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Flying to and from Greece
Making the Best of a Bad Situation

I remember when we used to get dressed up to fly. My father in a suit. My mother in stockings and heels. My sister in her pink party dress and me and my brothers in jackets and bow ties. Back then flying was something special. Now its like taking a bus, only you can't get off when you want to. These tips will help make your flight to Greece or anywhere easier.

Flight to Greece

In-Flight Entertainment

One of the most important things to look for his the type of plane you will be flying. Your domestic flight which will get you to the airport where your international flight leaves from you won't have much choice and since these flights are generally short it doesn't matter. But for the international flight which you will be on for eight hours or more you are looking for two jets. The Boeing 777 and the Airbus something or other. Both of these have individual TVs mounted in the back of the seat in front of you or in a panel that comes out of your arm-rest. They have a number of different channels and show recent popular movies which repeat so on a long flight you can watch four of them and if you are lucky they will all be good. Other jets which just have cabin monitors that everyone looks at (except in 1st class where they have individual screens and a choice) show one or two movies, usually one you have seen or one that you don't want to see or recently with the dire financial state of the airlines one you have never heard of. So when you book your flight make sure you are on one of these. Otherwise a portable DVD and several spare batteries will be helpful and you get to choose the movies.

The invent of IPODs and other portable handheld computers are a blessing to any traveler and now that you can download and watch entire films on the tiny screen, life in the air can be even better. I am a happy convert to IPOD and in combination with the BOSE Noise-cancelling headphones my trips have become pretty bearable. However if you don't own them already you are adding about $700 to the cost of your flight. The good news is that Radio Shack makes similar headphones which sell for $50 and you can just bring your old CD Walkman. I used to just listen to classical or spiritual music to keep me calm but I discovered that rock music and Greek music sounds pretty good at 35,000 feet.

Airplane Food

Airplane food was bad to start with. Now it is beyond bad, especially on airlines that are trying to cut cost. Andrea always orders a special meal in advance, either vegetarian or fish but my feeling is that if they can't make the normal stuff taste good how good can the special food be? Its hit and miss. The European Airlines still have some sense of pride in what they serve. At least some of them do. The American airlines are hopeless with Delta probably the worst. No big deal. You don't fly for the food. Just go to your favorite deli, pizza place, restaurant, gourmet food store or bakery and bring a bag of your own food. If you saw the look on people's faces as they try to figure out what to do with the mess that is on their tray and they look over at me, the guy who has turned down his airplane food and is now eating a pepperoni pizza while his wife eats a bagel with lox and cream cheese and the teenage daughter is eating sushi.

You can get good food at the airport to bring with you, especially at Kennedy in NY. Athens Venizelos Airport has a  good food court with a Sbarros pizza, pastas, sandwiches and even Greek specialties so you can have your last Greek meal on the plane. We usually bring some nuts for snacks too and bottled water so you don't have to keep asking the stewardess every time you get thirsty. Try not to bring really smelly cheese or egg salad because it may make everyone around you throw up and they will blame you.

In Flight Reading Material

For some reason it is hard for me to read on a plane. I think there is a low level anxiety (or a high-level anxiety being masked by sedatives and herbs) that keeps me just edgy enough so that I can't concentrate on anything more cerebral than say, People Magazine (and even then I am just looking at the pictures). We always get on the plane with several magazines and newspapers that normally we would enjoy like the New Yorker, The Nation, The New York Times and most of these remain un-read (they make great gifts though). Remember that whatever you take with you on the plane you have to live with for 8 hours. It does not take many magazines to fill up the pouch in the seat in front of you and the NY Times makes a big mess on the floor. Crossword puzzles are useful but if you don't do them regularly they may cause you more stress by making you feel stupid.

First Class Upgrade

For many economy travelers the pleasure of traveling in the first class or business class section is something they can only dream about. The size and shape of the seats alone are enough to fill you with envy as you walk through the upper-class section on the way to the cramped seats in economy. Getting upgraded to first class is a matter of sheer luck but there are ways which you can increase your chances. The best way is to find yourself seated next to a woman with a crying infant or a very fat, snoring and/or farting man. The first step is to sneak a peak into first class after you are in the air so you know how many extra seats there are and also make sure that economy is full. Then you approach the stewardess (don't call her to you) and tell her there is a woman with a crying baby and/or a giant farting man in the seat next to you and is there any way please that you can change seats? The stewardess will tell you that unfortunately the flight is full. Then you tell her there are X number of seats empty in first class. She will usually say I am sorry, this is against regulations. Instead of saying "Can I see where it says in the regulations that someone sitting next to a crying baby or a large farting man cannot be moved to first class" which is confrontational suggest instead. " Maybe you can move the woman with the crying baby or the large farting man into first class." The stewardess will confer with her associates and next thing you know you will be in first class because there is no way they are going to move a woman with a crying baby or a large farting man into first class where they can bother the rich people.

If this works for you please send $100 to the charity of your choice in gratefulness of my information. If you are a woman with a crying baby or a large farting man who suddenly finds yourself in first class for an unexplained reason you should donate too.

The Use of Drugs or Natural Sedatives to Get Through a Long Flight

Flashback: It is 1976 and I am in Amsterdam where I ran into a friend from Greece who as a parting gesture gave me a piece of hashish. I was in a stage of purification and soul searching so I carried it around in my pocket until it was time for me to get on the plane back to the USA which was leaving from Brussels. What can I do with this thing? I decided to stand at the gate and when the flight from NY came in I would hand it to some kid my age who looked cool and say "welcome to Belgium". But nobody cool got off the plane, just a load of old people. So I ate it. (Don't ask me why I didn't throw it in the garbage or flush it down the toilet.) And then I got on the plane and forgot I had eaten it until a couple hours later when the words of the magazine started jumping out of the page. Then I remembered I had eaten it and I was not happy about it. In fact I was in a state of panic and my first impulse was to run down the aisle screaming. I had enough of my wits about me to know that this did not seem very sensible.  I was frightfully  aware that I was inside a metal cylinder traveling through space at five hundred miles per hour. To add to my discomfort we began to hit turbulence. How was I going to get out of this? I asked the stewardess for a glass of water and I could barely get the words out and she looked at me like she wondered what was wrong with the little hippy kid in 47c. I imagined her calling the cops in NY to meet me at the plane and take me away, or make an unscheduled stop in some third party country where torture was legal. As a last desperate measure I put on the headphones and clicked to the Now Hits of Today channel. I heard the reassuring voice of Gordon Lightfoot. "Carefree Highway... let me slip away on you..." Instantly I was calm and I might say happy. To this day I love that song and I have never had airplane food taste so good that I asked for seconds. (Note to kids: Don't Try This.)

My wife recently discovered that taking a sleeping pill makes a flight relatively painless. For me. She goes to sleep an hour out of NY and wakes up over Athens. In the past she would take a valium and then be seduced by the tiny bottles of wine that are served with dinner. She would then fall asleep and in the course of the flight I would see her get up, fumbling with the seatbelt, stumble down the aisle grabbing the faces of the sleeping passengers in the aisle seat for support before passing out a few feet short of the toilets. Then the call for a doctor to come to the back of the plane and they would revive her and take her to first class. It would be a good trick if she were just acting. The lesson is don't take pills and drink wine on the plane. The combination with the altitude can cause strange things to happen and may result in divorce or worse.

I usually take a kava kava or valerian which relax me enough to be able to enjoy the music, movie or the top of the heads of the passengers in front of me. To be honest my last flight I did take a sleeping pill (I forget which) and like Andrea I went to sleep in US airspace and woke up in Greece. It was pretty painless. In fact it didn't seem right that being in Greece could be so easy.

If you drink alcohol on the plane drink lots of water but if you drink lots of water be sure that you go to the bathroom before the announcement to buckle your seat because the plane is beginning its descent.

About Turbulence

There is nothing like sudden turbulence and the fasten seat-belt sign, followed by the calm voice of the pilot warning you and the crew to get to your seats, to mess up your flying groove. Especially when you still have your food tray in front of you. Suddenly the music does not sound as beautiful or several minutes of movie dialogue passes without you paying attention to it. The good thing to know is that no matter how bad it gets turbulence will not bring the plane down. These planes can fly through hurricanes and blizzards so a little uneven air is not going to do much but jostle your nerves, spill your drink, or shift your luggage in the overhead compartments so that it falls out and kills you when you open it upon landing. If you find yourself in serious turbulence just keep your eyes on the faces of the stewardesses as they smile as if everything is fine as they have been trained to do. As one steward in a very small commercial airline told me as we were flying into a NY snowstorm. "Turbulence or snowstorms don't scare me. I have been through enough so that I know that it can't bring the plane down. What scares me is lightning!"

Ummmm.... Meaning?

Dress Comfortably

If your pants are too tight when you leave your home they will feel tighter on the plane. If your collar is uncomfortable in the taxi it will feel worse on the plane. If your shoes feel uncomfortable and  your socks smell in the airport you will feel self-conscious on the plane. Yes it would be nice if we could all travel in our favorite flannel pajamas but that would make the line to the bathroom even worse. So wear lose clothes and don't be so concerned about how you look. Nobody looks good after a 10 hour flight and besides that nobody is looking.

Be Courteous

Remember that no matter how annoyed and on edge you may be, getting pissed off at the stewardess does not make you, them or everyone else listening to you feel better. Well, actually the behavior of some people when they are agitated can be somewhat entertaining and break up the monotony of the trip as well as provide you with an opening line for conversation with your neighbor.

"Wow. Have you ever seen such a jerk? You have really pretty eyes. I'm Matt Barrett, world famous travel writer. You are going to Greece? What a coincidence! I am too!" (Along with everyone else on the flight)

Guys traveling alone can increase their chances of finding romance in the air by telling the person at check-in that you are a little nervous about flying and would appreciate it if they could assign a beautiful single female to the seat next to you. Ladies this can work for you too. The earlier you check in the more you increase your chances of having an attractive neighbor as the person at the desk has more choices of a suitable mate for you.


It was a tradition on Olympic and other flights that have Greeks on them for people to applaud when the plane lands. I have not seen this anywhere else but going to and from Athens and it is kind of nice and makes the whole ordeal seem like some kind of performance. No standing ovations until the plane has come to a complete stop at the gate though. Usually at this point I am already planning to change my ticket to extend my stay and delay getting back on a plane for awhile, which is another reason I recommend spending at least 10 days or more in Greece. This will give you time to recover from the flight and forget about it so that when you get back on the plane for the trip home it will be like a brand new experience.

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