If you prefer organic food, chemical-free cosmetics, regular exercise and sleep sound enough to recharge your system, airplanes may seem like a carefully constructed form of hell.
However, as more airlines recognise that today’s high flier is interested in arriving in at least as good a shape as they departed in, on-board amenities and services are leaning towards enhancing well-being.
Here, how some of the airlines considered the best in the world fare.
Think well, stay well
What’s in – or on – your mind while you’re contained in a capsule 40,000 feet above sea level can have a strong influence on the mental and physical shape you arrive in.
Nervous flyers, and hypochondriacs, may see danger and exotic bacteria, at every turn.
The solution, of course, is to not only fly with a top airline that takes safety and hygiene to heart, but to practice meditation or relaxation techniques on-board rather than imbibe a fortifying malt whisky. Alcohol not only dehydrates but can ramp anxiety levels after the sedating effect wears off.
Our favourite part of trendsetting Virgin Australia’s flight offerings are its mindful meditation series, presented by life coach Erin Kyna, including Overcoming Anxiety, In Seat Mindful Movement, Finding Peace and Gratitude.
Listening to any, or all, of these is guaranteed to switch the nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ sympathetic to healing parasympathetic mode.
Most top airlines also include advice on well-being in their in-flight magazines, and offer exercise videos.
There’s absolutely no problem getting premium alcohol, or gourmet food such as lobster in black bean sauce or glazed duck breast served on Royal Doulton dinnerware on the world’s top airlines.
But what sense does it make to eat organic muesli, activated almonds, or free-range chicken at home and splurge on rich food or alcohol in the anonymous surrounds of an aircraft?
Most airlines cater to special dietary requirements – order the AVBL (Asian Vegetarian Meal), LSML (Low Sodium Meal) or VOML (Vegetarian Oriental Meal) on board Emirates, which offers 19 special meals to meet religious and medical dietary needs.
Lighter meals, such as soups or salads, are also widely available.
However, tight profit margins have made prioritising sustainable or organic food products a low priority.
Astoundingly, a small airline called Kullaflyg provides Economy class passengers with organic meals; but you’ll need to take a flight in Sweden to enjoy this service.
Among larger carriers, Cathay Pacific’s seafood is sustainable and it restricts the use of wild caviar or endangered species. It also sources welfare-friendly pork from the United Kingdom while, currently, the menu design team is looking at hydroponic vegetables which follow organic principles. The tea it serve in First and Business Class is also organic.
LAN Airlines features many natural ingredients from South America, including local fish such as salmon from the Chilean fjords while another airline using sustainable, locally sourced food and beverages is KLM.
On British Airways you can savour cookies from an organic bakery located on the Scottish island of Mull while the fish, tea and coffee served are sustainably sourced.
Ordering the vegetarian meal is one easy way to increase well-being dividends.
On Virgin Australia, travellers have the good fortune of being offered vegetarian food designed by international chef Luke Mangan; at Qantas, it’s Neil Perry dishing up an asparagus, green peas and Ligurian olive salad, served with fresh South Australian Woodside goat curd in Business Class.
Bigger really is better
Deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that forms in the legs and can lead to a pulmonary embolism.
There’s a reason, however, that it’s also called ‘economy class’ syndrome. Long flights trapped in cramped seating can be a risk factor, which is one reason many airlines are increasing legroom in economy as well as the pointy-end of the plane.
Medical issues aside, the pressing question for Business and First Class travellers, is how seriously airlines take a good night’s sleep.
Etihad Airways worked with sleep experts from the American Centre for Psychiatry and Neurology to enhance in-air rest and, in Diamond First class, offers sustainable, all-natural COCO-MAT bedding.
Its luxuriously spacious three-room Residence, on its new fleet of Airbus A380s, also banishes any fears of cramping or DVT, while pillow mist and pulse point oil in First Class help anxious travellers drift off to sleep.
Qantas also sought out ergonomic experts to help redesign seats and beds in its new A330 suite.
One hundred percent cotton sheets, Givenchy pyjamas, pure wool blankets, electronic dimming windows and even a “deep sleep turn down” are other sleep essentials touted by top airlines.
But if you’re on a plane for a substantial amount of time, it’s vital seat/bed statistics that probably interest you.
Everyone likes to claim to be the biggest and best but Cathay Pacific’s boast that it has some of the longest and widest beds on any commercial airline, with a fully flat bed on its A330s 205.7cm to 220.7cm long and 91.4cm wide in First Class and over 208.2cm long and up to 70cm on some of its Business Class flights, not without merit.
Fully flat beds in Qantas’s A380 First Suites are up to 212cm and 73.6cm wide while those in Business are 203cm long and 61cm wide.
Emirates First Class seating in its Airbus A380, Airbus 340 and most Boeing 777s features fully flat beds that are 208cm long and include a multi-mode massage system with adjustable speed and intensity. In Business Class beds are up to 200.6cm long and 52.1cm wide.
In Etihad’s Residence, you’ll sleep on a 208.2cm long fully flat bed; in Business its A380 and B787 seats that convert to a 204.4cm bed.
Other major players on the more-space-for-sleep front include Singapore Airlines and Garuda Indonesia.
By early 2016, Virgin Australia will also be playing with the big boys, having completed a major redesign of the Business Class and Premium Economy cabins on its Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 aircraft that will include suite-style seating that converts to a 203cm long fully flat bed in Business Class and more spacious seating configurations in Premium Economy.
In Premium Economy, other good choices for comfort and well-being include Qantas, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa, with seats up around 50cm in width on selected aircraft, according to www.seatguru.com
Aboard the major airlines that operate long-haul services out of Sydney and Melbourne, seat width in Economy ranges from 43cm to the 48.25cm offered by Singapore Airlines aboard all the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A380 and A330-300, it says.
Most carriers offer luxury brands such as Bvlgari, Ermenegildo Zegna and Salvatore Ferragamo to First and Business class passengers, but chemical-free alternatives are starting to make an impact.
You’ll find an organic, locally-made product, Antipodes skincare, in Air New Zealand’s Business and Premium Economy classes; on Virgin Australia, Business Class amenity kits contain REN Cosmetics that use only 100% plant and mineral derived ingredients.
Cathay Pacific offers First Class passengers products such as Resurrection Body Balm and Fabulous Face Cleanser from Aesop, a brand that includes plant-based ingredients, while in Business Class it’s toiletries from biodynamic cosmetics company Jurlique.
Qantas First Class passengers receive skincare from Payot and Business Class Aurora, free from nasty ingredients like sulphates or parabens; British Airways dishes up Aromatherapy Associates in the women’s First Class kit and London grooming specialist The Refinery for the mens’ version, both brands based on essential oils.
Garuda Indonesia has partnered with French botanical brand L’Occitane en Provence for those in Business class; while on American Airlines, every First and Business class kit contains products from red flower, a New York-based, eco-friendly beauty and lifestyle brand.
Having to listen to the stockbroker next to you extrapolate about market trends is certain to skyrocket stress.
Noise cancelling headphones are the answer with most premium airlines offering them to high flyers – and some offering top-of-the-line Bose – as well as eye masks that effectively take you out of the game.
Mood lighting designed to control cabin lighting in sync with the light outside the aircraft and help reduce jetlag is also widespread.
LAN claims advanced air humidification techniques on its new Boeing 787 that helps reduce possible discomfort for passengers in terms of fatigue and dryness.
On Virgin Australia, free transfers if you’re one of the travellers on international long-haul services (to Abu Dhabi or Los Angeles) eligible for a complimentary limousine service to and from participating airports, are sure to ease travel tension.
Helen is a content producer and who writes wellness and business content for newspapers, magazines and digital sites and helps clients with their content strategy. She also coaches private clients about a healthy diet, how to lose weight, how to overcome anxiety, how to cope with stress, how to get more sleep and how to improve general health.