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May 29, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                L.A. to Hong Kong
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CHINA, HERE I COME!
I thought it was perfect timing when I recently received this reader email: "Johnny Jet, do you have any suggestions for surviving a long flight as I'm doing one in November from Washington, DC to Johannesburg, South Africa?" ANSWER: Do I ever! I once dreaded these long flights and now I have grown accustomed to them. I consider a long flight anything over 11 hours long and since my first one back in 1993, I've done a countless number. A few months back, I did the New York to Jo'burg (via Dakar) route and then a month later, I flew around the world. In fact, right now, I've just gotten off of a 14-hour and eight-minute flight to Hong Kong. But as for surviving any long-haul flight? Read on.

SINGAPORE AIRLINES
One of the greatest flights I have ever done was from Singapore to New York (Newark). To this day, it's still the longest commercial flight in the world and I was fortunate enough to be on the inaugural one. (Here's a link to that story.) The reason it was so special is because I used to be afraid to fly. And once you do an 18-hour, nonstop flight, everything else seems like a walk in the park. Gosh, I remember when I landed in New York City, I was so jetlagged (I had slept only two hours since I was so excited to experience Singapore Airline's food, service and entertainment), that I seriously thought I saw Spiderman out of the corner of my eye walking across the street. When I did a triple-take, I realized it was just a guy wearing a red baseball cap and that it was time for me to go back to my apartment and go into hibernation for a day or so.

NOTE:
Singapore Airlines has since turned that route (and the one departing from LAX) into an all-business-class service. Their A340-500 planes have just 100 seats on them. Hopefully, in the near future, I will be able to give you a full review of them.

HONG KONG
Unfortunately, on this trip I wasn't flying in one of Singapore's incredible business class seats. Instead, I was in economy on Cathay Pacific. It was my first time flying Cathay and even sitting in economy, I was still looking forward to the experience. I reminded myself: it's about the journey not just the destination. However, I must admit, I did have a little bit of anxiety. Thinking about a trans-Pacific flight in coach is daunting for anyone. But this route (Los Angeles to Hong Kong), well ... I hadn't done it in 15 years and it was the very trip that played a huge role in changing my life.

MY FIRST OUT-OF-COACH EXPERIENCE
A brief history: Back then, I was in college and was dating a bona fide Scottish princess whose parents worked in banking and lived all around the world. She only flew in the front of the cabin and I had never seen what life was like on the other side of the curtain, not even to use the bathroom. But most of all, I had never been out of the country and I had lots of fears -- not only flying, heights and claustrophobia, but traveling to foreign lands. It's a long story but I (OK, my dad) got me a seat next to her and BAM! I gotta tell you: one of the best remedies to get over all those fears is to fly business or first class. Wow! What a flight on which to have my first out-of-coach experience.

ONCE YOU GO UP FRONT ...
The trip taught me a lot but I especially learned about the luxuries of travel, which motivated me to learn tricks in order to keep experiencing it. The old saying that, once you go up front, it's tough to ride in the back, couldn't have been any truer and shortly after that, I created JohnnyJet.com for fun to share my tips and secrets with friends.

LOS ANGELES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
This trip brought back some of my old nervous emotions but once I got on the plane everything was fine. The trip began when my friend Natalie and I arrived at midnight to an unusually deserted International Terminal at LAX. That's right, midnight! The flight was departing at 1:45am. Check-in took a quick minute. I tried schmoozing the agent with my usual box of chocolates to score us an upgrade but she said it wasn't that easy. She offered up one-way upgrades for $2,500 each but that wasn't going to happen. However, Natalie and I did get lounge access.

LAX-HKG
Boarding began at 1am and it didn't take long as they use two doors. We were airborne at 1:55am. What's nice is that the seats in economy are new. The seats don't lean back and encroach on the space behind you but instead, slide a few inches down. The jury is still out on how I feel about them because they don't give you much of a reclining feeling. Flight time turned out to be 40 minutes shorter than normal and we flew the Aleutian Island route. We went right over Reno, British Columbia, Anchorage, Russia, Japan ...

NEW SEATS
The best part about the new seats is that each one has a 9-inch personal screen with lots of entertainment options (movies, TV, music, games) in a slew of languages. The captain sounded like he was from Canada and the flight attendants were all young Chinese who worked their tails off. They even thoroughly cleaned the bathrooms every hour. What was weird is that the mapping system was off. Instead of the flight time decreasing, it was increasing. So when we were over Japan, the flight time was showing 17 hours left. You know that messed with the minds of passengers who were just waking from a long snooze. Luckily, I knew better so my biggest gripe about the new seats was the power ports. Each seat has a plug but they weren't working and won't be for at least a few more months. That means people need to bring extra batteries or forget about using their laptops.

EXIT ROW
The 747-400 series plane had an economy seat configuration of 3-4-3. We reserved exit row seats, 44A and 44C for more legroom. TIP: The middle seats are the last to be booked so if you're traveling with someone, you have a greater chance of getting an empty seat between you if you reserve the window and aisle. If someone does show up, believe me, they will be more than happy to switch their middle seat for your aisle or window seat. The cons of the exit row seats are that the armrests don't go up, the tray table is in your armrest so it's a little tighter and there's no pocket for your magazines, phone, etc there's also no storage space underneath. Another problem is the bathroom is just a few feet away and not only can you smell it at times but people line up right in front of you, taking up some of your valuable space or tripping over your legs.

NO BOTTLED WATER ON CATHAY
Before takeoff, the flight attendants came down the aisle with headsets, menus and an amenity packet with socks, earplugs, a toothbrush and a note stating that eye masks are available if you'd like one. Right after takeoff, the food/drink cart came out and the hot meals were served with the wrapping still on (usually the flight attendants take it off). But the food was pretty good and it came out quickly. The biggest disappointment was the water I tasted it and asked, "is this bottled water?" The flight attendant said no. What the ... what?! How can they not pass out bottled water? Everyone knows the tanks are contaminated. These days, the government and airlines make it so difficult for passengers to bring their own water on board (from Hong Kong to the U.S., passengers can't bring water on the plane even if they buy it at the airport), and at LAX it's expensive. What a scam! You think Cathay's CEO Tony Tyler drinks this stuff? I don't think so. Fortunately, I made friends with the flight attendants and they gave Natalie and I each a bottle from business class but when that ran out we drank juice.



CARBON OFFSET
I realize what airplane emissions are doing to the environment so instead of giving privately, each week I will list the amount of money I spend for a carbon offset. This may not be as good as not flying at all but let's face it: the plane is still taking off whether I'm on it or not. And my name is Johnny Jet not Johnny Jog. Los Angeles to Hong Kong is 14,580 miles and a carbon offset from CarbonFund.org is just $26.24 round trip.

ALL ASIA PASS
FYI: Our tickets three weeks out cost $890 (with taxes and fees) but when I priced it out two days before the trip, fares had gone up to $3,000! Moral of the story? Book in advance! Also keep in mind that Cathay has three flights a day from LAX and JFK to HKG (one of the JFK flights stops in Vancouver). Also, if you are planning on traveling around Asia, see if they are offering the All Asia pass, which is a great deal. Seventeen cities in 30 days, including your flights from the U.S. for $999.

HOW TO SURVIVE A LONG FLIGHT
So now you know what my flight to Hong Kong was like on Cathay but how does this help you if you are flying a different airline to another destination? Well, hold your horses, Nelly. Below is my list of tips on how to survive a long flight.

PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT
Before I share my list of tips, I should point out that everyone is different. You just have to figure out what works for you and keep trying. I still haven't found my ultimate solution. A frequent business traveler near me, who I got talking to while boarding and deplaning, had found his secret. He slept the entire flight and did not get up once! Not to eat, drink or use the loo. Is that crazy or what? His trick was not sleeping the night before, eating before getting on the plane, then downing two glasses of wine and taking two Tylenol PMs. He also used an eye mask and earplugs. I don't recommend this because it can't be good for you. I'm not sure what he would have done in an emergency and he's lucky he didn't get DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis).

WHAT I DO
Passengers are advised to get up every hour to stretch and drink liquids to prevent DVT (People who are prone to getting DVT should consider compression stockings for DVT). I have a difficult time sleeping on planes so I usually work the whole time and drink lots of water so I'm constantly using the loo. However, for any long flight, I always bring a comfortable eye mask and earplugs; I don't bring my noise canceling headphones because they take up too much room in my bag since I rarely check luggage. I also don't take sleeping pills because I'm a fool (I'm afraid I will get addicted). I always carry earplugs and something to read and this trip, I brought a few of the gadgets listed below.

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Pictures From

The Trip

 

HKG Airport

Cathay 747

 

LAX's Int'l Terminal

 

Departure Board

 

Cathay Agent

 

Cathay Flight Attendants

 

Score!

 

Cathay's Economy Class

 

Entertainment Options

 

Dinner Is Served

 

Trying To Get Some Shuteye

 

Not Bottled Water

 

Over Russia, Baby!

 

What The ... ?

 

No More Plane Food For the Person Who Was Here Before Me

 

My New Friends

 

Breakfast Is Served (With Wrapping)

 

Omelet Anyone?

 

Almost There!

 

We Have Arrived!

 

HOUSEKEEPING

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