There are ways to ease double-digit flight times, writes Stephanie Holmes.
There's no getting away from it - when you live in our quiet little corner of the world, you have to travel a long way to get to most other places. Long-haul flights are a rite of passage for Kiwis - either heading off on an OE in our 20s, or enjoying long Northern Hemisphere summer holidays to escape the winter cold.
Flights are becoming more accessible, new routes are opening up to get us out of the country, and there are cheaper fares. Whereas just a few years ago it would cost upwards of $3000 to get to the UK, now you can often bag a deal for less than $2000. And with Early Bird season now underway, those fares are just going to keep getting cheaper.
But the big drawback remains . . . you're going to have to spend the best part of a whole day cooped up on a plane before you get to the gelato and good times of your holiday destination.
So what's the best way to cope with long-haul travel? We've rounded up some expert tips to help make it a little more bearable. The main thing to remember? It'll all be worth it when you get there.
Yes, there are some great deals out there. Last week, House of Travel released Emirates return Economy Class fares to five European destinations for as low as $1499. In March, STA Travel hit headlines with a Philippine Airlines' partnership offering a Europe return fare for $979. But these deals may not always be the best choice for you.
Although Emirates is a five-star airline, flying with it can mean a direct flight from Auckland to Dubai of close to 17 hours. And although the Philippine Airlines deal was cheap as chips, it meant flying via Cairns and Manila on an A320 aircraft, with overhead TVs rather than the backseat on-demand entertainment many of us are now used to.
So you need to weigh up what's more important. Flying for less than $1000 is all very well, but are you happy to have three stops and hours of layovers along the way? Or would you prefer to pay a little more and get there more quickly? Can you cope with 17 hours on a plane, or would you rather do two shorter 12-hour legs?
The good news is that with all the fierce competition these days, the choice is yours.
Consider the type of plane
With innovations in aviation technology, plane travel is constantly improving. One thing to consider when choosing your route to the other side of the world is the type of plane that's going to take you there. "There is a general consensus that flying on one of the new Boeing Dreamliners is a vastly more relaxing and enjoyable experience than on, for example, an old 747," wrote Nick Trend on Telegraph.co.uk.
Dreamliners have better air quality, larger windows for more natural light, lower cabin pressure and higher humidity, which makes for a fresher passenger experience.
Air New Zealand operates Dreamliners from Auckland to Shanghai, Singapore and Tokyo; American Airlines will fly the 787s from Auckland to LA when it resumes its service in October; Cathay Pacific doesn't have Dreamliners but its A350 planes, which fly from Auckland to Hong Kong, offer a similar experience.
Although you may not be able to fly the whole journey on a Dreamliner, half way is better than not at all.
Choose your seat
"One of the most essential long-haul flight tips is to think ahead and choose a good seat, where possible," wrote Skyscanner.com's UK Travel Editor, Catherine McGloin.
Don't leave this to chance, because no one wants to end up in the dreaded middle seat for 12-plus hours. Many airlines will charge you to choose a seat these days - but it's worth considering if you're extra tall or a bit claustrophobic, so you can bags an exit row or extra leg room.
If you don't want to pay more, remember to check in online as soon as your airline allows - most are 24-48 hours before departure - and pick your seat then. You should be able to see a seat map showing spare seats on the plane and select one of your choosing.
For some insider insight into your particular flight, check out seatguru.com. This essential website carries seat plans and reviews for more than 95 different airlines and will tell you which are the best and worst areas of the plane. Just enter in your airline and flight number and up will pop a colour-coded map. Green represents a "good seat", red is a "poor seat", and yellow is a "be aware" seat, meaning that there is some information that you should know (limited legroom, close to bassinets etc).
Talking to forbes.com, Dr Clayton Cowl, a specialist in aerospace and transportation medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, advised against seats at the back of the plane.
"Anytime you hit bumps, the back is going to move more than the front of the plane," he said.
Travel east to west
"The idea is that you avoid the worst effects of jet lag because your body tends to adjust more easily to the new time zone if you travel in a westerly direction," writes Nick Trend on Telegraph.co.uk. "When you arrive, you can sleep in for longer, rather than find yourself lagging behind the clock".
This tip is backed up by frequent flyer Darrell Wade, co-founder of Intrepid Travel and now executive chair of the Intrepid Group. "I'll often go around the world, rather than go one way and back," he told me recently.
From NZ to Europe you'd want to fly via Asia on your way to Europe, and via the US on your way home. Which is surely a good excuse for a few exciting stopovers along the way.
Exercise and rest
Before you travel, make sure you're well rested. Don't be tempted to stay up all night just so you're tired enough to sleep on the plane - you'll just end up feeling even more exhausted.
Qantas Travel Insider magazine recommends: "The day before your flight, spend some time at the gym, walking or stretching in preparation for spending 24 hours in a sitting position."
While you're on your journey, make sure you get up and walk around regularly, do in-seat exercises (most in-flight magazines and entertainment systems offer instructions), and stay hydrated.
Many airports are cottoning on to the fact
that offering options for exercise make for happier travellers. You can now find yoga rooms at San Francisco International Airport, London Heathrow, Helsinki and Frankfurt; Singapore's Changi Airport has a rooftop swimming pool plus fitness lounges at all terminals; Zurich's airport hotel Radisson Blu has a fitness and wellness club, including a 2000-sq m fitness area, with group classes, personal trainers and Turkish baths. And Dubai has the G-Force health club, which costs US$13 an hour.
Travelling long haul with kids can put the fear of god into even the most calm of parents.
And there's no denying that it can be an absolute nightmare. You never know how your little ones are going to react on the plane - your sweet angel can turn into the most horrible of monsters; your little terror can charm the pants off the cabin crew and sleep soundly all the way to London.
The best advice is to be prepared. Bring a change of clothes, wet wipes, snacks and entertainment. Many parents swear by giving their young children a bottle of warm milk for take off and landing to distract them from any ear discomfort.
New Zealand Herald Travel Editor Winston Aldworth recommends booking a Skycouch when travelling long-haul on Air New Zealand. This will allocate you three seats that have an additional footrest that folds into a flat space. You can use this as a bed or space for the kids to stretch out and get comfy. It will cost you a little more, but could be worth its weight in gold.
Hit the ground running
When you arrive at your destination, it may be tempting to just curl up in bed and sleep away the jetlag, whatever time of day it is. But the quicker you can get into the routine of your new time zone, the better you'll recover.
Have a shower, get outside and walk around for as long as you can. Exposing yourself to sunlight helps reset your body clock and fresh air is going to feel great anyway after 24 hours on a plane. Stay awake until as late as you can into the evening - this will hopefully encourage you to sleep through until morning, getting into the swing of being upside down on the other side of the world.
And, let's face it, you've come all this way . . . exploring is much more fun than sleeping. Get out there and enjoy it.
TIPS FROM TRAVELLERS
Stephanie Holmes, Sunday Travel editor
Pick your seat wisely. Some people prefer a window seat for a semblance of more personal space, but I hate the idea of being trapped by two other people between me and the aisle, especially on a long-haul flight when they're likely to be sleeping and difficult to disturb. I always opt for the aisle seat so I can get up and stretch whenever I need to. I'm lucky and can sleep pretty well on planes, so another good tip is never sit at the window seat in the same row as me . . . I'll be that annoying person you won't be able to wake when you need the loo.
Thomas Noonan, Air New Zealand Flight Service Manger
When travelling as a passenger I allow plenty of time for check-in and airport security. I travel light, always drink plenty of water and make sure I have my essentials with me - eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, water bottle (empty if you have yet to pass through security) and noise-cancelling headset. I regularly move around with in-seat exercises or take a quick walk around the cabin and if not sleeping, I'll usually listen to music and just rest. After arrival, I like to get plenty of fresh air, go for a walk, keep hydrated and get an early night to help adjust to times zones.
Hannah Mallard, Air New Zealand Boeing 787-9 Second Officer
Long-haul travel can be enjoyable when you're prepared. It's good to wear comfortable clothing - I take a long merino cardigan. My other essentials include an eye mask, ear plugs and noise-cancelling headphones. A travel pillow is also helpful and once relaxed, it's often easy to drop off to sleep.
Andy Thompson, Owner Operator, House of Travel Devonport
Keep carry-on items to a minimum and store everything in the overhead locker so you can stretch out. You should also plan a stopover to breakup flying times - Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai are top picks.