothing and loose-fitting shoes,” says Southwest Airlines flight attendant Emily Witkop. “Due to pressurization, our bodies swell and it can be uncomfortable if you aren’t used to it." 

Witkop raves about a flight she took where first-class passengers were given pajamas and slippers, which is sometimes the case on international flights. "Genius!,” she says. “Just don’t wear your personal pajamas on the plane if you are over five years old. That is poor traveling etiquette and people will not disregard your just-rolled-out-of-bed look." 

Related: British Airways Testing 'Happiness Blanket’ to Help You Sleep Better on Flights

Get the right gear

There’s a reason many airport shops are filled with airplane sleeping gear. Many passengers swear by it. Says Witkop, "The travel pillow, eye mask, and earbuds/headphone combo usually works well on short flights.”

Flight attendant Michelle Lazzaro also has her sleep gear preferences. “If I really tried [to sleep on a plane] I would first of all have one of those really plush eye masks like the Tempur-Pedic,” she says, “and a neck pillow so my head doesn’t fall from side to side!”

Eating and drinking the right things


“If its a long flight bring a chamomile tea bag,” suggests another flight attendant. (The crew can provide the hot water and cup.) You might also want to take a second look at the in-flight snacks, some of which might make you feel too uncomfortable to sleep. “Avoiding salty snacks can reduce some bloating,” says Witkop.

Wear sunglasses at night

Pulling a Corey Hart might help protect you from chatty seatmates who seek to foil your sleeping plans. “If you want to be left alone, wear sunglasses,” says Lindsay. “Some people want to chat with their neighbor, so it’s the one time I suggest wearing sunglasses indoors. Any other time is just rude.” Big headphones also tend to have the same effect.

And whatever you do…

“Just don’t put your feet up on the bulkhead,” says Lauren McLaughlin. The last thing the people around you need are your feet in smelling distance as they’re trying to sleep, because the only thing worse than not sleeping yourself is preventing a fellow passenger from sleeping. . Plus, it’s just bad manners. Remember, the sleep gods may be mercurial and fleeting with their generosity to weary travelers. But they also believe in karma.

WATCH: A Broad Abroad: Flying Singapore Airlines First Class For an Hour Ruined My Life

Keep reading
Travel Tips

Traveling to Greece? Bring Your Own Euros

If you haven't already heard, Greece has been having some financial problems lately. According to an article by The Guardian, travelers to Greece are being urged to prepare for the possibility of zero bank and ATM access during upcoming trips. As of right now, Greek residents are only allowed to take out 60 euros per day from available ATMs, and while technically there is no restriction on foreign withdrawals, the overruling issue is that Greek cash machines are running out of money. Translation: Bring your own cash. For American travelers, that means euros, by the way, not USD. Credit cards will work as they usually do, but you can avoid long lines at ATMs and spend your well-earned vacation time touring the Parthenon or relaxing on the beach in the Greek Islands if you plan ahead. Pack enough cash to get you through your trip, whether it's for a long weekend or a two week adventure, and try to bring as many small notes with you as possible, as it's easier to pay with 5-, 10-, and 20- euro bills, than to try to break a 100 euro bill right now. We want to know: Would the country's financial woes stop you from visiting Greece? Are you willing to make little adjustments for the sake of a potentially amazing vacation? Sound off below!

Travel Tips

How to Visit the World's Endangered Destinations

Some of the world's most beautiful travel spots are under attack by climate change and booming human populations. Here's how you can visit some of these endangered destinations responsibly before they're gone forever. GREAT BARRIER REEF The world's biggest, most beautiful, and most diverse reef system (1,400 miles) could be gone in 100 years due to global carbon dioxide emissions and runoff from farms into the ocean. As the ocean temperatures rise, the coral, fish, and marine mammals all suffer. But if you visit this Australian must-see respectfully, you can snorkel, scuba, or even just watch the Technicolor show in a glass-bottomed boat or kayak. SEE IT: Goway Travel offers a 12-day Australia package from around $2,000 that includes visits to the Great Barrier Reef. Smaller operators offer live-aboard boating experiences starting at around $500 for two nights. ALASKA'S GLACIERS The world's glaciers - huge, beautiful blue mountains of ice left over from the last Ice Age - are melting at an alarming rate all over the world. In Alaska, the famous Mendenhall Glacier melts so much each summer that it causes flooding near Alaska's capital, Juneau. Mendenhall Glacier, Sawyer Glacier, and Glacier Bay are best seen from a cruise ship, and if you're lucky you'll see a glacier "calf" - the dramatic moment when a huge piece of ice breaks off and falls into the sea. SEE IT: Norwegian Cruise Line offers a 7-day Alaska glacier cruise that starts from around $650. VENICE Good news: The city of canals is beautiful because it was built on water. Bad news: Venice is endangered because it was built on water, in some cases literally sitting on wood pilings that were constructed centuries ago. Flooding from high tides has increased due to rising ocean levels, and saltwater eats away at the city's beautiful buildings and landmarks. Billion-dollar floodgates are in progress, but floods of another kind - 20 million tourists a year - are also a threat to the city's centuries-old infrastructure. SEE IT: Instead of adding to the city's overcrowding, book a stay in a "glamping" eco-tent at nearby Canonici di San Marco for around $150/night and take day trips to the city. Laguna Eco Adventures offers sailboat tours of the lagoon for about $50. KENYA'S MASAI MARA LION HABITAT Simba is not doing well. The iconic African king of beasts has seen its population plummet from 450,000 to 40,000 in the past 50 years alone due to a human population explosion and encroachment on habitat. Some scientists say lions could be extinct before the next century, if not sooner. Kenya's Masai Mara Reserve is one of the best safari experiences for those who want to get up close and personal (but not quite too close) to these stunning wild animals. SEE IT: Book a trip with Kuchanga Travel (based in Minnesota) to see lions, elephants, and cheetahs and to participate in ongoing study and conservation efforts, for around $2,000 for two weeks.  

Travel Tips

WORST Restaurant Meals in America

We'd never tell you not to indulge on vacation. And we're not food snobs. We enjoy an In-N-Out burger (animal style) when visiting Cali; a perfectly spiced Nathan's dog with mustard, ketchup, and NYC-style onion relish on the boardwalk in Coney Island; and a pulled-pork sandwich piled high with coleslaw when we're in North Carolina. But we do draw the line at meals that are so outrageously unhealthy that they deliver a day's worth of calories or more in one sitting. That kind of indulging is going to slow you down just when we want you to feel rejuvenated and ready to see the world. Luckily, our friends at the Center for Science in the Public Interest share our good taste. Each year, their Xtreme Eating awards spotlight the unhealthiest chain-restaurant meals in America. Here, this year's "winners." We suggest that you (a) split one of these dishes among three or more diners, (b) consign half of the meal or more to a doggie bag before you tuck in, or (c) avoid them altogether. But each of the chain restaurants mentioned here offer healthier menu alternatives with fewer calories, less fat and salt, and plenty of flavor. We've included some healthy suggestions that are just as tasty as the Paul Bunyan-size dishes you're about to read about. IHOP CHORIZO FIESTA OMELETTE This admittedly delicious breakfast packs 1,990 calories thanks to a full sausage and cheese omelette topped with chili sauce and sour cream and the three pancakes served right alongside. And don't forget the 42 grams of saturated fat, 4,840 mg of sodium, and 1,035 mg of cholesterol (that's enough for at least two days). IHOP healthy alternative: California Scramble includes scrambled eggs, cheese, salsa, and avocado slices. DICKEY'S BARBECUE PIT 3 MEAT PLATE The good news: Dickey's allows you to choose three meats from its menu of Polish sausage, pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, barbecue honey ham, spicy cheddar sausage, turkey, or chicken, plus two sides. The bad news: Once you've chosen your meats and added sides like mac & cheese and fried onion tanglers, not to mention a sweet tea and free ice cream (yep, free ice cream!), you've easily topped 2,500 calories, 49 grams of saturated fat, and more than 4,000 mg of sodium (enough for several days). Dickey's Barbecue Pit healthy alternative: Lil Hoagie is a modestly sized smoked meat sandwich; Quarter Plate gives you a satisfying meal without overdoing it. OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE HERB ROASTED PRIME RIB DINNER Yum! A 16 oz prime rib with a baked potato, blue cheese wedge salad, and some bread and butter. Sounds good, no? But... you just consumed 2,400 calories, 71 grams of saturated fat (enough for more than three days), and 3,560 mg of sodium (enough for two days). Outback Steakhouse healthy alternative: 6 oz Sirloin, Ahi Sesame Salad, and Perfectly Grilled Salmon are each under 600 calories. THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY LOUISIANA CHICKEN PASTA Laissez les bon temps rouler! This New Orleans-inspired chicken dish actually sounds reasonable: Chicken over pasta with mushrooms, peppers, and onions. But The Cheesecake Factory serves you 1.5 pounds of it, topped with a butter-and-cream sauce for a grand total of 2,370 calories, 80 grams of saturated fat (four day's worth!), and 2,370 mg of sodium. The Cheesecake Factory healthy alternative: The Skinnylicious Menu (no, we don't care for the name either, but it does make its point) offers lighter fare such as Grilled Salmon and Grilled Chicken. SONIC PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN MASTER BLAST For those who espouse the "Life is uncertain, eat dessert first" philosophy, this is one dessert that in theory should fill you up for an entire day: A 32 oz cup of vanilla ice cream mixed with pineapple, salted caramel, and pie-crust pieces topped with whipped cream clocks in at 2,020 calories, 61 grams of saturated fat. SONIC healthy alternative: A small Coke or Barq’s Root Beer Float is under 400 calories and a Strawberry Ice Cream Sundae is under 500 calories. RED LOBSTER CREATE YOUR OWN COMBINATION Okay, so theoretically you could come up with a "Create Your Own Combination" that isn't a belly buster, but for the sake of science the Xtreme Eating folks chowed down on a combo of shrimp dishes (Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut, Walt's Favorite, and Linguine Alfredo), fries, Caesar salad, and a Cheddar Bay Biscuirt for a total of 2,710 calories, 37 grams of saturated fat (enough for two days), and 6,530 mg of sodium (four day's worth). Just for fun, they also indulged in a 24 oz Lobsterita cocktail for another 890 calories. Red Lobster healthy alternative: The Lighthouse Menu includes a variety of crab, lobster, shrimp, and fish dishes at around 600 calories each, plus light vegetable-based sides. UNO PIZZERIA & GRILL 2 FOR $12 PICK & CHOOSE As with other choose-your-own-adventure menus, you have an opportunity here not to shoot the moon, but for research purposes the Xtreme Eating testers tackled Baked Ziti & Sausage Pasta and a Chicago Classic Deep Dish Pizza for a total of 2,190 calories, 49 grams of saturated fat (more than two days' worth), and 5,420 mg of sodium (more than three days' worth). Uno Pizzeria & Grill healthy alternative: Wild Mushroom Ravioli is 600 calories; Chicken Caesar Salad is 640 calories. (For the record, the restaurant's namesake deep-dish pizzas all top 1,000 calories.) THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY WARM APPLE CRISP Um, kudos (?) to The Cheesecake Factory for landing two menu items on the Xtreme Eating list. This "teachable moment" surprised us: Ordering the Warm Apple Crisp instead of a slice of Original Cheesecake turns out to be the less healthy choice, with 1,740 calories (more than any cheesecake on the restaurant's menu) and 48 grams of saturated fat. The Cheesecake Factory healthy alternative: Original Cheesecake (still indulgent, but half the calories of the Warm Apple Crisp). STEAK 'N SHAKE 7X7 STEAKBURGER 'N FRIES No hidden calories here: This baby proclaims its meaty overabundance right on the menu, with seven (no, that is not a typo, seven) beef patties between the buns. With a side of fries and a Chocolate Fudge Brownie Milkshake, you pack on 2,530 calories, 68 grams of saturated fat, and 5,050 mg of sodium (enough for more than three days). Even if you leave out the shake, the burger and fries still clock in at 1,570 calories. Steak 'n Shake healthy alternative: The Triple Steakburger with Cheese is 610 calories.

Travel Tips

Heading to Europe This Summer? Here's How to Beat the Crowds

We've been pretty excited about the prospect of European travel this summer. But the Wall Street Journal is now reporting that the "perfect storm" is gathering for travelers to Europe. With the dollar 25 percent stronger against the euro than a year ago, new mega cruise ships carrying more passengers, great deals on airfare and hotels, and more travelers from Asia exploring Europe than ever before, the continent may be the most popular place on the planet between now and October. In fact, last weekend, the WSJ reports, the Palace of Versailles posted a request on its website that tourists "postpone your visit" if at all possible due to overcrowding. Don't postpone your dream trip! We unblushingly suggest that BT's in-depth coverage is going to come in handy this summer. For stylish steals, locals-only advice, and some quirky off-the-radar destinations you've never heard of, check out: 6 Wild & Beautiful Places in Europe You MUST See Europe's Dreamiest River Cruises Beautiful & Affordable European Cities You MUST See 16 Picture-Perfect Small European Towns 9 Restaurants in Italy That Feel Like You're Eating in Grandma's House

ADVERTISEMENT