33 Tips for Making a Long-haul Flight More Comfortable
Whether you're taking a seven-hour jaunt to Europe or embarking on the nearly 19-hour journey of the world's longest flight, lengthy flights can be boring, uncomfortable, and exhausting. The nuisances of long-haul travel can range in severity from the mildly inconvenient (annoying seatmates) to the downright dangerous (deep-vein thrombosis is no joke), and a poorly planned journey can be enough to not only ruin your day, but a few more afterward, too. Luckily, there are some easy ways to make a long flight infinitely more bearable.
Here are 33 tips for long flights.
Related: More air travel tips
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 everyone else is scrambling for the front, you've got a far better chance of ending up with an empty seat or two beside you. Before your flight, keep an eye on the seat map to see if there are any empty rows you can claim last minute.
3. Use those air miles to upgrade.
If you've got 'em, flaunt 'em. You'll thank yourself when you're reclining in a first-class seat, sipping Champagne and pretending to like caviar. And if you don't have the miles, this is the time to splurge for a superior first- or business-class seat.
4. 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, comfortable seats — far outweigh the cost most of the time.
5. 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. Your odds of scoring a last-minute upgrade are better if you have elite status with the airline.
6. 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 sleep patterns (a few 4 a.m. or 7 p.m. bedtimes should do it, depending on what time of day you'll be flying). You can also 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 your trip because you're sure it'll balance out once you arrive just doesn't work.
7. Check in early.
The last thing you need before your long-haul journey is to panic your way through a busy airport — or to miss your flight.
8. De-stress before you arrive.
Have a nice breakfast. Go to the gym. Read a book. Go for a walk. It's important to relax before you embark on your journey.
9. 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 overpack. Keep the essentials in your personal item so they're always within arm's reach.
10. But do bring your own pillow.
A small pillow is a staple carry-on item for long-distance travelers. Almost every airport sells travel pillows, and looking a little ridiculous is a small price to pay for not destroying your neck.
Related: 15 Best Neck Pillows
11. Pack plenty of face masks.
Face coverings are still required on planes, so be sure to stash several in an easy-to-reach spot to switch them out as desired.
12. Noise-canceling headphones are your new best friend.
If you can't afford them, some high-quality earplugs will do just fine to block out the airplane noise or loud passengers.
13. Buckle your seat belt over your blanket.
If you plan to sleep at all during your flight, make sure your buckled seat belt is visible. In case of turbulence, the seat belt light will turn on, and flight attendants may come around the cabin to check that everyone is buckled up. If you're buckled beneath your blanket where they can't see it, they will wake you up to check.
14. Pack an eye mask.
An eye mask is especially useful if you're flying during the day, or if you want to catch some shut-eye before the cabin lights are dimmed.
15. Dress right.
Keep it loose and comfortable — you're not here to impress anyone. Remember to bring layers for when it gets cold — a cardigan or sweatshirt is always good to have on hand.
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 good for your psyche in general.
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.
18. Download some backup movies onto your tablet or laptop.
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.
The absolute last thing you need is for your iPad to run out of juice one hour into an 11-hour flight. This is especially true if your in-flight entertainment system isn't working.
20. Load up on podcasts.
Listening to podcasts uses up less battery life than watching a movie, and they 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 everyone 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 have your laptop with you, this might be a good opportunity to catch up on any busywork that needs doing. Bonus: Everyone else on your flight will think you're a sophisticated jet-setting businessperson, right up until they notice that Netflix tab you have 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. Not only will you up your chances of preferential treatment, but you'll also 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 where you're heading. As soon as you get on the plane, change your watch to the local time of your destination, then alter your routine accordingly.
Some passengers enjoy a glass of wine or beer (often free on international flights) to accompany their in-flight meals and entertainment.
29. Don't drink.
That said, don't treat booze as a way to cope with your flight. You'll end up using those tiny bathrooms far more frequently, plus alcohol is dehydrating and will mess up your sleep pattern. Keep it sensible.
30. Bring your best conversation.
Many people dread sitting next to a chatty seatmate, 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 pretty boring.
31. Pack lots of activities for your kids.
Traveling with kids? Make sure to pack plenty of activities to keep them entertained throughout the flight. Bring gaming systems, iPads preloaded with their favorite shows (and headphones), coloring and sticker books, and more, and don't forget their favorite snacks.
32. Practice mindfulness.
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 it lands. Close your eyes, take a breath, and come to terms with this truth so you can arrive at your destination relaxed and ready to go.
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, hydrate, 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.