Surviving Long-Haul Flights

With over two decades of flying experience (both business and leisure), I’ve honed my skills for navigating long-haul flights. I’m excited to share some of my top tips for ensuring a comfortable, smooth journey, especially in economy class.

đź’ˇ We cover everything from seats to food and outfits!

At the end of this article, we provide 11 insider tips and 3 special tips when flying with kids!

Let’s get started!

When Should You Check In?

You should ideally arrive at the airport at least three hours prior to departure for a long-haul flight. But don’t just take my word for it, check beforehand when your flight starts boarding—this could be as early as an hour before take-off. Also, make sure you know when the check-in counters close to ensure you’re there in time.

The lines at the check-in counters for boarding passes and baggage check can often be long, and security checks involving you and your baggage can be time-consuming. This can be especially true during winter when passengers take a while to remove jackets, cardigans, belts, or wristwatches and place laptops, tablets, or bags with liquids in the tray. Occasionally, you might even have to take off your shoes.

Modern airports usually offer free WiFi, power outlets, or charging stations. I take this opportunity to charge my smartphone or tablet. You can sometimes do this on the plane as well, but I always bring a power bank just in case.

Selecting Your Seat | Economy Class

Seat selection is definitely one of the top tips for long-haul flights. Securing your preferred seat is a top priority on such flights. Some passengers insist on having an aisle seat, while others can’t imagine a flight without a window seat.

The “best” seat comes down to your personal preference. Most airlines charge an additional fee for selecting a preferred seat during ticket booking. To increase your chances of getting your favorite seat without paying extra, it’s a good idea to check in online as early as possible. Most airlines offer free seat selection during online check-in.

Depending on the airline, I often make a reservation online in economy class for an emergency exit row seat. Although it’s usually expensive (around $90 at Lufthansa for example), the extra legroom and more space in front of you is totally worth the cost.

The earliest time for online check-in depends on the airline. Usually, it becomes available 24 hours before departure. To ensure you get your desired seat, check in online promptly and snag your free seat. At the same time, you’ll save time at the airport as you’re already checked in, have your seat, and can print your boarding pass at home or download it onto your smartphone via an app or PDF.

If you’re unhappy with your seat or notice a row with multiple open seats, it’s not too late to change after you hear the “boarding complete” announcement. You can change your seat within your booking category and secure a better spot at the last minute.

Where Are the Best Seats on the Plane?

Pro tip: Choosing seats towards the back increases the likelihood of not having a direct seatmate. The aircraft is usually filled from front to back during seat assignment. So, if the plane isn’t fully occupied, you might luck out and be able to use a free row of three or four seats. This is particularly likely on well-frequented routes in large aircraft like the A380.

đź’ˇ Another pro tip is to search online for seating tips. Always enter the specific plane and the airline. For example, you should search for:

A380 delta best seats

Which Is Better: Window or Aisle Seat?

The choice between a window or an aisle seat depends on personal preference. Aisle seats offer easy access to the restrooms and don’t disturb your seatmates when you frequently stand up. Window seats, on the other hand, provide fantastic views—perfect for the final approach to your holiday destination.

A significant advantage of window seats is that you can comfortably lean your head against the plane wall and sleep much more comfortably than in an aisle seat. The middle seat is generally disliked, so it often remains free. You might get lucky, occupy a three-seat row with just two people, and can spread out.

Personally, I often prefer window seats. I love being able to look outside, take photos, and lean against the wall to sleep. However, I often choose an aisle seat. This way, I don’t have to ask my seatmate to stand up every time I need to use the restroom or stretch my legs. I avoid middle seats at all costs to avoid being squeezed between two neighbors.

Should You Board First or Wait?

Here’s a little trick you can use: try boarding the plane relatively late. You’ll be able to see at a glance whether the rear rows are occupied. If they aren’t, politely ask the crew if you could switch seats. I strongly recommend asking, as it’s inappropriate to simply move seats without permission. I’ve often seen crews relocate families or rejoin separated couples after boarding is complete.

Adjusting to Time Zone Changes

Long-haul flights often involve crossing multiple time zones, which can lead to jet lag. This section could provide tips on adjusting to new time zones, including when to sleep and eat according to the new time zone even before leaving, and how to use light exposure to help adjust your internal body clock.

Using  the Bathroom

I don’t know anyone who likes to use airplane bathrooms. They are usually cramped, not overly clean, and generally unpleasant.

Choosing the optimal time to use the bathroom on a long-haul flight can be tricky but is an essential part of the flying experience. Here are a few tips to guide you:

Firstly, consider visiting the bathroom before boarding the plane. Not only will this minimize your need to use the bathroom in-flight, but ground bathrooms are often more spacious and comfortable. Once on the plane, try to time your bathroom visits strategically.

đź’ˇ Avoid times immediately after meals, as these are typically when most passengers tend to use the bathroom. Additionally, many seasoned travelers suggest visiting the bathroom just before the drink and meal service begins, as the aisles will be clear and most passengers will still be seated.

Another good time to go is when the seatbelt sign is switched off after takeoff, as most people won’t start using the restroom immediately. It’s also worth noting that lavatories tend to be less crowded during the plane’s night hours, so if you’re awake and see most of the cabin lights dimmed, it might be a good time to go. Lastly, remember to consider your own hydration schedule and factor this into your bathroom timings to ensure a comfortable and stress-free flight.

To ensure a cleaner and more comfortable experience, I always carry a few wet wipes to sanitize the seat, taps, and handles in the bathroom, which also provides me with peace of mind. For a fresher environment, I bring a travel-sized bottle of air freshener, giving the restroom a quick spritz before and after usage.

Lastly, out of respect for the next passenger, I strive to keep the facilities as tidy as possible. This involves properly disposing of any waste in the bins provided, being mindful not to splatter water, and ensuring the toilet is flushed after use.

Mental Health and Relaxation Strategies

Long flights can be stressful and boring, which can negatively impact mental health. This section could provide tips on mindfulness practices, meditation, or relaxation techniques to reduce stress during the flight. It could also include suggestions for entertaining and relaxing activities to do during the flight, like reading, journaling, or watching downloaded movies or series.

Physical Exercises on the Plane

Inactivity during long flights can lead to discomfort, stiffness, and even serious health risks like deep vein thrombosis. This section could provide tips and guides for simple exercises that can be done in your seat or in the aisle to promote blood circulation.

Managing Sleep on the Plane

This section could provide tips on creating a comfortable sleeping environment (even in a cramped plane seat), using tools like neck pillows, sleep masks, and earplugs. It could also include tips on when to sleep based on your destination time zone to minimize jet lag.

Hydration During the Flight

Staying well-hydrated is crucial during a long-haul flight. The humidity in an aircraft cabin can drop to as low as 10-20%, significantly lower than what most of us are accustomed to. This dry environment can cause discomfort such as dry skin, eyes, and throat and can exacerbate feelings of jet lag. Here are some tips to ensure you stay properly hydrated during your flight:

  1. Drink Plenty of Water: Aim to drink at least 8 ounces (approximately 240 milliliters) of water for every hour you’re in the air. This amount might seem a lot, but it is vital to compensate for the low humidity and the slight diuretic effect of the cabin’s lower pressure. You can either purchase water after passing security checks or carry a reusable water bottle that you can refill in the airport and during the flight.
  2. Hydrating Foods: Incorporate hydrating foods into your in-flight snacks and meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables, like cucumbers, oranges, or grapes, can contribute to your overall fluid intake and provide essential nutrients.
  3. Avoid or Limit Dehydrating Drinks: Alcohol, caffeinated drinks, and high-sugar beverages can further dehydrate your body. They might be tempting, especially if they’re part of the complimentary in-flight service, but it’s best to avoid or limit these. If you choose to drink alcohol, try to follow each glass with an equal amount of water to balance the dehydrating effects.
  4. Hydrate Your Skin: The dry cabin air can lead to dry skin, lips, and eyes. Consider bringing a travel-sized hydrating facial spray or moisturizer, a lip balm, and hydrating eye drops to apply during the flight. Remember, any liquids will need to comply with security regulations for carry-on liquids.
  5. Balance Hydration with Mobility: While it’s important to stay hydrated, it also means more frequent trips to the lavatory. Use this as an opportunity to stretch and move around, which can help prevent stiffness and circulation issues associated with long flights.

Remember, every individual’s hydration needs can vary depending on their age, gender, weight, and overall health. It’s important to listen to your body and drink when you feel thirsty.

Food on the Plane

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, have allergies, or only consume specific foods, you can order your preferred special meal before long-haul flights. The easiest way to do this is via the airline’s website, where you’ll typically find a broad range of meal options.

By preordering your meal, you can ensure that you’ll tolerate the food on the plane. Another perk is that passengers who order special meals in advance receive their meals before other passengers. You might even finish your meal before your seatmate receives theirs!

Aside from the main meal, most airlines also offer smaller snacks, like nuts, cake, ice cream, or other nibbles. If you’re picky about food or the portions aren’t sufficient, you should definitely pack your own snacks in your carry-on. For long trips, opt for snacks that have a long shelf life and are easy to eat, like nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, crackers, or cookies.

Healthy Snacks and Something for the Sweet Tooth

The good news is: you’re usually allowed to bring granola bars, nuts, sweets, and chocolate on board. Particularly if you dislike airplane food, have dietary restrictions, or can’t find vegetarian/vegan options, you’ll need alternatives. That’s when a healthy snack comes in handy.

Stock up on treats before your flight. For instance, check out KoRo, where you’ll find sweet and savory snacks, energy balls, tasty bars, and various other products. All these can be taken on board, provided they aren’t liquid.

What Food Can You Bring on the Plane?

If you’re flying with a less service-oriented airline, you should self-cater. Fresh fruit or a hearty bread, nuts, and fruit bars are always a good idea. An apple or grapes can be a refreshing highlight during the journey.

Avoid foods with a liquid or creamy consistency, like yogurt or quark. These are considered liquids and thus fall under the 10 x 100 ml rule.

Drinking Alcohol – Yes or No?

Technically, it’s advantageous to completely avoid alcohol during a long flight, as it can prolong your jetlag. However, a glass of red wine with your meal often helps you fall asleep right after. So, as long as you don’t overdo it and still drink plenty of water, a small glass of wine is likely not a problem.

What to Pack in Your Carry-On

If you want to arrive relaxed and somewhat rested, you will need some essential accessories.

Noise Cancelling Headphones

These will block out your surroundings, and you can sleep despite the noise of crying children and engine humming.

Neck Pillow

To prevent neck and back pain, you should support your head with your neck pillow and place the small pillow provided by the airline in your lower back for stabilization. This tip is worth its weight in gold if you want to arrive somewhat rested.

Water Bottle

Bring a reusable water bottle. You will have to empty it before the security checks, but you can refill it afterward. Depending on the airport, there are specific drinking water taps where you can refill your bottle with water for free.

If you only have one flight, you can also buy a bottle of water after the security check. However, if you have multiple flights to reach your final destination, buying multiple water bottles after the security check is pointless as you usually have to go through a security check again in the transit area. Even though you’re only in the transit area, you’ll have to dispose of your full water bottles again.

The drink cups during and after meal distribution on the plane are relatively small. It’s best to ask for two cups of water or a whole can for other drinks. Many airlines provide water or juices during the entire flight, which you can collect yourself.

Entertainment Options

Depending on the airline, you will have much to no entertainment program to enjoy. Check beforehand whether the on-board program is free and if in doubt, download some episodes of your favorite series, bring a book, or listen to a few podcast episodes. Long flights are the perfect opportunity to listen to interesting interviews or learn more about other countries, people, and cultures.

Toothbrush, Deodorant

Especially if you have booked a night flight, it helps to brush your teeth after eating and use deodorant. This is similar to the normal evening routine and provides a fresh feeling. Then you can make yourself really comfortable.

The Right Clothing | Outfits

There is absolutely nothing unusual or inappropriate about wearing sweatpants for a flight. The loose, stretchy pants prove themselves in every sitting position on the plane. If you want to make a good impression when checking in and be chic upon arrival, then swap your chic outfit on the plane for comfortable clothes.

The plane is usually relatively cool for the first one to two hours. Only after eating does the crew often turn up the heat. In addition to comfortable trousers and thick socks, you should also definitely bring a scarf or a cozy hoodie.

Prevent Thrombosis

Even at a young age, thrombosis can pose a possible danger. If you tend to get heavy legs quickly and these hurt after sitting for a long time or possibly even swell, you should wear thrombosis stockings on the long-haul flight.

If a blood clot actually forms in your leg, it can even threaten life-threatening consequences like a pulmonary embolism or a stroke. It’s best to discuss this with your family doctor, who can give you the best information on this.

Even if you are not genetically predisposed, you can counteract heavy legs on a long-haul flight: Compression stockings ensure good blood circulation in the legs during the long-haul flight. This is very important because anyone who doesn’t move their legs regularly and sits for a long time has to reckon with swelling legs and feet. This is exacerbated by the decreasing pressure in the plane.

Movement is Important

You should also move a little every few hours. A few circular foot and shoulder movements, but also raising the heels, stretching the arms over the head to the right and left – there are numerous exercises that can be performed easily in a tight space and let the blood flow a little better through the body. In addition, you often get into nice conversations with people who have something similar in mind.

11 Insider Tips

Survive a Long-Haul Flight: Before the Flight

  • Provide your skin, especially on the face and hands, with plenty of moisturizer.
  • If you wear contact lenses, you should have enough eye drops with you and ideally wear glasses during the flight, as the cool cabin air can make your eyes dry and tired more quickly.
  • Prepare yourself for bright light, noise, and cold, and create your personal flight kit, consisting of: a comfortable, adjustable sleep mask, suitable earplugs, woolen socks for the cool air conditioning, and a warm, cuddly sweater. This way you can completely isolate yourself and take a peaceful nap.
  • If you’re traveling with friends, partners, or family, you can pack playing cards or other simple board games that take up little space and can be played easily on the go.

Survive a Long-Haul Flight: During and After the Flight

  • Chew gum at takeoff and landing to make pressure equalization of the ears easier.
  • Apply moisturizer to your face and hands as needed, especially after every wash.
  • Pay attention to your eyes and moisten them with eye drops as needed.
  • Charge your smartphone either via the USB connection next to the screen or bring a portable charger so that your smartphone is always charged.
  • To avoid or mitigate jet lag, you should provide your body with sufficient food and water. Refrain from caffeine and alcohol above the clouds, as caffeine can disrupt your internal clock and alcohol can dehydrate your body.
  • Also, set your wristwatch to the local time at your destination and use helpful apps, like Flux. This adjusts your laptop, tablet, or smartphone to the local time and the brightness of your surroundings, helping your body adjust to the time of day. This app is also great for avoiding bright light before going to bed, which signals wakefulness to the body and generally makes you tired more slowly.
  • Get used to the local time: If you arrive on site in the morning or at noon and are totally tired, you can rest, but you shouldn’t sleep for hours, as you won’t be able to fall asleep at night. It’s best to refresh yourself with a shower, drink a caffeinated drink and try to hold out until the evening. Go to bed early so that you are well-rested and fit the next day.

Checklist for Your Carry-On Baggage

Important: All medicines and documents belong in your carry-on luggage. Your checked luggage at the airport can get lost at any time. Therefore, you should always keep medicines and important travel documents in your hand luggage.

Food:

  • Small, reusable water bottle
  • Snacks

Comfort:

  • Gum
  • Earplugs
  • Sleep mask
  • Eye drops

Clothing:

  • Scarf
  • Sweater
  • Warm socks
  • Neck pillow or small cushion

Entertainment:

  • e-Book reader, books, and magazines
  • Portable charger for smartphone, tablet, or laptop
  • Headphones
  • Travel board games

Hygiene and Care Products:

  • Moisturizing cream for hands and face
  • Moisturizing lip balm
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Refreshing wipes and possibly disinfectant wipes or gel
  • If necessary, hairbrush

Special: 3 Tips for Flying with Kids

đź’ˇ Make sure to scroll up (swipe) in case you skipped our basic tips!

1. Pack Smart and Be Prepared

When you’re flying with kids, preparation is key. Make sure to pack all the essentials in your carry-on bag. This includes snacks, water, and entertainment like coloring books or tablets. It’s always a good idea to have a change of clothes for the little ones in case of spills or accidents. Trust me, you don’t want to be caught off guard when your child spills juice all over themselves.

  • Snacks: Pack healthy and mess-free snacks like fruit slices or granola bars.
  • Entertainment: Load up a tablet with kid-friendly movies or games.
  • Clothes: Always have an extra set, just in case.

John says: We always make sure to pack extra snacks and activities for our kids. It’s a lifesaver, especially during long flights. The kids stay happy, and so do we!

2. Choose the Right Time to Fly

Timing can make a huge difference when you’re traveling with kids. If possible, try to book flights during their nap time or close to their bedtime. Kids are more likely to sleep through the flight, making the journey smoother for everyone involved. Also, flights are generally less crowded during off-peak hours, which means less stress for you.

  • Nap Time: Kids are more likely to sleep if you fly during their regular nap time.
  • Off-Peak Hours: Less crowded flights can mean a more relaxed experience.

Emily says: We always try to book flights that align with our toddler’s nap time. It’s like magic; she sleeps through most of the flight, and we get some much-needed rest too.

3. Keep Them Engaged but Also Let Them Move

Sitting still for hours can be tough for kids. While it’s important to keep them engaged with activities, it’s equally important to let them move around. Walk them down the aisle when it’s safe, or let them stand for a bit in the area near the restroom. Some airlines even offer activity kits for kids, so don’t hesitate to ask the flight attendants.

  • Activity Kits: Ask the flight attendants if they offer any.
  • Aisle Walks: A good way to stretch those little legs.

Sarah says: I always make sure to let my kids take short walks down the aisle. It helps them burn off some energy and keeps them from getting too restless. Plus, it’s a nice break for me too!

So there you have it, three simple yet effective tips for flying with kids. Remember, preparation, timing, and a little bit of movement can go a long way in making your flight experience a pleasant one. Safe travels!