No one enjoys a long-haul flight: the sleeplessness, bad food, freezing air temperatures, germ sharing and jetlag all contribute to a less than pleasant experience. It’s really the last way you want to start and end a vacation.
Living in the U.S. and travelling home to Australia once a year means I’m a long-haul flight regular. So, I combined forces with a few frequent flying buddies to create this guide to making long-haul flights more bearable. The following are our best survival tips and techniques.
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What is a long-haul flight?
A long-haul flight is usually a flight that takes over 6- or 7-hours–definitions vary slightly between airlines. An ultra-long-haul is one over 12-hours.
Tips for surviving a long-haul flight
1. Avoid them
It’s unlikely that your long-haul flight is direct, so take advantage of any stops along the way and turn them into extended layovers. Spend a day or two exploring your stopover destination and getting some rest so you don’t have to stress about sleeping on the plane. Places like Singapore and Dubai make great layover “destinations” because there is just enough to see and do to fill 24 to 48-hours.
2. Select the best seat
The perfect seat is different for everyone, but there are some strategies to keep in mind:
- If you want more legroom, exit rows are your friend.
- Steer clear of crying children by staying away from the front of the plane where international flights usually have special provisions for babies.
- If you like to move around during your flight or have easy access to the restroom, select an aisle seat.
- Does turbulence bother you? Select a seat over the wings of the plane and avoid the rear of the craft which is most dramatically affected.
- Avoid being too close to the bathrooms unless you want to be constantly disturbed.
3. Entertain yourself
Pack a great book in your carry-on or load up your chosen device with music, podcasts and even movies to keep your mind occupied during waking hours. Make sure you have your favourite headphones. If you can, splash out on a pair of noise-cancelling headphones because they not only produce great quality sound, but they block a lot of the plane noise allowing you more chance of sleeping.
Recommended: Bose QuietComfort 35 Bluetooth Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones – these are cheaper if you buy them factory renewed from Bose outlets.
4. Stay healthy
You’ve worked hard, saved money, planned, booked and finally you’re off on what should be a fabulous trip…and then it hits. Most people have experienced the “let-down effect,” getting sick when you finally relax after a period of stress. Yes, it has a name! For me, this usually means getting sick in the first 48-hours of my vacation, and a long-haul flight is the perfect germ breeding ground to catch a vacation-spoiler.
After much reading on the topic (note, I am not a doctor and cannot offer medical advice), these are some of my health practices for surviving a long haul flight:
- Use a saline nasal spray every couple of hours to keep nasal hairs moist. Nose hairs dry out and become less effective in the dry air of a plane. A spray will keep them moist and catching the germy particles their supposed to. I use this Flo Travel Spray, but ask your doctor/pharmacist to recommend a product for you.
- Use hand sanitizer after every bathroom visit (even though you’ve washed your hands) and before touching any food/drink. There are huge amounts of bacteria on flush buttons, restroom door handles, tray tables, seatbelts etc.
- Open the air vent to increase the flow of filtered air around you.
- Wear a mask – something we are all familiar with now.
5. Move during your long-haul flight
Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a condition that occurs when blood clots form in deep veins, commonly in your legs. A clot can break free and travel to your lungs causing a pulmonary embolism. Talk about a joy-kill! Long flights provide the right conditions for developing DVT because of the dry air which can thicken the blood, along with low cabin pressure and small seats preventing mobility which causes blood to collect in the legs.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to prevent DVT such as staying hydrated, compression stockings and gentle exercises regularly throughout your flight. Even if you can’t pace the aisle, try some seated exercises.
In the 24hours leading up to your long-haul flight and while onboard, drink water consistently to keep yourself hydrated. Pack your own water bottle, so you can drink whenever you feel like it and aren’t being rationed one tiny plastic cup at a time. Also, request an aisle seat at check-in for unhindered restroom access.
I recently switched to packing an insulated hot/cold travel mug because I can buy a decent cup of tea/coffee before getting on the plane and the sealable mug keeps it warm for a few hours. It feels very luxurious to have a latte or good cuppa inflight.
7. BYO munchies
Plane food is awful at the best of times and not particularly healthy. Bring your own protein bars, pre-peeled hard-boiled eggs, nuts and dried fruit to snack on or substitute when you just can’t face another tray of mush. If you are a tea connoisseur like myself, pack a handful of your favourite tea bags. The stuff most airlines serve is horrendous and you don’t want to know where that hot water has been – or maybe you do!?
NOTE: Despite reading that other people take dips like hummus on board, mine was taken off me by security because they considered it a liquid/gel. Obviously, this will depend on the security personnel involved, but if you don’t want to risk it being thrown out, bring something solid.
8. Divide and conquer
Divide up the block of time into more bearable chunks. Usually, meals are served at the beginning and end of long-haul flights, therefore start with a movie while meal service takes place. Once the lights are lowered, try to get a few hours of sleep. After as much shut-eye as you can muster, turn on that entertainment system again and distract yourself until landing.
9. Make a sleep plan to avoid jet lag
I spent my last long-haul flight watching neuroscientist Dr Matthew Walker’s, Masterclass on sleep. He gave an excellent breakdown on circadian rhythms and how they are interrupted by various factors, including a change in time zones. His techniques for avoiding jet lag while inflight include:
- Changing your watch/clocks to your destination’s time as soon as you board the plane and begin to operated as if in that timezone right away.
- Sleep in the first half of a long-haul flight. Then, try to stay awake at least 12-hours from when you expect to sleep again in your destination.
- Avoid alchohol and caffeine.
Ensure you pack an eye mask and earplugs if you don’t have noise-cancelling headphones, to help you rest inflight.
10. Take basic toiletries
I take a basic set of carry-on sized toiletries on long-haul flights because it’s amazing how much better you feel with a minty-fresh mouth and clean face. My kit includes a toothbrush and toothpaste, face wash with a small muslin washcloth and moisturizer. See more on travel makeup and packing cosmetics in this post.
Recommended: Humangear GoToob, 3-Pack for carry-on size toiletries that won’t leak
11. Keep warm and cozy
If you’re wondering what to wear on a long-haul flight, it is best to dress in comfortable layers. This way you can add or remove layers to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature. Make sure you pack a pair of fluffy socks to keep you warm and don’t go barefoot – remember aeroplanes are playgrounds for infection-causing microorganisms.
Wear breathable fabrics and a good deodorant because you could be in the same clothes for more than 24-hours. Loose-fitting clothes in soft fabrics with elasticised waists are your best bet.
Bring your favourite scarf to wrap yourself in and a travel pillow of your preference. Avoid airline supplied blankets and pillows which have had questionable levels of cleaning. Personally, I don’t trust the cleanliness of airline supplied pillows for my head, but I do use them as additional lumbar support to make my seat more comfortable.
12. Get out of the airport ASAP
Before you leave home, know how you are getting from the airport to your accommodation. When you arrive, you will likely be disorientated and exhausted. Reduce the need to make decisions or find your way by having it planned in advance. Book a transfer or know your public transport options.
Alternatively, research the system for catching cabs so you don’t end up in an unauthorized vehicle that will give you the run-around. Uber can be great, but if you don’t have a credit card with the local currency attached to your account you are going to be charged conversion fees. Not to mention if you don’t have a local SIM/phone number it can be difficult to contact your driver if the pickup location is unclear.
Survive your next long-haul flight like a jetsetting champion, with these tips and tricks crowdsourced from a group of savvy travellers. If you have any more tips for long-haul flights to add to the above, please share them with us in the comments below.
Peace, love & inspiring travels,