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Long haul flights are a drag.
There’s no getting around it.
No one is like, “hey! Choose me to spend 11 hours on a plane in Economy!”
These long haul flight tips aren’t because you want to sit closer to strangers than you ever thought possible, but because the destination on the other end is worth the wait!
Whether you’re flying to travel to a new farflung destination or just to go home to see your family at Christmas, I have put myself on the line as a test subject for the past 7 years of flying long haul so I can present you with the ultimate list of tips for flying long haul and what to pack for a long haul flight.
Essential Long Haul Flight Tips to Survive the Boring Skies
Unless you somehow manage to luck out and go viral on one of those flights that have the cast of some musical like the Lion King cast serenading you with their voices, your long haul flight is destined to be boring.
And in some cases, that’s good. Boring means you get there safely and securely and that’s all we need when we’re being throttled in a small tube hundreds of thousands of feet above the ground.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some tips for flying long haul that can’t make it a bit better.
Choose Your Seat Based on the Time of Day
You’ll want to pay more attention to your seat choice on a long haul flight than on a domestic flight.
You’re going to be married to it for quite awhile, and if you have any say in the matter at all, you want to make sure you’ve given it some thought.
My first piece of advice when flying long haul when it comes to seats is consider the time of day of the flight.
On daytime flights, I prefer to pick an aisle seat so I can more easily get up and move around as I know that I’m not going to sleep or try to sleep.
On red eye or nighttime flights, I aim for a window seat, as the goal is to rest and if I have to keep getting up for someone else who needs to go to the bathroom every 5 seconds, that could seriously interrupt my ZZzzzss.
If there’s a group of you booking together and you’re able to “take up” the row, you can more easily switch around who sits where, but if you’re traveling solo or as a couple in a 3 person configuration, take note of the time of your flight before choosing your destiny.
Wear Slip Off Shoes with Comfy Socks
Flying is no longer the “dress up” event that it was in decades past, and while some people do still recommend you dress nicely for the highest chance of being upgraded if you’re a frequent flyer, the vast majority of us are going to prefer comfort.
I am staunchly against being barefoot on a plane, both for your own feet health (like who knows what has been on that carpet) and also because that is disgusting and nobody around you wants to be in a public, shared place with you that is not the beach or a swimming pool and see your bare feet.
However, I am team “socks on a plane,” and so I recommend wearing a pair of shoes that is easy to slip off and some socks that aren’t too tight.
This could mean tennis shoes, or some comfortable slip on shoes like these.
You should wear your shoes for take-off, landing, and when going to the bathroom (seriously, ew, do no go on those bathrooms without shoes on), but when you’re sitting and watching the 10th episode of How I Met Your Mother, you’ve got a bit more feet freedom.
However, that being said, be courteous and make sure that your shoes do not stink and they are fresh socks so you’re not making the whole plane hate you.
Set Your Watch to the New Time
It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it’s important. As soon as you get on the plane (if not before), start trying to think in your new time zone. This includes setting your phone and any watches or other devices to the new time.
This is going to help you start to adjust to the eventual timezone shift, so by the time you land it will make sense to your brain what time it is.
Even if you don’t physically change anything, still start “thinking” in the new timezone.
If it’s 9pm your body clock’s time, but 2am in your destination’s time – try to get it through your head that it’s now the middle of the night for you and you should try to sleep!
Wear Loose Fitting Clothes
As far as the actual clothes you wear on the plane, I’m a full supporter of comfort.
Pajamas are a bit much, but you can still wear leggings, sweatpants or other loose fitting pants and then comfortable tops and hoodies.
You don’t need to wear your tightest jeans on the plane with your nicest blouse – and this gets even more true the longer the flight is.
If you need to be somewhere nice when you arrive or don’t want to feel like a slob exploring a new city, bring a change of clothes and change into it in the airport bathrooms in your destination.
Get to the Airport Earlier than You Think
It’s recommended to get to an international flight 2 to 3 hours beforehand, and I would err on the 3 hour side for any nervous or new long haul travelers.
I aim for 2 hours and haven’t missed a flight, but there have been times when they have been boarding when I finally got through security.
Particularly if you need to check-in bags at an actual desk and go through security at a busy airport, err on the side of caution and give yourself more time than you would normally to get situated in the airport for your long haul flight.
That way you can get on the plane less stressed with a more enjoyable start to your trip.
This is also one of my major tips for flying long haul for anyone who has to rely on public transportation to get to the airport, as well as my tips for flying budget airlines who often have their gates further away from the main airport.
You need to leave yourself enough time in case something goes wrong and you need to hop in a cab or find an alternate route of transportation.
Pick a Seat Away from the Bathrooms
Trust me, you don’t want to book a seat right next to the bathrooms on a long haul flight.
12 hours of hearing that door open and close and people standing all up in your grill isn’t pleasant, and the walk to the bathroom will give you a chance to stretch your legs if you book further away from them.
Don’t Prebook a Vegetarian Meal
Okay, here’s a random one for you.
If you’ve never flown long haul, you might not realize that entire meals are served on most of these flights!
Hooray! Something to do!
As a mostly vegetarian, I thought it would be something I needed to preorder ahead of time to make sure they had a vegetarian meal for me.
Except everytime I did that, I would end up with a combined vegetarian/vegan/gluten free type of option and then get so jealous when the main meals came around and there was a veggie option I wanted way more.
If you have a specific dietary requirement, definitely book that meal ahead of time, but if you’re just hoping to eat vegetarian, there is always a veggie option on the main menu options and it’s almost always better than the prebooked version.
Bring the Best Earplugs
Not only should you bring your own earplugs and not rely on the ones sometimes given out on a plane, but you should make sure they’re actually good.
Not all earplugs are created equal, and not any piece of foam will do. Planes can be very loud places – between the crying babies, the roar of the engines, the meal services – it’s a lot.
I love and use these earplugs and would stock up on them for your whole traveling crew to help make your long haul flight more pleasant when you’re trying to sleep.
Move Around Regularly
Flying on a long haul flight is inherently an unnatural experience.
Your body doesn’t love being in that type of pressurized environment hurtling through the sky.
To keep your blood flowing and prevent any flying complications like blood clots, make sure to get up and out of your seat regularly.
Walk up and down the aisles, do some stretches in the aisle, whatever you need to do.
Even just standing up at your seat occasionally can give you an opportunity to move your muscles without needing to go anywhere.
Lather Up in Moisturizer
This is one that I didn’t realize about flying long haul because it doesn’t affect me on shorter flights.
It’s a dry environment on a plane – as in, the air itself on that plane is going to start drying out your skin, your hands, your lips.
When I fly in the winter, if I don’t have chapstick and moisturizer, I can end a 10 hour flight feeling extremely uncomfortable and it once took weeks for my chapped lips to heal from a flight after I forgot chapstick.
Keep moisturizer (under the liquid limit, of course) and chapstick on you and apply regularly – you’ll start to feel it later in the flight if not.
Consider Mid-Tier Seating like “Economy +”
Of course, the best tip for long haul flights I could ever give is…upgrade.
But if you regularly fly First Class, you’re probably not going to be reading this article about how to survive a long haul flight because you’re already used to the lap of luxury.
So for the rest of us, my advice is to keep an eye out for prices on upgraded seats.
Often, there is a “plus” version of economy or just a step up from economy that is more affordable for the average traveler and will give you some more seat and legroom.
Virgin Atlantic Long Haul Flights, for instance, have what’s called Economy Delight.
Especially on an overnight flight when you’re trying to sleep, this can be the difference in getting some shut eye.
Some airlines, too, like Norwegian (read my full guide to Norwegian airlines here) will let you “bid” for upgrades close to the flight if they aren’t fully booked, and you can get premium seats for a fraction of the price if you booked it originally.
Rest Your Eyes, Even if You Don’t Sleep
I can’t sleep on a flight.
I’m trying to give as much advice as possible about sleeping on flights for those of you who can, but my flight anxiety means I can’t.
But that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I should keep myself alert the whole flight watching the screen intently.
Resting your eyes and closing them can still count towards helping you feel refreshed.
Make a pact with yourself that even if you can’t sleep, you’re going to sit there, earplugs in, eyemask on, and rest your eyes and mind.
Put a meditation on your phone ahead of time or just listen to a calming album you like.
You might surprise yourself and fall asleep, but even if not, you’ll feel much more refreshed when you land than if you hadn’t.
Don’t Track the Flight (Too Much)
I’m a flight tracker. I like to know where we are at all times.
Except, when you’re crossing the Atlantic and basically the landmarks are few and far between, tracking that flight can make it seem even longer than it is.
Try to get engrossed in other entertainment besides just counting down the minutes and watching the plane ever so slowly inch its way across that tracker screen.
For those of us who are natural flight trackers, it can be hard to stop, but trust me, you’re not helping the plane go any faster.
Test your Meds on the Ground
I’m not here to tell you to take any specific medication to help you get through a long haul flight because I’m not a doctor and you do you, as the saying goes.
Some people take sleep aids, other anxiety aids, etc.
But what I will tell you is that regardless of what you take, you need to take it on the ground first before your flight.
Don’t take something that you don’t know your reaction to for the first time on a long haul flight.
Keep Toiletries Together
Make yourself a small travel pack with your essential plane (and airport) toiletries and keep them all together.
I would recommend a travel toothbrush, small deoderant, and small toothpaste as basics, and perhaps some face wipes.
This lets you refresh at any point in the flight without digging through your entire carry-on, and trust me, you say now “oh yes, of course this makes sense,” but then when you’re packing frantically, you’re just throwing things everywhere.
There isn’t a ton of room to move or go through luggage on planes, so having what you need in one place that you can easily reach is essential.
Shower Right Before You Get On
No matter what time of the day it is, I prefer to shower before getting on a long haul flight.
For instance, if you shower at night and get on an overnight flight without showering yet, you’re not going to be given another chance for quite a few hours and your hair and body will just be getting…greasy (ew, I’m grossing myself out) the whole time you’re sitting on the plane.
If at all possible, clean up before getting on the plane and you’ll arrive in your destination more refreshed and the flight itself will be more enjoyable.
Fresh shower, fresh clothes and underwear – it does wonders.
Lean Your Seat Back
I am the ultimate scaredy cat when it comes to leaning my seat back on flights because I don’t want to annoy the people behind me.
But on a long haul flight, that care goes out the window.
There is some etiquette behind this – ie, during meal service, it would be great if you didn’t have your seat all the way reclined into someone’s lap, but I say when it’s sleep or rest time, you can make use of your seat’s reclining capabilities without reproach.
If airlines didn’t want you using it, they wouldn’t make them able to recline (and increasingly, more aren’t!).
Even if you just pop it back a notch or too, lean back a bit and try to doze off.
What to Pack for a Long Haul Flight: The Essentials
When it comes to packing for long haul flights, you should have some essential items in your carry-on that you may want to use throughout the flight.
This isn’t a 2 hour flight so if you forget your XYZ, you’ll be reunited soon.
Some of the longest long haul flights nowadays are teetering on 17-19 hours and you’re not going to be happy if you forget your headphones and the airlines are horrible.
Bring a Refillable Water Bottle
You can’t bring water through security with you, but you need to stay hydrated on the plane, so what to do?
Bring an empty refillable water bottle that you can fill up after you get through security and take with you on the plane.
Yes, the flight attendants will come around and offer water during the meal services and a few times during the flight, but you should be drinking more water than that or at least have it on hand.
We use these water bottles and find them excellent.
Bring Your Own Snacks
You do get meals on a long haul flight, but you should also pack some of your own snacks.
The flight could run out of the meal you want and the others could look like slop, or you could just find that you’re extra hungry and you don’t want to spend an extortionate amount of money on the paid-for airline snacks.
Pack some not smelly food like pretzals or fruit and keep them in your stash in case of “I’m so hungry and I have 7 hours left on this flight” emergencies.
Bring Hand Sanetizer
Planes are FULL of germs.
On the seat, on the seatback tray table, on the arms of the seat.
I bring hand sanetizer with me to use before I eat on the plane and at regularly intervals throughout the flight.
Again, make sure it’s small enough to make it under the liquid limit to take on the plane.
But don’t put plane food in your mouth after touching the tray table and your seat and the seatbelt and all of those germ-collecting places and be surprised when you get sick in your destination city.
Carry an Eyemask On Board
Flights will often give you an eyemask at your seat, but not always.
And whether or not they do, they’re not going to be good quality.
A plane interior is never going to be pitch black even when they dim the lights, and for quite a lot of your flights, the lights may be on full force.
If you’re hoping to sleep at all, many people find that a quality eyemask like this one will help block out all that extra light and help you find your zen.
Travel with Your Nerdy Pillow
Travel pillows are nerdy.
There’s no getting around it.
You are not going to look like you’re about to accept an Oscar while wearing one.
Get over it and get one.
On a short domestic flight, do I need a strangely contorted pillow around my neck?
But when you’re spending 9 hours crossing the Pacific and all you want to do is find the tiniest sense of comfort in your very cramped economy seat?
Yes, hello travel pillow, you old friend. Let’s get acquainted.
Try this travel pillow that will contort in more than one direction so you can also use it for back support.
Pack Your Own Entertainment
It’s well known these days that most long haul airlines have entertainment built into the seat backs.
But do you know what happens when your flight gets switched out by a plane the airline had to rent because their existing plane is being fixed and it has no entertainment in the seatbacks?
Do you know what happens when you get on a plane with built-in entertainment and then yours malfunctions on a full flight and the flight attendants can’t fix it?
Nothing, that’s what.
No clowns come out to put on a show for you, the pilot isn’t going to land to go fix your screen, and you’re just left sitting there wondering where everything went wrong in your life.
Your in-flight entertainment will most likely work on your plane.
But if it doesn’t, you need to be prepared with shows or movies downloaded onto your phone or tablet if possible, or, hey, go old school and have a book ready.
Perhaps one of the tips for flying long haul that I can repeat over and over is – be prepared.
You may not need it, but if you do, you’ll be so, so glad.
Pack Things for Kids
Long haul flights are boring for everyone, but especially kids who aren’t used to sitting still that long and not having anywhere to “go to” besides their tiny seat.
And of course, screens can keep them occupied in the 21st century, but when you use up all of their favorite shows and you’ve still got 2 hours to go, you’re going to wish you packed more for them to do.
Many parents choose to pack little activity kits like these to keep the kids occupied should they need them, and they can be a lifesaver.
Stay Charged with Power Banks and Charging Cords
Don’t get on a long haul flight with your phone’s charging cord and power banks like these that are charged up.
Many long haul flights will have USB charging capabilities built into the seats, so you can plug your phone in while flying.
If this is absent or malfunctioning, however, your power bank can ensure that you can stay charged even if you use your phone for music or movies or something else.
Often when we fly long haul, we’re ending up in an entirely different country that we’re not familiar with, or at least we need to be able to call people for a ride to pick us up when we return.
If your phone dies on the plane because you couldn’t charge it for 12 hours and you ran down the battery showing your seatmate 8,632 pictures of your grandchildren – not good.
Bring your tools to stay charged and breathe a sigh of relief.
Don’t Forget Your Own Headphones
Again, some airlines will provide headphones for you to use on the plane, but not all will.
And even if they do, they’re cheap and hardly work.
Bring your own headphones on board to enjoy the entertainment, and if you can, go for noise cancelling headphones like these that will make your ears love you a lot more.
Avoid Kitschy Products
Instead of finishing by telling you what to pack for a long haul flight, I’m going to tell you what not to pack.
And that is all of those kitschy products you see advertised – a sling for your feet so you don’t have to touch the airplane floor?
The “bed” for kids that most airlines don’t even allow you to have?
Inflatable seat cushions?
Yes, if you have some sort of medical issue or particular area of your body that you need to pay attention to and make sure is comfortable on the flight, then by all means.
But if it looks like it belongs on a Made for TV ad, leave it at home.
You’re taking up enough room in your luggage packing the basics, and as much as you try, you’re not going to turn your economy seat into a luxury spa, so don’t try!