Paying for (and surviving) a 14-hour nonstop flight

Japan can be a very rewarding experience, whether you are a seasoned traveler or are going for the very first time. But if flying from North America, there is one hurdle that you must overcome before you can enjoy the land of the rising sun.

I’m not talking about the cultural barrier, nor the language barrier… and I’m not (directly) talking about finances.

I’m talking about what you’re going to use to GET there. And for 99.999% of you, that GET is in the form of a pressurized metal tube called an airplane.

In this article I’ll tell you about the two main things when it comes to flying to Japan: paying for it, and surviving it.

You should budget a good deal of money if you are going to pay for the flight up front using cash or a credit card. Even though there are so many flights that run from North America’s major cities to Japan, the cost is typically in the range of $1,000 per person for economy class. There are, however, times when airlines have sales of some sort.

You have heard my motto by now… consider all of the options available before making a decision that is right for you. When it comes to airline flights, take these thoughts into consideration based on my experience.

– If you are flying from Oshkosh, Wisconsin or some other small city, you will likely have to fly into a major airport to connect to your international flight to Japan. This will likely increase the cost of flying, so it’s important to bear this in mind.

– You can go to FareCompare, a website that allows you to plug in your travel cities and travel dates, and then will show you the cheapest fares. On my research of fares to Tokyo last year, I was able to find a specific part of the website that breaks down the fares into the part of the fare that pertains to the actual flight, plus a separate column for taxes and surcharges.

– You can also search the websites of major airlines on a daily basis until you find a fare that is discounted. Searches on Orbitz and Travelocity will also help.

– You may wish to consider purchasing deeply discounted tickets that are offered by travel companies such as JTB. These tickets can be on major airlines such as All Nippon, Japan Airlines, United, etc., or you may elect to purchase a more-discounted fare where you do not know the name of the airline that you will be traveling until the purchase is made (sort of like Priceline in a way). JTB fares also do not include taxes… again you will find this out when the ticket purchase is made. There is also the possibility that you may have to change planes somewhere, even if you live in/near a major city that offers flights to Japan. For example if you purchase a discounted Delta ticket for travel from New York to Tokyo, you may have to fly to another city such as Atlanta, Detroit or Los Angeles to connect to the Japan-bound flight, even though Delta operates a daily nonstop service from New York to Tokyo.

JTB may also offer a combination package of airfare and hotel accomodation for a certain period of time. For example, at the time I write this they have what appears to be a very nice deal: $899+tax for a 4-night stay in Tokyo that includes round-trip airfare from New York (Newark Liberty) on Continental Airlines’ nonstop service, hotel accomodations and a half-day sightseeing tour.

– Finally, you can do what I did once, and what I plan to do on my next trip to Japan: Use my Frequent Flier miles. I belong to a frequent flier program of a major US airline, and I can earn miles on my account several ways, such as flying on the airline, making purchases on my credit card, and taking advantage of bonus offers that my airline or credit card offers, that will allow me to earn additional mileage. Why not sign up for a frequent flier program with an airline that flies to Japan, obtain a credit card, and start spending to get miles? It’ll take some time depending on how much you spend of course. But think about it… using your credit card to pay for necessities in life, and whatever else you can afford… and soon enough you’ll have enough miles to fly anywhere, Japan included, for FREE! I’m willing to disclose this… through my frequent flier program, I currently have  just enough miles for TWO round-trips to Japan in economy class, or ONE round-trip in first class!

Well now, some way or another, you have that coveted ticket that will serve as your entrance to Japan… oops, let me correct myself. It serves as your entrance to your plane, and your seat 😦

No matter where you fly from in North America, your nonstop flight to Japan will be in the range of 12 to 14 hours in duration – on the higher end of this from the east coast – because planes have to pretty much fly the same path… on a route that passes over Alaska to the other side of the world. So, what exactly will you do during that amount of time?

Well let’s see… if I were you, I would look carefully to select a flight that has in-flight entertainment at your seat. Most airlines offer this, and many airlines offer this service at no additional cost for flights to Japan… yes, you get a headset, you get your own selection of television programs, and you can watch feature-length movies, all for free.

Health is important while in the pressurized atmosphere for a long time. Not taking care of your body during the flight may yield an uncomfortable – or unfavorable – result.

It is important to bring a bottle of water with you on your flight so that you can stay hydrated. In this day and age you’ll have to do this after the security checkpoints. Drink a reasonable amount – not too much – every so often.

It’s also important to stretch your body on a regular basis. I find this easier to do by pacing my bathroom breaks and then spending my “post-bathroom” time, if you want to call it that, stretching my body out in an open area near the galley.

What I normally do is try not to drink too much so that I have to go to the bathroom often… if you fall into this category, by the way, you’ll want to sit in an aisle seat. Flights to and from Japan usually offer three meals: One full meal, one light meal, one full meal. These are spaced out throughout the flight. What I do, as soon as I finish my meal, and hand the garbage to the flight attendants, is to head straight to the bathroom. Once I’ve left the bathroom I spend some time stretching my body out… stretch and hold my elbows and knees, for example… before I return to my seat. I then repeat this process two more times during the flight, after each of the other meals. There are some nice websites that you can google that show you some stretches to do while on the plane, either standing or within the confines of your seat.

My mother’s advice before travel, be it on a short 30-minute flight or a long 14-hour marathon trip to Japan… take a pill of Aspirin before your flight. This will thin the blood to help prevent/limit clots from occurring during the flight. Any clot that forms in your body and gets loose can potentially be deadly – and the chances of clots forming in your body increase as your body adapts to the environment of the airplane. Of course stretching your body out also helps reduce your risk.

I hope this is useful as you consider your flying options to Japan. A couple of more things I’d like to share… first, exactly where should you sit on the plane? Well, window or aisle is completely up to your preference, but as far as a ROW goes, I have a certain preference. Of course if you purchase a deeply-discounted air ticket, chances are you are assigned a seat automatically, or at the airport, with no provision to select your own seat. But if you have the option, I would choose a seat that is two to three rows in front of, or behind, the restroom. The simple reason is that it’s much easier to access the restroom if you need to use it. If the airline’s website does not have seat maps of the plane you will be using then you can use a website like Seat Guru.

Lastly, if you were ever curious as to what the airline pilots do on long flights to Japan, you may want to purchase an interesting DVD to get an indication. Granted, if you are not into the intricate operations of airplanes then this may not be for you… but if you’re curious, then go to the World Air Routes website and check out their brand new in-cockpit video for the Air Canada 777, which includes video of Air Canada’s round trip service from Toronto, Ontario to Tokyo Narita Airport.

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