Everything You Need to Survive a Long Flight

A long flight can have you tearing your hair out in frustration, boredom, anger or fatigue, but it really doesn’t need to be that way. With a little knowledge and a small amount of preparation you can get your holiday started on a positive note and arrival at your destination feeling a lot less like the zombie apocalypse.

The following guidelines are intended to make your travel time be as comfortable and stress-free as possible, both for you and everyone else you will be sharing the next 6-15 hours with.

1. Finding the Best Seat in the House

In economy class (coach), the best seat is a matter of personal preference. Almost unanimously, the middle seat has got to be the worst option, especially when sandwiched between two strangers. The seats near the center of gravity are the best for passenger comfort in turbulence as this is the most stable area of the plan. These seats are located approximately around the wings.

The further away from the center, the more the plane will shake and the greater you will be jarred by turbulence. Read more about turbulence here: Turbulence – Why Your Flight Gets Bumpy

Not All Seats are Created Equal

Even within the same class and fare, some seats are far superior to others. Consider an aisle or exit row seat for leg room, or a window if you want to sleep. Try to avoid seats near the toilets/lavatories, as other passengers will be accessing these regularly. It is common on long-haul flights for there to be lines and people walking to or from the toilets may bump or knock your seat. Also keep in mind that the noise and light that escapes when the door is opened may be disturbing, particularly when trying to sleep.

Study the seat maps at your airline’s website and be sure to check out the advice offered at SeatGuru.com and SeatExpert.com.

Air Canada Seat Map on SeatExpert.com_

If you were originally assigned a less than ideal seat, check for new options at the 24-hour mark or with the agent at the airport.

Handy tip!

The last row of seats usually do not recline! It is also worth noting that the bulkhead (particularly the front middle four seats) are often reserved for families with kids, so if you don’t like screaming babies maybe avoid this area.

Check in 24 hours prior to departure

Some airlines open up new allotments of seats during the 24 hours prior to the flight so you might be able to secure a good spot that was previously unavailable. If you are a member of the airline’s frequent flyer program be sure to check that your number is registered and see if you can be put on a waitlist for a complimentary upgrade.

If traveling as a couple, grab the window and aisle seats

If you are traveling as a couple on a flight with the seat configuration 3-3, 3-3-3 or 3-4-3, book the aisle seat and a window seat, leaving the seat between you vacant. The middle seat will generally be the last seat booked, so there is a chance the seat may be empty and you score the extra room! Of course, if it does happen to be booked and you want to sit together, you will find that people are quite happy to trade their middle seat for either your window or aisle seat.

Grab these seats

Window or Aisle?

This is often debated on travel forums but essentially comes down to personal preference. On the positive side – the window seat gives you the chance to rest your head against the wall while offering unobstructed views for take-off and landing. The only major negative is the contortion you will need to perform whenever you wish to leave your seat for the bathroom or to stretch your legs.

The aisle, on the other hand, affords easy, unobstructed access to the lavatory for those with small bladders along with the opportunity to make use of a little extra legroom (without obstructing the aisle). Of course, you are now considered an obstacle for the people next to you so expect to be disturbed at times.

Choose an exit row

Exit rows have a ton of extra space and are often available for an extra fee. This extra fee is well worth the price to ensure your legs aren’t crushed by the person in front of you. If you can’t get an exit row, ask the gate agent for a bulkhead seat (while the bulkhead will give you extra legroom be aware that you are likely to encounter kids here).

2. What to Pack in Your Carry-on

We have compiled a list of the items you should pack in your carry-on that will help make your flight more comfortable and enjoyable.

  • Travel pillow
  • Eye mask
  • Ear plugs
  • Entertainment (Tablet/Kindle/Smartphone/Book)*
  • USB wall charger*
  • Universal power adapter*
  • Noise-canceling headphones*
  • Warm sweater/hoodie
  • Compression socks*
  • Slippers*
  • 2 Black Pens (just incase one runs out of ink)
  • Camera
  • Chewing gum

*While these are not essential items they will certainly help you

Toiletries

Pack your toiletries in a clear Ziploc bag to ensure there are no issues clearing the baggage check and make sure to comply with regulations (Liquids, creams, and gels must be in a 100 ml (3.4-ounce) container or smaller). If your checked luggage is delayed, at least you’ll have access to your essentials.

List of Toiletry Items

  • Tissues
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Mouthwash
  • Moisturizer
  • Hair brush
  • Eye drops
  • Panadol/ Paracetemol
  • Spritzer (Facial Spray)
  • Deodorant
Clear Ziploc bag

Handy tip!

Always pack an extra pair of socks, clean underwear and a shirt just incase your flight is delayed in transit or you lose your luggage.

3. What to Wear?

Choose comfort over style

When you are stuck on a plane for hours on end the last thing you should be thinking about is how you look. Wear the most comfortable, loose-fitting clothing you have and you will increase the blood circulation while seated. Alternatively, for the ultimate in comfort, take it one step further and bring pajamas to change into after you have boarded.

Consider the climate at your destination

It is surprising how often people fail to think about the temperature of the destination when they board a flight. This is very important when traveling from a cold to warm climate or vice versa. You don’t want to step off the plane in Hawaii wearing your thermal underwear or arrive in Sweden during winter in shorts and a t-shirt.

Queenstown airport

Dress in layers

It is vitally important to always dress in layers since the temperature in the cabin can fluctuate wildly. Sometimes it is freezing and you will need to pack on those layers (some woolen socks and a warm sweater or hoodie will do the trick). Other times it can be brutally hot, so having the option of removing layers is essential. You will want to be prepared for either situation and everything in between.

4. What to Eat & Drink?

There is a common consensus among travel experts that you should avoid eating airline food at all costs. Airline meals typically have a very high salt content, which will speed up the dehydration process.

As with seating, not all airline food is created equal. On some airlines, the food is excellent while others you might as well be eating the in-flight magazine. A great way to get an idea of what the food is like is to check Airlinemeals.net before you travel. Read through the reviews and decide if you should buy food before the flight.

Order a special meal

Check your airline in advance to find out if they offer free meals and potentially request a special meal. Many airlines cater for dietary and religious requirements by offering “special” meals if you order at least two or three days in advance.

Special dietary needs, such as Halal, Vegetarian, Gluten-free and Kosher will be accommodated to varying degrees depending on the airline and the service. Typically, airlines will provide these types of meals on international flights and at no extra cost.

Air France Hindu-vegetarian breakfast

There are added bonuses too! Since the airlines have to specially prepare your meal, it is usually better quality than the standard meals and you are almost always served first. If your airline doesn’t offer a free meal, bring your own or worst case – buy one at the airport.

Pack your own snacks

If you are happy to forego you free meal we suggest packing your own meals and snacks. The smaller portions and healthier options will assist you in the long run, especially with jet lag. You will also have the luxury of being able to eat when you want and won’t need to be woken up for the meal service.

Drinking on the flight

One of the biggest contributors to feeling terrible after a long flight is dehydration. The cabin of a plane is set up to dehydrate you with low cabin pressure and very low humidity. These factors mean that you will need to consume even more water than you would normally. Unfortunately for many of us, it also results in numerous trips to the toilet and no one enjoys having to disturb the people around them every time they get out of their seat.

Handy tip!

Don’t drink too much (if any) alcohol, as this will simply dehydrate your body faster. Same goes for coffee too and soda is a bad choice because of all the sugar.

5. Fighting the Boredom

While most airlines are moving towards improving their in-flight entertainment systems A.V.O.D (Audio Video on Demand) there are still many aircraft that are yet to be fitted out and you are at the mercy of what is on offer.

Virgin Atlantic Economy A330

Bring your own entertainment

Whether it’s a tablet full of movies and games or a Kindle loaded with books, bringing your own device is a sure-fire way to make sure you have enough in-flight entertainment to survive the flight.

Now you have full control over what you watch, read or play and can save a few dollars on flights where entertainment is an optional extra.

Bring your own headphones

If you have traveled on a few flights you will know that the headphones, available on the plane (whether for purchase or for free) are usually of poor quality. If you will be taking a number of flights over the next few years it is worth investing in a good pair of noise-canceling headphones as this will not only improve your audio experience but help to block out engine noise too.

Remember to ALWAYS wear headphones whenever you have any audio playing on your own device. No one around you wants to hear the beeping from your games, the movie you are watching or the music you are listening to.

6. Get Some Sleep

One of the major issues travelers seem to mention is the inability to get quality sleep on a long flight. This sleep deprivation leaves us exhausted when we arrive and is one of the biggest contributors to jet lag.

For more great tips on adjusting your body clock, read our comprehensive guide – How to Beat Jet Lag.

There are a number of options available to help knock you out, ranging from all-natural remedies like melatonin to prescription sleeping pills. We suggest that you test out a few of these options before you leave home to see which works best for you with the least side effects.

Calm your mind

Meditation is a fantastic way to calm your mind in preparation for sleep. Check out some great meditation techniques here.

Electronic devices tend to put a strain on your eyes and the light emitted has been proven to keep the brain stimulated, two factors that are sure to keep you awake. Combine that with a game and you will find it extremely difficult to fall asleep straight away. The best way around this is to read the inflight magazine with some calming music playing in your headphones for 10 minutes before even trying to sleep.

Pack a travel pillow

The pillows provided by the airplane are really only useful as lumbar support. If you intend on sleeping on the plane, pack an inflatable neck pillow.

For the utmost comfort and an improved chance of sleeping you will need to come prepared. Pack a travel pillow or head restraint. Test out a few varieties before purchasing, some people swear by the inflatable neck pillows while others find them too hard and prefer the soft type.

Sleeping on the plane

Use and eye mask & ear plugs

Depending on the time of day during your flight it might be bright outside, making it difficult to fall asleep. It’s also challenging to sleep when there’s constant conversation, babies crying and noise from the meal service.

An eye mask and ear plugs are definitely worth the investment as these will not only come in handy during your flight but also in noisy hostel dorms and other forms of transport. Of course, if you have invested in some quality noise-canceling headphones you may prefer to use these instead of ear plugs.

7. Tips to Arrive Healthy

Health conditions & medication

If you have any pre-existing conditions make sure that you are adequately prepared well before you flight. Notify the airline prior to your flight if you will require any assistance such as: wheelchairs, oxygen (even if taking your own) and advise of any acute allergic reactions you might have (eg. peanuts etc.). Pack any prescription medication into a clear Ziploc bag or see-through container and notify the staff when you check in.

Pills

Hydrate & moisturize

There’s a reason you feel thirsty on a flight. The pressurized air in the cabin contains very little humidity so you will need to take steps to protect yourself from the dry air while onboard. Use eye drops whenever your eyes feel dry and consider a saline nasal gel on your next flight if you notice that your nostrils feel uncomfortable breathing the dry air.

Drink lots of water as mentioned previously and moisturize your face and hands whenever you visit the bathroom to keep them from drying out.

Use lip balm to protect your lips from cracking and becoming painfully dry.. or even bleeding.

Stay mobile & exercise

It’s actually quite important to keep the blood flowing while you’re sitting down for any extended period of time. Being cramped into a small space for hours on end is not good for your muscles and joints either.

Sitting for long periods of time can increase the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). When you are awake (and the seatbelt sign is off), get up every 30-40 mins and stretch your legs. Walk to the toilet area and do some simple exercises. Here are a few basic examples:

  • Squats
  • Alternate toe touches
  • Up on tippy toes and stretch your arms to the ceiling
  • Hands on your hips and make a circular motion

While you are seated, it is also a good idea to keep your legs and feet moving or wear pressure socks if you already have poor circulation.

Air pressure

Taking an antihistamine before your flight will give you some relief from the air pressure. It helps keeps the sinuses open and reduces pain in the ears and nasal canals.

The cabin pressure will change rapidly during take-off and landing so pack something sweet to suck on like a lollipop or a mint. This equalizes the pressure in your ears and relieves any associated pain. Other solutions to the ear pressure problem include chewing gum and opening your mouth (simply faking a yawn will do the trick).

8. Follow These Common Sense Rules

We have all been there and witnessed someone doing something stupid on a flight before. The worst part is that it could easily be avoided if they had just stuck to these simple common sense rules.

Seriously, you don’t want to end up being one of the people on this list – 20 Types of Airline Passengers to Avoid.

Practice patience

It’s going to be a long flight. People may annoy you. Accept it and remember you are only on the plane for a limited time (no matter how long that may be).

Reclining your seat

While you have every right to recline your seat to get more comfortable, check that you are not crushing the person behind you and ALWAYS bring your seat upright during meal times.

Be polite

Think about the people around you when getting up to go to the toilet. Where possible avoid using the seat in front as support and politely ask your neighbors when you need to leave your seat.

Wear shoes in the bathroom

You wouldn’t walk into any other bathroom with bare feet or socks so why do it on a flight? It is unhygienic and disgusting.

Wear your seatbelt when seated

There’s a reason the flight attendants ask that you do this. Sometimes the plane can experience sudden and unexpected turbulence and there have been cases of passengers being severely injured due to not wearing their seat belts.

If it’s sunny, keep your window shade down*

While you might want to take a peek outside, the people around you may want to sleep during the flight so keep the shade down and avoid the sunlight!

*Unless told otherwise by the crew. Let common sense prevail here too.

Don’t stink

Pretty self-explanatory this one. Common offenders are people who take their shoes off with stinky feet, people with bad breath or body odor, and people who bring stinky food onboard. Prevent potential conflict by showering before your flight (where possible), using deodorant, brushing your teeth and using mouthwash.

Keep the noise down

Common gripes include passengers that talk too much, parents who don’t control their kids and people who don’t use headphones for their electronic devices. Don’t be one of these people!

Maintain a good attitude

No matter what happens it is important to keep a good attitude. Be thankful that you have the means to travel and are either en route to a holiday or just returning from one. You are guaranteed to have a long and painful flight if your attitude sucks.

9. Before You Land

At the end of a long flight you are probably feeling a little worse for wear, even if you have followed every tip from above. Now is the best time to hit the toilet and prepare for landing.

Freshen up

There are a few things you can do to feel 100% fresher when you touch down, leaving you feeling like a new person.

1. Brush your teeth and rinse with mouthwash
2. Wash your face then apply a spritzer (facial spray)
3. Moisturize your hands and face
4. Comb your hair
5. Apply deodorant (a roll-on stick is best and make sure not to use too much)
6. For the ladies (and some men) apply makeup*

* Not essential

Complete the arrival form

Keep your passport, flight and arrival information handy during your flight so you can easily complete the arrival form before disembarking. This way you are all prepared to make your way through Customs and Immigration with a minimum of stress.

Arrival card

Charge your devices

Due to security risks, many airports have introduced new measures to check your electronic devices. If your device is not charged and cannot be switched on you may be denied boarding or interrogated by customs officials. Best case scenario you will still simply incur a delay and that’s bad enough.

Check your belongings

Sounds pretty simple but you would be surprised how many personal items get left in the plane. Check the back pocket of the seat in front of you, under and around your own seat to ensure nothing has fallen out of your pockets during the flight.

Handy tip!

Double check that you have your phone and passport as these are the most common items left behind.

With a little practice and by following these tips you can significantly reduce the stress of flying, arriving a lot more refreshed and ready for action! Just remember this, while you might be dreading a 14 hour flight, there is most likely an awesome destination waiting for you on the other side.