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:
Tips on How to Survive a Long Flight in Economy
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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 unable to select your seats online, call the airline and ask them to assign you the seats you want.
Before choosing seats, 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 travel inspired ideas for what to watch and read? Here are the best travel shows, best travel movies and best travel books.)
If you are flying with a kindle or tablet, download books, podcasts, shows and movies from home. Make sure your electronics are fully charged before your flight and bring your adaptors or extra batteries with you. I always bring an external battery because many planes don’t have any power outlets in economy.
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 earplugs or noise cancelling 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 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
One of my top travel tips for long flights is to drink a lot of 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 reusable bottle with you and fill it up before you board. You can even bring your own bottle of water through security as long as it is frozen solid.
Consider avoiding or limiting caffeine and alcoholic drinks as they dehydrate you.
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. You might want to bring face mask if you are worried about getting sick or if required on your airline or travel destination.
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. 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.
What are your long haul flight tips? Any other tips on how to survive long flights in economy?
I definitely agree about dressing in layers and I tend to use a scarf as an impromptu pillow!
Agreed with your tips to keep warm! I’m ALWAYS freezing on flights!
I’ve found every flight I’ve been on to be too warm, and too smelly!
Always have snacks with me- the most important for me:)
great tips! I do almost everything on my long flights from Europe to Southeast Asia 🙂
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.
Agree! A long flight is a great time to catch up on stuff.
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.
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.
100% agree about bringing snacks! I ate something that didn’t agree with me on a flight from the States to South Korea. And let me tell you, that is NOT the way you want to start out a vacation! The next time I flew, it was all I could do not to get sick just from the smell of the in-flight meal! So, snacks are a MUST for me when I fly. Also, if you download the airline’s app before you fly, they may have a free movie streaming service you can use during the flight!
Some amazing tips. I would certainly keep them in mind the next time I’m on a long flight.
Thanks for sharing valuable information about the survival in long flights. I would like to add one more tip that try to avoid tea, coffee, and alcoholic beverages during long flight because these beverages can ruin your sleep.
Thank you for these tips. When traveling especially a long one, it’s also important to have some exercises you can do to keep your body from being cramped.
Agree with all the tips. Especially getting a good seat. I am traveling to Europe from India in April and these tips will definitely come handy. Bookmarking it for future reference. Thanks for sharing!
Good post. Your tips are good. I make sure to bring gum and lozenges to make sure my ears pop on the way down. I have bad ears.
Eek! I didn’t know about the compression socks! Thanks for pointing them out, I will get them for my next long flight!
Very helpful information. For me, the thing I would not miss for a long haul flight is an eye mask to help in my snooze. I usually feel fresh after landing, thanks to the uninterrupted naps that I take on long haul flights.
The first time I took a flight, it was between two states in the same country. Now, I’m planning on traveling out of the country for the first time in my life. Although it might be a hassle to try to get a good seat when booking, I’ve found that it’s one thing that can ease up the traveling on a long journey and I’ll keep that in mind going forward. About the entertainment, I’ll make do with what I’ll be served by the plane attendance. I’ll also take some books with me and they should serve as a good company throughout the journey. Thanks.
Lucky I read this before boarding my flight to Europe from South America. it’s gonna be a very long trip.
I think I got something out of all tips especially about notifying bank about travel. Long trip so very helpful.
I usually take some small essential oil roll on, its calming and smells good. Use spray moisturizer for your face it feels wonderful! Bring a power strip and share power at air ports.