...as comfortably as possible in coach.

After 15 long-haul flights in the last year alone, I finally cracked the code to flying in coach.

Don't fly US Airways. 

Nah, that's not really the secret, although they do rank at the bottom in every category I can think of.  

My secret formula is:
  • the world's most awesome sleep mask
  • noise-canceling headphones
  • melatonin
  • sudoku puzzles
  • a sense of adventure and a modicum of patience
My vote for world's best sleep mask goes to the Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask.  Its so-comfortable eye-pockets are domed so that you can open your eyes in total darkness.

Imagine you're on an overnight flight to Europe and you wake up because of a stiff neck, you open your eyes to switch position and suddenly you're awake, thanks to the blue-ish night lights in the cabin.  It's almost impossible to fall back asleep.  Not with this sleep mask!  Now you can open your eyes naturally and fall right back to sleep.  Not only that, it won't smudge make-up.  How's that for starting the next morning off right!  Too bad it doesn't make the seat pitch greater...

You can buy the Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask ($12.95) at www.bucky.com or try the similar Lights Out Sleep Mask ($10.95) from www.magellans.com.

Noise-canceling headphones.  I'd been thinking about trying some for years and finally decided to go for it after seeing the display in BestBuy.  They had a limited selection of headphones to try in-store. A higher-end Sony model (they make many with "noise-reducing" qualities) and 2 Bose models.  I was unimpressed with the Sony pair- half the price but I didn't think they worked even half as well. 

At $299, the Bose QuietComfort 15 Noise-Canceling Headphones are a pricey addition to my travel bag, but the increase in my quality of life over their lifespan will be worth it.  They come with a 30 day free trial and combined with the price increase if I changed my mind and decided to purchase them in Germany (for €348!!) convinced me to give them a go.  I won't be returning them.

Melatonin is the hormone your body produces to make you tired and fall asleep.  When traveling over time-zones it takes several days to adjust your circadian rhythm to that of the destination time-zone.  You can speed up the process by tricking your body with a small dose of melatonin so that overnight flight feels more like a night and not an extended evening followed by a *very* long day. 

I went to the Vitamin Shoppe to look at my options.  After speaking with an associate I decided to try the smaller 1 mg tablets rather than the 3 mg timed-release ones, fearing the timed-release aspect might make me feel drowsy the next day.  At $4.99 for 120 1 mg tablets, this is the most cost-effective trick I've found for improving the whole trip.

For me its sudoku and kakuro puzzles that channel my focus away from the negative aspects of flying (be they turbulence, crying babies or rude flight attendents). 

And of course the best accessories a traveler can bring along are a sense of adventure and patience.  This is particularly important for the 'getting-there' part of the trip.  While it certainly doesn't feel as novel as it did years ago, I try to recreate the sense of adventure I had getting on an airplane as a child.  I still touch the outside of every plane for good luck as I enter the cabin just as I did on my first flight with my parents. 

With some simple tricks and a high-tech gadget or two it's possible to turn your flight into what might actually pass as a night's sleep.  Even an overnight long-haul flight, with a seat assignment 3 rows from the lavatories in the rear of the aircraft and a malfunctioning intercom with a stuck call-button chiming every 2 minutes for the duration of the flight. 

Just trust me on that.