I thought I would provide a general outlay on flight necessaries and my experience flying from Melb to Abu Dhabi (13 hrs 15mins), waiting 2 hrs for my next flight, then my flight from Abu Dhabi to Moscow (5 hrs 45 mins).
What to pack for your flight essentials really does depend on whether your flight carrier is a cheap one or not I.e. Jetstar vs Emirates. This is because many luxury carriers provide you with the staples, while cheap carriers do not (not even meals and beverages e.g. Jetstar). And even then, each luxury flight carrier provides different things.
I flew with Etihad on both occasions from Melbourne to Abu Dhabi and from Abu Dhabi to Moscow. This was my first time with this carrier. Along with Emirates, I would say they are the best carriers I have flown with. They provide you with the following, per flight:
• A quality fleece blanket, a cushion which can be used as a neck or back pillow, and the headset which connects to your entertainment system.
• The entertainment system which had features including locational map of your trip, camera footage from the plane, time and weather in both departure city and arrival city, how long left of the flight, radio, music, new film releases and games. I really enjoyed all of these features. It also showed you information on your gates for your connecting flight at Abu Dhabi and on the transit procedure.
• A free travel pack which included a toothbrush, toothpaste, an eye mask, compression socks and earplugs.
• Seriously good food and drink with a vegetarian option . You don’t pay extra. It all comes with your flight purchase. I chose the vegetarian option, as my digestion complicates with flying. Locally sourced vegan and nutritional food alongside veg curries with rice. Everything had flavour. And in between meals you had snacks and beverages. You could never be starving or dehydrated.
I stayed away from as much dairy, gluten and caffeine as possible.
• Wonderful assistance. All announcements were in English and Arabic. On the flight to Moscow, they also announced in Russian. All flight attendants spoke a range of languages and I saw them assist the aged, disabled, families and crying babies immaculately. They would assist you even with the most pettiest of favours, like me asking my bottle to be filled up with boiling water frequently.
• Comfortable seating, a spacious plane including toilets, and timely arrivals with clear, regular communications.
I would say the following I found hugely necessary for my long-ass transit with you or in carry-on:
• Firstly, I would say to invest in a bag specifically suited for flight travel. Not just any travel bag, like a day pack. This is because, in the past I have used my awesome Crumpler backpack which has compartments including a padded one for your backpack. And I know there are many people that use a hiking pack to store goods. There are three issues with using a daypack I find:
o The compartments are hard to get to where you have to take the bag completely out of the overhead to get things out. Not to mention there are no small compartments designed for knick-knacks at the front of the pack for easy access;
o If you pack a lot in to balance the luggage requirements between carry-on and onboard luggage, your bag will inflate belly-up and it is hard to fit in the overhead, therefore hard to pull out and shove back in, and is an inconvenience for other passengers sharing the overhead space;
o Backpacks make you sweat and tense up your shoulder, back and neck muscles, even before the flight(s). If you needed to grab something like your passport then and there, you would need to take the bag off to get it. Something like a shoulder bag is easily accessible from the side of your body, within arms reach.
Another option I should mention that is inefficient- one that I used also during this experience and don’t want to again- is the open market bag. I used this so I could store everything I thought I would use during my flights in a bag I could take with me to my seat. Even my jacket and vest I would take off when off the plane. But I overpacked and it was heavy; it was difficult to get the bag out every time you wanted something that wasn’t in your little storage compartment in front of you; and in the end it is another bag which also does not zip up, so many things can fall out. Just don’t do it- my advice.
The bag I invested in- the optimal choice—was this Kathmandu luggage bag I bought on clearance (I am obsessed with Kathmandu). This was my second best buy by far: compartment for pens and books, tech supplies, toiletries, big hefty things like my drink bottle, clothes and bigger books, documents, keys for locks, laptop and iPad. One of the best choices I made was buying this bag (after my last trip to NZ with two large open bags as carry-on).
• Only a few books. I only used a book on philosophy but I brought ones on a range of subjects, including a phrase book, arts books, my journal and my diary. I did only use two of these books, because as you realise, there is a thing called darkness and need for sleep. You have lights above you but it is hard not to inconvenience your sleeping neighbours alongside having limited light. And a pen- bring one. I have a small one in my money wallet too, so one is with me at all times.
• Passport and your tickets. Along with your money wallet. These are obvious items as you need them to board. But as you know, you need to prepare to fill out any forms on-flight, as entry requirements may apply (I did not have to for Abu Dhabi and Moscow). Furthermore, I would take these with me whenever I would leave my seat. I just don’t want to risk losing them.
• Tech supplies:
o Laptop but leave it in your carry-on if you have an iPad as an alternative.
o iPad with a keyboard (mine is Belkin QODE). Does not require to use your laptop which is heavy, clumsy and also involves carrying the plug. Once again, I still did not use this the majority of the time due to sleeping and lack of light.
o All of your adapters and plugs. This was left in carry-on.
But you can use them on the bigger Etihad planes (flight to Abu Dhabi from Melb) as they have an outlet near your entertainment system.
o Your phone, usb cable and power bank. I used this one use cable to charge my phone, iPad keyboard and my power bank. It is great to have everything charged, ready to use at airports upon arrival. I had a usb port near my entertainment system.
• Noise-cancelling headphones. This is, undoubtedly, the best purchase I have made regarding travel necessities. My ones are the Bose, really expensive ones. It comes with a Euro adapter and battery. Once you switch this bad boy on, all engine noise vanishes, while you can still hear announcements and the like. Unfortunately, you cannot stop hearing the cries of toddlers and you do need to keep unblocking your ears as it feels like this weird suction between the ear and the headphone. But this prolonged the headaches, which I find are inevitable over a long flying period. Same with sore muscles and cramping. Oh and consequential vertigo and jet lag :). But seriously, these headphones are worth their weight in gold. Super quality earplug substitute.
• Insulated drink bottle (attached caribiner is a plus): you can fill up at the water fountains at airports (usually near toilets) before a flight and can ask it to get filled up with cold or hot water onboard. It saves you from having to wait for a drink whenever the beverages tray comes by and gives you at least 2.5 fully cups. To aid digestion, I specifically asked to get my bottle filled up with hot water. Once filled, because my bottle is good quality, I could not feel the heat when holding it. And to kept the heat, irrespective of when I poured a drink.
• Light, outdoor-branded jacket and vest. It can either get really cold or really hot during your flights. But prepare mostly for the cold: use your blanket to cover lower back and legs but make sure your upper body is well covered.
• If you are going to a country with a Winter climate, like I am, don’t wear all of your thermal accessories on board. Instead, pack them in your carry-on. I suggest a fleece neck garter (not balaclava) and not a scarf, to save space and it is more effective; gloves; merino socks; thermals and beanie. I also packed a light Winter coat (Kathmandu) that can be folded and compacted into the hood. You can easily carry something like this alongside your carry-on. Two things I would buy in Russia, not in Aus prior are good winter gloves and boots. Currently what I wore/packed were hiking boots (for ankle coverage and non-slip exterior soles) and merino wool gloves which are neither wind nor water resistant. I refused to buy ape-looking snow gloves for $90 at Kathmandu.
• And lastly, toiletries (all under 100g/ travel size):
o facial wipes and/or thermal spring water spray (Avène). These were used to refresh, clean and calm my skin. Especially when you don’t have the luxury of a shower.
o Sample-sized cleanser and rich moisturiser. Keeping pores clean and skin hydrated is super important during long flights. I also brought my electronic cleansing brush. Before “bed” I went into the toilet, brushed my teeth, cleansed and moisturised my face with these products. Really take advantage of sample products you have.
o Mouthwash, to kill all bacteria.
o Rich hand cream.
o Lip balm.
o Sanitary bag. This is optional, but it was in case I needed it.
Things I did not necessarily need to take, given my flight carrier providing them:
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Neck pillow. Honestly, I don’t even use one as it pulls my upper back forward and screws up alignment. And also, big waste of space. I can’t do blow up ones as they are useless so I carry one you don’t pack away. It was wasteful for me personally.
• Eye mask.
• Hand sanitiser. Provided in toilets and in a packet with meals. Also wet wipes are provided.
Things I did not need in general:
• A crap load of books, although it does transfer a lot of weight from your onboard suitcase to your carry-on.
• That other open, market bag as discussed earlier.
Travel Particulars, based on my past and present travel experience:
• As I said earlier, keeping clean, aiding digestion, keeping warm and staying hydrated are my top priorities. I keep clean with facial wipes which can also be used to wipe yourself if you have the time in between connecting flights. Brushing teeth, washing and moisturising my face are pretty important while flying because I feel clean and my face is now thanking me for it. I help digestion by opting for vegetarian/vegan meals while NEVER drinking coffee during flight or transit. I only drank hot water and lots of it during my travel period. I was sweating from the heat in my last flight with which Etihad provided ice creams. An outdoor jacket and quality cooling top I find are necessary. I wore a Helly Hansen base layer as a top with a North Face fleece vest and jacket. Light to wear and carry but enough to keep you warm and let your body breath.
• Prolonging headaches, sore muscles and cramps are also pretty important. I did this by keeping hydrated, using my noise-cancelling headphones and stretching/moving when my legs started to play up. My back had a hard time, and I used the cushion Etihad provided as back support.
• On my last flight to Moscow, I had a crying toddler in front of me. I would say the best thing to do in this situation, is to try to help. His family did not know English so I could not ask what was the matter. Instead, I caught his eye and made funny faces, treating him like I did with my baby nephews. He smiled and was giggling. Not only did this stop the crying, it relieved his family and they could rest a bit more. They also knew playing with him and making him giggle helped him stay happy.
• In transit at Abu Dhabi airport, while waiting for my next flight out, I chose to eat and drink as best as I can. I bought a banana, apple and bottle of water. I stayed away as much as possible from gluten and caffeine. No matter how much I drank and ate well, I still felt like I broke even. So being so healthy at the time is crucial.
• Abu Dhabi has easy wifi which was very convenient. As soon as I got into the Moscow Airport, the wifi requires a local phone number to set it up. Which is unbelievably stupid. Your best bet is to get a SIM card: a stall is set up at the international arrivals area. You can only pay by cash but ATM’s are also there. An Internet-based SIM cost me 800 Ruble- close to $10 AUD. It is best to set this up when you arrive, at the airport.
• Russian winter: I suggest putting on those packed thermals and jacket, covering all extremities, before you leave the airport. It may get hot but man, it is worth it. I had to walk 10 minutes to the hotel. And without thermal leggings on, it felt like my leg muscles were shutting down.
• I did not have to go through customs at Moscow airport. I could go straight to the exit after my passport being verified by an official. The official seemed completely shocked an inexperienced in verifying an Australian passport. So I am guessing not many Aussies venture to Moscow. Mostly all other foreigners going through were from the –stan and –khan countries who speak fluent Russian. I do not think English is a prerequisite to work at the airport, with few words being exchanged.
• There are cafés at the airport: one of which serves coffee and your first taste of Russian dining. Here is where I tried their porridge, pancakes made with a cheese, Moscow cake that has layers of praline, and like a fruit-compote tea. By the way, coffee is pricey. In Moscow, it costs the equivalent of $7.50 USD. And it is not like Melbourne coffee. Still very nice and worth it if you go to good places. You also do not get a choice between lactose free milks and full fat. Not even a skinny milk choice.
• There are two nearby hotels from the airport with which you can rest and shower, before heading to the big smoke. The cheaper, less quality one is the most conveniently located. It is only 10-15 minutes walk. And it is warm. Great for a nap and shower after such a long trip. FYI there is no distinction between shower gel and shampoo here. They also provide snacks such as OJ and crab-flavoured chips :). Really good actually.
• Travelling from the airport to Moscow takes an hour by taxi, but you do need to be aware of the good taxi’s to take. You need to call for this kind of taxi: you DO NOT catch the taxis offered to you by men at international arrivals. They will scam you 10,000 Ruble. The Airport also has a train line. You can travel via train but it will take longer.
• Thankfully, I am staying with a local friend who is aware of all Russian nuances. I would strongly suggest staying with friends, not as an independent traveler, to start off with. There is much to learn about how it works here. And to get by without knowing a word of Russian to start off with, is difficult. Also, there is very little signage to
navigate. But definitely it is important to be adaptive and open. Russians are quite reserved people until you get to know them.