The worst 3 hours of travel

The always amusing 2-4-3 layout on ANA's 777-300ER
The always amusing 2-4-3 layout on ANA's 777-300ER

Greetings from Tokyo’s Haneda airport. It is a beautiful facility and, for wholly international itineraries, it is a very easy connection point. And for me, right now, it is home to the worst three hours of travel.

I’m en route from New York City to Bangkok for work. That’s a minimum one connect itinerary no matter what and the connections are generally well timed. The three hour layover here in Tokyo really isn’t all that bad. But I just spent 13 hours intermittently dozing on a plane and I’m not even half way to my destination. All I really want is to lay down in a bed and sleep for real and that will not happen for quite a while yet. In the meantime I have to keep myself sufficiently engaged these next three hours so that I don’t fall asleep in the terminal and miss my flight.

And so I engage in my typical distractions to get through the connection. I can play with the beer machine in the lounge, for example. Though too many plays is not good either.

Beer time in the lounge!
Beer time in the ANA lounge!

There’s a noodle bar in the lounge as well, though I’ll eventually almost certainly go out into the terminal for a more substantive snack.

Pork ramen helps pass the time between flights
Pork ramen helps pass the time between flights

And with a decent wifi signal and a need to catch up on the past 13ish hours of what happened in the world I can pass the time just fine, I’m sure.

I should also note that I added a second connection in my trip – I fly JFK-HND-KUL-BKK – to save a few hundred dollars. It also adds a few hours to the total trip time. Even without the extra hop I’d still be a 7 hour flight from getting there. And the 5:30a arrival wouldn’t be much fun, either.

The articulating recline is interesting, though eventually my knees/shins are not happy with proximity to the seat in front
The articulating recline is interesting, though eventually my knees/shins are not happy with proximity to the seat in front

I’ll also suggest that this would be pretty awful, even had I been in a premium cabin to get to Tokyo. I actually managed to sleep a decent bit through the 13 hour flight, even without a flat bed on board. That wouldn’t change the fact that I’m still only half way to my destination.

That said, I’m banking on the total exhaustion to work in my favor. It is 8am NYC time in my brain right now but 8pm in Bangkok. I need to make that shift and quickly so that I’m coherent come time for my presentations next week. Maybe these few hours of semi-delusional wandering through the terminal will keep me in a sufficiently tired state such that I continue to sleep through the rest of the journey. That leaves me “awake” at 10a local time when I finally get to Thailand.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. I actually like connecting at NRT. JAL has some great lounges, plus the AA lounge there isn’t bad either, if you want to lounge hop. And the JAL flight to BKK didn’t seem so long, perhaps because of newer aircraft and decent service.

    1. The onward flight will be fine and the terminal really is nice. This is completely a mental challenge for me. I’ve been on the go for 16+ hours and I’m not even halfway there. And I’m exhausted going in to a pretty busy week.

  2. The most exhausted I’ve ever felt while traveling just happened to be a ORD-NRT-BKK itin. By the time we were halfway to BKK I wanted to crawl into a ball on the floor and sleep. This was probably ten years ago though. Haha

    1. Ah, that’s a cakewalk compared to ICT – PER with IRROPS, an added stop in NAN on the new itinerary, then a missed connection in SYD, and a UM12-year-old American kid who convinced me to tell the QF club attendant I was his “son” so he could go in with me for 6 hours. All I wanted to do was sleep in the club, but he insisted on playing cards for all that time, waking me up whenever I dozed off 🙂

  3. I feel you brother. I had a trip once with wife and two young kids returning from Europe, NAP-FRA-ORD-DEN-LAX with ORD-DEN-LAX in 4 coach seats, kids got to lay out, but dad had no room, and an hour drive after getting to LAX. For me… Worst Ever. Hope you get good rest. Keep that great mind sharp!

  4. Least your itinerary lets you fly to HND and connect directly from there.
    My carrier of choice’s international legs always landed in NRT from my home airport and I have to bus/train over to HND for a domestic leg. Depending on where I’m going, it’s usually an overnight stay as the landing is too late to catch the flight out of HND with the hour+ travel time in between the airports. Only destination I can remember that had evening flights I can actually make was to Shin Chitose.

    Probably my personal worst over the years was SYR-EWR-NRT bus HND-CTS in one day.

  5. Reminds me of the week I did EWR-SIN-PER, with one night and a presentation in in Perth, followed by PER-SIN-LAX-ORD, 2 nights in Chicago, and then MDW-LGA.

    Being in biz helped, but it was far from a relaxing week.

  6. 13hr flight is a cakewalk! Lol. I just did 5:5hrs EWR-LAX 3hr layover. 16:55hrs LAX-SIN 2hr layover: 2:15hrs SIN-BKK 2he layover then final 1hr flight to CNX. Doing the same in reverse right now, but with a 12hr layover in SIN!!!

  7. Haha – yes – I just “rethought” my 6+ hr late-night layover at KIX (albeit I wasn’t suffering in Y)…. 1.5 hrs at NRT is much more civilized.

  8. The last time I did that itinerary it was BWI-ORD-NRT/HND-BKK (then continued onward to DPS). Haneda was exhausting, and the flight onward to Bangkok was downright painful. Good luck!

  9. That’s why many prefer the “red-eye” “westbound” flights from N. America to East Asia over the mid-morning ones. One sleep better on the plane.
    Also why the Gulf States airlines can never capture the premium business traffic between East Asia and Europe with their early evening westbounds, no matter how superior their products are.

    1. I did the 5p departure from JFK headed to Haneda. Had I just finished in Tokyo it would’ve been fine. And, to be fair, I’m in Bangkok now and also doing fine, if not a bit groggy. But the mental challenge of those three hours, knowing I wasn’t even half way done, was rough.

  10. It is worse with a young child who can’t begin to understand what is going on, but old enough to know its not normal around ages 2-4 for us. IAH-EWR-CDG in economy and no lounge , with a 4 hour layover. ” I just want to go home” – but at that point, going home wa was bad as going forward……..we all survived……
    I often get migraines on long flights too, and that makes layovers even worse……

  11. Personally what I find much worse is that final leg. You’ve come long haul, from Oz that’ll mean with a connection on the way, to end up in London. Then have a few hours and another hour of flying before Edinburgh. Definitely keen to try Qatar to avoid this final leg issue!

  12. Having a layover when tired in a pleasant modern airport simply is not the “worst three hours of travel”, and I’m pretty sure on reflection (or if he saw it written by someone else) Seth would agree that the headline is, well, somewhat exaggerated. I was expecting to read about a near death experience when I clicked on the story. I would expect that any well traveled person could come up with a very lengthy list of worse three hour periods.

    On the main point, I think the effects of long haul flights and jet lag are different for everybody, and likely for the same person at different times of day and in different directions. My rule is to simply make the best of it on the flight, and upon arrival try hard to function until normal local bedtime. The fact I’m a light sleeper in any case probably makes it easier. A day or night of weird hours with limited sleep isn’t out of the ordinary, so there’s not as much to bounce back from as in the case of a person with very regular sleep habits.

  13. I was very glad we split our trip a few months ago with an overnight at the ICN Hyatt both ways. We were exhausted and ready for sleep not long after getting to ICN, but well rested the next morning when we headed on to BKK. The time adjustment seemed easier, too. The downside was it added days to the trip, which isn’t always doable. And, it was somewhat of a side of effect of the best way to get business class awards the entire way involved a combination of DL and UA miles. Still, it worked out nicely to break up that trip and adjust to the time difference with a good sleep in a real bed in the middle of it.

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