International travel is back, by and large. Long flights of 8-12 hours beckon, as well as epic journeys of around 16 hours on Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines – and, in the next few years, the 18-20 hour marathon of Qantas’ non-stop flights to London and New York.
And while airlines add the latest big-screen movies alongside boxed sets of TV shows onto the inflight entertainment system, the ‘BYO content’ option seems increasingly popular with travellers.
Load up your laptop or tablet, slip on your noise-cancelling headphones and catch up on some shows you’ve missed during busyness of the working week – especially new series or recent episodes which often demand a commitment your home schedule is unable to match.
It’s an increasingly rare slice of time to treat yourself while disconnected from the world below. But like all else in life, moderation is the key.
Why I gave up on inflight binge-viewing
Let me share with you a secret. I used to love binge viewing on flights.
All those hours of uninterrupted time were ideal for immersing myself into a favourite TV series.
My first inflight binge-session was on a Qantas flight to San Francisco in 2006 – long before iPads and before the term ‘binge-viewing’ was even coined – when I spent every waking hour of the flight glued to Aaron Sorkin's superlative Sports Night.
An addictive precursor to The West Wing, Sports Night ran for just two widely-acclaimed seasons totalling 45 highly-crafted half-hour episodes – all of which I loaded onto my laptop.
This unique comedy-drama hybrid – complete with Sorkin’s scripting gymnastics, characteristic verbal tics and more than a few actors, plots, lines of dialogue and even episode titles recycled for The West Wing – had me from the get-go, and kept me on the “just one more episode!” treadmill throughout most of the flight and in my hotel, in those early hours of the next few mornings when jetlag sees you wide awake at 2am.
Yes, I was my own worst enemy – and I paid for that indulgence during the working days.
But I didn’t quite learn my lesson, and for years following would often queue up entire seasons of a new show and save them for the flight, too often with a similarly sad next-day result.
Once I became a full-time business traveller, that had to stop – or rather, I had to discipline myself and cut the binge-fest to a handful of episodes so that I'm not tempted to break my routine and short-change myself on sleep.
(In case you're wondering – yes, I subscribe to some streaming services, but in many cases I prefer to do my viewing in the downtime of travel rather than night-time on the couch.)
How I learned to love inflight binge-viewing again
In lieu of risky binge-viewing, my ‘Plan B’ involved keeping an eye open for engaging documentary shows, or rewatching a favourite movie but with the commentary track from the director and actors.
These provide content that’s fresh and enjoyable, with the benefit of a defined end-point when both my laptop and myself can power down.
But then we moved into the era of ‘peak TV’, where networks and streaming services began releasing scores of quality TV shows in typically shorter seasons of anywhere from six to ten well-crafted episodes.
This makes it easier to indulge in a binge-fest at 30,000 feet and immerse yourself in a superb series with less risk of ‘just one more episode’.
Some of my personal inflight viewing is still episodic in nature – I’m loving the latest Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – but there are older series I’m just now discovering, such as the gripping British crime drama series Unforgotten, which packs so much quality acting and writing into a six-episode run.
The end of each episode draws you like a magnet into the next, and that pull becomes stronger as the final ep nears, but six episodes of 45 minutes apiece is quite manageable on thge bulk of overseas flights.
Later this month I’ll be queuing up the just-released fourth season of Danish political drama Borgen, with eight episodes to take me from Sydney to Helsinki via Singapore.
After that – well, there’s no shortage of options, and I’m more than open to recommendations. What’s next on your inflight binge-viewing list?