In just a few weeks’ time, thousands of teenagers will be traveling to West Virginia in the USA to attend the World Scout Jamboree. They’ll be flying in groups of around 36 young people, with each group accompanied by four long-suffering and truly wonderful volunteer adult leaders.
If you’re one of those teenagers, or one of those adults – or even a member of the general public and you find yourself on the same plane as one or more of the groups – here are some tips to surviving the long, long haul in economy. They come from someone (me!) who spends an awful lot of time queuing up to get on air-planes around the world for work (and who has been lucky enough to accompany Scouts to five World Scout Jamborees before this one):
- Pack a survival kit of snacks to go in your hand luggage. You’ll probably get served two meals on your flight – a main one about an hour and a half after taking off and a smaller snack two hours before you land. Between those meals, there really won’t be very much… So, think Haribos; think extra strong mints; think trail mix; think dried fruit. Avoid salted snacks as they will just make you thirsty. Think 2 for 1 offers in your local supermarket, rather than inflated prices at the airport. But, as my friend Hanne has reminded me, seeds and things shouldn’t come off the plane with you as importing many foodstuffs is illegal for environmental reasons. Also, it’s probably sensible to avoid nuts – Naomi has reminded me that some airlines have banned these as they can cause major issues for those who are allergic to them. (Though other airlines still serve them with drinks!)
- Don’t pack any bottles of drink. You won’t be able to take them through security at the airport. Instead, pack an empty reusable drinks bottle and fill it up with water once you get through security. You will be served drinks on the plane, but you need to keep yourself hydrated (the air conditioning makes plane cabins very dry) and, frankly, there isn’t enough bottled water in Economy class. (Incidentally, whilst I know we should all be avoiding single use plastic, I’d recommend using a bottle that you won’t mind leaving behind on the plane when you forget to pick it up after you’ve landed, rather than the really expensive SIGG one that you’ve bought.)
- Take your own ear plugs and cotton eye mask – not all airlines provide economy passengers with ear plugs and the eye masks are often cheap plastic, which can make your face sweat.
- Pack wet wipes – preferably fragrance free. You will thank me for suggesting this. I promise. Wet wipes are good for cleaning hands and grubby in-flight entertainment remotes, and a fresh face immediately makes you feel better on a long flight.
- A small tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush will give you the opportunity to freshen up, while a small tube of moisturiser and eye drops will help combat the drying effects of the cabin air. Remember, though, that liquids in hand luggage are restricted to 100ml per item and need to be transported in a clear, seal-able plastic bag.
- Pack a tee-shirt and a pair of lightweight track suit bottoms or something similar. You are a teenager. You will get sweaty. You really don’t want to be in your Scout uniform for the whole journey. Truly, you don’t.
- Hoodies work well and can be used to cover your head as a not-so-subtle “do not disturb” sign to your neighbours.
- Shower before you leave home so that you can go shoeless without offending other flyers. I recommend woollen hiking socks. These will keep your feet warm in a cold air-plane. Unlike cotton, they won’t get smelly or soggy.
- Having a travel sized antiperspirant/deodorant in your bag won’t hurt either…
- Charge your smart phone/iPod fully before you fly and keep your charger in your hand luggage to power it on board as some airlines have sockets in economy as well as in business.
- Be creative and put together a few good playlists – including at least one of music that helps you relax and fall asleep.
- Take a change of underwear and socks in your hand baggage so that if your bag is mislaid you can at least change clothes. You might want to pack them in an opaque bag so as not to cause uproar when they inevitably fall out of your bag as you rummage through it.
- Pack your own headphones for flights as the ones on board won’t always be of good quality. Sometimes the socket for headphones won’t be the same as the one on your phone. You can buy adaptors or you can take a chance.
- Don’t assume the in-flight entertainment will work – take a book or magazine and a pack of cards. And try to coordinate your choices. As my friend Peter says, “Tip from my son’s trip – everyone in your group take a different book or game, and then share.”
- Regardless of your distractions of choice, make sure to bring a pen – but like the water bottle make it one that you can afford to lose. You’ll need it for customs and immigration forms.
- If you’re intending to keep a journal of the Jamboree experience, the flight’s a good time to start it.
- Double check that you’ve got your passport before you leave home. And, if your Leader isn’t looking after it, please keep it on you. As my friend Linda comments, “Don’t be clever and leave it in the seat pocket in front. Put it in your own pocket.” I sense I am hearing the voice of experience here…
- Read the safety card in the pocket in front of you on the plane as these differ from aircraft to aircraft, and do watch the safety demo.
- Orientate yourself with the aircraft cabin and count the number of seatbacks to the nearest exit – in an emergency it may be your best way off the plane if visibility is poor. There won’t be an emergency, but you know the Scout motto.
- If you want peace and quiet after take-off, put headphones on even if you are not listening to anything.
- Move around.This is especially important to prevent your body from aching due to poor circulation. Some airlines provide guidance on in-seat exercises you can do (such as circling ankles and stretching arms). The long mid-flight stretch is an excellent time to take a stroll up and down the aisle a few times. There is usually room to do some back stretches at the back of some of the cabins – but please don’t treat the galley as the perfect place to do yoga. Your fellow passengers and the crew will not love you if you do.
- A good trick which will help when you land is to set your watch to the time of your destination. This will allow you to mentally adjust to the time zone of the place you are visiting and help combat jet lag.
- Don’t recline your seat until you absolutely have to do so (for instance to try to get some sleep.) When you do so, you encroach on the very limited space of the person behind you. It’s not a bad idea to inform them politely when you are going to press that button…
- Finally, be polite; be VERY polite – to everyone. Your fellow passengers are unlikely to be enormously excited that they’re going to be sharing the plane with a group of teenagers, whom they’ll imagine will be rowdy and poorly behaved. Surprise them by living up to your Scout Promise. And remember that the cabin crew work incredibly hard in a very difficult environment. They deserve your respect and support. You are all trapped in the same place and cannot get away!
I look forward to meeting you at The Summit!