How to survive a long-haul flight
Eight hours in a stuffy aircraft cabin might sound like your worst nightmare, but flying long-haul can be a dream with a little preparation and a few home comforts. Follow our 10 survival tips for long flights to emerge refreshed, relaxed and ready to start your holiday when you touch down...
1. Find comfortable clothes to wear on long flights
This should be a given - just think of an outfit that you'll be happy to wear after ten hours sat on a plane. Remember, sitting still and being blasted by a powerful aircon system can get chilly, so wearing several loose layers are ideal to adjust your temperature as you fly. Save your jewellery for the holiday and pack it in the hold - it'll only set the alarms off at airport security anyway. In case of emergencies, closed toed shoes are better than flip flops and make sure you don't wear any footwear that's too snug, as your feet do swell at high altitudes. Of course, if you're saving space in your luggage by wearing your biggest, clunkiest boots, you can always take them off and put on a pair of cosy slipper socks instead.
2. Reserve a good seat
One of the most essential long haul flight tips is to think ahead and choose a good seat, where possible. There is a whole science about it, as anyone who's read our conclusions about the perfect airline seat will know (it's 6A, in case you were wondering). However, you can just stick to a few simple rules:
- If you want more leg room, opt for exit rows
- If you want to avoid crying children, stay away from the front of the plane as this is often where you'll find special provision for babies on international flights
- If you like to move about the plane (or have quick access to the loos) make sure you get an aisle seat
You might have to wait until one or two days before departure with some airlines but the best advice is to get online as soon as check in opens to handpick the exact seat you want.
3. Prepare yourself for sleep
You'll be on the plane for the equivalent of a whole day or night, so it's worth bringing a few long haul flight essentials. Start with a lightweight blanket and invest in a good travel pillow to make sleeping less of a neckache. Forget that those other 349 passengers are even there with a good sleep mask and a pair of ear plugs. Finally, slip in some basic toiletries, such as a hand luggage sized toothbrush and toothpaste, and you'll feel that bit fresher when you land. If you want more tips on how little luxuries can transform your journey, check our article on making economy feeling like first class.
4. Don't pack too much in your cabin luggage
While a few little extras definitely help, keep things travel-sized and to a minimum. There's nothing more stressful than lugging a great big suitcase around the boarding area and trying unsuccessfully to stuff it into the overhead lockers, while everyone else looks on, tutting. Ideally, take one cabin bag and a smaller handbag or shoulder bag (where hand baggage restrictions allow) so that you can keep your smaller essentials like water bottle, ear plugs and mp3 player within easy reach under the seat in front of you. To get you started, we've got some suggestions for the perfect carry on bags.
5. Take your own snacks
You'll get fed on a long-haul flight but it may not be when or even what you're expecting - travelling through time zones often means you end up with breakfast at dinner time and noodles or curry first thing in the 'morning'. To stave off any bouts of hunger while you're waiting for the rattle of the food trolley, stow a few slow-energy release snacks like cereal bars, nuts or dried fruit in your carry on luggage.
6. Move around the plane
Stretching your legs is not only necessary for your own sanity on a long-haul flight, but to avoid the risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Keep the circulation flowing in your legs by doing gentle exercises at your seat, and get up every two hours. There may not be anywhere in particular to walk apart from up and down the aisles but moving about the plane once in a while is much more conducive to getting some healthy rest than popping a sleeping pill. For more on this and other tips on tackling tiredness on long flights, check our our guide to beating jetlag here.
7. Stay hydrated
Aircraft cabins are often very dry places and the chances of becoming dehydrated are high. Drink plenty of water slowly and regularly and avoid too much tea, coffee and alcohol. Bring a bottle of water onboard if you can (it may need to be purchased at the airport and stay sealed until you're on the plane because of liquid restrictions). Even having an empty plastic bottle in your hand luggage means you can store any water the cabin crew bring round so that you always have some to hand in between trolley trips. You may find your skin's affected too - bring a small tube of moisturizer and take some eyedrops if you're prone to dry eyes.
What better time is there to abandon your cares and just do nothing than a flight? No mobile phone coverage, crew waiting on your every need, someone else is at the wheel... Use the time to catch up on that book you haven't had the chance to get stuck into, watch a few rom-coms or get excited about your destination by leafing through the guidebook. 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 are a great opportunity to meet interesting people going your way. Each person on that plane has their own reason for travelling, 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 that person that's on the same toilet schedule as you. Yes, you may end up hearing about the antics of their thirteen pet cats for the rest of the journey, but you could end up with a new travelling companion by the time you step off the plane... Looking for long-haul holiday ideas? Read up on some great long-haul destinations with our tips for early summer sun.
10. Choose a good airline
There's definitely a difference between a good long-haul airline and a bad one. Do some research before you book and read reviews to see what other passengers think of your chosen carrier. Generally, the best long-haul airlines are those which carry a seat width of more than 17 inches and more than a bag of peanuts as your on-flight meal, but look for what matters most to you. Compare things like leg-room measurements on if you're finicky about this, or talk to some fellow travellers about the plane food on British Airways if that's what makes or breaks your flight. Airlines consistently rated as good for long-haul flights include Air New Zealand, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic. Singapore Airlines coming top in the Telegraph Travel Awards 2014, as the best long-haul airline for its high standards of service and comfort in all classes.
About the author
Cat McGloin // @catmcgloin
Travel Editor and Content Manager for Skyscanner UK. Usually found by the coffee machine, at her desk researching travel tips, buried in a pile of post-it notes, on the yoga mat, or, if it's 5 o'clock on a Friday, down the pub.
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