It never ceases to amaze me that there are people out there who sincerely love long flights. I don’t know if those people fully realize that they have an incredible superpower, or if they are blissfully unaware that long haul flights suck. I really wish I was one of those people, but I am definitely not.
Being stuck on an aircraft, like being confined in one small room, with no possibility of exiting for 8+ hours is not my favorite jam. That is the harsh reality of long flights. And no matter how many times I do it, it doesn’t really get easier (except for that one time I was upgraded to first class for free). Even if it doesn’t get easier, I’ve still picked up some tips or… whatever you’d like to call them, along the way.
I am a simple human, I work a 40 hour a week job, I pay my bills, I save my vacation days and I have a vacation savings account. I go on big trips when my savings and vacation hours have hit the mark that allows me to do so. I don’t have an extra couple thou to splurge on a first class flight. But I’m telling you right now: If you do have that ability, just take it.
The easiest flight I ever had was from Minnesota to London, Gatwick. My row was full of parents and lap riding babies. I thought great, this flight is going to suck big time. Then a flight attendant so kindly came up to me and asked if I’d be willing to move to first class, because in the event of an emergency, there wouldn’t be enough oxygen masks on our row. I didn’t care the reason, would I be willing to move to first class? They asked me like it was a bad thing. The extra room, filling food and ability to lay flat back allowed me to sleep for 3/4 of that flight. It was beautiful.
But that’s like, never gonna happen again. So… surviving a long flight in economy. Here we go.
Number 1, it’s a lot about them clothes, baby.
I cannot stress this enough: Pick comfortable clothing. I promise you, you don’t need to look glamorous at the airport. Nobody cares, we’re all just trying to get through security and to our gate. I literally don’t care if you’re wearing Gucci or pajamas, and neither does security, so you might as well lean more toward pajamas and travel in comfort. If you absolutely cannot bear the thought of not looking stylish at the airport (I know some people are truly like that), then at least do yourself a favor and pack a comfy change of clothes in your carry-on. Change into that just before boarding your flight. It’s not really practical to change once you’re on the flight…
Compression socks are amazing. I can’t believe I used to fly without them. Get a nice pair of compression socks and an easy to slip on and off pair of shoes to make security easier. And for when you’re on the plane, but need to go to the bathroom, and it’s not easy to tie your shoes in that limited space.
It gets cold on planes, too, so honestly sweat pants are a nice option. I usually layer up, in the rare event that I get hot on a plane, but it’s usually cold. Elastic waist pants are my favorite option for flying. Whether leggings, sweat pants, track pants, casual linen pants, etc. I’m just looking for that elastic waistband. Pockets are almost useless on an airplane because I’m scared I’ll lose something out of them while reclining back, so I don’t care if there’s no pockets this time around.
I’ll generally wear a short sleeved shirt and a jacket or sweater over it. This way, if it’s hot, I can take the jacket/sweater off and have a nice short sleeved shirt to cool down in. If it’s extra cold, you can keep that jacket/sweater on, and use that blanket they hand out to top it off because dang, it can get cold.
Number 2, nobody likes to be hungry. Or thirsty.
If your flight isn’t particularly early, I would suggest eating a huge meal before getting to the airport. Because once you’re in the airport, you’ll spend a fortune on that. I’ve read tips that say not to eat a huge meal and I don’t know why anyone would not want to, but okay? Just make sure you’re not eating things that might be known to hurt your stomach or even head, because the last thing you want is to be sick on a long flight. Been there, done that, do not recommend if you can help it.
I get hungry like, every 30 minutes. I’m the worst. But I know that I do this, so I make sure to prepare for it. If you’re one of those people, pack you some snacks in your carry-on. Just make sure they’re TSA approved, you can find that on their website. I usually stick to things like cereal/energy bars. They’re not messy, they’re small and easy to stuff into my bag, and keep me held over until my next meal.
Now about that meal on the airplane… They’re usually not the best food, but, what can you do? You’re up in the sky with no other options (another reason to bring your own food when possible). If you have dietary restrictions, most airlines are really good about that nowadays. You’ll just want to contact them before you fly (different airlines have different requirements of how far in advance). Sometimes you can do this online, which I always check first. If that’s not possible, they might list a number to call. Just give them a call with your flight info and they’ll serve you your “special” meal before everyone else eats. I’m usually finished eating by the time the normal food rolls through.
As for water, drink lots of it. I know you don’t want to get up a bunch of times to pee, but when you’re up in the air, you’re going to get dehydrated faster, so you should be drinking more water than normal. I highly suggest bringing an empty water bottle through security with you, then filling it up once you get to your gate. Do note that some airlines make you dump your water out before boarding the plane. I don’t know why… but CEA made me do that when I boarded in China, to LA. And I was literally starting to die at that point, and I needed my water. But… they said I had to wait until I was on the plane and ask for some in there. It was weird, but just know that might could happen to you. Thankfully that was the only time it happened to me.
I would say to skip on the alcohol, unless maybe it makes you fall asleep. But other than that, it’s not good drinking in the air if you’ll feel like crap the remainder of your flight and when arriving at your destination. No, thank you.
Number 3, sleep just to bear it.
Now a lot of tips tell you to try to get into your destination time zone throughout this flight. I really do think that is a great idea. If it makes sense to sleep, then sleep. If you’ll be arriving at night, then stay awake and sleep at your destination. That is all good and well and great advice, but like… what about dealing with your long flight? I’m just saying that I would rather sleep through as much of my flight as possible, than be possibly more in tune with my destination time zone.
The thing about time zones is I’m always excited to get where I’m going so my brain is wired and ready when I land. If it’s midday and I’m dead tired, I’ll check into my lodging and take a nap. Though this last Japan trip, my nap turned into sleeping until about 2 AM, so that was interesting. Woke up, ate some snacks with my sister, went to the bathroom, went out to smoke, went back to bed for another couple hours. It ended up working out alright because our plan for day 1 was to take it easy as we adjusted. Maybe we took it too easy, but I felt great and ready to go the next day.
So in my experience and my opinion, I say wear that eye mask, take that Dramamine, or Zzzquil, or melatonin, or whatever it is to help you sleep on the plane. Sometimes my sanity barely makes it on the long haul flights and sleeping through parts of my flight is a way to keep it from slipping away entirely.
Number 4, sometimes you really just can’t freaking sleep.
So what do you do when you’ve tried every trick in your book and there’s just not enough room for you to get comfy, and you cannot fall asleep? My first suggestion is check out the in flight entertainment. They usually have a lot of goodies for international flights. Or you can put a series on your phone/tablet and binge watch. If that isn’t your thing, bring a book or two. Some people prefer tablet readers, some prefer books, just bring whatever makes you happy and whatever you can fit best in your carry-on.
Another suggestion is have materials with you about your destination to do some last minute trip planning. If you have a travel journal or trip planning journal you’ve been working in, have that with you and organize or go over your trip plans to kill some time. Maybe even work on re-budgeting activities or whatever is going to help keep you occupied.
Just have a few backup plans, should sleep fail you. That way you won’t completely lose your mind when there is nowhere for you to turn.
Number 5, small comforts, little victories.
-To travel pillow or not to travel pillow? I personally love to take the travel pillow. It helps me a ton to get comfy, but some people can do without. I would say that it is completely depending on you. If you think it will help you, take it. To me, it’s worth it.
-Disinfectant wipes. Or even just the travel sized wet wipes. I use these on the plane. People might think I’m weird for wiping my area down when I get there, but I don’t care, they can look at me however they want. The last thing I want to do is get sick on my way to vacation. They’re also good for so many various things in a pinch, once you’ve reached your destination.
-Headphones. Sure, they provide you some on the plane, but yours are better because they’re yours. Plus, you might want them after landing, too. If you have room to bring noise cancelling ones, that would probably rock. Because it’s easier to sleep on the plane if you can’t hear all of the noise around you.
-Lotion/moisturizer. If dry skin is bothersome to you, it’s probably going to be worse in that recycled air up in the sky. Remember the TSA 3.1.1 rule and bring yourself a travel sized lotion or moisturizer to help keep you feeling like a semi-normal human.
-Toothbrush/paste. Again, make sure the toothpaste is travel sized. You probably won’t be doing this on the plane because it just isn’t practical. But I like to brush my teeth at the airport after landing, help me feel like a person again after all of that flying. I’ve known people to change in the airport, too. Whatever you need to do to feel better. Carrying it in your carry-on rather than checked luggage will make sure you actually get to do it when you land. You never know when you’ll become victim to lost or delayed luggage.
-Notebook/Pen. Especially pen. When those customs forms come around and you don’t have the ability to do it on your phone or whatever the new technology is, you’ll want a pen to fill it out. And I am always the one someone says to me, excuse me, would I be able to borrow your pen? It’s crazy how many people seem to forget one. I rarely go anywhere without one. The notebook is more for you, if you’re bored or maybe think of something you want to remember, you can write it down.
-Electronic chargers. If you’re planning on using them. Most international flights have outlets on them, that I’ve flown on, in the last couple of years. It’s nice to have a full charge on your phone when you touch down. Or tablet, or whatever you’re using.
And then, of course, just… trying to stay positive. I mean, hopefully you’re excited to get where you’re going and that puts you in an overall good mood. As for the ride home… well I’ve yet to figure that one out. I never want to go home at the end of my vacation, except that one time I was dying. Just trying to keep your mood at a good spot is helpful in surviving that flight. Really. That’s probably the most important thing, really, but all of these other things help this thing, so… remember to try to be positive as you endure that super long flight.
What are some of your best tips for surviving long flights?