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How to survive a long-haul flight

Eight hours or more in a crowded aircraft cabin might sound like your worst nightmare, but flying long-haul can be heaven with a little preparation and a few home comforts. Follow our 10 survival tips for long flights and you’ll emerge refreshed, relaxed and ready to start your holiday as soon as you touch down.

1. Dress for success: choose a comfortable outfit

You’ll be wearing the same clothes for hours – and probably sleeping in them. Don’t worry about looking your best, and choose some soft, loose and comfortable clothes for your in-flight outfit instead.

  • Your stomach is likely to bloat during the flight, so leave the skinny jeans in your suitcase and wear jogging bottoms with an elasticated waist instead.
  • Sitting still and being blasted by the plane’s powerful air-con system can get chilly, so wear several loose layers and you can adjust your temperature as you fly.
  • You’ll need to take jewellery off and put it back on when you go through security, so save yourself some time by keeping it in your hand luggage.
  • Closed toed shoes are better than flip-flops during in-flight emergencies. Try to choose comfy shoes with a big of give, as feet tend to swell at high altitudes.
  • If you’re saving space in your luggage by wearing your biggest, chunkiest boots, take them off and put on a pair of cosy slipper (or compression) socks instead.

2. Plan ahead: reserve the best seat

Your seat is going to be your home for a good 10 hours, so don’t leave it to chance. There’s a whole science behind choosing your seat: some rows are fed and watered earlier than others, and can get on and off the plane quicker.

Then again, it’s all down to preference:

  • If you want more leg room, try and book an exit row (though they may cost more);
  • Aisle seats give you easy access to the loos and the freedom to get up and stretch your legs whenever you want;
  • If you’re planning to snooze through the flight, go for the window seat so you’re less likely to be woken up by your rowmates when they nip to the loo;
  • If you want to avoid crying children, stay away from the front of the plane: the bulkhead is where the baby bassinets are kept, so there are likely to be lots of parents with babies in this area.

Check in as soon as you can to have the best chance at the seat you want: you might have to wait until one or two days before departure.

3. Get ready for the best sleep ever

If you’re going to be on the plane for a whole day or night, you’ll want to grab some shut-eye at some point. Bring some luxury in-flight essentials to make it as comfy as possible:

  • A lightweight blanket will keep you cosy and help you to drift off – our need for blankies is scientific;
  • Bring along a good travel pillow to make sleeping less of a neck-ache;
  • With a good sleep mask and a pair of ear plugs you can amost forget that the other 349 passengers are there;
  • Bring along your toothbrush and a travel-sized toothpaste (don’t forget to put it in your liquids bag for security!) so you can freshen up and avoid that fuzzy-tooth feeling.

For more on how little luxuries can transform your journey,  read our tips on making economy feeling like first class.

4. Don’t over-stuff your cabin bag

There’s nothing more stressful than lugging a great big suitcase around the boarding area, except for trying (unsuccessfully) to stuff it into the overhead locker while your seat mates give you the side eye. It’s also pretty embarrassing having to get up and down every time you want to grab your eye mask, water bottle or e-reader.

We recommend taking one cabin bag and a smaller tote bag (where hand baggage restrictions allow) so that you can keep your in-flight essentials within reach under the seat in front of you. And if restrictions don’t allow it, just whip your tote out of your bigger case after boarding.

Make the most of your bag space with our tips for hand luggage-only travel.

5. Pack some snacks

Most long-haul flights include food and drinks, but the meals might be a bit different to what you expect. Travelling through different time zones means you sometimes end up with breakfast for dinner and curry when you’re in the mood for cornflakes.

There’s nothing worse than a rumbling tummy while you’re waiting for the rattle of the food trolley, so pop some slow-release snacks like cereal bars, nuts and dried fruit in your carry-on. Bring your own bottle of water (purchase after security only) to stay hydrated between drink services, too.

6. Get up and move

Stretching your legs is necessary on long-haul flights – not just for your sanity, but also to avoid the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the formation of blood clots. These usually appear in your thighs or lower legs, and are caused by sitting still for hours at a time.

Keep the circulation flowing in your legs by doing gentle exercises at your seat, and get up every two hours for a short stroll up and down the aisle. It might not be as awe-inspiring as a ramble in the woods, but a short jaunt around the plane can also help to burn a bit of energy.  

Check our our guide to beating jetlag for tips on tackling tiredness after long flights.

7. Stay hydrated

Aircraft cabins are notoriously dry, with a humidity level of 20%. Pretty low, when you consider the average home is 30%. Normally it’s no big deal, but during long spells in the air you’ll probably notice the difference. Pop some lip balm, eyedrops and a small tube of moisturiser in your on-board toiletries (reminder: in liquids bag for security) to help reduce the discomfort of dry skin.

If you’re not thirsty when the drinks trolley comes round, take some water and keep it for later. That way you’ll always have some at hand when you need it. Try not to go too wild with the complimentary coffee and alcohol as these can leave you feeling dehydrated too.

8. Enjoy some ‘me’ time

No 4G coverage, someone on hand to bring you snacks, someone else behind the steering wheel… what better time is there to abandon your cares and just do nothing, totally guilt-free? Unless you’re travelling with kids, use this precious time to catch up on the book you’ve been dying to read, watch a few rom-coms on the in-flight entertainment system or start daydreaming about your destination. See those eight/ten/twelve hours as bonus time, and your long flight will immediately become a positive thing rather than a drag.

9. Make new friends

Flights can be a great opportunity to meet interesting people who are interested in travelling to the same places you are. Each person on that plane has their own reason for going, so why not find out their story? One of the most fun ways to survive a long-haul flight is to strike up a conversation with your seat-mate or the person who’s on the same loo schedule as you. You never know, you could end up with a new travel buddy. Or, you might meet a local who has some great insider knowledge that you wouldn’t have found in your guidebook.

Hankering for a long-haul holiday? Read up on these six sensational long-haul destinations served by low-cost airlines.

10. Choose a good airline

Picking a good carrier can make a world of difference. The Telegraph Travel Awards 2018 rated Singapore Airlines as the best for long-haul, with Emirates, Qatar, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Atlantic rounding out the top 5. These airlines are known for their high standards of service and comfort in all classes. Meanwhile, Norwegian was awarded the title of best low-cost long-haul airline – so if you’re watching your pennies it’s worth checking them out.

Generally, the best airlines to fly long-haul are those with a seat width of more than 17 inches, and more than a bag of pretzels as your in-flight meal. Think about what your deal-breakers are: do you need a state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system, or are you happy with your podcast collection? Are gourmet meals important, or were you just planning to munch through snacks you brought on board anyway?

We’ve got a few more tips and tricks up our sleeves, too:

Now you know how to make your own long-haul experience fantastic, here’s how to keep the kids happy during your flight.

How to get a free flight upgrade: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Follow our tips to increase your chances of that coveted bump-up to business class.

Get even more out of your trip by asking for these 6 hidden in-flight extras.

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