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How to survive flying from West Coast to South Africa?


Jan 16th, 2011, 08:38 AM
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How to survive flying from West Coast to South Africa?

We'll be going from SFO to JNB in September & are now getting ready to buy the airline tickets. The length of flights have me in a swivet -- don't think I could do a 17 hour flight in coach back to NY as per SAA (with a midway stop without de-planing!), then follow up with a layover AND a 5-6 hour flight home to SFO. I'd be bananas. It makes me nuts just thinking about it. So my preference is to do AA/BA flights through Heathrow, spending a night with friends in London both coming & going, thereby breaking the whole journey into 4 10 hour segments (and getting award miles). I know 10 hours is doable. My husband wants to get the whole thing over with and is pushing for SAA , with a night in NY on the way. The outward journey, done like that, sounds okay -- but coming home there is no getting around that miserable journey mentioned above. Wouldn't want to mess around in NY for a whole day & night after a 17 hr flight. I have suggested traveling separately & was not joking!

Some months ago when I was first beginning to think about this, a woman from SF wrote she found the long flights a good time to get her head around the trip, relax after trip preps, and -- with aid of ambien & wine -- sleep quite a lot. I'd love to know any tips, tricks etc. others have used. Also route comparisons from those who have tried different ways -- e.g. is the benefit of shorter flights outweighed by the hassle of leaving/returning to the airport? Wish we could afford business/first class -- but that will have to be in another life...
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Jan 16th, 2011, 11:59 AM
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Here's a link to a similar topic in Air Travel:

As for the options you list, seems to be six of one half a dozen of the other. I would probably chose the LHR route.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 12:22 PM
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I live in SF and have done this trip 6 times. Flying coach to Africa from the west coast is the worst thing about going on a safari. But, it's so worth it!
I've done the SAA route the last 3 times, most recently in October. This last time about killed me. I had to fly from Bulawayo to Jo'burg. There was a 3-hour layover which turned into a 6 hour delay, getting me to NY too late to catch my connection to SF. Then, I had to deal with the missed connection, another 6 hour wait....then another 6 hour plane ride. It was brutal. And, on top of that, I got food poisoning and was sick the whole way from Jo'burg to NY.
I completely understand your husband's point of view. You just want to get there and be done with it. But, now I think breaking up a long flight is preferable.
I'm going to Tanzania in September and plan to fly Emirates because I can fly nonstop to Dubai and overnight right in the airport. And, I like the idea of being able to go thru customs in SF. We'll see.
But, as others have also mentioned, noise cancelling headphones and drugs are a must.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 12:43 PM
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Am flying Vancouver to Nairobi with BA and over nighting in London both ways to break up the flying time. One day on the way down and 3 days visiting friends on the way back.

Talked myself into World Trveleer Plus by breaking down the added cost by each 9 hr flight so for the $250 extra per I'm hoping it'll be worth it. Will let you know.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 01:43 PM
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As above, six of one, half-dozen the other.
We did it JFK/JNB straight on (but for stop, no deplanning) each way and found it a "non-event" as I feel once i'm flying over 10/hrs (with drugs and alcohol) it's painless.

That said, if I were traveling from the West Coast, I'd seriously consider flying thru Europe with 1 to 2/days layover stop either/both directions.

As the return flight will be longer and not having the SAA schedule in front of me, maybe consider on outbound you go straight out to JNB and then on the return with stop in London.

Good luck whichever decision!
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Jan 16th, 2011, 02:06 PM
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Thanks all -- just the sort of input I was hoping for. Phernska: worst fears validated, thanks a million. Husband looking thoughtful! Femi -- thanks for reminding me about that thread, more good stuff than a few days ago. Also enjoyed reading yr report of last SA trip & stay in Amsterdam. KathBC -- is World Traveller Plus about more legroom? Sandi -- I can see doing SAA (just) if we lived on other coast. Will look into multi stop SAA ticket -- though have found them generally to be more expensive.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 02:16 PM
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... on the right vs left coasts? Understand well!
Same considerations I had some years back when flying to/from OZ and did both straight out!
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Jan 16th, 2011, 03:22 PM
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I did it this past October from Bellingham, WA and actually went on to Cape Town after landing in JNB (another two hours or so) ...it's like childbirth - you forget about it very quickly once you're home! I went Bellingham-Seattle-Washington D.C.-JNB-Cape Town....all in coach class.

1) Wine and/or your choice of drugs (get a doctor to write something for you if you're very worried - Valium works).
2) Pick your seats ahead of time so that you two can have "space" all to yourself on either side of the plane. Actually, the leg room was a surprise on SAA - they had removed some seats to give more room and it wasn't as bad as I expected.
3) Have something to do (when not sleeping) because the movies on the plane sucked...I did play the games (you'll have your own screen). I wish I had an iPad or Kindle or something with me...I will next time!
4) If you're into photography, bring a laptop with your photo editing software of choice and look at all your photos all the way home (or until your battery dies).
5) Once you hit NY, you honestly won't feel the last 5 or 6 hours - it will seem so SHORT that it will amaze you!

Having said that, a couple years before my South Africa trip I went to Tanzania and stopped over in Amsterdam both ways. If my memory serves, that was nice, but it did take time away from my safari since I had limited time to be away from work. If I were to do it again (which I'm already planning for a couple years from now), I will go directly to JNB instead of going through Europe. I'd rather have the extra time on land in Africa. But if you have enough time, it is nice to have the stop over.

Either way, you'll have such a great time that the plane ride will be a little blip in your memory!
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Jan 16th, 2011, 05:02 PM
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shouldbewriting - BA's World Traveler Plus has slightly wider seats, 6 inches more leg room and I hear the bathroom is bigger as on some of their fleet Travellers Plus is between 1st & Business.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 05:24 PM
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I had a more time, so I incorporated nice RTW itineraries. Flying West, jet lag was not such a big issue and eliminated those days of dealing with it. The one flight I never tried in this was from South Africa to South America, and then North to the West Coast.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 06:55 PM
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We also start near you, LA area. We've flown from LAX to JNB six times since 2005. Is No route/way that I prefer strongly over another. But - have never tried staying overnight half way through it so can't say much about doing that. Staying over night usually means leaving the airport with the subsequent hassle of getting to/from the airport and doing the security thing again. But it is reasonable thing to do and I can understand why some like it.

So, my approach has been to minimize my door-to-door travel time. Whether flying out of JFK to JNB or through Heathrow or Frankfort or Amsterdam. Still takes 30 hours or so from time I leave home until arriving at JNB hotel. (FWIW, the site kayak when it gives you flight results also gives you the total airport-airport time).

What we do like to do is arrive at JNB a day early. That is, if we are starting our safari on Wed, arrive at JNB on Monday, usually Mon early evening. Spend that night and the next day just vegging-out/laying-around. Another night and then next morning head out for safari camp. Being able to do nothing and rest whenever feels really good after those cramped flights. This also gives you a start on the 9 hour recovery from time change and if luggage problem with airline a chance to sort it out before moving on.

regards - tom
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Jan 16th, 2011, 07:38 PM
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I had done a 16 /12 hour from Dubai to LAX in the spring and it was horrid...over crowded, sick etc etc.

So I was not happy about my trip to Jburg this past oct. I flew Lufthansa LAX to Munich and had a 5 hr lay over. Then direct to Jburg. That was really not to bad = coach and all of that. The plane only had 2 seats in a row which helped. Then coming home I flew Capetown, change in Jburg, Frankfurt for 5 hrs and home. I was so tired....I actually slept..which I seldom do on planes. I usually waaaay too uncomfy.

I refuse at this time to fly BA and do Heathrow. I could have done AF but there was a 10 hour layover in Paris going and coming. I chose the German route instead......I can do 5 hours...but 10 hours of wandering an airport and I usually lay down on the floor someplace and pass out. Not a good vision for a matron of 67!!!!

Good luck. AS they said above...once you get there its all worth it!!!!!
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Jan 16th, 2011, 07:44 PM
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I know I'm in the minority here, but I am with you! Our husbands can fly together while we picnic in Hampstead.

We too are from LA and I vote for the stopover in London both ways. After a very long flight from Sydney - LAX because of a take-off delay, my rule has been never to fly more than 10 hours in coach. The night flight from LAX to London is not too bad, and you can recover from your jet lag in London rather than SA.

Of course, if you can get the upgrade, that's preferable, especially Econ+ to Business. But the BA WT+ is not that fabulous - probably less so than an uncrowded plane.
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Jan 16th, 2011, 09:04 PM
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If you can make the time available (an extra day) let me make a recommendation that works well for us:

Day 1, fly from the west coast to New York, Boston, Washington or Chicago. Sleep in a bed at a hotel near the airport.

Day 2, take one of the morning flights to London operated by American (Chicago, JFK or Boston,) British (Boston, JFK,) Virgin Atlantic (Newark,) Continental (Newark) or Dulles (United.) Sleep in a bed at a hotel near Heathrow (we usually use Priceline and have never spent more than $100 for a 4-star hotel.)

Day 3, fly to Africa, a day flight if possible.

You will be amazed how much this whacks jetlag and how much more alive you'll feel. Frankly, if it even means shortening your time in Africa by an extra day, it might be worth it in terms of how human you'll feel as opposed to joining the Walking Dead. We swear by it.
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Jan 17th, 2011, 07:34 AM
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I have never been able to sleep on long flights (8 + 12 hours to Cape Town; 28.5 hours to Australia), and I would arrive at our destinations exhausted. We travel economy, and I just don't seem able to sleep sitting up. I finally went to the doctor and told him that I was too old to be up all night and asked him to give me drugs. As I am usually reluctant to take any medication at all, this was a huge step for me. The doctor prescribed 7.5mg zopiclone - he suggested I start with half a pill and take the other half only if needed. He was very specific that he didn't want me sleeping longer than six hours (because of the risk of deep vein thrombosis), so I assume that the flight crew is going to wake me up two hours before we land for breakfast, count back six hours from that time, add 30 minutes, and take the pill accordingly (it takes 20 to 30 min for the drug to work). While six hours is a short sleep, it is six more than I used to get, and I am much better rested when I arrive. I awake rested and alert - no sense of being groggy. My only warning would be that the first time I took the drug was a bit of a shock. After taking the pill, I sat in my seat feeling not in the least bit sleepy or groggy - no sense of drifting off - and thinking the pill wasn't working. The last thing I remembered was feeling annoyed with the doctor for prescribing a completely useless drug. The next thing I knew, the crew was turning on the lights for breakfast. It took my husband a couple of minutes to convince me that I had actually been asleep for the past six hours. It was a bit unsettling. I guess I should have asked the doctor for more details on what exactly I would experience after taking the drug. On subsequent flights, knowing what to expect made it far less alarming.

In the past four years, I have used zopiclone on several flights to and from Africa and New Zealand, and would now not travel without it. It has made a huge difference to me.

For when I am awake, I always have slippers for my feet and a good book. On our way home, I am invariably finishing up my journal, putting together (with my DH's assistance) a list of trip highlights. Robin
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Jan 17th, 2011, 11:34 AM
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This is quite fabulous -- what at great group! Thank you all so much.

cjryan: Forty-three years later, I remember childbirth quite vividly and is the scenario I was hoping to avoid! Great info. on legroom on SAA.

KathBC -- we're doing a lot more luxury than usual in the hopes of seeing a lot of animals very close by, so don't feel we can throw and extra $2000 at it. (Especially since what was supposed to be a one-off is starting to look like it could be a regular occurrence!) Look forward to hearing how it was though...

Tom, we do have a night in JNB before the party begins. Seems like it would be essential at least for me.

Leanna: Girlfriend, I hear you. Remember all too well trying to sleep on the floor in Miami en route to Belize; as you say this is not a good look for the well over 60 set & is another "learning experience" driving my care in choosing how to get to SA.

Would love to get to know you better, Crosscheck! Harrod's hampers on the Heath -- looking forward! Think I will be adopting the 10 hour rule myself.

Gardyloo: Sheer genius! Now let me see what himself thinks...

Canadian-Robin -- will be looking into zopiclone tout suite. Especially after what happened to Spassvogel so recently, deep vein thrombosis (believe that's what killed her) is a concern for me & another reason to want to break up the flights.
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