10 top tips to survive a long-haul flight

The longest flight in the world is currently Emirate’s Dubai to Auckland, NZ route, clocking in at 17 hours and 15 minutes. That’s a long time to be sat in the same seat. Add to that the fact that you’re surrounded by hundreds of strangers, packed into a relatively small space, and long-haul flights can seem pretty unappealing. Unfortunately, they’re often the only realistic way to get from A to B, so nine times out of ten we just put up with it.

However, there are some good tips on how to survive a long flight: from what to do to what to wear on a long flight – if you plan and pack well, your double digits in the sky might not be all that bad. Read on to discover our top ten long-haul flight tips.

1. The obvious

When you're in this seat, you might want the flight to last a little longer

When you’re in this seat, you might want the flight to last a little longer

Get an upgrade! Either splash out on a class or two (or three!) above, or try your luck with our top ten tips to get a free upgrade. The extra space, the better food and the flat bed in business can make all the difference to a long haul flight; you’ll enjoy the flight more, chances are your sleep quality will improve, and you’ll arrive at your destination feeling all the fresher for it.

2. Book smart

If you don’t manage to get yourself that lovely upgrade, think before you book your seat.

If you sit near the bulkheads, you won’t have a seat in front of you, but you also won’t have any space for your carry on (at least during take off and landing). Many airlines use bulkheads for bassinet space as well, meaning you might be sharing your precious space with a baby. Bag a seat at the back, and you’ll have easy access to the galley to do your exercises and be social with the crew (if they’ve got the time), but note that being behind the engines means more noise.

If you’re a couple, a good trick is to book the window and aisle seat. The chances of someone booking the middle seat are much reduced – unless of course the flight is full. If someone does book the seat, it’s likely that they’ll be very happy to move to either aisle or window.

3. Dress well

Gone are the days when people would don their finest attire in order to fly. Everyone and their grandma’s at it today, so don’t worry about what other people are thinking – worry about your comfort.

What you’re wearing depends ultimately on where you are flying from, and where you are flying to, but the microclimate in airplanes can often vary greatly, which only complicates things. The answer? Layers. Lovely loose layers that can be taken off and on without too much hassle.

Don’t forget to pack an extra set of clothing to help you feel fresh. This could be a change of underwear and new t-shirt, a full set of clothing, or a set of pyjamas to wear on the plane.

4. Drinks

For the love of all things good and pure – pack water (just make sure you buy it after security). Stuff a couple of bottles (in the side pouches of your new and incredibly handy carry on bag), pack one inside, and have one in your hand. Yes, you can get free water on the flight, but it comes in what resembles a large thimble and you’ll have to wait until the crew have the time.

Humidity on flights drops to below 20% – a typical home is around 30% – and your body will suffer unless your replenish it with H2O. Caffeine and booze will only dehydrate you more, but as you are on holiday, it can be hard to resist that one free drink you’ll be offered. Drink it by all means – but before you doze off, down a couple of glasses of water. You’ll thank yourself when you wake up.

5. What to eat

Did you remember to pack the snacks?

Did you remember to pack the snacks?

A funny thing happens to your taste buds when you’re high in the sky. The combination of extremely low humidity and low pressure reduces the sensitivity of your little buds up to 30%. Add to that the fact that your sense of smell also drops significantly, and we’re left with a pretty poor experience when it comes to food.

Airlines do their best to combat this by packing their food with a hefty punch of spices and salt, but combined with our diminishing senses, it’s hard to turn reheated, mass-produced food into something we’d choose to have again. More often than not, we’re left with a meal low on protein and veg, but high on carbs and sugar (although one study found that carb-rich food actually makes it easier to cope with jet lag). The good thing is you are allowed to bring your own food, so be sure to stock up on healthy snacks, such as fruit, nuts and even some jerky to keep your system ticking over on long-haul flights.

6. Entertainment

If you’re lucky, you can get some pretty good films and TV programmes on a long-haul flight. From classic films to brand new blockbusters, you can easily pass a few hours staring at the screen, but after a while even the most die-hard film fan can get weary eyes.

To give yourself a break, try bringing other forms of entertainment, such as a book, or an ereader (invaluable when you’re travelling for a long time – books can take up a lot of space!). Even changing from films and TV to the inflight game options can help break up the monotony.

If you’re picky about what you watch, make sure you’ve got enough to watch on your tablet or phone – and pack a powerbank!

Read more: Check out our travelling checklist in 21 handy tips

7. Get out of that seat

It might be tempting to sit and watch films for 17 hours, but it’s probably not a good idea. At high altitude we’re all in danger of developing DVT (deep vein thrombosis), a blood clot caused by blood flowing too slowly through a vein, which can go on to cause life-threatening illnesses.

A very easy way of tackling this is to get out of your seat, and move around: walk around the cabin, head to the galley and do some squats, stand on your tiptoes and rock up and down – you get the idea. Compression socks can also help increase blood flow and help reduce swelling. Not only will you significantly reduce the chances of DVT, you’ll also be able to put your shoes on when you land.

8. Pack wisely

A good neck pillow can be your new best friend

A good neck pillow can be your new best friend

First of all: get a good bag – preferably one with lots of compartments and zips. Think carefully about what you pack and where you pack it.  Neck pillow, earplugs and eye mask are essential for decent sleep; a spare set of clothing will help you arrive feeling fresh; toothbrush and toothpaste will do wonders when waking up; and moisturiser and lip balm will help keep you from shedding your skin completely.

Given that most of the time you have to fold your body double and almost break your neck to get anything out of your bag, you should make sure that the things you’ll need most often are at the top – or ideally in a separate pocket – so you don’t have to take everything out to find that one earplug at the bottom.

Read more: Check out the top 10 travel gadgets you need to own

9. Plan the flight

It can sometimes help to break down the flight. Instead of thinking of it as 17 long hours, try to set shorter markers along the way. For example, if you’re on that 17-hour flight, you could put two of those hours away for take-off and landing, leaving you with 15 hours. Then there’s a couple of meals – another two hours – so you’re at 13. With seven hours sleep, you’re down to six hours. A couple of films and some exercise and bob’s your uncle – you’re there.

If you’re not a big sleeper, or have something you’ve been meaning to do for a long time, try to see if you can work that in. Letter writing, a presentation or that novel you’ve been meaning to write – there’s no better place.

So while everyone else struggles off the plane, bleary-eyed and hunched over, you can revel in your freshness, and perhaps a little smugness. Just remember to have the same plan of attack for the flight back!

10. Be normal

Just because you’re 35,000 feet in the air, doesn’t mean you get to be a slob. In fact, if anything you should be even more aware of your personal hygiene – after all, you’re very close to a lot of people.

Wash your face (moisturise after – even if you don’t back on ground level), brush your teeth, use deodorant, change your underwear and generally – be normal! It’ll help you smell better, look better, and feel a whole lot more normal when you land.

Some people swear by ‘destination time’ – as soon as you get on the plane, change your watch to destination time and start living by that time, even if it does mean going to sleep as soon as you’re on board.

Hungry for inspiration? Check out our 14 ways to accomplish your travel goals in 2016. After all, long-haul flights aren’t anything to be worried about anymore. Right?