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HELP! Flying from LAX to Cape Town, SA: I'm CLAUSTROPHOBIC

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Sep 9th, 2012, 12:04 AM
  #1
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HELP! Flying from LAX to Cape Town, SA: I'm CLAUSTROPHOBIC

Have you flown from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Diego to Cape Town, South Africa? PLEASE HELP ME! I'm a nervous flyer due to claustrophobia. I also get stiff from sitting too long due to hip issues.

But I have agreed to fly to South Africa with my husband for the very first time! Please advise me! We usually sit in the economy seats, but for this trip I'd like to upgrade to business seats. Have never done that before.

I think in my case, it would be better to fly from LAX or San Diego to Paris, London or Frankfurt in Europe for a 2-night stop; then fly on to Cape Town. Which airline can you recommend?

Is there a better plan for me?

The longest flight I have ever taken is from LAX to New Zealand...about 12 hours. That was challenging, but the entertainment system with all the movies helped because it was distracting. Also that was before I had any problems with hip stiffness.

But South Africa is much further! Please advise. We are flying into and out of Cape Town.

By the way we live in San Diego, but the flights out of LAX are often better so we sometimes rent a car, drive up to LAX, and fly out of the LAX airport. But that adds more time to the total travel time.

I also do better with nonstop flights, assuming they are comfortable and not overly long.

Having wider seats with legroom would help with the claustrophobia I think. An aisle seat helps too. I also tend to get claustrophobic in the airport while waiting in security lines, the whole deal.

Once I arrive I usually have an amazing time!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 02:20 AM
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Hi Melissa

I am wondering if you should get some medication to relax you to help with the claustrophobia. I am also wondering how severe your condition is that you can fly for up to 12 hours, is it more nervous flyer than claustrophobia? Good medical advice might be more helpful.

I have a very bad neck and back for travelling, and certain positions are more comfortable than others. Also getting up and moving around would be helpful. I do go business class for this reason, more space to keep moving and that I can get up and down and move around. Never sleep well, doze at best but as long as I arrive pain free in Joburg I am a happy traveller. I come from Australia and go via Singapore, so a fairly long trip from Brisbane to Jo'burg and I do this trip twice a year, so I am very careful as it would be horrible if I could not continue with my trip due to neck/back issues.
If you think the extra space would help, I would be doing it, it is expensive, but to me, well worth the cost in arriving in a reasonable condition.
When do you leave?

Kind regards

Kaye
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Sep 9th, 2012, 09:24 AM
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I will restrict my comments to the most comfortable airline seats and NOT any medical issues on which you should get specific advise from your doctor.

Business class LAX/CPT will run you between $6 to $7k if you can find seats in the Z fare class (cheapest business). The best connection is LAX to London and then to Cape Town. Airlines are AA?BA or Virgin or some combination. Make sure you carefully check that you have full LIE FLAT as opposed to angled flat seats. Both BA and Virgin fit the bill but Virgins Upper Class is superior to BA, but only slightly. Understand that in Virgin the seat flips over and has a built in mattress plus they make your bed with linens and a duvet, whereas BA only does that in First Class. BAs business seat is also a full flat but configured in an odd front to back configuration where the person next to you has there feet where your head would be. Virgin has herringbone type seating. Go to Seatguru.com for further details and also check each of the airlines websites.

I suspect if you have not traveled in international business class recently you would pleasantly surprised. Only you can decide if the steep premium for the seat is worth it.

Best of luck.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 11:23 AM
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KayeN: Yes I have good medical advice and I can take xanax which takes the edge off while flying, but it doesn't solve the whole problem. My doc compliments my courage and says most people with my level of anxiety don't fly at all. We leave in September 2013, so I'd like to arrange good seats on a good flight. I'm glad to hear the business class seats help your neck and back. Enjoy comfortable travels!

AKR1: Thanks for the details on international business class seats. For me I think the business class seats would definitely help a lot for these long flights. Now I just need to convince my husband. In fact, being able to lie flat would help my hip as well, as it's difficult for me to sit for hours. It would be more comfortable if I could lie flat some of the time. Of course I always go for walks down the aisle as well.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 02:58 PM
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If you have ff points or credit card points...this would be an excellent use for them if points seats are available. Business class is much, much better than Coach but really expensive. The flatbed seats are the only ones worth paying (or pointing) for. The angled do not work for me. I just took them NY to Tel Aviv and found them good for sitting but really uncomfortable for lying down.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 03:22 PM
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I am a nervous flyer AND somewhat claustrophobic, and was worried about this too before we went to SA from San Francisco last June. We couldn't afford to do business class, and decided to go with Emirates which was both the least expensive by far and also has the great in-seat entertainment. The flight to Dubai was tough, it was about 15.5 hours and I don't sleep well on planes. I tried to get up and walk around as much as possible and shift positions when I could and move my feet and ankles around. But being able to watch all the movies and tv shows and listen to all kinds of music was helpful. I switched around between that and my own podcasts on my iphone and reading. We had kindles so we could bring lots of books without the weight and bulk. After that trip, the 8 hours from Dubai to JNB was a breeze LOL. It was harder on the way back since we had the shorter flight first and the longer one still to come.

On the way there, they gave us a hotel room free since it was a 9-hour layover (I think they'll do this for layovers of 8 hours or more but ask about it if you use them. You have to pick up the vouchers for the hotel - which includes a free so-so buffet meal at the hotel - when you check in in California before departure). We got a shower and a little nap in a bed and got to move around, which was nice. If funds were less limited, I might have preferred to stop in London for a few days but we chose to spend more money and time in SA, not knowing if we'll ever return.

Their business class seats looked very nice and comfortable so that would have been even better! The staff were very nice and accomodating. The only thing I thought wasn't great was boarding from Dubai to JNB and back from JNB to Dubai, seemed very chaotic. They don't have people line up in any order, just a big mass of people! But in California and in the air it was very good service. Though long bathroom lines on the plane - maybe that's just the nature of long flights but maybe there weren't enough bathrooms per passenger in economy, not sure.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 03:23 PM
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Oh and I had xanax with me as well - thought I might need it on the long flights and/or on the little bush planes we took which I was very nervous about but amazingly, I never took any the whole trip!
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Sep 9th, 2012, 03:57 PM
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Jane62: Thanks so much for sharing all those details! It sure helps to hear about people's experience. We had considered Emirates but I'm glad you mentioned the chaotic situation with boarding in Dubai...That would definitely be too stressful for me. that happened when we flew with EasyJet in Europe and I will never fly with EasyJet again because of that. Also 15.5 hours to Dubai is so long! I hadn't realized it was so long. In addition I'm a frequent visitor to the bathrooms and I appreciate the details you shared about the long bathroom lines. It does sound like they didn't have enough bathrooms for the number of passengers.

Elainee: Thanks, it's good to know only the flat-bed seats would be worth spending money or points on. Not sure if we have points but I will check into that.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 04:36 PM
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If you can't afford Business Class, you might see about getting the bulkhead seats by exit doors. There's a lot of legroom there and you wouldn't have someone pushing their seatback into your lap.
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Sep 9th, 2012, 11:17 PM
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I am certain that if you fly business on flatbed seats you won't feel claustrophobic.

If you book Premium Economy on BA (usually costs around 50% more than economy), you are often given the chance to upgrade to business several days before traveling at a very reasonable fee. We used mileage to fly from LAX to Heathrow, then bought the premium economy seats and upgraded from London to Nairobi. (Same sort of deal is offered to Johannesburg.) The downside is that the chance to upgrade is not always available.

Another strategy is to fly economy on days when the plane is not likely to be full. (Off-season, not during a school holiday, on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.) Then you might get 3 seats to yourself in economy and will be able to stretch out.

You can also get an Amex Platinum card (for $450) which offers 2 business flights for the price of one on many airlines. Also gets you lounge access even when you're flying economy, i upgrades on hotels, access to theatre tickets, restaurants, etc. Talk to a representative to make sure your itinerary is available before signing up.

Or if you're not traveling for a while, you can get a BA credit card that often offers 100,000+ free miles just for signing up and spending a relatively small amount.

And, finally, sign up for a kayak alert for your itinerary. You will automatic emails when there are offers to SA.
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Sep 10th, 2012, 03:22 AM
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Hi Melissa

Ok so you have time to plan your trip, so that is good! While I agree that flatbeds would be far preferable, I don't get them on the airline I fly but I still think that the business seat is a better seat when you have health issues. A flatbed would probably mean I may be able to sleep a bit which would be wonderful, but I manage without it apparently! It seems that you need to work out how to get there, by the flight of each leg. Wishing you luck in finding a way to get there, that you are happy with (or happy enough)!

Kind regards

Kaye
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Sep 11th, 2012, 08:30 AM
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My wife is not claustrophobic, but she has a medical condition which really limits how long she can sit on a plane, especially if she's unable to raise her legs and/or walk about quite a lot. This makes it hard on us as she has to go to Kenya and Uganda (from Seattle) every so often (she founded a small NGO a couple of years ago and needs to make site visits.) Also South Africa sometimes.

Here's what we do - may work for you, may not.

We fly on Day 1 nonstop to the east coast, usually JFK. West to east, the flights are usually less than 5 1/2 hours (often less than 5) due to the prevailing tailwinds. Night in a hotel near the airport.

On Day 2 we fly on one of the nonstops to London that leave in the morning and arrive in the evening. Again, the flight is usually very short (same winds) and by flying during daylight you're not trying to "sleep" (ha ha) in an airplane seat. Even flat business class seats don't give you enough rest on overnight eastbound transatlantic flights, since by the time they've fed and watered you and turned off the lights, then wakey wakey with immigration forms and pre-landing routine, you're lucky to get 3 hours of darkness, and arrive in the morning feeling like the Walking Dead.

With the day flights you get into London around 9 pm, Priceline a hotel near Heathrow (usually less than $100 for a 4-star) and wake up the next day feeling vaguely human; it really whacks jetlag. Futz around the hotel for a few hours, then back to the airport for an early-evening departure for Africa. Yes, this one is overnight, so a flat bed/business class seat is definitely needed, but the flight is 10+ hours, so plenty of time for some real sleep.

As long as the layovers in New York and London are shorter than 24 hours, it's all bookable on one ticket at little additional cost to the alternate back-to-back flights, and less than 24 hours in the UK exempts one from the ridiculous British departure taxes.

Coming back we try to repeat the same process, especially since the flights are longer westbound (fighting the same winds.)

This all requires an extra day traveling in each direction, but we think that extra time is offset by how productive we can be if we're not zombies. Like I say, it works for us.

Business class will be 2 - 3x the coach airfare (or 2x the frequent flyer miles) which is expensive of course but at some point you need to do an actual accounting of benefit/cost factors. Southern California to Cape Town is just about as far as you can fly and still stay on Earth, so why not feel like a human when you arrive instead of an alien life form?
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Sep 11th, 2012, 11:22 AM
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Gardyloo: Thanks so much for sharing what works for you and your wife! I am glad that you have been able to work it out so your wife can still travel. You are right South Africa is about as far as we can fly and still stay on earth. Do you have a favorite airline that gets you from London to Africa? We are also considering even a few nights in London, to break up the flights for me. But it's interesting to know that with flights shorter than 24 hours it's all one ticket with little additional cost and no departure tax.

Right now we are also trying to figure out what our options are to upgrade to business class by using certain credit cards or collecting points? We have never done that but now we think it's something for us to start doing. Normally we just select the credit cards which give us cash back benefits.
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Sep 11th, 2012, 12:10 PM
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Melissa: When is your trip or did you say and I missed it? (Wouldn't be the first time.)

Upgrading to Africa using miles is actually a rather complicated issue, depending on several factors including which airline(s) are being used. As a rule, you can only use frequent flyer miles to upgrade on planes actually operated by the airline whose mileage program you use. So for example say you fly on American Airlines to London, then connect to a British Airways flight to South Africa. You can upgrade on the AA flights using miles, but not on the BA flight to Africa. If you fly British Airways all the way (and they serve San Diego > London) then you can use their mileage program to upgrade, but if you want to use business class (with beds and lots of room) you have to buy the "base" ticket in BA's "World Traveller Plus" premium economy class, not ordinary coach. Looking for example at next March, the premium economy seat would cost around 70% more than an ordinary coach seat.

On other airlines, for example Delta or United, you can upgrade using miles from coach to business, but you have to buy the coach ticket in a more expensive fare category (called a fare "bucket") than the cheapest, then add the miles and also a co-pay on top of that. When it's all said and done the out-of-pocket costs can get pretty steep.

Sometimes the airlines will sell frequent flyer miles at a discount, and surprisingly you can sometimes buy enough miles for an "award" trip for less money than it costs to buy a ticket. For example right now and through the end of the month, US Airways is selling miles for their usual cost of around 3.5c per mile (not a good deal) but then they throw in a 100% bonus, making the net cost of the miles (after taxes) around 1.82c per mile.

With US Airways, it takes 110,000 miles to fly from the US to Africa round trip in business class, using US or any of its partner airlines, such as United, Lufthansa, Swiss International, Turkish Airlines, etc. They also allow a stopover in Europe en route.

Well, if you buy 50,000 miles (the max) then get a bonus of another 50,000, for around $1820 all in, then have someone "gift" you another 10,000 (say another $180) that's right around $2000 out of pocket for a business-class round trip to Africa. That's pretty close to what an ordinary economy ticket costs to purchase... not a bad deal.

Of course with any mileage redemption trip or upgrade, you have to be sure that there are seats available in that category, and getting award or upgrade space to Cape Town can be a real bear, hence my question on timing.

But once they start flying in business or first class on longhaul flights most people become quite addicted, so playing the frequent flyer mileage game becomes a lot more compelling. Monkey (or maybe a lemur) on your back and all that.
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Sep 11th, 2012, 06:36 PM
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You could also fly to Atlanta and fly Delta to South Africa. You may want to take a break overnight in Atl before flyng on, as it is then a 15+ hour flight, but that means you could knock yourself out and get some real sleep. We'll be taking that flight (no budget for business class, but we upgraded to premium tourist class) next month. I think it is fairly new, so I will report back and let y'all know how we liked it. I have not gotten great feedback about flying SA Airlines, but Delta, I've had some good personal experiences with, so I was pleased to find this option available to us this trip.

Our last trip we flew BA overnight to London, with an option to do an extra day in London. At the time, I had a bunch of Marriott points, so we stayed in town and enjoyed a bit of London before flying on to Cape Town. Unfortunately, we shared that overnight BA flight with a rugby team that was having a lot of fun, and we got little rest. Clearly we were glad we'd gotten a chance to sleep well in London, plus some fresh air and the Tate museum before heading to the airport for that second overnight flight.
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Sep 11th, 2012, 09:40 PM
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Thanks for all the info, everybody! We are considering all the options.
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Feb 11th, 2013, 10:56 PM
  #17
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HELP! We want to fly business or first class using POINTS. Looks like we may have enough points. San Diego or LAX to Cape Town (via London).

This will be the first time we've flown so far on points. But my husband has been in charge of the points, while I've been trying to plan the fun parts of the trip.

Should I post this as a separate question?? All of the above info has been helpful. We have to make these decisions:

--British Airlines? Which airline is most comfortable?
--Business vs. First Class?
--Sleep in London or not?

Sorry I think my question is unclear! Just trying to gather any more info as we are soon diving into actually trying to book flights! It's hard for me to ask the right question, since flying with points is so complicated, my husband has become the expert on the points, whereas I don't actually understand that part.

Ahh...I'm bald. I just ripped out my hair. If anybody understands my question here, you are a GENIUS!!!
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Feb 12th, 2013, 12:46 AM
  #18
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...also, has anyone used an award booking service, such as AwardBookingService.com to fly business class with points? Or did you just book it yourself? It seems very complicated. My husband says he thinks we have the points, or almost have them. I'm getting anxious as the trip is coming up in September!
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Feb 12th, 2013, 07:13 AM
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Melissa5, a couple of quick questions before you re-post this (maybe to the airlines board rather than Africa/ME.)

First, what airline and/or credit card are your points with, and how many do you have?

Second, you say you're hoping to travel in September. When are you hoping to go, and how long are you hoping to stay? How flexible are your dates?

Third, do you want to stop over anywhere, or is it just Cape Town and back? You can use points for open-jaw trips (for example fly to Cape Town, return from Joburg, etc.) or with some airlines for one-way trips.

First let's see if the trip is even feasible using miles/points, then you can decide whether to repost it or modify the question.
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Feb 12th, 2013, 01:10 PM
  #20
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Gardyloo: Thanks for your reply. These are NOT FF miles on any specific airline. They are Rewards points. Since my husband has a much better head for math and figures, I've decided to turn over the points & flights to him. But I may post some new questions about most comfortable flight/best itinerary.
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