7 Tips To Help Survive A Long Flight

bangkok airport

Flying is an integral part of the travel experience for many of us and while I personally love a long flight, I realize that many people do not. I think that’s because they just don’t know how to prepare for spending multiple hours in a long metal tube. Many folks go into the experience with a fiercely negative attitude, which of course colors the entire flight. Instead of dreading the long flight, learn to embrace it and make it more enjoyable for yourself by taking a few extra steps.

1. Prepare a long-haul kit – This is an essential travel item for me and I keep it packed in my carry-on bag no matter where I go. While it’s convenient for any style of trip, the components of my prized kit are key when I’m on a long-haul flight. In the bag I keep: an eye mask, plenty of earplugs, disposable prepasted toothbrushes (like Wisp), hand lotion, compression socks, travel sized deodorant and a few other goodies. You get the concept though; the idea is to bring things that will give you a better chance to rest on that long flight and to leave the plane looking and feeling refreshed. After spending a night on a plane, there is nothing better than being able to feel slightly human. The toothbrush, deodorant and lotions all help with that. No matter what you pack in your survival kit, it’s a good idea to have one.

2. Organize that carry-on bag – There is nothing worse than waiting hours for a flight, schlepping an oversized carry-on bag on your shoulder as you meander around the airport. While you need to make sure you bring the essentials, don’t overdo it or you will regret it. The most important items to pack in your carry-on are those items that you frankly can’t check in a suitcase. My carry-on bag is essentially an electronics bag, housing all of my gadgets that I can’t leave out of sight. Cameras, iPad, phone, battery charger, and so forth are all in my bag. I also make sure to pack any medications I might need, from prescriptions to over-the-counter remedies. Plane cabins are dry and I almost always get a headache, so I keep a stash of ibuprofen with me at all times. Of course you also need to include that long-haul kit we just talked about, as well as any extras you might want. This includes magazines, books (you should get an e-reader), pens, notebooks, snacks and so on. This is where most people go crazy though, so don’t overdo it. Just pack enough for the next flight and not for a year of travel.

 Virgin Atlantic upper class

3. Don’t drink – I recommend this a lot and while not everyone will want to comply, they should. There is nothing worse that you can do to yourself than consume too much alcohol during or before a flight. As I said, flying is an inherently dehydrating experience, which has negative effects on the body. Alcohol further intensifies the dehydration, making you feel even worse and making the jet lag almost unbearable. Instead, drink lots and lots of water; as much as you can handle. While alcohol may help you fall asleep momentarily, it won’t last; but if you’re properly hydrated you’ll feel better and sleep should come more naturally.

4. Compartmentalize your flight – This is my own personal way of coping with a long-haul or super long-haul flight and it might work for you too. Thinking of a flight as one chunk of time is almost too much for us to handle. The idea of spending 15 hours next to The Snoring Guy or Miss Likes To Talk is a huge mental weight to bear. Instead, think of the flight in segments. First of all, eating will take a considerable amount of time. On a ten hour flight at least 2 hours will be spent waiting for or consuming meals. That leaves 8 hours. Watching one movie will take another two hours, leaving you with six. Figure on trying to sleep for at least 5 of those hours and you’re left with one hour to read, watch a TV show or stare aimlessly at the seat back in front of you. Or, you could divide your time between: eating, doing work, sleeping, watching a movie and reading equally. No matter how you decide to divide your time, it’s a useful mental exercise and will help make your long flight seem like less of a challenge.

5. Exercise – A healthy traveler is a happy traveler, and this is especially true on a long flight where deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a very real concern. DVT is the formation of blood clots in deep veins, the chance for developing them increases with the length of the flight. One of the best ways to minimize your risk of developing DVT is to exercise throughout the flight. This can be simple leg exercises done at your seat, or a walk around the cabin followed by some stretching. In recent years I have noticed more pain in my ankles, so I recently started wearing compression socks which have seemed to help. Aside from DVT, getting up and moving about the cabin is a great way to feel better and hopefully arrive at your destination in a better state of mind.

 Thai Airways Business Class

6. Get the best seats – I’m nearly 6’3” tall, so for me selecting the best seats possible on a long flight isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity. There is a big difference in my comfort and ultimately my health when I have the ability to choose a great seat. What does that mean? For me it means an aisle seat, preferably in an Exit row or a spot where there isn’t a seat in front of me, like the bulkhead. Having the seat in front of me reclined into my knees for ten hours is my own personal version of hell. To find these seats, I usually use SeatGuru.com which has a handy guide to every plane/flight in the world, detailing the best and worst seats along with their attributes. The site will tell you if a chair doesn’t recline and whether or not there is another seat in front of you. I use it all the time and I swear by it.

7. Upgrade – Ok, so this may not be for everyone but believe me, there is no better way to make a long flight enjoyable than by upgrading. Whether you pay for it out of pocket or you use those hard-earned frequent flyer miles, I strongly recommend it. If Global First Class isn’t in your budget, consider a more modest upgrade to Premium Economy. These seats have more legroom, usually better service and even enhanced menus. Some airlines are better at Premium Economy than others, so be sure to do your research. Business class though is attainable and an amazing way to travel the world. I only use my frequent flyer miles on long-haul business class trips because they’re just that amazing. Imagine unlimited legroom, a chair that turns into a lie-flat bed, great food and amazing service and that is the average business class experience. I will usually only seek an upgrade though on a truly long flight. This is a matter of preference, but if the trip is 8 hours or less in length, I’d rather save my miles for another time. To start earning those miles make sure you’ve signed up with your airlines frequent flyer program and stay loyal to them! That’s the best way to accrue miles and achieve elite flying status.

What are your tips for getting through a long flight?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

15 thoughts on “7 Tips To Help Survive A Long Flight”

  1. Couldn’t agree more with these tips! I’ve become obsessed with not getting dehydrated on flights and drinking water and not drinking alcohol (or just one little glass of wine if you’re me!) make such a difference. Upgrading on long haul flights is dangerous though – you will never want to fly coach again!

  2. The ‘compartmentalize’ tip is one I try to practice, particularly with movies – I’ll watch those before I will a television show because I know less time has passed! Looking forward to one day trying out the ‘upgrade’ tip, that’d be nice ;)

  3. Upgrading is so dangerous.. every time I do it going back to economy/coach gets harder and harder. But yes agree with all these tips! x

  4. Thanks for the advice. This is sure to come in handy! What a great idea to compartmentalize your flight instead of just sleeping for most of the time- I’ll be sure to do this next time. Also, great point about exercising to prevent DVT.

  5. Thanks for the info. Very enlightening! We travel so often that every lil bit helps. Wish there was a way to lighten the handbag load though. I carry everything U say & it does weigh quite a bit! Camera, iPad etc etc! When U take different flights on a long haul, upgrade doesn’t work on code share flights!!!??

    1. Airlines don’t normally recognize status upgrades from an Alliance member. You can certainly use miles/money to upgrade, but it won’t typically be a free upgrade.

  6. Great and useful suggestions. I’m a similar height and that extra couple of inches you can get by choosing the right seat can make all the difference. The Wisp toothbrushes are very handy too! Thanks for sharing.

  7. Thanks Matt. I have solved the headache problem. I always got headaches when traveling to Europe, but found out that it is because of the terribly dry air that dries out your nose. I now bring a saline nasal spray and use it several times during the flight. This also helps prevent getting colds when flying long distances. Try it…you’ll no longer need ibuprofen and arrive at your destination with a clear head.

  8. Am I the only person who felt heavily conflicted when I saw the words ‘don’t drink’ next to the photo of the bar and cocktails? :-)

    Jokes aside, great post. I love the idea of a long-haul kit, and I realised I also do this – I always, always, always have a toothbrush and toothpaste with me, as I find brushing my teeth before we land is a great way of feeling refreshed. Deodrant is also definitely advisable!

  9. Wonderfully helpful post.

    On shorter overnight flights such as those from NYC or Toronto to western Europe, I’d add to have your evening meal prior to boarding. It’s not that you’ll be able to sleep during meal and cocktail service, but that when the cabin does become conducive to rest you won’t be trying to do so on a full stomach.

    Also in countries where permitted such as the United States., buy a couple of large bottles of water once past security and take these onboard. Drink this water in addition, not instead of, the tiny cups flight attendants give you.

  10. How refreshing to read a more positive reveiw and tips on long haul flight.
    First time flight to Oz from UK and I have M.E.
    Evert post is normally doom and gloom, i now far more positive.
    Thank you so much

  11. Yeah, I agree with those tips. not drinking and getting hydrated is very important for a long flight otherwise you will be spending the first few days in the hotel room with some headaches.

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