Do you have a long flight upcoming for Thanksgiving? After interviewing 50 frequent fliers, flight attendants, and full-time travelers, here are their best tips for booking and surviving long flights.
Before Booking Think Through All The Route Options
“Before you book your flight, research the best routes, airlines, seats, and stopovers for your destination. Choose a flight that suits your budget, schedule, and preferences, which might mean a one day in a lay over city while other choose a direct flight,” said Abdulla Faraj, a frequent traveler from Canada and Co-Founder, Open Air Advisor.
Pay Close Attention to Your Connecting Flights
If your connecting flight is outside of the U.S. you might have to go through security all over again adding hours to an already long travel day.
“I would rather connect internally in the U.S., as your bags will go all the way through,” said Stacey. “Some airports are more streamlined while others may require changing terminals and rechecking bags.”
Seriously Reconsider Sunday Return Flights Home
Are you trying to make the most of your vacation days or get as many days in the destination as possible before returning to work? You might want to re-think your return flight home, especially if there is going to be a significant time change to manage.
“I try to avoid flying home on Sundays, as it makes for a tough Monday and long week ahead,” added Stacy Gruen, from Intrepid Travel.
If You Can Fly Mid-Week
“The best tip I have for surviving these ultra-long-haul flights is to try and book when you’re least likely to have a packed flight. The odds are more in your favor to have empty seats on these long and uncomfortable journeys,” said full-time traveler and Travel Writer Katie, Founder of KatieCafTravel.
You Might Get A Whole Row To Yourself
“When I flew out on December 20th my flight from Taiwan to New York City was 100% booked, but when I flew back on Jan 9th most of the plane was empty. I was able to stretch out over a whole row. It will also help to book your long-haul flight on a weekday, if possible, which will also cut down on the risk of it being a packed flight,” she added.
Book A Red Eye Flight
“When I have the option, I leave late in the evening,” said Jeremy a former flight attendant. “Typically I won’t fall asleep until after the first meal service, and by this time it may be as late as 3-4 am at home. This begins the process of resetting my internal clock before I arrive in a new time zone.”
Choose Your Seat Wisely
Anika from What Anika Says recommend choosing your seat wisely for a long flight. Choose a aisle seat instead of window if you want to walk around or get up a lot. That gives you flexibility to move around as many times as you want without disturbing co-passengers.
Book the Aisles When Traveling as a Group
If you’re traveling as a group, you’re likely reserving your seats ahead of time to make sure you are near each other. JayDee from Mom Blog Life suggests a trick for getting an extra seat for stretching out on the long flight.
“As a family of three (now four with a lap baby), we always book the middle rows that have 4 seats. But, rather than booking three in a row, we book the two aisles and one of the middle seats, leaving one middle seat open. If the flight isn’t full, you’re likely to score an extra seat and space for a little one to play or nap, since no one actually wants these seats. Otherwise, that person will be happy to switch you for an aisle.”
Book the Window Seat When Traveling Solo
“I get a window seat if I plan to sleep. Leaning against the window is the only comfortable way to sleep in coach in my experience,” said Hans Mast of Golden Rule Travel who has flown a million miles and been to 60 countries.
Flying With A Baby? Pay Extra for More Room
No one really wants to pay extra for more leg room, but if you’re flying with a baby, it might be the best decision you make.
“I took a 9-hour flight to Paris with my husband and 8-month-old baby last year, and having the extra leg room allowed us to have most of the things we need for our baby within reach,” said Arnie from ArnieNicola.com. “When my daughter would get bored, I’d lay out a small mat in the space we had available, throw some toys on there and let her play. It kept her entertained during our long flight.”
Pick an Exit Row Seat in Front of Another Exit Row
“I usually pick an exit row seat in front of another exit row. Children cannot sit behind you (they’re not allowed to sit in exit rows), and these seats are unpopular because they can’t recline. So, I tend to have the row to myself or with just one other person,” another confided.
Look at the Seat Map Right Before Your Flight
Before you get to the airport, download your airlines’ app onto your phone. Not only will you get updates on the flight even before gate agents will, you can see in real time what seats may become available.
“I always check the seat-map the day before the flight and if it’s very empty, I go for an aisle in the middle section and I can likely lay down across 3-4 seats to sleep,” continues Mast.
Pre-Flight You Really Do Need To Change Your Routine
“Without any change in routine, the human body will adjust to approximately one hour of change in time per day. This means that without making some effort, it can take travelers over a week to fully adjust to a new time zone when flying across an ocean,” advises Dr. Eugene Delaune, MD, Allianz Travel Advisor.
The Week Before Your Trip Shift Your Sleep Schedule
“I often try to slowly shift my body clock to my destination time zone for a week before departure, an hour a day or so. This works particularly well going from the East Coast to Europe. By the time I leave, I am going to bed around 7 pm, which is the same time as transatlantic flights leave,” added Hans Mast.
Exercise Before Your Flight
“Since long-haul flights require many hours of sitting around, the most effective way to conquer a strenuous travel day is to exhaust your energy. Even if you can’t go for a run, hit the gym, or do any intense physical activity beforehand.”
“Even a 10 to 15 minute stretch while waiting to board can still help ease your way in. When waiting to board, don’t sit down! Stand and walk around as much as possible,” said Gigi Chow of Wet Nose Escapades, and full-time digital nomad.
Sanjana, a Physician from The Female Professional says water is key. “Salty plane food and alcohol (if you decide to have some) can leave you feeling thirsty on long haul flights. Ask for extra water from the flight attendants during meals, and don’t be afraid to get up and get some in between! Staying hydrated can help you sleep, digest your food and combat jet lag at your destination”
Limit The Number of Alcoholic Drinks
“Most international flights serve free alcoholic drinks This is especially the case in first and business class. But traveling on an airplane – especially long haul – is dehydrating. When you combine this dehydration with excessive alcohol intake, jetlag is exacerbated. The easiest way to have a terrible first day at your new destination is to drink too much on the flight there,” said former flight attendant Jeremy Shepherd, Founder Pearl Paradise.
Walk Around The Plane
Melanie Allen from Partners in Fire recommends you get up and walk around regularly during your long haul flights. “Stretching your legs is crucial,” she said, adding, “I typically go to the back and do some simple stretches like touching my toes to keep the blood flowing.”
Bring Good for You Snacks
“Try and bring healthier snacks when you can because 12+ hours of oily, sugary, fatty food will eventually wreak havoc on you,” said Mar Pages, co-Founder of Solo Female Travelers, a long-term expat who have lived in 115 countries around the world.
Bring More Food Than You Think You’ll Need
Do not count on the airline meal, especially if you have picky kids or have dietary needs.
“Once, when I was a vegetarian, I requested a special meal on a flight from New York City to Beijing, but they did not receive or honor my request. By the time they got to me, there weren’t any meal options that I could eat. Unfortunately for me, that was the first long-haul flight that I had decided to not bother bringing much with me as it usually wasn’t needed. By the second meal service, I was begging for food,” said Lanie, Founder of Make More Adventures.
You Can Bring Fresh Food on the Plane
“They eventually brought me a fruit salad from first class. Now, I make sure that we all have not only snack food and treats but also something nutritious and filling. While fresh food can not be brought into another country, you can bring it on the plane and discard it before you enter customs,” she continues.
Don’t Forget To Take Care of Your Skin
Long haul flights are definitely not the time to start neglecting your skin. Sarah Borg Barthet from Dukes Avenue believes that packing a small travel case with your own skin care is another key to staying comfortable on long flights.
“Long plane rides can be exhausting both mentally and physically, so why not take the opportunity to indulge in a little bit of self care while up in the air. Pack your own skin care goody bag with your serum and hydrating moisturizer (and whatever else you might need) and re-apply every 3 hours or so. Your skin will thank you for it upon landing.”
Wear Cozy Clothes
Normally, you don’t go to sleep wearing jeans, right? When taking long flights, it’s important you’re comfortable too. Chris Alarcon from Financially Well Off suggests wearing comfy sweatpants and a cozy t-shirt. And if you can find organic ones, even better! The natural materials will make them feel more comfortable to wear.
“I prefer wearing comfortable clothes during long trips because it makes passing through airport security easier. I’m also more likely to fall asleep wearing my sweatpants versus jeans,” he said.
Pick Fabrics Carefully
“After years of traveling by air, I would never recommend wearing fabrics like nylon and polyester, as these will make you sweat when it’s hot and prevent air circulation. You won’t feel fashionable or comfortable while sweating and causing a bad odor,” said frequent Traveler Kevin Mercier.
“When choosing what to wear on a flight, I look for natural fabrics such as cotton, silk, or wool, which allow air and moisture to pass through, making my flight more comfortable.”
“You never know how hard the airplane air conditioning will be blasting, and your body temperature will likely fluctuate a ton throughout the flight. A warm top layer comes in handy even in the summer months,” said Lauren Maternowski, Managing Editor at Pack Hacker.
“Think of it like walking into a super cold restaurant on a hot summer day—you’ll be happy you brought a zip-up to keep away the chill.”
Bring Compression Socks
Compression socks are ideal for long flights or frequent fliers. They help fight leg fatigue and prevent blood clots and swelling. Several travelers agreed that compression socks are a necessity for long flights.
Don’t Abandon Your Normal Bedtime Routine
“Pack basic toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, face soap) and a spare shirt in your carryon bag and freshen up mid-flight in the restroom. Before settling in for some attempted sleep, wash your face and brush your teeth — it brings a bit of that home bedtime routine onto the plane and is good for your teeth too,” said Alissa Bell, frequent traveler, and travel writer at Exploring Wild.
Create Your Own Sleep Kit
“Prepare a sleep kit that includes a neck pillow, eye mask and even some medications recommended by your doctors such as melatonin or sleep aids,” said Olivia McDonald, Founder of Defining Decade, who has traveled to more than 20 countries.
“Plus, I like to download a sleep playlist on Spotify that helps drown out the noise. As an anxious flyer, a sleep kit with remedies for me to escape my surroundings and get some rest is a must!”
Don’t Leave Your Self-Care Rituals at Home
“Stick to your self-care ritual. Whether that’s your skincare routine, staying extra hydrated, or meditation, it’s always a good idea to maintain normalcy and not give the ‘scary amount of time you have to spend in a seat’ too much weight. Treat it like it’s any other day,” recommends Haley Blackall, a full-time travel writer.
Turn Off Your Seat Back Screen
“Nowadays, long-haul flights are equipped with in-flight entertainment. Despite having access, you should not leave the screen on during most of your flight. The same goes for your cell phone and laptop. As a matter of fact, you should look at the screen as little as possible if you want more rest on the flight,” added Gigi Chow.
The Screen Can Keep You Up
“This is due to the fact that the blue light emitted by screens can actually make it harder to fall asleep. Studies have shown that blue light interferes with your brain’s production of melatonin, a hormone in your body that regulates the sleep-wake cycles. Hence, it’s best to turn off all screens in order to get ample rest on a long flight. After all, the more rest you can get, the easier the flight,” she added.
Bring Every Electronic Accessory You Might Need
In recent years, travelers have gotten spoiled with the amount of in-flight entertainment. But you never know what your flight may have, what might be broken, or what could happen in the case of a last minute airplane change.
“Do not assume that your flight will have headrest entertainment or a way to charge your devices. Also, some flights do not allow Bluetooth devices so have wired headphones,” shared Emily Smith, Travel Planner & Host of The Female Abroad.
Download an Entire Media Library Before Boarding
“I download various videos (TV shows, whole seasons, movies, Ted Talks, documentaries, etc.), audible books, music, meditation, podcasts, kindle books, and some game apps (word search, crossword) to my phone, iPad, and laptop,” shared another traveler.
“Netflix and Amazon Prime have limits on downloads, and I usually max out even though I know it is impossible to watch everything.”
Listen to Audible Books
“Download a ton of Audible books. Have a set of earbuds that come with a charging case. Have an extra charging pack or two for your phone. And, as weird as it sounds, only use one earbud at a time to listen to your audiobook,” another traveler said.
“This way, when the one dies, you put it on charge and start using the other. If you’ve got a decent set, the case will charge the bud before the following dies. So you’ll never be without the ability to listen to your phone,” another shared.
Pass the Time With Video Games
“I bought a Nintendo Switch for my eight-hour flight, and it went by quickly! I played Mario Odyssey the whole time, only stopping to eat and rest my eyes because they got so dry. Then, I played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on my seven-hour flight after that, and again, time flew by. Pun intended.”
If You Want To Sleep, Don’t Be Cheap
“Invest in a good travel neck pillow. Over time you learn that the best thing you can do on a plane, before getting to your destination, is to sleep as much as you can. Being comfortable and avoiding a stiff neck on arrival are key,” said Marcio Delgado, a frequent traveler and London-based journalist.
You May Need Some Sleeping Aids
“Benadryl. I take it about half an hour before boarding, and I sleep through the whole thing,” said one traveler. Another agreed, “Take the most potent sleep medication you can get your hands on and those socks that ease you sitting for long periods.”
Use The Time to Finish Your Vacation Planning
If you were too busy to read all those guidebooks you bought or downloaded, this is the perfect time to do some planning suggests travel writer and blogger Margarita Ibbott from DownshiftingPro.com. It’s the optimal time to make some notes on what to see, where to go and where to eat.
“I often take pictures from guidebooks that I’ve taken out of the library as well as the ones I brought with me. Reviewing guidebooks is a great idea as many have itineraries to follow, reader suggestions and detailed descriptions of attractions. So on a long-haul flight, take out a notebook, jot down important details and outline a plan. It’s never to late to make plans for a successful trip.”
Get Some Work Done
Maybe you’re on an airplane for vacation, maybe you’re on the plane for work. Regardless, Mikkel Woodruff from Sometimes Sailing suggests getting work done during a flight.
“I get some of my best work done during long-haul flights. I often work in Google Docs, so I simply make a document ‘Available Offline’ before I leave reliable wifi and open the documents I need while in flight. I purposely do not connect to wifi so I’m not distracted and can solely focus on the task at hand. When I’m back on wifi, the updated documents sync across all my devices.”
Don’t Forget About Old School Physical Books
Many people agree that reading books are a great way to survive long flights, and it’s often the only time they have to commit to reading. Others argued that reading a physical book makes them sleepy, and some suggested that’s a good thing because sleeping through the flight is always the best way to be comfortable, and time flies.
It’s the Perfect Time To Journal
“I personally love to bring my journal and write on a flight. I feel the most focused when I’m on a plane. On a long flight, I usually switch between journaling, reading, sleeping, and watching movies, said Patricia Duque, frequent traveler and Founder, Tatian Aduque.
Noise Cancelling Headphones Are A Must
“For those of us who mostly travel in economy class, having noise-canceling headphones can be a game changer. You get to be in your own cocoon of tranquility while the headphone cancels out the noise of engines and most of the chatter. Just play some light music and even a crying baby won’t be able to disturb your peace.”
“Sometimes I completely forget that I am inside a plane as I play an audiobook or a podcast with my eyes closed. I can’t think about surviving on a plane without my noise-canceling headphones now,” said Tim Lee, Founder of Tim’s Coffee, who spends a significant portion of time traveling the globe in search of the perfect cup.
Make Sure You’re Collecting Airline Miles
Long haul flights cover a lot of miles, making it pretty easy to earn enough miles for a free flight on the airline. But you have to be signed with the airline, or one of their partners, and enter your account number to actually earn the miles.
Experts Weigh In on How to Prevent and Minimize Flight Delays to Keep Your Travel Plans on Track
Americans are traveling in record numbers. Add in seasonal storms, old technology, sold-out flights, packed airspace, plus staffing issues, and getting to your vacation destination on time seems more like a getaway game of chance.
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This article was produced by Planner at Heart.