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Booking a trip to a far-flung destination is super exciting, until you remember that you have to survive the long flight to get there. If you’re flying business class or first it’s not a problem; with lie-flat seats and gourmet meals, the flight is an experience in itself.
But if your budget will only allow for an economy ticket, you’re stuck with cramped seating, little legroom and meals that are far less appetizing. I’ve taken dozens of long-haul flights and while I am fairly good at sleeping on planes, they can still be incredibly boring and uncomfortable after a while. To help you stay comfortable when flying in economy, I’ve put together a list of my best long flight tips.
Alternatively you could just collect enough air miles so you can upgrade to the likes of Business Class or even First Class….read my guide on how to fly business class for cheap for some good travel hacks.
Check-in usually opens around 24 hours before an international flight, although it’s sometimes longer. If you haven’t already pre-selected a seat, then you’ll want to check-in online right when it opens to ensure you get the best possible seat. Leave it till the last minute and you may find yourself in a middle seat or right by the toilets.
Sometimes airlines will assign you a seat before check-in and you’ll have the option to change it or to pay for an upgrade. Download the airline’s app or manage your booking online so you can pick the seat you want. There may be a fee for selecting for better seats, but sometimes it’s worth paying the little extra to ensure a comfortable journey.
Pick the Right Seat
Choosing the right seat is half the battle. Carefully look at the aircraft seating plan, and if you’re unsure where to sit, visit seatguru.com or seatplans.com for more detailed information on the aircraft you’ll be flying.
Pick a window seat if you need something to lean against so you can fall asleep. Opt for an aisle seat if you think you might need to go to the toilet frequently and don’t want to disturb other passengers. I think most people will agree that the middle seat is pretty much the worst seat you can get on a plane, unless you’re traveling with a companion and want to sit next to them.
If you sit close to the galley, you might be disturbed by the smell and noise coming from the kitchen when the cabin crew are preparing meals. The same goes for sitting near the toilets. Do you really want the waft of toilet smells every time someone opens and closes the door? Passengers tend to congregate in these areas to stretch their legs and have a chat- not something you want when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep.
Some people like to opt for the ‘bulkhead seats’, which are the seats directly behind the physical barriers that divide each section of the plane. Because these rows don’t have any seats in front of them, they tend to have extra legroom. The downside of sitting in a bulkhead seat is that the tray table and entertainment system folds out from the armrest.
Exit row seats also have more legroom, but you won’t be able to store any bags under the seat in front of you for take-off and landing- the cabin crew will put your bags in an overhead locker. Occupying one of these seats will come with a level of responsibility; in the case of an emergency you will be expected to assist with the evacuation of the plane. The are certain criteria for being able to sit in an exit seat (over a certain age, an able bodied adult in full fitness, physically able to open the exit door etc).
Sometimes seats on the very back row of the cabin have restricted recline due to having a physical barrier behind them, so it’s best to avoid these if you want your seat to fully recline. Having said that, if a flight isn’t full, you will often find more empty seats at the back of the plane.
If for some reason you’ve been allocated a seat that you’re not happy with and you can’t change it online, it’s always worth asking the member of staff at the check-in desk if you can swap. If the flight’s full that might be hard to do but it’s always worth a try.
Show Up Early
Airport check-in desks usually open around 3 hours before the flight departure for international flights and close around an hour before boarding. It’s advisable to get to the airport well in advance of your flight so you’re not stressed or rushing to the gate. Sometimes there can be long lines at bag-drop or security that can eat into your time at the airport. Give yourself plenty of time so you can get to the gate on time and do some airport shopping if you want to.
Relax in the Lounge Before Your Flight
I’ve found the secret to having an enjoyable flight is to make sure you’re as relaxed as possible. You don’t always have to be flying business class to get lounge access – sometimes you can pay to enter lounges or some credit cards offer lounge perks. For example, the American Express Platinum Card grants cardholders access to the global lounge collection, which includes more than 1,400 lounges across 650 cities worldwide.
You could also sign up for Priority Pass, which is a membership club that offers lounge access to hundreds of lounges throughout the world.
Relaxing in a lounge prior to your journey allows you to escape the chaos of the airport, freshen up and enjoy a meal before you board the flight, which is great if you’re about to embark on a night flight and don’t want to wait for the in-flight meal service.
Charge Your Devices
The last thing you want is your electronics to die half-way through the flight. Make sure you charge devices such as your laptop, tablet, phone, iPod or kindle before the flight. Some long-haul airlines will have power outlets or USB charging ports, so bring your charging cables and worldwide adaptor in your carry on just in case.
I also highly recommend investing in an external battery. If you have one of the latest iPhone models you can try the Apple Magsafe Battery Pack or this Anker Magnetic Battery.
If you don’t have an iPhone, try something like this Anker Portable charger which should work with most phones.
Bring Your Own Snacks
I’m not always a fan of plane food, so I take my own snacks just in case the in-flight meal looks less than appetising. Take a lunch box with some snacks, such as dried fruit, nuts, hummus with carrot and celery sticks, beef jerky, cereal bars and salted popcorn.
I tend to find ‘dry’ foods are better to carry on long-haul flights, so you don’t have to worry about leakages. A pet hate of mine is soggy sandwiches, so I prefer to take bagels with cream cheese or crackers with cheese.
A spork (combination of plastic spoon, knife and fork) always comes in handy and this Light My Fire Spork 4 Pack comes with sporks in a variety of colours.
Pack a Reusable Water Bottle
Since you’re not allowed to take liquids over 100ml through security, it’s best to bring an empty reusable water bottle that you can bring through security. This way you can fill it up at one of the water fountains in the airport. Buying water at some airports can be ridiculously expensive – at JFK it’s about $5 for a bottle of water!
Take a Travel Blanket and Neck Pillow
On most long-haul flights you’ll be provided with a blanket, but it’s not always a guarantee. I’ve flown on a few of airlines where I’ve been freezing without a blanket, so now I always fly with one. I also sometimes take an eye mask and a blow-up neck pillow to help me sleep. The bean-bag type ones are more comfortable, but they also take up too much room.
Wear Comfortable Clothes
I often see photos of glamorous celebs walking through the airport with their matching luggage, high heels, designer clothes and large sunglasses, but the reality of long-haul flights is nothing like you see in the magazines. Don’t wear your best clothes; opt for something comfortable instead. You can always bring a set of smart clothes to change into before you land.
Avoid synthetic fabrics if you can and go for cottons to minimise sweating. Jeans can be uncomfortable, so opt for loose-fitting trousers or leggings. I usually wear a pair of leggings, a long top, a wool cardigan and a pair of ballet flats or sneakers for flying. I also put my sunglasses in my carry-on to hide my tired eyes when I disembark the plane.
Avoid Wearing Contact Lenses
The air inside the cabin is incredibly drying and can easily dry contact lenses out. Bring a pair of glasses with you so you can give your eyes a break and relax.
Bring a Sweater & Scarf
With all that air conditioning it can be really cold on planes, so pack a hoodie or a warm sweater to keep you nice and warm. I often add a pashmina or scarf too because it can be worn around my neck or double up as a scarf. If you’re going somewhere hot and sunny, don’t wear your flip flops and floaty maxi dress on the flight….you’ll freeze!
Avoid Alcohol & Keep Hydrated
It’s so tempting to drink the bar dry when there’s free booze on board, but drinking alcohol seriously dehydrates you and can make it harder to sleep. The same goes for caffeine, so its best to avoid it altogether, or stick to one glass of wine with your meal. Drinking fizzy drinks can leave you feeling bloated and gassy, so opt for water, juices and herbal teas. Since the cabin environment is so try, make up for it by drinking water regularly and keeping hydrated.
If You See an Empty Row, Grab it
There’s nothing better than discovering the flight isn’t quite full and there’s an empty row. Then you look around, and realise lots of other passengers have clocked it too.
Usually you’ll have to stay in your allocated seat for take-off, but as soon as those seatbelt signs are switched off, it’s game on. If you have your eye on an empty row, be prepared to grab it as quickly as possible. Then you can spend the whole flight stretched out in peace…who needs Business Class?!
Moisturise Your Skin
My skin always ends up being really dry and flaky on flights due to the lack of humidity in the air. To combat this, it’s a good idea to carry some daily moisturiser or even a richer overnight cream that can work its magic during the flight. Bring a nice moisturizing lip balm too or a lip sleep mask to keep your lips soft and supple.
To avoid dark circles and tired eyes, you could also bring some gel eye patches to sooth your under eye area.
Pack a Toothbrush and Toothpaste
Some airlines hand out amenity kits in economy class but many of them don’t. If you’re traveling on a long flight then the last thing you want is to be sitting there with furry-feeling teeth. Pack a toothbrush and mini toothpaste in your carry-on so you can pop to the bathroom and brush your teeth mid-flight after you’ve eaten.
Pack Painkillers and Any Necessary Medicines
The very dry air on flights can leave you feeling dehydrated, which can cause headaches. Carry some ibuprofen or paracetamol with you, or if you don’t have any, ask the cabin crew for some painkillers. If you take any regular medication, make sure you pack it in your carry-on bag and not in your suitcase, otherwise it will end up in the hold of the aircraft and you won’t have access to it.
Stretch Your Legs
To avoid the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), take of your shoes, pop some flight socks on and make sure you exercise your legs. While sitting in your seat you can move your feet in a circular motion, or just get up and walk around the cabin every now and again.
Set Your Watch to the Time of Destination
To beat jet lag, change the time on your watch to the time at your destination. This will help your mind and body to get used to the new time zone. As soon as you get on the plane try to match your sleeping patterns to the time in the country you are flying to.
Tire Yourself Out, or Consider a Sleep Aid
I happen to be very good at sleeping on planes and sometimes I even fall asleep before take-off. However, if you struggle to sleep on planes you may want to really tire yourself out before the flight. If you get nervous flying long-haul, you could also speak to your doctor about prescribing a sleep aid to help you get some shut eye. Alternatively there are some non-prescription herbal sleep aids available in pharmacies.
Long flights can be really really boring if you can’t sleep and you’re tired of the in-flight movie selection. Load your phone or tablet with movies before the flight and bring some magazines to help you pass the time. Airlines often have paid WiFi options on the flight, so if you have some work to do, you could whip out your laptop and use the flight time to be productive.
Bring Your Own Earphones
The free earphones that they hand out on flights are often really uncomfortable on your ears and don’t have good sound quality. Bring your own earbuds or noise-cancelling earphones so you can enjoy watching a movie without having to hear babies screaming or people chatting next to you.
Choose Your Meal Wisely
On long-haul flights airlines usually offer complimentary meals, or at least have meals available for purchase. To avoid any problems with indigestion, you may want to avoid spicy dishes and stick to something safe. If you’re not a fan of airplane meals it’s often wise to stick to vegetarian options or safe things like pasta or chicken.
A Final Word…
I hope you find these long flight tips useful for your next trip! Remember, just do whatever you need to do to keep comfortable. Rest up before the journey, drink plenty of water, wear comfortable clothes and leave the make-up! Do you have any other great tips for long flights you’d like to add? If so, just leave a comment below!