When flying on an airplane, I always make sure that I have something to do to keep myself occupied. If it’s a quick 2-3 hour flight, or less even, then coming up with a game plan for what you’re going to do with your time on the plane isn’t as tough. If you are going to be on a long-haul flight though, that’s a bit different. Now you are looking at probably 6 or more hours of time sitting in the same seat. You need to take steps to ensure you aren’t bored out of your mind and not only that but make sure that you are as comfortable as you can be. In this article I have a big list of tips for long haul flights to help get you to your destination as painlessly as possible.
Pack the long haul flight essentials
These vary from person to person, what’s essential to me may not be to you. Look over this list of common long haul flight essential items as well as the tips in this article and come up with your own long haul flight survival kit. Many of these are items that you might keep in your backpack or have with you everyday anyway. I’ve found them to be very useful when traveling and they seem to make long flights much more tolerable.
General long haul flight tips and a few more long haul flight essentials to consider
- Before you board the plane, ask the gate agent if any emergency exit rows are available. Say that you are willing and able to help in the case of an emergency. There may not be any available since many flights are completely booked, but it’s worth a shot because the extra leg room is amazing.
- If you are tall or on the larger side, consider flying business or first class. On a long-haul flight, the difference between coach and business class can be pretty big. You can probably deal with a couple of hours in a cramped seat next to an annoying neighbor, but ten plus hours of that can be excruciating. Plane rides aren’t as comfortable as they once were. Middle class seats are what used to be called coach, but now most planes have been redesigned to cram coach seats as tightly together as possible to maximize passengers and revenue. On a regular, short flight I wouldn’t bother with an upgrade to be slightly more comfortable, however on an international flight it might be worth it.
- Travel light and pack minimally. I try to fly everywhere with just a personal item backpack and my carry on, but I rarely fly anywhere for extended periods of time (more than a week). However if you are going somewhere for longer than a week or so I would skip the carry on, and check your bags. Just bring your personal item and stuff it with what you need to keep you entertained on the flight (your long haul flight essentials). This would mean no lugging around a suitcase between connecting flights, which is great. When it comes to your personal item, the smaller it is the more easily it fits under the seat and the less of your precious legroom it takes up. Although if you can swing it and aren’t going to be gone for too long, I always recommend trying to avoid the hassle of checking bags. It’s a decision you have to make on your own in the end.. if it’s worth it to check your bags.
- Dress smart and plan what you are going to wear on the flight ahead of time. Layering clothes on the plane will help take up less room in your bag. Also wear your biggest, bulkiest shoes on the flight for the same reason. If you have big boots that take up a lot of room in your bag, consider wearing them on the flight. Same for a big coat or jacket, you can always stuff it in an overhead bin.
- If you can, get some sleep. Some people find it impossible without medication because the seats aren’t made for comfort. But many can. See this article for some extra tips about sleeping on a plane in economy class.
- Bring some Vicks Vaporub to dot under your nose in case of disagreeable smells. A lingering bad smell on a plane can be a terrible experience.
- Bring a pack of disinfectant wipes and wipe down your area… planes are filthy. Wipe the arm rests, eating tray, seat-back TV and anything else you’ll be touching. Do it again after coming back from the restroom.
- Have a routine. I always watch a show or listen to an audiobook when snacking. If you’re a girl, start putting on makeup, changing and doing your hair about an hour before landing.
- Enroll in Global Entry/TSA Pre-check. This can save a lot of time on both ends of the trip.
- Plan for the weather where you are going. If you are flying from New York in the winter to Hawaii, take that into consideration. It’s in the 80s in Hawaii year round, you don’t want to get off the plane in a heavy sweater and winter parka. Another reason to wear layers you can shed off and stuff in a bag or carry.
- Dress with both security and comfort in mind. Think shoes that slip on and off easily, no metal on clothing, no excessive jewelry. You can even wear a plastic belt to avoid removing it when going through security.
- Bring a nice, good sized personal item backpack. While waiting in the security line, empty your pockets of everything and remove metal jewelry, then put it into your backpack. Your wallet, watch, passport, phone, keys, electronics, or anything else you are carrying. This saves time for you and the people in line behind you. Just remember to take your laptop out of your backpack and put it in it’s own separate bin.
- Pack your “long haul flight essentials” kit that I mentioned in a section above. You can use a small shaving kit bag or a large pocket in your personal item to keep chewing gum, tylenol, sleeping pills, ear plugs, noise cancelling headphones, an eye mask, a pair of wool socks/compression socks, and maybe some hard candy. Keep an ink pen in here as well. This long haul flight essentials kit, as I call it, is worth its weight in gold.
- Look up the type of plane you are flying on and the seat you are assigned before you go to the airport. There are websites where you can enter your flight information, like Seatguru, to see a layout of the inside of the plane. That way you’ll know if you are going to have a seatback TV to watch, whether or not you need to bring 3.5mm headphones for the TV, and where the bathrooms are in relation to your seat.
- If you’re flying internationally, and most long haul flights are international, use that pen you brought to fill out the customs forms as soon as you can. You don’t want to worry about it when you’re packing up to deplane.
- Try not to get on your flight with full bowels. Go number 2 before you fly. The pressure changes of a flight can give you gas, and the dry environment can lead to constipation.
- Have a readily available change of socks, underwear and maybe a shirt in your carry on or personal item for when you land. Head into a bathroom for a quick change and you will feel like a new person after your long flight. You may even want to change half-way through the flight if it’s a really long one. It’ll keep you from feeling dirty. Same for brushing your teeth.
- Try some stretching. You can do some stretches in your seat like neck rolls, shoulder rolls, and ankle stretches. You should get up and walk around every so often though. Unlike short or most domestic flights, flight attendants expect people to congregate in certain areas and to walk around a bit more. So don’t be afraid to get up and walk around. In fact, try to do it often, even if the lights are off.
- Again, don’t forget to bring earplugs, noise-cancelling headphones, or whatever you need to cancel out all of the noise that goes along with air travel. Try not to sit directly by an engine if you have a choice, it’s much louder in a seat that is right next to one of the engines.
- Please be nice to the flight attendants. If you need something later they’ll remember you were nice and polite. They deal with a lot of crap on flights and really appreciate when people are friendly and nice.
- Get to know the person next to you, if they seem friendly. You are stuck next to them for the next several hours. If they seem like they aren’t down for chit-chat, which is fine, then just let them be.
Long haul flight tips for sleeping
- Don’t forget to set your phone or watch to the time zone of your destination. This helps you to get on a new sleep schedule as early as you can. I sometimes stay up as late as I can the night before a long haul flight so I can sleep on the plane a little easier and get a head start on the inevitable jet lag.
- Figure out what it takes for you to sleep on a plane. Bring whatever you need, a pillow or a neck pillow, sleeping pills. Have a couple of glasses of wine during the flight.
- Most long haul flights serve complimentary alcohol, most of the time just wine and beer. You can ask for an extra glass of wine with your dinner to help you get to sleep. This may not work for everyone, but it definitely helps me, wine knocks me out unlike beer for some reason.
- Don’t take prescription medication, that wasn’t prescribed to you! When flying, you won’t have any way of getting help if you have a bad reaction to your sleeping pills. There is nothing wrong with taking sleeping pills on a plane to help you get some sleep, many people do it. You can try over the counter items like Tylenol PM. Just be sure any prescription pills were prescribed to you by a doctor.
- I love taking the window seat, I can lean up against the window with my pillow or hoodie and usually find at least some light sleep.
Food and drink tips on long flights
- If you enjoy your alcohol, like many of us do, then be sure to bring a credit/debit card. It seems like most airlines don’t accept cash for drinks anymore.
- Dehydration is the enemy. Dehydration of your bloodstream as well as dehydration of your skin. So as I’ve mentioned a few times already, carry water. You can get your water bottle refilled on the flight. Chapped lips and nose are painful in a cold environment.
- Buy a sandwich or something to eat in the terminal and bring it on the plane. It’ll be expensive airport food, but at least you’ll know exactly what you’re getting, and the food in coach can be disgusting, even if it is free.
- Bring snacks! In flight meals are very tiny. I love gummy candies and protein bars for snacks. Once my takeoff was delayed, and I had been counting on the in-flight dinner… I felt terribly sick from the hunger. Snacks will save ya!
- Usually, the flight attendants will setup a self-service snack/juice/water bar in the galley on the way to the restroom. Take advantage of it.
- Water bottle: Every time the attendants walk by ask them to fill it with water (they will!) and that way you don’t have to worry about being thirsty and waiting for that little water cup. I have a small carabiner attached to my water bottle so that I can hook it on the seat pocket in front of me and let it dangle. This way you won’t lose it, it won’t roll around on the floor, and it’s not in anyone’s way. Try to drink a bottle of water every two-three hours, as this will keep you hydrated and force you to get up and go to the bathroom.
- While you’re walking around, stop by the food areas and just pour yourself some water/other drinks. Staying hydrated is good!
- Try not to drink too many sodas or too much caffeine on the plane, they can just dehydrate you further and make it harder to get to sleep.
Tips to keep yourself entertained on a long flight
- If you enjoy a good book, I recommend buying and loading up a Kindle with some books you’ve been meaning to read. Or, maybe even a better idea, use your noise cancelling headphones and sign up for a free trial of Audible. You can get 2 free audiobooks if you sign up for your free trial with this link. I used to read paper books only, then I started using a Kindle which is great, but now I find myself using Audible almost exclusively.
- Consider spreading out your entertainment and not consuming all of your media at once. Maybe bring a Nintendo Switch (or a an old DS even) with some games to switch it up (no pun intended). Then bounce back to your Kindle or audiobook for a while. Next, watch an episode of Stranger Things on Netflix (or whatever you like). I personally don’t like listening to music on planes that much, it doesn’t really make the time go by faster like getting into a good book or movie does, for me anyways.
- If you aren’t paying extra for the wifi (assuming it’s not free), or you don’t have a seat-back TV, then load up your phone or tablet with music, movies, or TV shows. I always do this well in advance of the flight. Make sure your media is locked and loaded on your device.
- Keep yourself entertained with the in-flight movie selection, I’ve found that on the last few Delta flights I’ve been on the selection is actually really good. I can’t speak highly enough of Delta’s entertainment, they have tons of newly released and overall great movies to choose from, on the newer Delta planes anyway. I would even avoid going to the movies before your flight if you know you’re flying Delta since they always have new releases. Movies and TV shows are great for keeping you distracted for hours. As I’ve mentioned, just please make sure to bring some earbuds that you can plug into the entertainment center. Most of us have these in drawers all over the house from all of the cellphones we’ve purchased over the years. If you can’t find any though, grab some cheap ones from Amazon.
Long haul flight tips to stay comfortable
- Take off your shoes first chance you get – unless your feet stink horribly in which case have some common courtesy. Please put your shoes back on when you get up to walk around or go to the bathroom. I always see people go into the bathroom in just their socks and sometimes barefoot.. it’s unsanitary. That’s kind of like walking into a gas station bathroom without shoes. As I’ve mentioned planes aren’t all that clean to begin with, and if you step on a wet spot in the bathroom you can only hope it’s water. Even if it was just water, now you have wet socks, so pray you remembered those extra socks in your long haul flight essentials kit. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and wear shoes when walking around the plane, all the more reason to wear some comfortable slip on shoes like these on Amazon by Merrell.
- Wear comfortable clothing that you’re prepared to wear for a long time. Think fleece hoodie and sweatpants, wool socks, a soft blanket that can roll up nice and compact but still big enough to cover you up. This micro-fleece travel blanket on Amazon is perfect for just that and it’s super cheap.
- Buy a neck pillow. Order one before your trip, that way you can try it out in the comfort of your home to see if it’s going to work for you. This one from Amazon comes with an eye mask so you can knockout 2 of the items on your flight essentials checklist in one order.
- Put on that nice thick pair of merino wool socks from your long-haul flight checklist, or some compression socks. Both are very comfortable and are worth the extra money they cost compared to regular socks.
- Get a few of the main essentials from your backpack and put into the seat pocket – kindle, book, headphones, water bottle, your flight survival kit. You don’t want to be constantly unzipping your backpack.
- Go ahead and take your sleeping pills, unless you want to stay awake or go to sleep at a certain time. Chase with a tylenol if you want, put on your headphones and just zone out.
- Pick a good seat. You might get a little extra legroom if you can manage to snag a seat in an exit row. Or if you get an aisle seat you can get up and walk around whenever you want. However, you might find that sleeping in a window seat is a bit easier. As I mentioned, I think the window seat is the most comfortable because you can lean on the window and sleep. Many of us can’t lie just straight back and sleep due to apnea or snoring. Either way, avoid the middle seat! You can really feel trapped in the window or middle seat because you don’t want to wake someone up to go pee, but that’s just part of flying. It’s your right to get up and pee so please don’t be shy to wake the guy up next to you so you can relieve yourself. Holding in your pee can be bad for you.
- Never book a seat in the middle section, I don’t mean a middle seat but in the middle section of the plane. Most long-haul flights have two aisles and a middle section of seats. The middle section is likely going to have a family of five, 3 kids under the age of 10, and you. Doesn’t sound fun.
- Go ahead and pamper yourself. Change into comfy clothes, wear a hoodie, maybe do a facial moisturizing mask (if you’re into that). You know, the cotton ones that give you a ghost face. Put one on, apply some chapstick, put your earbuds in, listen to some soothing music and just pass out. Be refreshed for landing
- Purely for maximum comfort, consider bringing just one bag. It can go in the overhead bin so you have get the full amount of legroom available. Like I said though, take out the essentials and put them in the seat pocket in front of you for easy access.
- If you get really lucky and have an under-booked flight (which happens sometimes), ask the flight attendant if you can move to one of the empty rows or seats with no neighbors. Put your armrests up and stretch! They usually do not have a problem with this but one airline that I used was VERY strict about seating and say that it can throw off the balance of the plane. I believe this was Frontier Airlines if I’m not mistaken. Ask to be safe before just moving on your own.
- Don’t forget the eye-mask. The neck pillow from Amazon I linked to above includes an eye-mask. It’s much easier to fall asleep with the mask on. On international flights with Delta, everyone has their own television in front of them and people will keep them on the whole flight. The electronic glow from the screen can make it difficult to fall asleep, I like to sleep in total darkness.
- Loosen the lap belt to its max, or just unbuckle it if the seatbelt sign is off. Those lap belts can be restricting and make it hard to shift around in the little bit of room you do have.