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The Ultimate Guide on How to Survive a Long Flight

Before I discovered travel hacking, I flew on many long haul flights in economy-the majority of them unpleasant and uncomfortable.  After years of flying long haul, eventually I learned how to survive long flights in economy and make the best of the situation. Flying long haul in coach can be awful but there are ways to make sure you have a good flight. Here are my top tips on how to survive a long flight in economy:

1) Get a good seat.

No seat in economy is great but some seats are better than others. Don’t get stuck with a middle seat on the last row in a seat that won’t recline -this actually happened to me when I was a teen!

Make sure to get a seat assignment as soon as you book your flight. If you are not able to select your seats online, call the airline and ask for the seats you would like.

I always look up the seat map for my flight on seatguru.com before selecting a seat. SeatGuru will point out bad seats (for example seats with less legroom, close to the bathroom etc.)

Try to get an entire row to yourself or an empty seat next to you.  I find that planes are less full towards the back. If your airline has seat maps available online keep an eye on the seat maps and change your seat assignment. Some people get assigned seats at the airport so someone can still end up seated next to you even if the seat was empty during online checking.

2) Prepare your in flight entertainment

Other than sleeping, the best way to pass the time in a long flight is entertainment – whether reading a book or watching a movie.

Make sure to bring your own entertainment rather than relying on the in-flight entertainment.  The in-flight entertainment might not be working or the movie on your flight might be one you don’t like or you have seen before. Need some book or movie suggestions? Here is a list of 45 of the best travel books and 51 of the best travel movies of all time.

If you are flying with a kindle or computer, have your books and movies on your device. Make sure your electronics are fully charged before your flight and bring your adaptors or extra batteries with you.

If you prefer actual books rather than reading on an e-reader, I recommend bringing enough books and magazines to last the duration of the flight in case you are unable to sleep.

3) Dress comfortably and wear layers 

Do you know what to wear on a long haul flight? Make sure you wear loose fitting and comfortable clothes.  I also recommend wearing slip on shoes without laces so that you can take them off easily and put them back on when going to the bathroom.  Wear socks to keep your feet warm and clean when taking off your shoes.

I find most flights to be freezing so to keep warm on international flights, I bring a sweater, cardigan or fleece even in the summer.  I always bring a scarf with me – not only does a scarf keep you warm but you can also use it as a blanket or to cover your face if you forgot to bring an eye mask.

Even though I am freezing on 99% of my flights, there are times when the cabin can be really warm.  Dress in layers so that you can adjust to the airplane temperature.

4) How to sleep well

For me the number one way to survive a long flight in economy is to sleep through most of the flight.

There are a few things you can do to make it more likely to sleep well on your long flight.  I recommend bringing either ear plugs or noise reducing headphones to block out noise and help you sleep. These are the best headphones I have found.

If you have trouble sleeping with lights on bring an eye mask. You might also find it more comfortable to travel with a neck travel pillow or your own pillow.

Don’t eat a large meal if you want to go to sleep after dinner.

I find it easier to sleep after I brush my teeth, so I always bring bring a toothbrush and toothpaste in my carry on bag.

Personally I don’t use sleep aids, but if you think you need it, you might want to bring some with you on the flight or consider melatonin.

5) Stay hydrated

Drink water! Because the air is so dry on flights, dehydration happens quicker when flying than it would at home.

I always feel very dehydrated on planes so I drink as much water as I can. I don’t rely on the little water the flight attendants bring as it is not very much.  I ask for 2 cups of water whenever the flight attendants bring drinks and I make sure to ask for some water when getting up for bathroom breaks.

I also bring my own water on the flight for times when the flight attendants are seated such as takeoff and landing. Either buy a bottle of water at the airport before your flight or bring an empty bottle with you and fill it up before you board.

Consider avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcoholic drinks as they dehydrate you.

6) Moisturize

In addition to being dehydrated, my skin and lips feel very dry when I fly.  I always bring lip balm with me as well as moisturizer/lotion for my hands.

7) Watch out for DVT

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a real risk on long flights and can happen to anyone.

If you are traveling on a long economy flight, you might want to wear compression socks to prevent blood clots on long cramped flights. This pair is really cute.

Other things you can do to help prevent DVT include drinking plenty of water, stretching/moving your legs at your seat, getting up every few hours and walking around the cabin.

8) Stay healthy

Airplane surfaces can be very dirty.  I use antibacterial wipes to wipe down my tray table, arm rests etc. These wipes are my favorite because they are individually wrapped.

9) Bring your own food and snacks

If you don’t like airplane food or would like healthier choices, bring your own food and/or snacks. Nuts and energy bars are good options.

10) Pack all long-haul flight essentials in your carry on bag

Make sure you pack everything you need to be comfortable on a long flight in your small carry on bag so it is easily accessible during your flight. I have a printable carry on bag essentials packing list which includes all my long-haul flight essentials.
How to Survive a Long Flight: My Complete List of Long-Haul Flight Essentials
What are your long haul flight tips? Any other tips on how to survive long flights in economy?
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The ultimate guide on how to survive a long flight in economy - what to wear, carry-on bag essentials and other long-haul flight tips.

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savvyglobetrotter

12 Comments

  1. Good list of tips. I like your suggestion on loading up on entertainment. I consider a long-haul flight as a gift of free time. Time to spend on being entertained: watching a movie I’ve been keeping for the flight, reading up on my destination, or listening to podcasts, perfect entertainment for tired eyes.
    Anne Betts recently posted…How to choose the right travel companionsMy Profile

  2. Great tips that I use. Your shoe agenda is a bit different than mine. Since I pack light I wear my heavies walking shoes on the flight but pack a pair of foldable slippers to put on during flight and store walking shoes above.

  3. Totally agree with n°9 about the food ! As a Parisian who loves traveling to Asia I have no choice but to live through long flights and needless to say this is not the best part of the trip! Being that I work in an events company in London, where trips and travel is a sizeable category; occasionally I will see trips to far off destinations. One such destination I saw recently is Singapore. Your article has encouraged me to take on this new challenge. Your tips will come in handy on my 13 hour flight!

  4. I wouldn’t drink the airplane water or coffee. The water on planes is pretty gross and has high chances of contamination.

    • Very true, I only drink the bottled water the flight attendants offer.

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