We spend a lot of time on long-haul flights, and the truth is they are pretty awful most of the time. We tell ourselves we actually like flying, that it’s time to relax and catch up on those movies we never got round to seeing in the cinema, and maybe enjoy a few drinks. The truth is, but the time we touch down at our destination we are tired, stressed, angry bears ready to rip each other’s heads off and anyone else who crosses our path!
Of Course, we keep coming back, each time telling ourselves we actually enjoyed the last trip and this time will be even better. It rarely is. But we do survive each time and have built up an array of tips and tricks to help smooth the process and get us to the other end as relaxed, refreshed and ready to go as possible, which isn’t much, but our guide to surviving long haul flights will give you the best chance possible to get through a long flight in Economy. and It all starts well before the flight!
How to Survive a Long Haul Flight
1 – Choose your seats
Some Airlines charge you, some offer this for free at booking, some only allow it free 24hours before departure, whatever the case BOOK your seats. If there is a fee, and it is reasonable, PAY IT. If you simply refuse to be held hostage by an airline, then you need to be Johny on the spot with the online check-in. We simply never get near an airport unless our seat is allocated.
We are not alone, but many people DO NOT do this. It is the number one boarding issue we come across. And we see it EVERY flight. Reactions range from anger to disgust, rage to distraught, we see screaming, crying, strops, and tantrums (this is from the adults). However, people react to being split up or seated in poor locations it’s for sure they are not having a nice flight. When things go wrong from the off, it rarely gets better.
So whatever hoops you need to jump through to secure your seats together in your preferred location, for example, I would not enjoy a flight without a window seat, get it done. So you get on the plane and simply plonk yourself in the pre-assigned location with no stress or hassle, then kick back and watch the carnage of those who didn’t bother!
2 – Be Prepared
If you have an early alarm call, the last thing you want to do in the morning is ANYTHING. That means well before bedtime, everything should be packed, weighed, sorted, and ready to go. Some people write checklists, some people just run through it mentally. Make sure you have all your documents, money, and passports ready.
Have all your bags and carry-ons in one place, ready to go. We use the spare bed as we need access right up until the last minute as apparently, we NEED hair straighteners at 4 am so can’t pack them yet. But everything is organized and ready to go. That way when we wake up, it’s military. Ablutions, Beverage, Door. It also leads to a calmer night’s sleep, see number 4, knowing everything is sorted and we just need to get up and go.
3 – Have Fish and Chips for Supper
In the UK it’s the LAW, but we suggest it for anyone!
4 – Go to bed early
Yeah we know, this is a toughy, last-minute packing, excitement to rival a kid at Christmas, A million things charging through your mind, did we do this, did we do that? You probably did and if not it probably doesn’t matter, you did your preparation and everything is ready, so just go to bed. You will have an early start tomorrow, probably, and starting off tired is not going to help anyone.
Avoid alcohol, while it helps you relax and sleep, the quality of sleep is reduced and you will wake tired and cranky, plus you are going on holiday, you will have plenty of time to make up for it!
Notice we are suggesting going to bed early, not to sleep! Sleep may be impossible, you may just be too wired to drop off, but in bed, relaxing, switching off is the best place you can be. Tell yourself it doesn’t matter you are awake, you are in bed and resting and that’s the best place you can be. Before you know it, Bam! the alarm will wake you! Time to get going!
5 – Arrive at the airport early
Airports are Stressful. They are filled with endless queues and mindless bureaucracy with streams of rules and regulations seemingly designed to drive you mad and enforced by professionally miserable agents there to make your life a misery. Try being late for your flight, and you will find those stress levels soar!
Most of us get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, but we do tend to leave things a little tight. The recommended 3 hours is ok, but what if you have an issue? It’s happened to us, forgotten passports, documents and payment cards, car trouble, unforeseen traffic, snowstorms, cancellations the day before leading to huge security queues, all these have befallen our best-laid plans.
Plan to be at departures with a minimum of three hours, and this does give you leeway for any mishaps. In doing so add buffers into any stage of your journey to the airport. If you are ordering a taxi or getting a lift and want them to arrive at 9:00 am tell them 8:45. If the journey is 40mins factor in 50mins. If the journey is long or complicated, do it the night before and stay in a hotel. Just do what it takes to ensure you are stepping through arrivals with three hours to spare.
6 – Consider a lounge
See we are up to number 6 and we are not even near a plane yet! Lounges are great options. For around the cost of breakfast in the departure lounge restaurants, you can have your own private lounge area with included breakfast, drinks, and assigned seats. No fighting with the masses. Overall it helps ease the process, gives a feeling of calm, and helps you get to the gate just that bit more relaxed. Some lounges are very reasonably priced too, a few drinks and an airport breakfast can easily cost nearly a much as the cheaper lounges.
Finally, you are on board, hopefully as relaxed and calm as possible, now is time to get comfy, pay attention to the briefing, as this is something to do, and probably quite helpful, and get ready to execute your flight plan.
The entire key to Long Haul Travel is Breaking things down. 10+ Hours in one seat with nothing to do is impossible! The entire trip must be broken down into little pieces if you have a chance of getting through it. Almost all of our tips are ways and means of breaking up the flight into little bits so they can be swallowed much easier.
The Second key is comfort. If you are uncomfy then the flight will drag as you focus on this discomfort, not the little chunks. So there are a few tips on being as comfy as possible in what is probably a god-awful Economy seat!
7 – Be Entertained
On-Board Movie systems are now so advanced, have HUGE movie collections, and are packed with all the entertainment you could possibly need. But even they have their limitations. Essentially no matter how great the entertainment sitting and watching TV for 12 hours straight stops being fun quite soon!
While the Entertainment system can get you through most of the flight there will be times where you just can’t face any more movies or TV Shows. Having a Backup is great. Books, Games on your phone, looking out the window, music, thinking about all the cool stuff you are going to do on your trip. All helps pass the time, heck we have even seen some crazy people actually talking to each over to pass the time!
Remember though that Wifi on an airplane is expensive or even non-existent so ensure everything is downloaded at home before leaving the house.
It is especially important for children to be entertained. As if they become bored, they can become disruptive. It is no fun trying to discipline children in the air and even worse for passengers near children of parents who don’t even try. 12 hours is an eternity at a young age and you can be sure while at home 12 hours in front of the TV is a dream for them as soon as you want them to sit quietly and watch away to their hearts content they will instantly become bored and uninterested.
You need a backup of toys and games. The addiction to technology helps nowadays and having a Tablet packed with their favorite games should help fill the voids. But again you will probably not have Wifi. Travel Games, are a bit of a novelty these days and could easily pass an hour or two of otherwise disruption while the novelty lasts.
8 – Move
Even if you have nowhere to go. Every hour or so just get up and stretch your legs. There is some good evidence this helps warn off the dreaded Deep Vein Thrombosis, a life-threatening condition, but as we are not medical experts we can’t really give advice on this, but moving about is worth it anyway. It just breaks things up. Takes your mind off your seat, takes the pressure off the buttocks, and generally just renews the body and spirit ready for another hard bout of sitting.
As we say, little chunks and comfort are your focus
9 – Take Everything on offer
Would you like a drink, sir? …Yes. Would you like an Icecream?… Yes. Would you like this moldy piece of lettuce we found in the gally? … Of Course!
It doesn’t matter if you want it or not. Take it. Not because it’s free and you need to extract as much money as possible from these thieving scumbags who charged you “How Much” for your ticket! No, Taking something, opening it eating it, even spitting it out in disgust is doing SOMETHING. It’s diverted your attention away from your numb buttocks, aching back, and the 7+hours to your destination. It’s broken the monotony and given you another little chunk.
The Entire service pattern on an airline is designed with this in mind, they are constantly coming through to offer something or other, it’s not just to keep the crew busy it is breaking things up into little chunks while helping maintain comfort by warding off hunger and thirst. By ignoring this or refusing things you are denying yourself the chance of breaking the flight down even more.
10 – Sleep
Nothing tears chunks off that time to destination figure than passing out and sleeping through it. But for those of us not blessed with sitting up front in the lie flatbeds, sleep isn’t the easiest thing to achieve.
On an early east to west flight sleep isn’t essential but if you feel yourself dropping off do not fight it, get comfy and delete an hour or two from your flight. However, on a west to east, red-eye, getting off to sleep is essential. We have several ways to help usher in sleep. You could, of course, try sleeping pills but this is not something we recommend or use ourselves, but seeing the catatonic states of some people they are clearly used by some. Definitely speak to a doctor about this if you plan on going down that line.
Pillow – A good Travel Pillow is actually not needed at all to get to sleep. However, they are vital if you want to STAY asleep. As humans once tired we can drop off no problem. But when seated, our big heads roll about and cause us to wake almost the instant you nod off. It’s very frustrating and can make an hour’s sleep feel like forever! A good pillow supports the neck and head keeping you in position and away with the fairies. We cast a wide net in finding out and trying the best and here are our results.
Music – Something calm and relaxing that you like can help block out the exterior noises, give you something nice to meditate on, and help facilitate that transition to the dream world. Falling asleep to music you love can help cement real memories of a holiday or vacation and make the whole trip even more special. Sounds corny, but some of my strongest memories of trips are ones where I drifted off to something specific, and that henceforth became the soundtrack of the trip, even the period of my life!
Isolation – Planes are full of noise and distraction, things not often associated with good sleep. You need to shut that out. Eye Masks and Noise Cancelling headphones help block out any exterior noise and let you drift off into a deep sleep.
Warmth – If it’s not your big head rolling about or you seat neighbors having a row about something, or the hostess trolly rumbling by that wakes you up the next likely culprit is temperature. if you get too hot or more likely too cold your body has a habit of waking you up so you can do something about it, rather than letting you freeze to death. These survival instincts are hard to suppress so the best way to solve it is to stay warm (or cool). Blankets and layers should be donned before you slip off, to maximize the length of time you will be asleep.
11 – Be comfy
Ok, this is not the easiest thing to quantify, but being and remaining comfortable is one of the most important parts of long-haul flying. This covers a huge range of things from comfortable clothes to seat position. The right temperature, Pillows, Blankets, not feeling hungry or thirsty.
Time dilation is a real phenomenon and if you are focused on discomfort time slows down. If you are relaxed happy and enjoying yourself it speeds up. So you need to do what it takes to ensure you are relaxed and comfortable. We have a few specific tips to help enable that.
A fear of flying will not help you feel comfortable and can make long-haul flights hours of miserable hell. This topic is far too in-depth and detailed to go into here, but in general, we tend to find learning more about the process of modern aircraft and safety helps you understand what is going on and how utterly safe air travel is in comparison to everything else. Searching Youtube for videos explaining what is happening helps with those moments of terror when the plane lurches or banks. Knowing WHAT is happening helps take that fear away. Our Favorite YouTube Channel for this is Mentour Pilot, A thoroughly charming Gentleman who knows a lot about planes (he is a Pilot) and helps us understand what is happening and why you have nothing to fear!
For more Advanced Phobias of flying you need to seek professional assistance. Fear Of Flying Courses can do a great job of helping you overcome your fears, and really they are a more in-depth version of what we discussed, just helping you understand there just is nothing to fear in reality.
12 – Layers
Look, we have given up trying to understand the logic and mechanics behind an aircraft’s Aircon system and what it is that causes the pilots to Freeze or Roast the passengers and Cabin Crew. But they will. It’s never a nice temp. They are either slow cooking you like a texas BBQ or flash freezing you like Alaskan cod. We don’t know why so you just need to deal with it.
The best way is lots of layers. If it’s warm take some off, if it’s roasting take them all off. If the Pilot decides it’s winter you can pile them on and use a blanket. Similarly, this works well at the other end too. We rarely fly to somewhere with a similar climate so layers help you deal with the hot or cold at your destination too.
13 – Wash
It’s amazing what a little freshen-up can do to how you are feeling. A mid-flight clean-up has other benefits two. Planes are generally pretty unhygienic, so a nice wash mid-flight helps stop the bacteria from building up. It’s obviously nice to not smell for your fellow passengers, and guess what, it helps break things up! After several hours stewing in your seat a nice wash and freshen up really help make you feel a million dollars. amenity
Wet Wipe or Baby Wipes ate NOT classed as liquid so these are your best bet. A mini Toothbrush and paste in your hand luggage help freshen up your mouth and breath too. Just head to the bathroom. Strip off a little wipe down your unmentionable parts then allow yourself to dry naturally in the breeze from the air-con.
Do not underestimate this. It can be like pushing the reset button on the flight. From tired, crabby, and had enough to a new person in 5 minutes!
14 – Make Sure you have what you NEED
And we mean NEED not want. People focus so much on making sure they have everything they want on a flight they forget the basics of what they need. We are talking about medicines, Allergy tablets, painkillers, heartburn relief, tissues, hygiene products, even tissues! This category is very extensive but you really know what things you need to get through a day, and what can strike you down without warning. If you are prone to something you can be damn sure it will strike at 30,000 ft in a crowded metal tube.
Make sure you have anything you might need for an extended amount of time. And remember prescription medications are exempt from Liquid regulations when accompanied by a doctor’s note or prescription. Also, it’s always advisable when traveling to have a repeat prescription, in case something happens to your medicine so you can get a replacement easily. Still, we do not advise trying to take a large amount of any medicine in your carry-on, a 5 day supply should be enough, in case your main bag goes missing. Remember if a security agent decides it’s not going on a flight, it’s not. They cannot always be reasoned with.
Still a smoker? You will probably benefit from some nicotine replacement therapy (Patches, Gum). Your withdrawal will start at arrival at the airport and not end until you leave. It’s a long time.
15 – Avoid Dry Airways
The air in a pressurized airplane is incredibly dry. This quickly dries out your sinuses, through and nose. Having very dry airways is quite unpleasant and anything you can do to keep these moist is very welcome. One of the best ways is to stay hydrated, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to avoid alcohol…Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
Saline Nasal Sprays help keep things moist, but remember to check the Size is less than 3.4oz/100ml. We tend to just use misting bottles with freshwater in them to keep things simple. Failing this a warm damp cloth draped over the nose for a minute or two brings humid moist relief. If necessary use the hot tap from the bathroom to moisten a cloth or even a paper towel.
If you can, Fly on a 787 Dreamliner, the lower altitude cabin pressure means this is much less of an issue. It’s also not a problem for some. Kate never has any issue at all whereas My nasal passages are drier than the Sahara after an hour or two in the air.
16 – Yes, you can ask for drinks…or snacks
This comes from being British, we don’t like to be a nuisance but it’s perfectly ok to ask for another drink or snack outside of the scheduled services. Either by pressing the call button or better still getting up and going to the galley. We always advise getting up as this helps with tip number 8 – Moving.
During scheduled services, it is also not uncommon or frowned upon to ask for two drinks. Depending on circumstances, this may be denied. Maybe stocks are quite tight or another service is planned very soon, but it will not be considered an unreasonable request. The Cabin Crew is there for your comfort, so they will oblige any request they deem reasonable. They are also there for your safety and the safety and comfort of others so don’t be surprised or annoyed if they refuse requests for alcohol if you are already quite far gone.
Finally, you have landed and the whole horrific Saga is over…not quite, let’s look at surviving the disembark, immigration, and the next few days of Jet Lag.
17 – don’t rush
Just because you have arrived at the gate does not mean you are nearly there. It can be another 10-15 mins till the doors open and the plane empties up until your seat of the plane. Everyone jumps up grabs their bags and gets ready. And just stands there, often in awkward positions due to the overhead bins and excess of people. We just stay seated rolling our eyes until we see the people in front actually moving.
18 – Nearly there but one BIG hurdle to go
Immigration…Urgh. There is not much we can say to help here. When you are met with a wall of people and slow-moving lines when you are meters away from getting out of the airport after 12 hours of hell it is incredibly frustrating. But there is nothing you can do to change it. Go to a happy place and just wait, redemption is nearly there. And remember your bag probably hasn’t got to the conveyer anyway…
19 – Power through Jet Lag
The temptation to remain on your time zone is quite strong, but it’s essential you start getting onto the time zone in your current location as quickly as possible. This starts as soon as you are off the plane. If you have traveled west it can be very strange for the sun to still be shining even though your body clock is saying it’s midnight. The temptation after a long day is to call it a night, pull the curtains, and hit the sack. DON’T. Power through the tiredness, stay outside enjoy the evening, and pack as much into this first day as possible. Once night does fall, stay up as late as possible.
Going East is harder, yet lag is more pronounced and you may have just endured a 3/4 hour night, with almost no sleep. Again the best option is to power through. That night has gone and you can’t sleep until the next evening. This will be hard and that first day can be a blur of tiredness and grumpiness. But the sooner you correct the jet lag the faster it clears.
20 – Jet lag sucks but USE IT
Ever wanted to get up super early to see the sunrise in a picture-perfect location but the thought of a 4 AM alarm call sends chills down your spine? When heavily jetlagged this is no issue, you will be up anyway. It is such a surreal feeling to be up and wide awake during the early silent hours of the day. Don’t lie in bed fighting it get up and enjoy these beautiful parts of the day. A sunrise run in central park, See the Sunrise above the clouds on top of a Volcano, Watch the Fog blow of the Golden Gate Bridge at first light, See the homeless cower from the freezing wind in Seatle…actually, scrap that last one.
Jet Lag fades by about only an hour a day so even well into the trip you can still be using it to your advantage to get up and at the day when everyone else is still snoozing. Be the first to attractions, hit the theme parks at rope drop, or get a head start on the hordes for your road trip. Kate is a world-class sleeper and getting her up before 10 pm for anything other than work is a hard task, but when loaded up with jetlag we can up and away before the sun has risen and really get a jump on things!
Traveling east is less useful, but it’s perfect for exploring the late nightlife in places while other people are heading for bed you can still be out and about getting access to landmarks and attractions well after the crowds have dispersed.
Bonus – ENJOY YOUR TRIP!
Reading this Article can make air travel so utterly laborious and hard work it’s not worth traveling at all. We don’t mean it to be this way. We do for the most part enjoy our plane trips. Even now as we are well versed in the practice and the novelty has completely worn off it is still fun and exciting. To see the world from up at 30,000+ feet is a stunning sight and not one even pilots really tire of. When the weather and the routes are good and we cruise over the Greenland Icecaps and Nova Scotia. As we pass over the Arctic tundra of northern Canada and sail effortlessly over the Rockies it is all so beautiful and a stark reminder of how small we are and how big this world is.
Sure by the end we are tired and our tempers frayed, but this minor inconvenience is enabling us to see the things we always dreamed of and experience the places we dreamt of visiting and doing the things we never thought we would actually do. Air travel for all its annoyances and bugbears is one of the most wonderful things we as people have invented.
Have Your Say
Let us know your tips and tricks to survive Air Travel? Do you have a particular issue and a certain way to resolve it? Have any of our tips worked for you in the past? Or did you try something with no luck? Whatever it is you have to say just drop us a comment below, or if you have any questions again just fire away.