What are your top tips for long haul flights? I frequently get asked this question by friends, relatives and readers. It’s time I answer it here.
Let’s face it: long haul flights are not fun – at least, not my idea of fun. Tight seats; poor quality food; tiny, crumped and at times dirty bathrooms; people talking or even snoring loudly; nothing good to see on the in-flight entertainment. Those hours never seem to pass, and when they finally do you get to your final destination and are a complete wreck. It can be so bad that you may even get pulmonary embolism – as it happened to my fellow colleague Sherry Otts.
Flying is part of my job and it is not nearly as glamorous as many like to think. Though I occasionally manage flying business class, most of the time I am stuck in economy, praying silently that nobody sits next to me and that I get an entire row so that I can lay down and rest at least for a few hours.
So how do I do it? What are my tips for long haul flights and to fight the effects of jet lag?
Continue reading this post for my top tips for long haul flights.
23 Incredibly Useful Tips For Long Haul Flights
Don’t wait to buy your flight last minute
The first of my tips for long haul flights is to buy your tickets well in advance.
People regularly ask me what my tips for scoring cheap flights are. I honestly don’t have any – other than being super flexible on the dates, but for some of us that is not an option. Some travelers swear on last minute deals, but are you sure a $50 USD saving is worth the hassle of not being able to pick the seat you want, and the chance of being stuck in the middle seat on a long haul flight?
My number one tip, especially if you fly economy, is to get your tickets as soon as you find something for a reasonable price.
Want to up your game? Check out my post on “The Five Perks Of Flying Business Class.”
Pay to get a specific seat
This is only applicable to certain airlines, but it is worth mentioning it among my tips for long haul flights.
Some airlines will make you pick a seat for free as soon as you buy the tickets – easy peasy and you are all set. Others however will only let do so upon check in – usually 24 hours before departure. These airlines will generally allow you to pay a little bit extra to get your preferred seat. Totally worth it if you are planning a long haul flight.
Use Seat Guru
One of the best ever tips for long haul flights I have received from another travel blogger was to download Seat Guru, an app that allows users to view the seat disposition on a plane. You just have to input the airline, date of your flight and flight number, and you will be able to see a detailed map of the plane, a description of the various seats and even get information on your flight status.
Make sure to check for things such as leg room, the presence of a window (have you noticed how some window seats sometimes have no windows?) and whether you seat can recline or not. By the way, I am team recline here.
Window or isle seat?
Good question! This is completely a matter of personal taste. If you are anything like me – aka restless – one of my tips for long haul flights is to get an isle seat. This way, you can avoid having to bother the passenger next to you any time you need to get up to use the toilet or stretch your legs.
If you know you will fall asleep like a child, and know you need to rest your head on something in order to sleep, get a window seat.
Bid for the seat next to yours – if you fly economy
Another of my tricks and tips for long haul flights, which however is not available for all airlines but definitely worth checking, is to bid for the seat next to you. You can do this at any point after having bought your tickets and the airline will inform you a day before the flight. I used this method last November when flying back from Sri Lanka, after my flight out was absolutely dreadful.
You just have to input the amount of money you are ready to pay for the seat next to you to remain empty, and if the airline accepts the bid your credit card will be charged. It makes sense to do it on flights that may be almost full – so that you can be sure that if there are a few empty seats, one of them is next to you.
This article explains how to check how crowded a plane is.
Buy travel insurance
I am not sure why I am not putting this as the first in the list of tips for long haul flights. Perhaps because I think it is rather obvious?
Travel insurance is meant to protect you against things such as flight cancellations and big delays – because really not all airlines are kind to their customers, and most of them will ignore your calls, put you on endless holds and frustrate the living life out of you to the point you feel like giving up.
Most (though not all) airlines will help you only when they mess up big time – think 12 hours delays, flight cancellations, luggage losses. When Flybe announced that it was going bankrupt, travelers flooded to AirFrance to have their tickets re-issued since the flights were meant to be operated in code-sharing, only to find out that both companies were refusing to help.
Say the flight delay or cancellation is due to bad weather, however – and you know the airline won’t help you. You will be stuck with nowhere to stay, having to shed even more cash on a last minute hotel, a couple extra meals, transportation from and to the airport all over again, and perhaps even a missed connection.
A good travel insurance will keep you covered for that – make sure that you tick all the boxes for flight cancellations when getting one, though! I always say that travel insurance is the kind of thing you buy hoping you never have to actually use it, but trust me: it’s worth the money!
Invest in an airport lounge pass
This is one of my best tips for long haul flights, especially when you have several of them laid out one after the other and even if you are flying economy. I learned this when I was flying back to Italy from Uruguay via Miami, a trip that took an overall 48 hours, with a 10 hours flight from Montevideo to Miami, a 15 hours layover in Miami, a 9 hours flight to London, another 8 hours layover and 2 more flights.
The $50 USD I paid for the airport lounge were probably the best spent money in my traveling career. In fact, another of my tips for long haul flights is to get yourself a Priority Pass for $99 USD per year so that you have access to 1200 airport lounges around the world for just $32 USD. Totally worth the money if you ask me. Priority Pass comes with an app that helps you locate airport lounges you can access anywhere in the world.
An airport lounge offers an incredible series of services such as:
- luggage storage for your carry on;
- a place to rest peacefully away from the chaos and traffic of the main lounge;
- comfortable chairs where you can even lay if you need
- blankets and pillows for a proper sleep;
- a silent area to isolate yourself even better;
- good wifi access as opposed to the wobbly one you normally get at the airport;
- entertainment in the form of TV, newspapers, etc;
- unlimited food and drinks throughout the day;
- showers in spotless bathrooms with anything you need to freshen up (shampoo, shower gel, lotion, towels and hair dryer) – and to me, this is in and of itself worth the price!
You can get your Priority Pass here.
If you don’t want to invest in a Priority Pass, you can simply walk to the information desk at the airport and ask where the lounge is and pay once you are there. Alternatively, use Lounge Pass to locate and book an airport lounge – it’s actually a good idea as most lounges only accept a limited amount of passengers.
Use your dividend miles for an upgrade
It’s 2020. By now we are all signed up in some frequent flyer program. Even my parents – who actually hate flying. In fact, I think I am signed up in at least 5. For some reason most of us – including myself, I must admit – never realize that we can actually use those dividend miles accumulated in years of uncomfortable flights and invest them in an upgrade from economy to either premium economy or even business. Trust me, it is oh so worth it.
Get a travel wallet
One of my favorite long haul flight essentials is a nice travel wallet that holds my documents, so that I can keep everything in one place and don’t have to rummage through the depths of my purse to find my passport, credit card, boarding pass and what not. You can get your travel wallet here.
Get up and walk on the isle every now and then
Unless you are flying business class and can lay down to rest, seats in economy are incredibly uncomfortable, your legs will get numb before you can even fall asleep, your back and neck will hurt and your blood circulation poor (see what I said about pulmonary embolism at the beginning of this post).
The main reason I suggest picking an isle seat over a window seat is that one of my top tips for long haul flights – to make it through in one piece without feeling like a wreck – is to regularly get up and walk along the isle. Just take it as an opportunity to the bathroom, have a drink, stretch your legs.
Bring your own food
Especially if you have any food allergies, intolerances or restrictions, bringing your own food on board is one of the most important tips for long haul flights I can share. I am lactose intolerant and allergic to peppers so I often ask for a vegan meal upon booking – because lots of airlines don’t cater for lactose intolerance. For some reason, many airlines mess out and I regularly get served a vegetarian meal instead – all cheese, butter and the like (which I’d very much like to eat, actually!). I once complained so much about that I got a voucher to be spent on another ticket!
So what should you bring on board? I recommend things that preserve well – protein bars, saltines, trail mix and even a plain sandwich and some fruit (apples are the best in this case).
Download your favorite series on Netflix
You normally get in-flight entertainment on long haul flights. However, some airlines have a truly poor selection. And what about those times in-flight entertainment doesn’t work? I spent 9 hours on a flight from London to Antigua once with no entertainment at all – the engineers could not fix the issue without causing too much delay. And the flight was during the day, so I really could not sleep.
Lesson learned: one of the best tips for long haul flights is to download your favorite series or movies on Netflix on your smartphone or tablet, so that you can also watch them online.
Bring something to read
Not a fan of series? A good alternative to keep yourself entertained on board is reading. Some people bring crosswords, others stock on magazines. I am a fan of actual books – paper books that is. I always have at least one with me (actually, even when I am out and about in town, just in case I am stuck somewhere with nothing to do). If you think that paper books weight too much, opt for a kindle. You can get one here.
Need inspiration? Make sure to read my post “27 Great Books For Travelers.”
Take a pen and notebook
Not that you have to write a poem, a book or anything. But if you are flying to the other side of the world, you will probably have to fill in a customs form and having a pen will be handy. The notebook? Just in case you get inspired and want to write a little something.
Carry your own headphones
Picture this: you get on board, sit down, start the on-board entertainment and wear the headphones that the airline has provided. But they are so bad you can hardly hear a thing and they make it frustrating to watch anything. One of the best tips for long haul flights I can give you is to carry your own headphones. Noise canceling headphones such as these by Bose are the best. Granted though, they are a bit expensive. Your iPhone headphones will honestly work wonders too – just make sure they fit the plug next to the screen.
And a power bank
Have you noticed it is close to impossible to find an outlet in an airport? You can find charging stations every now and then, but these are usually packed – of course they are, nobody can find sockets! And even if newest planes now offer a USB plug so that you can charge your smartphone, it’s still better to bring a power bank. You just never know you may need it. This is the one I use and recommend.
Drink lots of water
The food you eat on the plane does make a difference, but what you drink makes an even bigger one. Hence, one of my favorite tips for long haul flights. Drink lots and lots of water – I think I managed to drink up to 3 liters on a 14 hours flight from Buenos Aires to Rome. Drinking water helps you stay hydrated. This in turn will help you fight jet-lag. Another benefit of drinking so much? You will certainly need to pee more often. Which means you will be forced to get up and walk. Good for circulation.
TOP TIP: Bring a collapsable water bottle such as this one on board. It’s one of the coolest long haul flight essentials you can get. It fills up nicely and once it’s empty you can ask flight attendants to fill it up again for you – way easier to ask for a single cup of water or one of those tiny bottles every single time. A collapsable bottle is lighter than any metal one, so perfect to carry around during your trip. You can get it here.
One more thing: for as much water as you need to drink, I should add that it is best to avoid alcohol. A glass of wine on a long flight is ok, but no more than that. Hard alcohol or excessive amounts of alcoholic drinks will dehydrate you, which in turn will give you headache. You really don’t want that!
Take your shoes off
One of my favorite tips for long haul flights is to take your shoes off. You obviously need to make sure they do not stink or else the air on entire plane will become nasty to breathe – just don’t be that person. Make sure to wear socks too (more about that later).
Don’t wear makeup
I appreciate the need of women to feel pretty all the time – I am a girl too! But the isle of plane is not a catwalk. Your skin will already be put to the test with terrible dry air and doesn’t need to wear pore clogging products.
More about what moisturizer and other long haul flight essentials below.
Carry these long haul flight essentials
A small backpack
If yours is a long haul flight, you really do need to take a small carry on bag on board. The issue is which one to bring, and how much to pack in it. I regularly see people boarding with a small wheeled luggage – one of those that have to be placed in the over-head compartment. Now, if you are not a fan of standing in line long before boarding starts and don’t want to fight for a bit of room in your over-head compartment, I recommend avoiding wheeled luggage.
One of my best tips for long haul flights is to carry a small backpack. It can fit under the seat in front of you in case the over-head compartments are all full, and it is easier to fit there compared to wheeled luggage which doesn’t bend in any way. I am a fan of the 28 liters Cabinzero backpack – it’s big enough to carry my long haul flight essentials as well as my laptop and camera gear. And it’s a nice and comfortable daypack. You can get yours here.
Continue reading to discover all the long haul flight essentials you should pack in your carry-on.
One of the most needed long haul flight essentials is a pair of compression socks. Granted, they are not the most fashionable thing. But trust me, compression socks are not just for old ladies and they do help your blood circulation – which really is needed during long haul flights. Even flight attendants wear them – in case you didn’t know. You can get a pair of compression socks here.
Sleeping mask and ear plugs
To be fair, many airlines do provide you a small kit with a sleeping mask and ear plugs. The mask is needed to block light and the ear plugs will keep out the background noise of the plane, of people chatting, and of those that snore (yep, that is an issue even on flights and I have often had to gently tap the snorer next to me).
The only issue with the mask and ear plugs you get on a flight (well, if you do really) is that they are really basic and uncomfortable, squashing your eyelashes and eyes and scratching the inside of your ears. Get your personal one and don’t be a cheapo – go for quality. I recommend this sleeping kit here.
Again, you are likely to get a pillow during your long haul flight even if you travel in economy. For the longest time I refused to get my own because they do look bulky and anyways I’d get one on the plane. But trust me – you really want something that holds your neck so that it doesn’t hurt by the time you disembark. There are many good travel pillows for sale – even inflatable ones. I recommend getting one that you can strap to your backpack. I am a fan of Trtl Travel Pillow. You can get it here.
Travel size toothpaste and toothbrush
One of my favorite tips for long haul flights is to try – as much as possible – to keep the same bed time routine you keep at home. Most of us eat dinner, brush our teeth, wash our face or shower, read a book or watch some TV, then fall asleep. Try to do this even during a flight. I do it and it honestly works. That’s why I recommend including in your long haul flight essentials a travel size dental kit. Stores and pharmacies sell them for around $5 USD and if you can’t find one at a store near you, you can even get it online for about the same price. Here is one.
Wet wipes are one of my favorite long haul flight essentials. You can use them to wash your face, and even to give yourself a quick sponge bath. If you search carefully you can find really small packages which are perfect to pack in your carry-on – such as these for example.
Moisturizer and lip balm
The dry air on a plane dries out your skin terribly – it’s like you are in the desert, except you are not. Your face, your hands and your lips will dry out. In fact, not sure about you but even the inside of my nose dries up and really hurts! Try to keep your skin and lips moisturized by smothering yourself with abundant amounts of lotion and regularly dab some lip balm. Make sure to also pack a travel size tub of hand lotion.
These are my favorite beauty products that also end up being in my long haul flight essentials:
- La Roche Posay double repair face moisturizer – it nourishes your skin deeply and it feels rejuvenated.
- Burt’s Bee organic lip balm – I have lost count of how many I have tried and honestly this is the only one that works to keep my lips nice and soft.
- Burt’s Bee hand cream – yep, I love this brand.
Travel size brush
You may be one of those lucky woman who has never had a bad-hair day. Or have a lovely short hair cut that doesn’t need much management. But if you have a maze of hair like mine, you will want to brush it every now and then even during a long haul flight, especially since that terrible dry hair will keep it flying everywhere and it will accumulate all the static electricity. Make sure to carry on board among your long haul flight essentials a good folding hair brush like this one.
This isn’t just one of the long haul flights essentials you need, but something that should be in your bag whether you board a plane, a bus or just walk around at home. We don’t always have a chance to wash our hands – something so important to prevent the spreading of diseases such as the coronavirus. But a good hand sanitizer works wonder. You can buy it here.
First aid kit and prescription medicines
One of my best tips for long haul travels is to always pack some basic medicines with you. I am not saying you need to drug yourself on a flight – not at all. But you never know you may get motion sickness, stomach pain, or a headache (I regularly do, despite my best efforts to stay hydrated). You will need a first aid kit that includes some important long haul flight essentials such as:
- Dramamine – best to fight motion sickness. I recommend the regular stuff as it will also make you drowsy and you will fall asleep more easily.
- Paracetamol or ibubrofen – just in case you can’t get rid of that headache.
- Melatonin – this will help you fall asleep and in fact it’s the best way to also fight jet-lag.
- Probiotics – in case you feel terribly bloated during and after the long haul flight.
- Eye drops – unless you are one of the lucky ones who’s eyes don’t sting like mad during a flight.
All these can be bought over the counter. Remember to also bring any prescription medicine you may be needing.
Have you noticed how some people seem to wear their best outfit when boarding a long haul flight? I am not sure who they are trying to impress. And sure enough the isle of a plane is hardly a catwalk. Needless to say, among my top tips for long haul flights is to be dressed comfortably. You will be sitting on a plane for 10+ hours and the last thing you need is for the button of those glamorous jeans to press on your stomach!
Below, is my recommended outfit.
I love hoodies. They are warm (have you noticed how planes are always freezing?), comfortable and you can pull up the hood to cover your face and eyes when you sleep. I am a huge fan of Kuhl Protektr Hoody. It’s warm but not bulky and as any other Kuhl item, it’s incredibly comfortable.
Leggings or sweatpants
Seriously – no jeans. You want something that allows you to move freely on that seat – whether you are restrained in economy or in business. Harmony jegging by Kuhl is the perfect compromise – at the same time comfortable and fashionable. You can get your pair here.
Even in the summer, I make sure to bring a scarf on a long haul flight – just a light one. You can ball it up and use as a pillow if you forgot your travel pillow. You can use it to cover your head or neck if the plane is terribly cold. And once you get to your destination, it can be used as a shawl to cover your shoulders if you enter a temple.
This is the most important of all my tips for long haul flights. Traveling can at times be stressful; you may be in a rush; you may be tired and desperate to fall asleep. But seriously, don’t be the disrespectful selfish passenger that does not care at all about other people’s space and comfort. Don’t take the entire space of the over-head compartment. Be nice enough to ask if you can recline your seat to the passenger sitting behind you – especially if the flight attendants haven’t removed the dinner trays yet. Be patient when waiting in line for the lavatory. Be friendly to other travelers. It will make your flight a whole lot better.
Make sure to read my post “A Completely Honest GetYourGuide Review.”
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