The Complete Survival Guide for Long-Haul Flights

When you find yourself in the cosy confines of economy class, en route to a faraway place, your thoughts will most likely be filled with excitement and adventure – until you take off and the realisation of the lengthy journey ahead starts to settle in. But part of the fun of travelling is in the journey itself, and those long-haul flights can be an opportunity to scratch a few to-do’s off your list, learn more about your new destination or binge on the latest entertainment.

Come prepared for the trip ahead to ensure you are comfortable, occupied and ready to hit the ground running on arrival.

What is considered a long-haul flight?

Flights spanning 6 to 12 hours are considered to be long-haul flights, while anything in excess of that becomes an ultra long-haul flight.

Long airport layovers

How do you survive a long-haul flight?

Although there’s nothing you can do to make the flight go faster, there are plenty of things to be done during the flight to make it feel faster, and way more enjoyable. Here are a few tips on what you can do:

1. Pre-book your seat

Where you sit will largely determine how your overall experience goes, so set an alarm if you’re likely to forget about your early flight check-in, and pre-book your seat as soon as you get the chance.

As most airlines start booking from the front of the aircraft, it’s worth reserving a seat near the back of the plane if you want to avoid crying babies (who will be congregated near the middle) or sit near the galley, where you can get up easily and use the extra room to stretch your legs.

Window seats are great too, as there’s nobody to climb over you mid-nap. You have a built-in corner to rest your weary head on, and you are well away from the drinks cart and other passengers milling about in the aisles.

Window seat

2. Comfort is key

It goes without saying that dressing comfortably will make the whole experience more comfortable for you. Wear loose fitting or stretchy clothes that will also stand the test of flight time. Whatever you wear boarding the plane will most likely be the outfit you end up leaving the airport in too.

As feet and ankles notoriously swell up at high altitude, kick off your shoes and replace them with a pair of plush, warm socks to beat the cabin chill. Consider a pair that you can cruise the aisles in, like the ones with non-slip bobbles underneath.

3. Pack your own entertainment

A pair of own noise-cancelling headphones will go a long way to block out the sounds around you and keep you engrossed in your in-flight entertainment. And, rather than burning through an array of the latest blockbusters, why not pre-download a series of podcasts or audiobooks?

If you would rather read, but a traditional paperback is not your thing, upload some literary relaxation onto your smartphone or Kindle. Long haul flights are also a great opportunity to learn a new language or pick up a few key phrases before you land, so download Duolingo or some tech-savvy travel apps before you leave.

4. Bring your own snacks

Airplane food is luck of the draw. Sometimes you’ll be served incredible dishes and sometimes you won’t know the difference between dinner and the cardboard container it’s served in. Also, if you like to graze between meals, it’s always a good idea to keep plenty of healthy snacks on hand.

Aisle seats on long haul flights

5. Get moving

Deep vein thrombosis is a real thing and a scary thing at that. Aside from giving you something to do, a bathroom break or walk around the plane is essential for stretching your muscles and boosting circulation mid-flight.

Practice your ballerina-esque perfect pointe to stretch your legs while nobody is watching, or spell out the alphabet with your feet under the seat in front of you, but whatever you do just get moving as much as possible.

6. Stay hydrated

The moisture vampire that is cabin air-conditioning seeks to leave you feeling parched and with desert dry skin. Drink plenty of water, preferably from a bottle that you can get refilled regularly, and pat a little moisturizer onto your skin at intervals.

7. Access airport lounges on long layovers

There’s nothing worse than being cooped up for hours onboard, only to wander aimlessly around your connecting airport with nowhere to go and not much to do. Consider paying to access an airport lounge (if not included with your ticket) and spend a few hours snacking, catching up via free wifi and escaping from the frenetic crowds outside.

Research connecting airport information beforehand, as some offer spa and fitness facilities, so why not enjoy an energy-boosting workout and a hot shower, or indulge in a soothing spa treatment or swim on your long layover.

Long haul flight layovers

What can you take in hand luggage on a long-haul flight?

First familiarise yourself with what not to take onboard according to the applicable airlines, and then spend some time compiling your in-flight essentials. Also to consider – an additional bag under the seat in front of you restricts your leg space to a degree, so try to keep it small and compact.

Pack smart – bring the essential travel items you can’t live without, in case you end up with lost luggage. And remember to place together liquids, creams and gels into travel size containers of up to 100 ml in a resealable 1-litre Ziploc bag.

Things you should take in hand luggage on long-haul flights:

  • Empty water bottle to refill on board
  • Valuables/electronics
  • Chewing gum for blocked ears
  • Change of clothes
  • Earphones and earplugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Travel neck pillow
  • Sleep aid
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Medication
  • Eye drops
  • Basic toiletries

Hand luggage on long haul flights

What to wear on a long-haul flight

The ultimate travel-comfort luxury, cashmere scarfs and oversized sweaters have become long haul flight essentials. Pair with loose fitting, comfortable clothes in soft, breathable fabrics and a pair of slip-on shoes to get you through customs more quickly. Slip your feet into a soft pair of socks onboard, and you are sorted.

What should I eat before a long flight?

Given that you will be traipsing through multiple airports and travelling for many hours, it’s worth taking a detox from your regular diet, just for a short while to ensure you don’t become uncomfortable halfway through. Eat lightweight, fresh foods and drink plenty of water. Pack healthy, light snacks to graze on during the flight and know what to steer clear of.

Avoid eating salty foods or coffee, which is dehydrating and could affect your ability to sleep. Carbonated drinks are a no-no too, as the gas expands in your body mid-flight due to cabin pressure, leaving you with the dreaded ‘jet bloat’.

Is it good to exercise before a long flight?

Yes! A good workout will leave you feeling energised and refreshed before a flight, as well as tiring you out for a night of more natural sleep. Also, do DVT-prevention exercises often on board and take regular loo breaks to stretch and walk around.

Sleeping on long haul flights

Should you sleep after a long-haul flight?

Hopefully, you got enough rest on the plane by making yourself comfortable and catching a few zzz’s. Going through a ‘bedtime routine’ of brushing your teeth and freshening up, as you would normally at home before bed, also helps to trick your mind into slowing down.

Sleep when you would normally sleep and stay awake when you would usually be awake, or change over your watch and try to fall into the rhythm of your destination.

What do you do after a long flight?

It’s good to get moving after a long flight, followed by a hot shower to boost circulation. Light physical exercise like yoga or jogging is great for warding off jet lag and insomnia. If it’s daytime on arrival, get into the timezone of your destination and stay awake to sightsee, followed by a good night’s rest that evening.

Sightseeing after a long flight

Don’t forget to have your travel essentials ready on the ground too, as you’ll want to get through the airports as seamlessly and easily as possible, to jet set stress-free on those long-haul flights.

Spend your free time between connecting flights browsing incredible travel deals and destinations on Travelstart, and sign up for our newsletter to get ideas for your next trip, as no doubt the travel bug has bitten!

All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.

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