Travel Features

How to Survive a Long-Haul Flight

Advice on long haul flights

Picture the scene: I’m stuck on a runway in Beijing’s Capital International Airport. We’ve been there for an hour already, I have a 13-hour flight ahead of me and the guy who’s sat to my left is already breaking wind like it’s going out of fashion. I am not a happy bunny.

Advice on long haul flightsFor all the travelling I do, you’d think I’d be a pro at flying long-haul. But the truth is, I hate it. It makes me feel nauseous, I don’t like being cramped in Economy (whatever name they hide behind, “World Traveller”, it’s still cattle class to me) and frankly, I get bored easily. If I didn’t like exploring new places so much, I’d probably be one of those people who leave their home village once every decade or so.

Anyway, the point is if I can emerge from a airplane feeling ready to tackle whichever place I’ve landed in, anyone can. Here are some of my personal thoughts on surviving that long-haul flight;

Try to Reserve a Decent Seat

advice for long flightsThis depends on the airline, but some will still let you reserve a seat (often on a first come, first served basis when you check-in online). Get in there early and try to nab a seat with a bit of legroom; an exit row seat is always a good bet.

Drink Water Not Whiskey

Health advice for long haul plane flightsIf you’re being offered beer, wine and spirits for “free”, it’s tempting to get completely and utterly sloshed. I know, I’ve been there and it makes me feel like crap. Have a few drinks, sure, but make sure you keep hydrated by sipping plenty of water and juice.

Move Around

Nothing new here; if you sit in your seat for hours at a time, you increase the risk of DVT. So every hour or so, take a walk. A saunter to the toilet, perhaps? A jazzy little jaunt along the aisle? Why not pester the flight attendant for more whiskey (ahem, water) while you’re there?

Pack Earplugs in Your Hand Luggage

long plane journeys wear earplugsEarplugs are almost as important to me as my passport. They have kept me sane on many a night in a shared hostel dorm (why do some couples think it’s appropriate to “snuggle up” in the bunk above me? Why?) and are a godsend on a long-haul flight. Sleeping is the best way to pass the time, and with earplugs firmly in place you stand a good chance of some shut-eye.

Don’t Forget a Travel Pillow

advice neck pillow for long flightsLike earplugs, travel pillows are a must for flying long-haul. Mine is inflatable and fits snugly around my neck like a collar, so I can fall asleep without jerking uncomfortably awake again. Most of the time.

There’s loads of other stuff I could cover, but to me the five points above are the most important. As long as I’m hydrated, as well-rested as I can be and (touch wood) don’t have DVT, I’m good to go on the other side. I just wish I knew a way to stop my fellow passengers farting.

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5 Comments


  1. Robyn

    February 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Ask for a centre aisle seat – once I got stuck in a window seat for 12 hours while the 2 guys beside me used their laptops all night and trying to get out to go to the bathroom was a nightmare.
    Take eyeshades – you might look stupid, but you don’t see yourself and now with the screens in the back of the seats it can really help.
    If it’s an overnight flight grab a blanket as soon as you get on board – they often turn the temperature down overnight and there aren’t always enough to go round.
    Carry as little baggage as you can. If you can fit it under the seat in front it’s so much easier than trying to a) find locker space for it and b) having to get it out of the locker during the flight to get a pen or whatever.
    Don’t buy a book at the airport if you read on the plane – I once (before entertainment systems) spent London to LAX with a book I absolutely hated!
    Board as late as you can, especially if you have an aisle seat and a small bag – it’s so much easier to get down the aisles when everyone else is settled – and hey, it’s fun to hear your name called :)
    Make friends with the airline staff. Don’t be rude – they have a job to do and if you are polite and friendly and thank them they will bend over backwards to help you.

  2. Nadia | Gap Daemon

    February 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Ooh good tips Robyn – you have obviously flown long-haul a lot! Only thing that I could never do (from your list) would be to board late – I am always paranoid about missing my flight.

  3. Matt Preston

    February 24, 2012 at 1:55 am

    Planes have a tough time leaving without you as your bags are already on the plane. Takes a while to remove them although you’ll annoy a lot of passengers! I would also add making sure you have drugs with you as well. By that I mean paracetamol, nurofen, imodium. Staff do often have these too but it’s better to have everything you might need to hand. Nothing worse than being on a 13 hour flight with a huge headache or a dodgy stomach.

  4. Robyn

    March 3, 2012 at 8:25 am

    When I say to board late, I check in early (more likely to get the seat you want) then hang around in the departure lunge til almost everyone’s boarded. They wont go without you as Matt says and they will call your name – I’ve only waited as long as that once.
    Shoes are something that people mention all the time when talking about long flights. Your feet will swell, so if you want to take them off on the flight and maybe put on slippers or socks, make sure they’re slippers you don’t mind being see in – worst case, you may end up wearing them in the terminal if you can’t get your shoes on!
    Always carry a couple (at least) changes of underwear – if your luggage goes missing, clean knickers will get you through the night and you can change on the plane as well to feel better (well, sort of) when you get to your destination.
    …and yep, I’ve done New Zealand to and from the USA 18 times and still HATE long haul flights.

  5. Reby

    March 12, 2012 at 3:07 pm

    A few things I like to do, and these probably aren’t the healthiest practices, but before a long haul, I usually tire myself out — whether it’s partying ’til the crack of dawn or going for a run, it’s just so I can sleep soundly on the plane. This works really great for me. :) Some people prefer to take sleeping pills — I haven’t done this myself but I’ve heard it helps with the jet lag so your body is on the same timezone/clock as the place you’re going to. I would also suggest to bring your PSP or mp3 player. I know there are some planes that have games on board but what if you get bored of those games? Get what I’m saying ;) As for the mp3, I use those as my earplugs. Also, wear but warm clothes! I usually wear just leggings (never jeans) a loose shirt, a cardigan (layer it up!) and socks! Lastly, don’t wear perfume. Be considerate to others — you might be suffocating them with your perfume already. Bring it in your carry on (in a ziplock of course) and just spray some perfume once you’ve arrived. Hope these tips helped! :)

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