Surviving a 14-hour flight

Natalie Couch Wollongong, Australia


March 22, 2023

A typical conversation snippet from the weeks before I left:

“You’re studying abroad? Where?”

“Wow, that’s a long flight.”

And it is. Even from the West Coast, it took me about fourteen and a half hours to get to Australia on a direct flight. Going in, I had been worried about it. I sometimes feel claustrophobic on planes, and I was worried that fourteen hours would be uncomfortable at best. I was also worried about who I might have to sit next to for that long. However, through a mix of luck and planning, it turned out to be one of the best plane rides of my life.

First, the window seat. I had booked my flight early enough that there were still a fair number of seats left and I knew I wanted a window seat. Not everyone agrees; I know some people prefer the aisle. But for me, the window is the way to go. That way I can look out and avoid feeling claustrophobic, and I get to control how much to lift the window. 

Being able to sleep on the plane also really helped the time go by. Sleeping is like taking a time machine to the near future! My flight left near 11 pm Pacific time, and since I was trying to adjust to the time difference I stayed up later, going to bed near 2 am Pacific time — 9 pm in my destination. By that time I was quite tired. I used both the provided blanket and pillow and the ones that I had brought myself, doubling up on everything. It wasn’t easy to sleep, but between all the blankets and pillows and that I was hours past my usual bedtime, I managed to get a few long stretches. It was also nice that I could set my in-flight entertainment screen (available to all passengers on such a long flight) to say “wake me for meals,” so I didn’t have to worry about missing any meals. 

Speaking of the entertainment system, that was also a great way to pass the time in a way that distracted me from the fact that I was in a cramped, confined space. And there’s quite a lot of content! As I was waiting for the plane to take off, I made a careful search through all the options and made note of what looked interesting. After takeoff, I watched a movie and a television documentary, then tried out the mahjong game. I also spent lots of time checking the plane’s location on the map application.

After watching a movie and doing my best to sleep, I pulled out my book. I had brought My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor, and it was a good choice. It’s a memoir and its storytelling tone drew me in and held me captivated. Learning about Sotomayor’s childhood in the Bronx took me far beyond the limits of the plane. 

Finally, the best part about the flight was that I got lucky with my neighbor. She was coming from Canada to work for a year in Australia, and it was fun to get to know another young person headed to Australia. We shared the excitement of seeing the sunrise and an island out the window and generally had a good time chatting.

Overall, I was lucky to be able to get a window seat and have such a good person neighbor. I may or may not get so lucky on the return trip! However, I can help myself out by bringing a good book, an extra pillow, and a blanket, and by remembering to look at all the options on the entertainment system.