The Fast Lane mailbag is always full of surprises. It’s usually at it’s best on a Tuesday when the electronic version starts to ping as readers finally get round to hitting send on the notes they began writing on Saturday afternoon and my PA Alex starts opening all the handwritten letters that have just arrived.
He usually likes to start with anything that has a prison postmark or a child-like script on the front. While going through the standard inquiries about restaurant and hotel tips in Kyoto and internship requests, this week’s correspondence also brought a lot of questions on packing, jet-lag remedies and long-haul flights.
At first I thought the general theme had something to do with the school holidays but, after a little back and forth with a few readers, it seems that the economy could really be on the up as many said their companies were lifting travel bans and that they were about to head out on the road again.
I decided I would write back to everyone once I had settled in for my flight to Hong Kong later that evening. Somehow that didn’t happen as sleep overtook me and I woke to the Aussie vowels of the Cathay Pacific captain telling us we had 30 minutes before landing.
I bumped my letter writing session to Wednesday evening but was foiled again when the dinner I hosted at the Upper House ended up moving on to the bar and then to my room. Before I knew it, it was the next morning and I was on the treadmill with no time to write.
For a very brief moment I thought about penning a generic letter but quickly dismissed the idea as I’ve never done one before and decided it might make more sense to issue a global travel advisory for all those readers about to get their wings back. In no specific order, here are the most frequently asked questions:
1. I haven’t flown long haul on business for nearly two years. Who do you rate at the moment?
A lot has changed if you haven’t been flying long haul over the past few years. Some carriers have definitely slipped as passenger numbers have dwindled and chief executives have taken their eyes off the ball (some never knowing where it was in the first place). Others, though, have upped their game. Finnair’s long-haul business class is much improved now that it has got rid of its old MD-11s and introduced different seats on its new A330s. ANA is still my favourite carrier to Japan. While I didn’t experience any of the on-board service, Cathay’s first-class seat did the trick on Tuesday night.
2. You seem to cover a lot of ground for The Fast Lane, what’s your in-flight regime?
I don’t just cover ground for The Fast Lane but also for my other two businesses. In case you missed an earlier Q&A column, I also finance all travel for this page myself – no freebies, no upgrades, no press tickets. My in-flight regime tends to vary but it involves a bit of advance planning to ensure I walk into the cabin in a state of relative serenity. For security this means dressing the part – no belt, wearing slip-on/off shoes and having two tote bags for easy access to a mesh toiletry kit (I’ve been using a Muji one for about a year now and no one has ever asked me to place liquids into a zip-lock bag) and my laptop. On board all I need is two glasses of wine, a huge olive Comme des Garçons wool scarf-cum-blanket and hopefully a feather pillow (ANA has the best pillows) to ensure a solid eight-hour sleep. I try not to eat but will occasionally just go for a soup and salad. On approach, a scrub-down with Gatsby facial wipes (available at any Japanese convenience store) will get rid of pillow scars and teddy tired eyes.
3. Who has the best economy?
4. How do you cope with jet lag?
Sleep as much as possible during the flight and just get on with it when you land. Don’t talk about the long flight with colleagues and friends as it’s boring and everyone knows how long the flight was and the time change involved. It’s best just to ignore it and get on with life. A good run or gym session helps kick some of the haze away. Taxi naps are also good for getting you through back-to-back meetings. Most importantly, if you wake up two hours earlier than you wanted to, do not go back to sleep! You’ll have the worst sleep hangover a couple of hours later.
5. How are you getting on with that wheelie bag you bought?
The wheels are having their third trip and so far, so good – the Rimowa bag is already nicely dented. For this trip it’s a check-in situation as I’m hitting Hong Kong, Taipei, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, and Tokyo over 11 days but I have a special back-up zip pocket (black nylon from Tokyu Hands) that I slip into my tote. It’s armed with briefs, socks, two dress shirts and a T-shirt in case I’m left empty-handed at the carousel.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle
More columns at www.ft.com/brule