The long haul flight guide: 30 ways to survive

The dreaded long haul flight! It’s something that no-one looks forward to and some of us handle better than others. I absolutely hate them (which is probably why I love travel pillows so much).

I’ve picked up a few ways to survive and done a bit of research which I’ve cataloged below. Have a read through and let me know if you have any other tips and tricks and I’ll add them in! Let’s get the ball rolling….

headphones long haul flight

Bring the right accessories:

1. Bring a travel/neck pillow

This one goes without saying and I think is the most important tip of all (no surprises there!). If you’ve ever had the Travel Pillow envy you’ll know what I’m talking about. Staring at the snoring passenger next to you who is happily dreaming while cradling a travel pillow is a bad feeling.

Not only does it allow for you to fall asleep and replicate the feeling of being in your own bed, it also helps protect your neck and back from any damage. Avoid the stiffness, do your research, read some of our reviews and choose a decent travel pillow. Check out our top ten Travel Pillows here

2. Bring a lumbar pillow

Almost as important (or even more for some) is the inclusion of a lumbar pillow. Airplane seats are not the most comfortable of seats at the best of times. You’d be surprised at how much incorrect posture can affect stress in your back, legs and neck. There are plenty of lumbar pillows on the market to choose from. If you run out of time however, a rolled up jacket or blanket will have to do. We really love the Thermarest Travel Pillow for lumbar support.

3. Bring comfortable, noise-cancelling headphones

You will be shocked at the difference noise-cancelling headphones make. I still remember the first time I tried my friends pair and it was like being transported to another world. Noise-cancelling headphones are a godsend and effectively cut out 99% of the world around you. Make sure they are comfortable and sturdy as there is a good chance you will fall asleep with the hubbub of the airplane noise completely gone. Cowin make some great quality, affordable noise cancelling headphones.

4. Bring good quality ear plugs.

Don’t have the cash to shell out for headphones? Easy, get some ear plugs instead. Make sure you install them in your ears properly and you have a great way to separate yourself from the crying babies in the seat behind you. The good thing about ear plugs is that they are small enough that you can position your head in a comfortable position. If you’re wearing bulky headphones it’s a bit harder to manouevre into bliss.

Ear plugs are lightweight, cheap and easy to use in many situations. If you can’t find a pair in a hurry, ask a friend who works construction. People that work in loud trades often have a few fresh pairs lying around.

5. Bring an eye mask

The old tried and true eye mask! Although for some people it’s not the most comfortable (or flattering) but eye masks are great in a pinch. They help block out the light and guide you into a relaxed sleep. They also help your body keep in touch with the timezone it’s operating on. By blocking out the light they can trick your brain into forgetting the sun is shining through the window. Mmuss make an awesome eye mask with headphones wired in. They are made from memory foam and velvet.

6. Bring a lightweight blanket

It’s luck of the draw with airlines. I’ve been on some flights where it seemed as if the air conditioning was broken (I’m looking at you Turkish Airways!). I’ve also been on flying icicles that seem to think freezing to death is the norm. A thin, specially designed travel blanket works really well to keep you warm and snug. They are incredibly compact so even if you don’t use it, there should be plenty real estate left in your bag. World’s Best make a decent blanket for a great price.

On top of being a temperature controller, the blanket also serves to imitate that feeling of being at home and in bed. The more you can imitate that feeling, the quicker you’ll find yourself drifting off.

7. Bring a power bank

More and more airports are including docking stations in their gate lounges. The problem is, more and more people are carrying more than one device. Long haul flights especially are a good reason to bring a back up power bank. As soon as you run out of battery on your device you’ve potentially lost half of your entertainment options for the flight.

Do be careful though, some power banks have been banned with certain airlines. Most recently, 20,000mAh was the limit to take on board due to the li-ion batteries potentially explosive nature. If you have to, take more than one! Check out Power Bank Expert for some good reviews.

Don’t forget to fully charge all your devices before you leave too. Walking onto a plane with 5% on your phone is a rookie error.

8. Bring comforting toiletries

Things like chapstick, hand moisturizer, sanitizer, a toothbrush and toothpaste can make a flight feel more like home. I always have this feeling that I haven’t showered in weeks after leaving a long haul flight. Bringing some creature comforts and doing things like brushing your teeth, washing your hands and face can give some relief. A quick splash of water and clean teeth can freshen you up for landing too and give your body the feeling that it has rested well.

9. Don’t take a huge carry on bag

The only things on your flight should be exactly what you need to survive. Hauling around a heavy suitcase in the terminal and onto the plane can be a nightmare. Even worse when you’re in the air and rifling around for a pen or headphones or whatever. I carry with a small backpack and a laptop bag. I keep all my electronics in my laptop bag and all my miscellaneous travel items in the back pack. That way I know where all my things are and they are easy to access.

sandwich long haul flight


10. Eat the right foods

Interestingly enough, a pressurized cabin takes away our sense of taste. About 1/3 of our tastebuds are rendered useless in high flying environments. There are a few rules to live by when on a flight and choosing your lmeals. Avoid heavy meals and avoid salty, sweet and calory rich foods. Carbs are your friend as they keep you full and help your body produce insulin which can aid in supressing jet lag. Try to avoid processed food and stay away from the junk before and during your flight.

11. BYO snacks

If the airline will allow it, stock up on nutritious, filling snacks before takeoff. Foods like nuts, hard boiled eggs and tuna will keep you filled up and avoid stomach issues.

12. Don’t eat too much

Apparently your body requires 5-10% less calories when in the air and eating too much can be your downfall. Avoid the discomfort of eating too much. Boredom can lead to oversnacking and this should be prevented when in the air. Your body has a harder time digesting food in these conditions so avoid fizzy drinks, onions an dairy products and stick to warmed up foods that are easy to digest.

13. Order your meal ahead of time

If you’re anything like me you’re always eyeing off the food tray as it makes it’s rounds to the people who pre-ordered. I always think to myself….why….why didn’t I pre-order my food! For bonus points, order a special meal. Vegetarian meals are healthier, have less chance of making you sick and will often be handed our first.

water long haul flight

Stay hydrated:

14. Drink water

It’s no secret that dehydration is a major factor when flying. Add this to the length of time spent on a long haul flight and you become a shriveled up prune. Drink water. Lots of water. More water than you think you need to. You know that feeling of being hungover when you walk off the plane at your holiday destination? This is dehydration. Don’t overdo it but drink 10-20% more water than you usually would at home. (Assuming you drink enough at home that is).

15. Avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks

Not only does coffee taste worse in airplanes, it also does you no favors. Caffeine is a dehydrator and will only escalate any lack of water your body is already experiencing. On top of that, coffee tastes worse in the air! Water boils at 90 degrees in a cabin which interferes with the natural brewing process. This can cause your coffee to taste bitter and bland. On top of this, coffee is a diuretic which means you’ll be running to the toilet every 30 minutes which is never fun on a plane.

16. Drink decaffeinated tea and sports drinks

Mint, ginger, chamomile and other herbal teas don’t contain caffeine and depending on which study you look at, can help ease stomach discomfort and help to de-stress your body. If you feel like a warm drink, forget the coffee and reach for the leaves! Sports drinks contain electrolytes which aid in re-hydration. If they aren’t on the menu, bring your own but opt for low or no sugar options.

17. Get your hands off that whisky!

It’s very tempting to have a drink or two on a flight, especially if you’re trying to nod off. Although I’ve been victim to the lure of an alcoholic beverage from time to time, it’s really not a great idea. Even though alcohol gives the appearance of relaxing your body, it also sets you up to fail. Alcohol interferes with your body when you’re sleeping and actually interrupts your deep sleep. You’ll wake up less rested, dehydrated and needing to use the toilet. Avoid at all costs.

scarf long haul flight

Watch what you wear:

18. Wear comfortable clothes

Honestly, no-one will judge your fashion sense in an airplane. Those tight leggings and itchy top that look great at the bar won’t fare well in the air. Wear loose, comfortable clothes that you have worn before. Avoid buying new clothes and wear what you’re familiar with. It’s important to try to emulate the same comforts you have at home. Wear clothes that breathe well and shoes that are easy to slip on and off.

19. Bring extra clothes

My philosophy is that I start off wearing the bare minimum and I add extra clothes if need be. A jacket, sweater, sweatpants and a scarf are all welcome additions to my attire. The last thing you want is to be too hot or too cold with nowhere to go. A scarf is another great addition and if it’s soft, you can use it as a cover for your headrest or travel pillow.

stretch long haul flight

Remember to stretch:

20. Do some stretching exercises and use correct posture

For us taller folk, stretching is a must. There are loads of simple stretching techniques you can employ while flying to keep your muscles loose. Not only does it help you avoid deep vein thrombosis but it also preps you for sleep and a relaxed ride. In terms of posture I use one technique which helps prevent a sore butt. When I’m sitting upright in my seat, I keep my feet planted as far under my seat as possible. For some reason this helps to alleviate the tired feeling on my glutes.

For more exercises check this article for some Airplane Yoga!

21. Get out of your seat and go for a walk

Another way to prevent deep vein thrombosis and insanity is to get up and walk around. You may look a little strange pacing up and down the walkways but a change of environment and a bit of blood circulation can be a godsend. Recommended every 2 hours or so.

entertainment long haul flight

Entertainment & apps:

22. Are you not entertained?

There’s a reason why book shops in airports flourish. Entertainment is essential for surviving a long haul flight. This is especially true for those of us who find it difficult to nod off without drugs. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, magazines, electronic games, puzzles and books can help keep us from wanting to jump out of the plane. Bring a wide array of options as the same book can be tiring after hours of reading.

23. Bring the right apps:

There are loads of apps available that help you relax and beat the inevitable boredom of hours in the sky.

  • Meditation apps: Meditation is an art and something you need to practice. Consider using these apps before your flight to get used to them. When you’re on the plane, use meditation as an effective time killer and relaxation tool.
  • Brain teaser apps: There are loads of these around and they are a great tool to keep the mind active and fresh. They also help to pass the time and offer a different form of entertainment to keep you occupied.
  • Games: Angry Birds anyone? Games are a great way to pass the time too. Make sure you have a few downloaded before you set off. It’s also wise to make sure that they don’t require an internet connection to work.
  • E-readers and Audiobooks: Forget lugging around a 600 page novel and download an e-reader instead. Better yet, use a dedicated E-reader that is better on your eyes and doesn’t take away precious battery life from your phone or tablet.
  • 24. Download some movies or TV shows before your flight

    Stick them on your tablet, phone or laptop and avoid being locked in to the in-flight entertainment. There’s nothing like a 6 hour back to back TV series binge to pass the time. Makes you nice and sleepy too!

    25. Get your podcast on

    If you’re not already a fan of podcasts, now is the time. Podcasts aren’t just great to listen to on the way to work or whilst doing a menial task. They are also an excellent source of entertainment on a flight. They don’t drain your cell battery a whole lot, they are non-obtrusive and let your eyes rest and they can be incredibly entertaining. I have fallen asleep with a podcast in my ears many times on flights.

    Make sure you download a wide range of podcasts. It’s also a good idea to start listening a week or so before your flight to get yourself engaged. This way you won’t be stuck with duds that don’t interest you.

    airplane long haul flight


    26. Window seat/aisle seat

    The debate continues to rage! Window seat or aisle seat. The aisle seat finds its support with those of us who pee a lot and like to stretch and move around. Sometimes I prefer the aisle seat on long hauls because it means I don’t have to bother the sleeping beauty in the seat next to me. I don’t sleep much on flights anyway so the occasional cart knocking my knee ain’t so bad. On the flip side, the window seat has the benefit of providing vertical support to rest on. This works well with many neck pillows and can be the difference between 1-2 hours and 8-9 hours of decent rest.

    27. Sit by the emergency exits

    In a lot of planes, the emergency exit seats provide an extra 2 feet of leg room. This can be a luxury in economy. Not only do you have more room but emergency seats also experience less turbulence as they are closer to the wing.

    28. Stay away from the front of the plane

    If you have the luxury of picking your own seat, avoid the immediate front. There is more chance of infants being seated at the front as this is where the baby equipment is stored. Less baby noise = more happiness.

    smile long haul flight

    Be nice

    29. Be nice to the cabin crew

    These guys put up with all sorts of nonsense from customers. Just remember, they are in it for the long haul too! Apart from just being a decent person, consider bringing them sweets or little gifts to get in their good books. You might get special treatment but if you don’t you’ll brighten their day anyway.

    30. Be nice to your neighbors

    It goes without saying. You are going to be stuck with the person next to you for half a day. Try to make a good impression okay? It’s important to respect your neighbor’s space and for him/her to respect yours. The last thing you want to do is create unnecessary conflict with your new plane buddy.

    There you have it – my 30 tips for a long haul flight. Follow these pearls of wisdom and avoid the dread of flying for an eternity. Remember to research your airlines before buying tickets and be well rested before your flight. And don’t forget your travel pillow!!!

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