Your long-haul flight survival guide

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Spending a long time in the air can be gruelling - especially if you’re in economy class. Luckily we’ve got some hints to ease your aeroplane blues and help you go the distance.

Woman boarding plane

Travelling to far-off destinations in search of sun, fun, culture or adventure (in any combination) is super exciting. However, if the journey’s taking you more than a few thousand miles, chances are you’ll have to endure a long-haul flight. 

We’re not sure they’re ever pleasant, but here are our top tips on how to survive - and maybe even not hate - your long-distance flight.

Best seats on the plane 

  • Upgraded seats: It used to be the case that you could ask politely for an upgrade to a seat with more legroom, and your chances were good - especially if you’re tall. Now airlines tend to charge a little extra for premium economy seats, such as those by emergency exits. If you don’t mind shelling out a little more for comfort, the ability to stretch out nicely will be your reward
  • Window or aisle? Everyone’s different, so this is for you to weigh up. The window’s a smart bet if you’re likely to sleep for much of the flight, as you’ll get to rest against it and nobody’s going to be pushing past you. The aisle might be better if you have long legs or plan to get up regularly. It’s not great for sleeping though, not least as you might get bashed by passing trolleys
  • Leaving it last minute might pay off: Here’s a tip for those who don’t mind flying by the seat of their pants. If you’re not travelling with children, and you don’t mind gambling, check in online as late as you can. Controversial! Why? Because then you’ll see where most of the seats that are likely to remain empty are - usually at the back of the plane. With a bit of cunning, you may be able to get yourself a few seats to stretch out on. The star prize is getting a whole row to fully lie across. The Holy Grail of long-distance luxury on a budget!

sleeping on a flight

Comfort on flights

  • Wear comfy clothes: You don’t want to wear anything that’s going to feel tight or constrictive a few hours in. Go baggy and warm! If you have room in your luggage, take a pair of slippers, so you can kick off your shoes and still wander round – do not make enemies by parading around your bare feet
  • On the subject of luggage… It’s understandable that people want to avoid the overhead locker scramble, but don’t put your cabin luggage under your seat for long-haul flights. A few hours in, and you’ll want all the room you can
  • Use a tip-top travel pillow: Getting the right head support will make a surprising difference. Regular travel pillows are fine, but we’re big fans of the J-Pillow for stopping your head from lolling around. For complete immersion, you could go for the Ostrich Pillow, which engulfs your entire head. A good investment if you don’t care how you look
  • Get some sleep: Don’t be afraid of using an eye mask and earplugs. It’s not a bad idea to find out the type you like ahead of time, some airlines provide them but they’re not always the best quality Plus if you get your own and reuse them, you’re not contributing to disposable culture
  • Take toiletries on board: You start feeling a bit grubby after several hours in the air, and your skin might start to dry out. Keep yourself fresh by taking toothpaste, moisturiser, hand sanitiser, and maybe even dry shampoo on board (don’t forget the 100ml limit). 

Eating healthy on board an airplane 

  • Snack attack: Airline food is seldom enough, especially over long trips. Take some snacks which release energy slowly to keep the beast at bay
  • Circulation, circulation, circulation: Being stationary for too long can put you at risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Certain medical conditions will put you at higher risk, but it’s well worth doing exercises to keep your circulation going on flights longer than eight hours. Walk around frequently, stay hydrated (more on that in a sec), and consider buying some fetching DVT socks before you fly
  • Keep hydrated: As much as it’s tempting to take the edge off with some complimentary adult drinks, it’s important to keep yourself properly hydrated. The air conditioning on board doesn’t help, so keep topping up on the water. You should be able to take empty water bottles through airport security which you can refill on the other side

Staving off boredom

  • Check the in-flight entertainment: Many airlines publish a list of their in-flight films and shows on their website, so you could draw up your perfect journey’s viewing in advance. Or leave it up to chance if you like surprises. As backup, it’s not a terrible idea to line up some films, games or podcasts on your devices - but make sure you don’t need an internet connection, as airlines tend to charge a premium for this. Also, taking your own headphones is wise (especially noise-cancelling ones)

  • Power up: It’s a good idea to have a portable battery charger when you travel anyway. Making sure your phone’s charged could keep you from all sorts of pickles on arrival. Most long-haul flights will provide USB inputs, so at least have a cable handy for charging

  • Don’t watch the map: Much as it’s nice to know the plane’s making progress, a watched pot never boils. Watching films, playing games or sleeping (if you can) will make the flight go much quicker

Not just yourself to amuse on a flight? We’ve got 11 ways to keep toddlers and small children entertained on flights.

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