Have you ever taken a long-haul flight? By “long-haul” I mean a flight that takes you across a large body of water and/or to a faraway continent. These flights typically last at least eight hours or more. Whether it’s a trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific, or trans-Indian flight, it’s a long haul. If you have been on a long-haul flight, then have you ever taken an “epic” flight? The precise definition of an “epic” flight is subject to debate, but I loosely define it as a flight that lasts at least 20 hours with multiple connections and a mixture of time spent in flight and in transit. Many epic flights last longer than 20 hours.
My family and I are taking just such a flight right now. We just disembarked from Africa on a three-continent tour that will take us to Asia, North America, and back to Africa in just about five weeks. We arrived at our current destination, Bangkok, Thailand, after an epic flight that lasted about 30 hours. We departed Lusaka, Zambia and arrived in Bangkok via Johannesburg, South Africa and Hong Kong. We spent about 2.5 hours in the air to Joburg; eight hours waiting in the transit terminal at Joburg’s Tambo International Airport; 13 hours and 40 minutes in the air to Hong Kong; 2.5 hours waiting in transit in Hong Kong; and 2.5 hours in flight to Bangkok. This does not include the three hours – give or take a few minutes – we spent driving from home to the airport in Lusaka and from the airport to the hotel in Bangkok.
In a bit over a week, we will embark on the next segment on our epic flight, a short-haul flight to China. It’s a short flight – just a mere four hours or so. Then in a couple weeks we will depart for the United States, where we will spend another two weeks before returning to Africa via the East Coast. The entire journey will quite literally take us around the world in five weeks. It’s a good story to share over coffee, but I don’t recommend doing a compressed around-the-world flight if you can help it.
Epic flights put you in survival mode. Try as they might, the airlines can do little to make your flight comfortable or enjoyable. First class or business can make the flight more bearable, but it can still feel like a slog with a heightened state of discomfort. Economy class is much worse. The cabin air grows stale, and your body sits contorted in your seat leaving you feeling numb. The airlines recommend doing body movements during the flight that exercise body parts before they begin to atrophy and leave you susceptible to blood clots, the chills, or worse. Unfortunately, movement is limited on these kinds of flights because they’re so packed with passengers. Attempts to walk it off up and down aisles are frequently thwarted by turbulence and living obstacles.
There is one silver lining to an epic flight – it’s an easy way to earn a lot of frequent flier miles (as long as you get credit for it with whatever partner airline you’re flying on, but I digress — that’s another tale to tell another day).