My First Time Ever Sleeping From Takeoff Till Touchdown

Filed Under: Travel

Given my crazy travel schedule, I have really bad sleeping habits. Based on the fact that I typically like to be online during east coast hours and am a morning person, my ideal timezone is Pacific Time. Left to my own devices I’d ideally go to bed every night at 7PM and wake up at 5AM, for example.

The bad news is that when I travel I get almost no sleep, because when different timezones are involved all bets are off. Not only is that due to the impact of timezones on when I like to be online, but I also am someone who needs near perfect conditions to sleep — no light, a cold room, quiet, and a flat bed. I am so jealous of people who can get on a three hour flight in economy and just pass out the whole time. Meanwhile I can’t even sleep the whole flight when I have a flat bed in a premium cabin, especially if the cabin lights are on and there’s a meal service (the noise and smell distracts me).

So in my millions and millions of flown miles, I don’t recall ever sleeping from takeoff until touchdown. Not once.

On Tuesday we flew from Detroit to Beijing on Delta, and then connected from Beijing to Bangkok on China Eastern (yes, the flight with the crazy schedule padding).

On the plus side, I figured out why they pad the schedule so much. They don’t actually seem to intend to operate the flight on-time — boarding was scheduled for 6:30PM, and at that point they told us that boarding was “maybe in one hour.”

By the time we boarded I was tired. I had only slept a couple of hours on the flight from Detroit to Beijing, and had a short night the night before. I’m pretty used to this type of travel, though I guess I wasn’t feeling great for whatever reason.

I couldn’t sleep during boarding (there was too much good people-watching), but the second the wheels got off the ground I reclined my seat. Unfortunately China Eastern only has angled seats on these planes, so they weren’t ideal. Despite that, and despite the cabin lights being turned all the way up for the meal service, I managed to sleep fo 4.5 of the 5 hour flight, and woke up to the announcement that the cabin had to be prepared for arrival.

When we landed in Bangkok after midnight I felt great, which was a blessing, since the immigration queue was crazy. And today I feel great.

So I apologize that I won’t have a trip report of the China Eastern experience from Beijing to Bangkok, though it’s not that much of a loss, since I’ve reviewed China Eastern’s A330 business class before. But now I know what I’ve been missing out on all these years. If only I could always get that kind of sleep on planes…

  1. Angled is the best for sleeping. Keeps your head cradles up above the Horizon. I slept perfectly on Americans old Business Class. Id take an aisle middle on an Old AMerican 767 over any other business class seat ever for sleep comfort.

  2. Business class or first class the jet lag is no better.

    Unnecessary travel in first class wouldn’t be palatable in any case.

  3. I’ve had two long haul flights in Lufthansa business class recently and on both flights I fell asleep before I had reclined the seat.

    But given your occupation, I think it might be a good thing that you don’t sleep well on planes.

  4. Best sleep I have ever had was on AA angled flat 777 transpacific

    of course it probably had something to do with me having slept only 90 minutes the night prior

  5. I can beat that one. Several years ago I flew DFW-ATL-JFK-BOM on DL J to get back to India. I fell asleep about halfway to ATL, and woke up on final approach. Mind you, this was maybe 2 pm CST. Fell asleep again right after take-off from ATL, and woke up on final descent to JFK. The same plane was taking us to BOM, so we only had a short layover. Didn’t even make it through the whole meal service after taking off from JFK, and woke up not even an hour outside of BOM. I hadn’t been feeling well for a few days prior to that flight, which probably had something to do with it, but still…

  6. Do you get a priority pas for transiting through China in Business or First class? Or is it all the same lines for everyone?

  7. “I typically like to be online during east coast hours and am a morning person, my ideal timezone is Pacific Time.” Wouldn’t your ideal time zone, by definition, by Eastern then?

  8. I’m the same as you, dude, wish I could sleep on red eyes. I had my white whale: flight from Honolulu to Phoenix and I was sick as hell. Told the FA I felt terrible and can’t sleep on planes. She brought me a double bourbon and 5 hours later she was waking me to let me know we were landing. Wish I could bottle that and take it on every red eye.

  9. I thought I saw you guys at Pearson Airport when I was flying to MSP; so presumably there was YYZ-DTW leg involved? To be honest I find it’s those 45min CRJ flights that are tiring!

  10. @Maria That one caught me too. I think it would have been more clear with a hyphen:

    “I couldn’t sleep during boarding (there was too much good people-watching)”

  11. Hey Ben,
    That’s the magic of sleeping pills. Whenever I’m on an eastbound transatlantic flight, I always take a sleeping pill the second the wheels go up. Extend the flat-bed and wake up just as they’re preparing the cabin for landing. I skip the meal, as I’d rather be half-way fit when we land in the morning.
    I never take sleeping pills at home, but for the times I’m flying back from the States, then there’s nothing better than a sleeping pill and a guaranteed 6-7 hour sleep.

  12. I sleep well on planes. My best effort was on Sydney-Melbourne connecting from Buenos Aires. I was gently shaken awake at the gate on arrival , with 3 FAs looking over me, to find an empty plane. It was clear from their relief that they thought I might have made my final departure. I was a little embarrassed but had slept the entire flight , including landing , taxi and deplaning.

  13. My best sleep has consistently been on the several First Class long-haul flights I have been very fortunate to be on operated by Swiss or Lufthansa (ZRH-JFK, FRA-JFK, and FRA-ALA). In July of 2005, I did do same-plane Singapore First Class (SFO-HKG-SGP) but have no particular recollection of how well I slept despite the flight time being extra long due to the stop in Hong Kong.

  14. Flew Saigon to Bangkok to Tokyo to Washington Dulles. Got on the plane in Dulles and fell asleep before pulling away at the gate, woke up about 90 minutes later when we landed in Boston. All flights were first or business class but that was a tiring trip home! Could not imagine doing this in coach and without lounge access!

  15. I once flew the QF DFW-SYD flight. I ate dinner in the lounge before the flight, as is my custom with night flights. Then upon boarding I put on my PJ’s pre-departure. As the wheels came up, the earplugs & sleep mask went on, the seat went flat — and I slept 9-1/2 hours straight! It was wonderful.

  16. For some odd reason, I ALWAYS am able to fall asleep on domestic flights, wether its a 2hr flight or 6 transcon, theres something about flying in the middle of the day across the country that automatically puts my body to sleep.

  17. Keep the head sightly inclined, don’t eat or drink alcohol on board (airline good is mediocre at best – I have a good meal about two hours before boarding), hydrate and use some noise cancellation headphones. This is my recipe for a good sleep on board.

  18. Ben a few comments:

    I live in San Francisco and Bangkok and am back and forth every month or so–I feel your pain. The lights are the worst!

    I tried various things to sleep (Xanax etc) and have now found that Advil PM is the mildest but still effective sleep aid to get me through a flight. You don’t wake up “hungover.”

    You should have gotten a Fast Lane pass before you landed. You may have slept through that (LOL). In Bangkok it’s almost impossible to find the Priority Lane–its next to the Visa on Arrival entrance. If you have an APEC card that can also be used. It is available with Global Entry–but a major hassle to go and get another interview. However if you live on the East Coast I did use a Global Entry POP-UP in NYC which was great.

    Also a few other comments on Asia–

    Manila Conrad is a good hotel–worth reviewing. Another Hilton opening in Manila soon. Manila as a city is much different now than it was 15 years ago.

    Conrad Bangkok pretty old and awful (it’s hit Chinese tour status) Two new Hyatts opening soon in Bangkok.

    Phil Air lounge in Manila is like taking a step back in time. Ask them to print out a document for you–I have never seen paper like that!

    There are decent/passable Priority Card lounges in both airports in Bangkok

    Flying on JAL to US from Bangkok (I have gone about 20 times last 3 years, Business and First)-Haneda flights very full so almost impossible to change flights unless you change to fly Narita. Even as Diamond Status still hard to change. Cathay and others easier.

    Buying business tickets that originate in Bangkok, Saigon, Manila etc can be much cheaper–but you have to fly a few times a year to Asia to work out logistics of return to US.


  19. My then 8 year old fell asleep before we left Hong Kong (came from US 2 days prior), woke up when we were taxiing at Ho Chi Minh And said ‘have we taken off yet?’

  20. @Ryan @Jason

    I’ll second that! The only two occasions when I’ve managed solid sleep were with angled seats: Bangkok – Cairo (EgyptAir 777) and Singapore – Brisbane (Singapore Airlines A330). Most reviewers dislike this seat type, but ironically, I find them absolutely perfect for falling asleep. On fully flat seats, I have never managed more than one hour of sleep, at all.

  21. There are people who advocate that people should always sleep on angled beds, that you sleep better and there are a lot of health benefits. So it is interesting to hear some of you agree.

    My worry about sleeping all the way through would be dehydration. I’m usually drinking water non-stop on airplanes.

    As far as jetlag, has anyone tried the fasting method to reduce jetlag? I do a lot of fasting so it should be easy enough. But I weirdly am way hungrier on planes than anywhere else, even though food tastes terrible. And when I pay so much for business class tickets, I hate to give something up!

  22. As some others mentioned, get an APEC card. It lets you use the diplomat line at many Pacific Rim airports, and saves me dozens of hours a year.

  23. I am lucky enough to always fall asleep on board. It usually just takes me about 30 minutes of light reading and I’m off.

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