Nine Hours In An Airplane Seat

Yesterday, we flew from the Rome International Airport to Boston Logan on our return from our Italian and Sicilian trip. The flight itself took just under nine hours. When you factor in the time spent as other passengers boarded, we spent at least nine consecutive hours sitting in an airplane seat. That’s more than an average workday.

For me, at least, nine hours is an airplane seat is a physical and a mental challenge. Physically, it is difficult to get and stay comfortable, even for an average-sized guy like yours truly. The coach seats on the big international flight jets have more seat and leg room than the coach seats in standard domestic jets, but you are still confined to a limited cube of space with boundaries rigidly defined by the seat in front, the seat you are sitting in, the overhead compartment, the aisle, and the seat next door. There simply are not the stretching and position-changing options that you have if you are, say, sitting at your office desk. Even if you find a comfortable position, it is only so long before your legs and keister start to complain about the need for positional variety.

Experienced travelers recommend that you get up, stretch your legs, and go to the bathroom regularly, just to keep the blood flowing and the leg cramps at bay. Of course, a short jaunt to the bathroom only provides so much exercise, and you can’t really do laps around the aisles, like you can on cruise ships. One woman near me on yesterday’s flight tried to deal with the issue by performing somewhat theatrical yoga-like stretching in the aisle. Her efforts were arguably commendable but annoying, because her stretches caused her to briefly invade my cube of allocated airspace, and I was acutely aware of the integrity of my designated space. So, for me, the physical exertion was limited to a few bathroom visits, whether necessary or not, thereby running the risk that the passengers around me might think I was an old guy with bladder-control issues. Fortunately, one woman in our section set the international flight bathroom-visit record, so my three trips probably weren’t that noticeable.

The mental element of the trip all relates to the passage of time. Nine hours is a long time to spend in a confined space, and the time seems to pass with glacial speed. You take a refreshing nap, do some reading, eat your airplane meal, watch one of the in-flight movies or a few episodes of a TV show, then hopefully check the monitor–only to learn that the flight is still five hours from departure. Five hours? Seriously? International airline flights are a tangible demonstration that the passage of time is all relative, and hours four, five, and six are the draggiest. By then, you’re desperate for something new to watch or read, and you hope that one of the flight attendants stops by just to break the monotony.

I recognize that regular international travelers will scoff at the notion that a nine-hour flight is a challenge. After all, it is less than half the duration of the longest current non-stop flight, from New York City to Singapore, which clocks in at a mind-numbing 18 hours and 50 minutes. I can’t imagine being on that flight. I enjoy travel and hope to do more of it, but getting to the places on the other side of the world are going to require some careful planning that allows for a few shorter hops with breaks in between and sets about a 10-hour limit on non-stop flights.