Long haul flights. 10+ hours sitting in a tin can that’s hurling its way across the sky. Just reading that can make some people shudder and think twice about booking that trip. The longest non-stop flight, between Dallas and Sydney, currently tops out at 17 hours. Yikes! Unless you’ve got the money to sit in the pods of envy (aka Business Class) or you get upgraded (hurray!), you’re sitting in Economy with the rest of us plebs. No matter which way you cut it, long haul flights suck. But they are a reality when travelling to certain destinations.
To date, I’ve been on 9 long haul flights (12+ hrs) and most recently tackled my longest flight yet, 15.5 hrs between Toronto and Hong Kong. Sadly, they don’t seem to get any easier but I’ve developed a pretty good routine to make them manageable (there’s more to consider than which movies you’re going to watch). Below are my tips on how to survive long haul flights.
What to Wear on Long Haul Flights
Before even setting foot on the plane, think about what you’re going to wear. To survive that long in an aircraft, you’ll want to wear something that is comfortable and made of material that will breathe. The last thing you want is to get 3 hours into a flight and your pants are already chaffing or causing you swamp butt (yes that’s a thing, think about it). Forget about making a fashion statement. Unless you’re Beyoncé, no one will be taking your photo when you get off the plane. Planes are also notorious for being on the cooler side, so make sure to dress in layers so you can add/remove clothing to suit your body temperature.
Window or Aisle Seat?
Ah yes, the old ‘are you a window or aisle seat’ debate. Definitely give this one some thought. Most long haul flights have 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 seating combinations in Economy. If you tend to go to the bathroom often, consider getting an aisle seat so you can avoid having to crawl over your neighbour(s) or waking them up. I’m generally a ‘window’ gal but I actually prefer the aisle seat for long haul flights. I can get up and stretch whenever I want and if I have a connecting flight to catch, I can get off the plane a little quicker.
Set Up Your Seat Area
Now that you’re on the plane, it’s time to get your 1.5 x 1.5 square foot space you’ll call home for the next 10+ hours organized. As soon as I get to my seat, I like to place all the items I’m going to need the most in the seat pocket in front of me. This usually includes earplugs, eye mask, ear buds, water bottle, Kleenex, lip balm, and gum. I then leave the rest in my carry-on bag under the seat in front of me for easy access.
Distractions, Distractions, Distractions
The trick to surviving long haul flights is distracting yourself from the fact that you’re 35,000 feet in the air, breathing in recycled air, for an ungodly length of time. The more varied the distractions, the faster the time will go by. My go-to distraction of choice is always watching movies. It’s incredible the amount of bad movies I can watch on planes. In-seat entertainment systems have become quite advanced and most airlines offer TV shows, audio playlists, and even games on top of the usual movie choices. Other great distractions include books, newspapers, crosswords, iPods or the like, and whatever the latest Candy Crush-like game-craze is. Lately, I’ve found long haul flights are the perfect time to get work done. I’m stuck in this seat so I might as well be productive while I’m at it. Yes, as you may have guessed, I wrote this article on that recent 15.5 hour flight from Toronto to Hong Kong somewhere over the Arctic.
Sleep that Flight Away
Nothing passes the time faster than sleeping that flight away. Is it comfortable? Not in the least. But I’ve learned a few tricks that have worked for me over the years. Recline the seat as far back as it’ll go (which isn’t much), put the pillow behind your lower back for support, place the blanket over your legs, squeeze the flaps on your headrest together to prop your head against, pop in those earplugs and slide down that eye mask. I also hug an inflatable neck brace to give my arms some support and use a bunched up shawl for extra neck support. I personally don’t find neck pillows comfortable around my neck. You may choose to medically help your ability to sleep but that’s entirely up to you. I’m always impressed with people who can fall asleep before take off and stay out for the majority of the flight. Flying goals.
Get Up and Stretch
It’s really, really important to make sure you’re getting up to stretch and move around throughout the flight. This helps with blood circulation and makes sitting for that length of time a bit more manageable. Whenever I go to the washroom (which tends to be often) I usually to do a lap of the cabin. I’ll also take about 5-10 minutes to hang out at the back of the plane. I can look out the window or chat for a few minutes with the flight attendants.
Aircrafts are extremely dry, so drink plenty of water on the plane. Sure the alcohol might be free but things will go a lot smoother if you’re hydrated (it also helps you get over jet lag quicker too). Pack an empty water bottle in your carry on and fill it up at the gate before boarding your plane. Throughout the flight, don’t be afraid to ask a flight attendant to refill your bottle. I’ve also seen people bring travel coffee mugs and their own tea bags and get hot water from one of the attendants – a great idea for my next long-haul flight.