My first long-haul flight ever was flying from New York to Greece. At that time, the longest I had ever been on a plane was 5 hours. The thought of flying for 10 hours to Greece was so crazy to me. But now after taking 4 long-haul flights I feel like I’ve gained experience and can share what I’ve learned. The most important thing when flying for a long time is comfort! If you’re like me and your bank account is not big enough to get one of those lie-flat comfy seats in business or first class, this guide is definitely for you! These tips should help you survive a long-haul flight with your sanity in tact ready to enjoy your final destination!
Tips on How to Survive a Long-haul Flight in Economy
The new Skyscanner app tracks flight prices for you and notifies you whenever your price drops.
1. Choose the right airline and seat
This is by far the most important tip on this list. This alone might make or break your trip. It can make it a comfortable and painless experience or a horrible one. I learned this real quick. When booking my flight to Thailand I had so many airline options to from. The airfare ranged from affordable to very expensive. I’m always looking for a great deal so it would’ve been easy to book the cheapest option with the best connection. And that is what I almost did! But I’m also a researcher and love to read reviews on everything.
I found Airline Quality which gives you reviews on all the airlines. When I typed in the airline I was considering their rating was a 4 out of 10. Yikes! Poor customer service, old planes, uncomfortable seats, lost luggage. It was bad. While the airfare was super affordable, did I really want to spend 16 hours flying in those conditions? I think not! I ended up doing some more research and finding another airline whose airfare was a little more expensive, but whose reviews were great. It was actually Cathay Pacific and it was the best decision I could’ve made. Friendly flight attendants, pretty good food, and spacious and comfortable seats.
Make sure you research all the airlines you are considering. Not all airlines are created equal; in fact, long-haul travel may be where you find the greatest differentiation between airlines. If you can, choose a newer model plane. It will be equipped with up-to-date equipment and amenities. You’ll want to make sure that it has in-seat power outlets. Believe it or not but many airplanes still don’t have power sources at the seats. This means your phone is probably going to die before you land and you’ll be forced to listen to in-flight music.
Speaking of seats, that’s the next thing you should focus on. Picking the right seat is equally as important. Now I’m normally a window seat person, but the thought of being stuck in a window seat for 16 hours straight (flight from JFK to Hong Kong) gave me anxiety! The aisle seat is the best way to survive a long-haul flight because you will have the luxury of being able to stand frequently and stretch your legs and make frequent bathroom visits without disturbing your seatmates.
You can go to SeatGuru which has airline seat maps and a comfort rating system. You can plug in your flight number and it shows you the layout of your plane. Not only can you see what seats you can choose in your cabin, there are also reviews from previous passengers. They let you know things like if a seat is uncomfortable, a seat does not recline, or if the seat does not have overhead space. I found this super helpful.
Picking a seat that is not too close to the bathrooms or galley helps so much if you do not want to be disturbed. You can also consider an exit row which gives you more leg room. Whether you like a window or aisle seat, do yourself a favor and really plan ahead for this part. I promise you that it’s worth it. Choosing the right airline and the right seat will make your trip so much more pleasant.
Needing help finding your next flight? I recommend using Airfarewatchdog to search and compare flight deals.
2. Bring your own snacks
We all know that airplane food is a hit or miss. Actually, it’s mostly a miss if we’re being honest. It can be so unpredictable and that’s why it’s important to bring your own supply of snacks. The worst thing that can happen is being hungry on a long-haul flight- which you can avoid with this tip. You’ve probably read some articles that tell you not to eat anything salty or high in carbs. Well forget them! I say bring all your favorite snacks. Just make sure you have variety.
I personally like my snack repertoire to cover all bases: salty and sweet! But even more importantly, I like my stash to be nutritious enough to keep me satisfied. Make sure to pack food that’s good at room temperature. Remember not to bring any items that contain any liquids (fruit cups in juice or pudding) as you may not be able to bring it through security.
If you need some ideas of what to bring with you, check out these 6 delicious snacks that are perfect for your next long-haul flight.
3. Wear comfortable clothing
What you wear on your flight is so vital. Dressing in layers is key because you can easily adapt to the plane’s temperature. I like dressing in layers since you can never know what the temperature will be like. Plus, you are traveling for hours, so my guess is, the climate in the location you are traveling to will be different than the one you left. My go-to outfit is leggings, loose-fitting long sleeve t-shirt, a cardigan, and a scarf that I can also use as a blanket if it gets really cold. Layers!
I also like to wear shoes you can slip on and off easily, for comfort and ease at the security line. Also, when you’re getting up to go to the bathroom or just walk around, you’ll want something you can easily slip your feet into and go. Last but not least, make sure have a pair of compression socks. Long hours on a plane can cause pressure, swelling, and poor circulation. These socks help increase circulation and reduce the risk of swelling or worse deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and clotting on a long flight.
Here’s my go-to comfortable outfit for a long flight.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
I remember that on my flight to Greece I had to practically beg the flight attendant to refill my cup with water (awful airline). I didn’t have my own water bottle. Big flying rookie mistake and after that, I said never again! Long flights dehydrate you a lot. If you step off of a plane and feel like crap, it’s not because you’re sick, but probably because you’re dehydrated. Not drinking enough water can make you feel fatigued, nauseous, and give you a headache.
Airplanes are the perfect environment for draining you of all moisture. So staying hydrated is one of the best ways to prevent jet lag. I now bring with me a large water bottle- fill it up after going through security and nicely ask the flight attendants during the flight to refill it. Bringing a good moisturizer is so important too. Your skin will also need the love. This one here is my favorite. Hydration is everything!
5. Make sure to pack flight travel essentials in your carry-on.
There’s nothing like getting on a long flight and realizing that you either forgot something or that you packed it in your checked luggage. Imagine you forgot to include your headphones in your carry-on and you now have to listen to a crying baby for 8 hours?! Ugh I’d die! Being well prepared and having all your essentials in your carry-on is crucial to be able to survive a long-haul flight.
For my trip to Thailand, I bought a backpack for all my essentials and kept it under the seat in front of me. That way I had easy access to it and did not have to get up and reach for the overhead everytime I needed something. It was also cool to use the backpack as a footrest!
Here are some of the items I suggest bringing with you. Click on the links to check out the products I use and recommend.
- Eye Mask
- Neck Pillow
- Water bottle
- Travel charger (if your airplane doesn’t have charging outlets)
- Makeup removal wipes
- Small toiletry bag
- Sanitizing wipes
- Noise canceling headphones
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Body spray
- Hand cream
- Advil PM
- Travel wallet
The list could go on but these are the things that I like to have near me.
6. Set your watch to your destination time as soon as possible.
Syncing yourself with your destination time zone helps tremendously in preparing your body to adjust to the time zone of wherever you’re going to. I like to change the time on my phone as soon as I board the plane. Once you see what time it is at your destination, try to stay awake when it’s daytime there and get some sleep when it’s nighttime.
7. Try to get some sleep
Let’s be honest, trying to sleep in economy can be downright difficult, but it’s still possible with some help. The trick is to try to get as comfortable as possible. This is where the dressing comfortably, your blanket, eye mask, and neck pillow will come in handy. I use the airline provided pillow as a lower back support and my own neck pillow to cradle my head. Chamomile tea actually proved quite helpful in making me sleepy on my long-haul flight.
And if all fails then medicate yourself! With something over-the-counter of course! Sleep aids can help both during the flight and with jetlag when you arrive at your destination. If you are planning to use sleep aids (including melatonin, or prescription drugs such as Ambien), make sure you try them before you fly. These drugs can vary greatly in how they affect people, so you will want to try them at home before you rely on them on the plane.
8. Bring backup entertainment
There’s only so much tv binging you can do on a long-haul flight before starting to feel a little restless. On my 10 hour flight home from Greece I watched 3 movies in a row and then started to feel all antsy. I didn’t want to watch any more movies and needed something else to do. You might probably feel the same way.
So before you go crazy, make sure you have things to keep you entertained. Bring your tablets or e-readers and download your favorite movies, tv shows, podcasts, or anything else that will keep you sane. A magazine is also a good thing to bring if you want to take a break from staring at a screen.
9. Familiarize yourself with your layover airport
If you have a long layover it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the airport that will be your home for several hours. What kind of food do they have? What shops do they have? What times are they open? Do they have lounges that accept economy or business passengers? These are all good things to know. You might be thinking “well I can just explore these things while I’m there”, but it’s always best to do your research before arriving and know where to find what you will need – sleeping pods, lounges, food courts, baggage storage facilities, entertainment areas if any! You can find all this information on the airport website.
I thought that you had to be a first class, business class or elite member in order to use the amenities at airport lounges. But after reading up on the on the Hong Kong airport, where I had a 4-hour layover, I found out there was a lounge that was available to all passengers for a fee. I was able to eat and relax in a super comfy lounger my entire time there! Another thing to check is to see if the airport has free layover tours.
Some airlines even offer to sponsor your visas so you can tour the city. A number of the airports which offer layover city tours are Singapore, Taiwan, Seoul Korea and Doha – ask the concierge and they should know what you can do with your time there. I’ll actually be taking advantage of this in October where I’ll be in Doha for a layover from Bali.
10. Reach out to the airline about a seat upgrade
Let’s face it, not all of us have thousands of dollars to spend on upgrading to business class or first class. Shoot I can’t even afford premium economy! But if you can afford an upgrade, it will make a world of difference in your flight experience. If you can’t there are some other things you can try.
While getting a free upgrade to a different cabin is a long shot, you might be able to get a seat with more leg room. I have found it’s worth reaching out to the airline on their social media. I’ve had good experiences contacting them on Twitter. They’re usually so helpful. You can also try when you’re at the airport. If the flight is not full, the gate agent may be able to move you to a seat with more legroom like an exit row. This is seriously the best thing that can happen to help you survive a long-haul flight.
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Suggested Reading: Do you need inspiration for your next trip? Be sure to check out my other posts Top 10 Things to Do in Mykonos Greece, The Ultimate Miami Travel Guide and Why Need to Visit Hong Island in Thailand.
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