Even for seasoned travelers, long flights are a necessary evil that we have to deal with to get our travel bug fix. Spending hours sitting and sleeping on one chair, trying to share armrests, and waiting in line to use an airplane bathroom is one part of traveling that people don’t talk about much. We see these beautiful pictures of places like New Zealand, Ghana, and Laos, but no one tells us that it took at least a 14+ hour flight, 3 layovers, and a lot of TSA/customs lines to get there.
To be frank, I’m still working on surviving longer flights, but I’ve definitely learned a lot over the years. When I went to Ghana, it took about 24 hours with 2-3 layovers to finally arrive in Accra. As if that time wasn’t bad enough, I also had to sit in an aisle seat for the longest part of the journey with a broken screen that shone brightly in my face the entire time. Even when I was trying to sleep at night!
Needless to say, I survived and here are a few tips that I’ve learned to help you to do the same:
What are the problems with long flights?
Long flights are over 6 hours not including layovers. I don’t consider flights with long layovers to be “long flights”, because you’ve got the chance to get off of the plane, walk around, eat, etc. The problem with long flights comes in when you realize that you’re going to be uncomfortable until you arrive at your destination or switch flights. Here are a few reasons why:
- Unappetizing airline food
- Never knowing who you’ll end up sitting next to/in front of
- Unappealing bathrooms
- Popping ears due to congestion
- Back pain from sitting in one spot
- Being forced to sleep sitting up for hours
- Motion sickness
- Breathing in dry air for a long time
- No cell phone service/having to purchase WIFI
Common misconceptions about long flights:
Misconception #1: “A long flight is the same as a long travel time/duration”
A long travel time would include layovers and delays while a long flight is simply your time spent on the plane. I’ll talk about how to handle both in this post.
Misconception #2: The airline will provide everything to make me comfortable”
I don’t care if you’re flying First Class, airlines can never know what you need to feel comfortable on a 6+ hour flight. One size does not fit all in this case.
Misconception #3: “I can switch my seats at the last minute if I don’t want mine”
On long flights in particular, people pay extra for better seats months in advance. They want to be as comfortable as possible. Why in the world would they switch their seat just because you want to sit by the window? You have to plan in advance if you want good seats.
Misconception #4: “I’ll be able to take my carry-on on the flight/have access to it”
Sometimes, the carry-on spaces are taken before you’re able to sit so the flight attendants will put your bags with the checked bags instead. This has happened to me multiple times so I always make sure to put all of my important and fragile things in my personal bag/backpack.
Why do people dread long flights?
Long flights are still a pain for travelers even though airlines continue to improve their customer service. From a travelers perspective, airlines are trying to find a balance between making a profit and providing a good customer experience. Sometimes they do great, but there’s still room to grow. Of course, airlines can’t predict everything that can go wrong or right, like a half-empty plane, turbulence, or delays.
I remember my first time going on a long flight, which was also my first time leaving the country. I was excited and so ready to land in England that I didn’t think about the travel time or what I’d need to stay sane for 8 long hours. Thankfully, I was able to sit next to my friend who boarded the plane much more prepared than I was! She wiped down everything and gave me the window seat, but she went to sleep for the entire time…
During those 8 long hours, I had to occupy myself without the internet, without overeating gummy worms, and while fighting motion sickness that struck anytime I bent down to get my bag. I marveled at the midnight purple clouds at dusk in the states, lightning bolts flashing before my eyes and minor turbulence jostling my seat. Finally, I watched as the sun rose again, shining through the pinkish-orange clouds at dawn as we landed at Heathrow Airport.
It was truly a beautiful sight to see…
10 Best Tips to Prepare for A Long Flight
Tip 1: Dress in Your Comfy Clothes
My general rule for dressing while traveling is to wear clothes that fit your destination’s climate. However, when you’re traveling on a long flight, this isn’t realistic. Planes are known to be chilly, dry, and all around uncomfortable, especially if you’re wearing sandals and shorts. For long flights, I recommend that you dress in layers and change when you arrive. This could be something as simple as taking off a sweater or completely changing your outfit at your hotel.
Tip 2: Pick Your Plane Seats In Advance
We already talked about the problems that happen when assuming that you can simply switch seats at the last minute. It’s rude to the people who took the time to pay for their tickets in advance. If you take the time and spend the money to pick your seats, then you cut out on one of the worst things about long flights: having a horrible seat. Plus, you’ll be making the flight attendant’s jobs easier because they won’t have to deal with a high-maintenance customer. Everybody wins.
Tip 3: Bring Your Medicine
I always make sure to buy a pain killer, a decongestant, and nausea medicine from my local drugstore because I suffer from migraines, popping ears, and motion sickness. Since the flight is longer, you might miss your medication time if you put all of your medicine in your checked bag. Taking your medicine on time might get tricky depending on where you’re traveling due to time zone changes. Also, depending on the country that you’re visiting, you might have to look for different versions of the same medicine. Some US medications are illegal in other countries!
Tip 4: Bring Entertainment
Airlines provide a good range of movies and shows to watch in-flight, but sometimes you just want to finish binge watching your favorite Netflix show. Before you board, download enough tv shows and movies to entertain you throughout the flight. I’m a reader, and so I download multiple ebooks and audiobooks that look interesting. This way, I’m not sitting there mindlessly staring out of the window for 8 hours. Here are a few more ideas:
- sketchbook for drawing
- work that needs to be finished
- journal/computer for writing
Tip 5: Pack Snacks That Don’t Make You Nauseous
This might be a controversial one, but I stand by it! Whether you’re buying snacks from the grocery store or from the airport, keep in mind that your biggest goal is to be comfortable. That means that you probably shouldn’t eat ice cream or a latte with regular milk if you’re lactose intolerant. When I’d travel, my snacks of choice used to be chips and gummy worms. I learned the hard way that a stomach ache isn’t the best feeling to have when you’re on a long flight.
Tip 6: Plan Your Trip Around Your Menses
If you are someone who experiences painful menses, then I highly recommend that you plan your flight around the most painful days. For some women, even walking upright on their cycle is unthinkable, so going through TSA, carrying luggage, and sitting on a flight with an unsavory bathroom for hours is a recipe for disaster. If you absolutely can’t avoid traveling during your heavier/most painful day, then bring:
- Vitamins that help with menstrual cramping – Magnesium, Iron, etc.
- OTC pain killers like Ibuprofen and Midol (I like the caffeine-free version)
- Heating pad for when you land
- Water to stay hydrated
- Fiber-rich foods that fight constipation caused by menses
Tip 7: Pick A Good Airline
Cheap flights can save money in the short term, but they aren’t the best option for long flights. When you’re traveling for a long time you should look into spending the extra money for a better airline company. Not only will a good airline care more about meeting your needs during a delay, but you’ll most likely be more comfortable overall. The airline that I normally use provides good snacks, earplugs blankets, eye masks, 3 meals, etc. for their long flights. Thankfully, this type of service is becoming the standard for long-haul flights.
Tip 8: Stay Hydrated and Well-Fed
We talked a little about the types of snacks that you should avoid when flying, but let’s talk about the benefits of eating a full meal. When you aren’t hydrated and well-fed you open yourself up to binge eating snacks on the flight and motion sickness/nausea. Motion sickness is horrible to handle on a flight and usually won’t go away until you land. I advise that you eat a good meal before/on every flight since you never know when there will be turbulence and/or a newbie pilot flying the plane. It can get crazy up there!
Tip 9: Prepare to Sleep Comfy
Waking up with a crook in your neck on a flight sucks! The crook doesn’t go away kindly, either. That’s why I always buying a neck pillow even if it’s an over-priced one from the airport. Also, if your airline doesn’t provide blankets or sleep masks, then bring one of each (I once brought my own blanket and used theirs because it was too thin!). Airlines generally keep the plane pretty chilly so if you get cold easier than most, then having your own blanket is ideal.
Tip 10: Move Around
On a long flight, it’s easy to get stiff and tense because you’re sitting in one position for hours. This is especially true if you’re tall and require more leg/arm room. It’s a good idea to get up and move around (despite the glares that you’ll get from the flight attendants!). As soon as the green seat belt light comes on, I get up, stretch, go to the bathroom if I really, really, really need it, and/or get something from my bag to look like I’m doing something productive. Moving around keeps my back, legs, and neck from hurting as much throughout the flight.
The key thing to remember about long flights is that you have the most control over your experience. An airline will not be able to read your mind and figure out what would make your flight experience the best that it can be.
You can use these tips exactly as I’ve written them, or you can tweak them to fit your lifestyle. Whatever works for you is the best option, but most of these tips can be done before you even board the plane. This means that you have time to plan almost everything ahead of time.
Make your flight experience as fun and enjoyable as possible!
What do you do to prepare for a long flight? Leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading,