33 Ways to Make a Long Flight More Comfortable
These tips and tricks will keep you sane on even the most grueling of journeys.
The amount of time spent in the air for somebody traveling from—oh, let's say London to Australia—is about 22 hours. That's 22 hours of screaming children. Twenty-two hours of cramped conditions. Twenty-two hours spent listening to the perpetual roar of the airplane's engines. All, of course, served up with the always delightful inevitability of severe jet lag waiting for you at the end. The nuisances of long-haul travel can range in severity from the mildly inconvenient (the dude with the loud, grating laugh watching "Dumb and Dumber" on repeat) to the downright dangerous (deep-vein thrombosis: no joke), and a poorly planned journey can be enough not only to ruin your day, but a few more afterwards too. Luckily, there are some easy ways to make a long flight infinitely more bearable.
1. Book your tickets early
This should go without saying. The earlier you book, the better your chances of scoring your favorite seat—it's that simple.
2. Sit in the back
Just in case you don't have a favorite seat (or the ones in the front with all the legroom are taken), go for the back. It'll be noisier, sure, but if everybody else is scrambling for the front, you've got a far better chance of ending up with an empty seat or two beside you.
3. Stay away from family routes
Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it, but if you have the option of not including (for example) the weekend New York–to–Orlando route on your itinerary, always take that option.
4. Use those air miles
If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em. You'll thank yourself when you're reclining in your first-class seat, sipping on a 2004 Château Latour and pretending to like caviar.
5. Shell out for Premium Economy
Because, sadly, we don't always have the miles. A step up from regular economy class, Premium Economy might be slightly more expensive, but the benefits—priority check-in, extra legroom, seats that actually accommodate a grown human's body—far outweigh the cost.
6. Try for a free upgrade
Worth a go, isn't it? Arrive early, travel by yourself, dress nicely, and put on your best, most winning smile. If that doesn't work, you could try convincing the check-in desk that you're on your honeymoon, though that might be a bit of a stretch if you're travelling alone.
7. Prepare for jet lag
There are several things you can do before your flight to help avoid jet lag, or at least mitigate it. Spend the days before your flight adjusting your sleeping patterns (a few 4 a.m. or 7 p.m. bedtimes should do it, depending on what time of day you'll be flying), book your flight so that it arrives during the day, make the most of your stopovers, and, most importantly, be well rested before you fly. Trust us, staying awake for the 24 hours before the trip because you're sure it'll balance out once you arrive just doesn't work.
8. Check in early
The last thing you need before your pan-global flight is to be panicking your way through a busy airport. Or to miss your flight.
9. De-stress before you arrive
Have a nice breakfast. Go to the gym. Read a book. Go to the gym again. (You'll be sitting for the next day and a half, so work off that king-sized box of Toblerones you plan to eat on the plane now.)
10. Don't overdo the carry-ons
You'll need more for a long-haul flight than you would for a short one, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea to bring three backpacks full of duty-free booze, electronics, and half-read John le Carré novels.
10. But do bring your own pillow
A small pillow is a staple carry-on item for all long-distance travelers. Every airport on the planet will sell travel pillows, and looking faintly ridiculous is a small price to pay for not destroying your neck.
Related: 15 Best Neck Pillows
12. Noise-cancelling headphones are your new best friend
If you can't afford them, some high-quality earplugs will do just fine.
13. Build a scarf tent
On the off-chance there's nobody in the seats behind or in front of you, and you're by a window, whip out a few lightweight scarves and place them over the seats to create your own private den and cinema.
14. Pack an eye mask
An eye mask is especially useful if you're flying during the day, or the person next to you is wearing particularly garish clothing.
15. Dress right
Keep it loose and comfortable—you're not here to impress anyone. Remember to bring layers for when it gets cold, and don't rule out packing pajamas.
16. Try to relax
Do whatever it takes—meditate, listen to some calming music, do some breathing exercises—not only will it help you sleep more easily, but it's also pretty good for your psyche in general. And if all else fails, there's always Valium.
17. Travel blankets exist for a reason
Don't bring anything too thick (remember, it has to fit in your carry-on) but make sure it's enough to keep you warm when the plane's air conditioning is going full blast. Cashmere is probably the way forward. Alternatively, buy a lightweight poncho-style blanket designed for travel online, or at the airport before take-off.
18. Stick some back-up movies onto your tablet
In-flight entertainment systems are not always reliable. They sometimes fail, and when they do you'll be glad to have something to do in reserve.
19. Charge those devices
Because the absolute last thing you need is for your iPad to run out of juice halfway through the season finale of Narcos, one hour into an eleven-hour flight. Especially if your in-flight entertainment system isn't working.
20. Podcasts, podcasts, podcasts
Load up as many as you can. Listening to podcasts uses up less battery life than watching a movie, and are often more distracting than music. You can get through an entire flight on podcasts alone.
21. Stay healthy
Sitting in a cramped metal tube for the better part of a day (or more) is not good for you. Fight off dehydration and deep-vein thrombosis—your two biggest enemies in the sky—by regularly drinking water, stretching, and walking around the cabin.
22. Stay hygienic
This is for everybody else's sake as much as your own. Bring toiletries in your carry-on and make sure to brush your teeth, throw on some deodorant, or even change your clothes. Just make sure you do it in the bathroom, please.
23. Get creative
You rarely get the chance to sit down for such a long time, more or less distraction-free, so why not make the most of it? Bring a notebook, a sketchpad, or whatever else you need to give the right-hand side of your brain a workout.
24. Get productive
If you've got your laptop with you, this might be your best chance to catch up on any busywork that needs doing. Bonus: everyone else on your flight will think you're a sophisticated international jet-setting businessperson, right up until they notice that Netflix tab you've got open.
25. Befriend the crew
Simply not being horrible to the flight crew is a given, but you could always go one step further and make an active effort to be nice. (Giving out chocolates never hurts.) Not only will you up your chances of preferential treatment, but you'll be doing something lovely for the folks who look after you up there.
26. Pack extra snacks
Airline food is not usually plentiful, even on long-haul flights, and it's important to stay well-nourished. No need to overdo it, of course, but no one was ever sorry to find a couple pieces of fruit or granola bars in their carry-on.
27. Adjust your watch
It's important to acclimatize yourself to the time zone of wherever you're going. As soon as you get on the plane, change your watch to the local time of your destination and then alter your routine accordingly. This will be especially useful inside your scarf tent, which exists beyond the natural constraints of time.
As far as plane-situated recreational activities go, drinking is a pretty good one. Alcohol is usually free on long-haul flights, and, if nothing else, it'll make the whole affair much more interesting.
29. Don't drink
That said, don't treat booze as a way to cope with your flight. You'll end up using those horrible bathrooms far more frequently, plus alcohol is dehydrating and will mess up your sleeping pattern. And that's to say nothing for the hangover. Keep it sensible.
30. Bring your best conversation
A lot of people dread it when their seatmate turns out to be chatty, but you're just as likely to be seated next to a genuinely interesting and friendly fellow traveler as you are anyone else. Don't bother anyone if it's not appropriate, but don't be afraid to strike up a conversation with your neighbor either. Long flights can get really boring.
31. Practice your death glare
That child across the aisle from you, running havoc at 30,000 feet? Death glare. The guy behind you who's been kicking your chair for three hours? Death glare. Those four party animals trying to lead the cabin in a drunken rendition of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" at 4 a.m.? Death glare. Hone it. Perfect it. It will serve you well.
32. Achieve total zen
Small issues can feel like major injustices when you're stuck on a plane, but it'll all seem insignificant if you keep one thing in mind: once you're in the air, there's nothing to be done. You're on the plane until you get off. Close your eyes, take a breath, and come to terms with this truth, and suddenly the aircraft running out of alcohol won't seem like such a big problem.
33. Combat jet lag
The flight isn't over just because you've disembarked. To fight jet lag, get as much daylight as you can, take a quick nap if you have to, and exercise at every opportunity. Do all of that for a day or two and you'll be back to normal—just in time for the return trip.