The Ultimate Survival Guide for Long-Haul Flights in Economy

There’s so much world to explore, but unfortunately, being a keen traveler means you inevitably have to take a lot of long-haul flights. I’ve had my fair share of this horror. My first long-haul, flying from the Philippines to Israel, it took us a total of 14 hours with 3 hours layover. Restless sleep, dry awful skin, aching body … and the best part? Jet-lag waiting to be served up fast and cold when you land. Bottomline: Long-haul flights are exhausting and a brutal test of endurance – more so when you’re flying economy!

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There’s so much world to explore, but unfortunately, being a keen traveler means you inevitably have to take a lot of long-haul flights. I’ve had my fair share of this horror. My first long-haul, flying from the Philippines to Israel, it took us a total of 14 hours with 3 hours layover. Restless sleep, dry awful skin, aching body … and the best part? Jet-lag waiting to be served up fast and cold when you land. Bottomline: Long-haul flights are exhausting and a brutal test of endurance – more so when you’re flying economy!

Here are tips on how to survive that epic journey without losing your mind, or your cool.

PRE-FLIGHT PREPARATION

Choose the Right Seat
When I started flying I had a preference for the window seat to watch the destinations from above and take pictures. I still prefer the window seat for short flights. However, on long-haul flights, the view (usually) doesn’t matter, comfort and convenience is and picking a seat should be your top priority. If you’re flying alone and you can choose your seats, I strongly recommend an aisle seat. You will definitely need to visit the bathroom multiple times during the flight, and you don’t want to have to be squeezing past your fellow passengers to relieve your bladder.

Note: Avoid bulkhead seats or those in front of exit rows. The former won’t have storage space for your carry-on, and the latter won’t recline.

Bring All of the Essential Toiletries
When it comes to long-haul journeys, there are certain travel-sized toiletries you should always have in your carry-on. When deciding which toiletries are essential, bring anything that will help you feel cleaner and more refreshed.

  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Personal/ facial wipes
  • Moisturizer
  • Deodorant
  • Lotion
  • Lip balm
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Panty liners

Pack a Change of Clothing
I like to keep an extra pair of leggings, top, and a few underwear in my carry-on bag just in case my luggage gets lost, delayed, or if I accidentally spill something on myself.

Note: Don’t forget to bring a scarf! Even though this likely pertains more to female travelers than male travelers, a scarf comes in pretty handy on a flight since it can be used as a fashion accessory, a blanket, and even lumbar support. Even expert travelers swear by them.


Bring Your own Entertainment
While many airlines these days offer personal screen entertainment, we never rely on it fully. Sure, there might be 1 or even 2 movies you want to watch, but if you are flying for 10+ hours that’s not going to be enough to keep you entertained.

If you’re like me, you love to read, but just can’t squeeze reading into your busy schedule. Long-haul flights are the perfect opportunity to dive into a great book — or maybe a few!

If you’re traveling with an iPad or a tablet, download a few episodes (or even a whole season) of your favorite Netflix show or maybe something you’ve been wanting to binge on for a while. Pack a good pair of headphones too! 

Charge Your Gadgets and Bring Extra Power Bank
Traveling drains your gadget’s battery — while you’re waiting, you’re probably playing games, texting, or checking weather, traffic, or delays. Make sure your gadgets are fully charged before you leave, or, bring some extra juice in the form of a power bank.

Note: A lot of airplanes have in-seat USB ports where you can charge your phone or tables so be sure to bring USB plugs.

Bring Some Snacks
Yes there is food on the plane, but what if you don’t like it? Or the breaks between meals are too long and you get hungry? It’s just easier to bring some snacks with you that you know you will like. Besides, airport shops are notoriously known for ripping off travelers with overly inflated prices so your best choice is to stock up on snacks before even arriving to the airport.

Bring a Pen
If you’re flying internationally, chances are you’ll be required to fill out customs and immigration forms. Instead of being rejected by the flight attendant or getting nasty looks as you ask everyone around you for a pen, make sure to carry one yourself and keep it handy.

Note: A simple ball-point pen would be safe to bring.

FLIGHT DAY

ON THE AIRPORT
Be on Time

As a general rule, arrive at the airport no later than two hours before your domestic flight is scheduled to depart. This is somewhat later than the typical suggestion of three hours for an international flight. Arriving two hours in advance gives you time to find the correct place to check in for your flight, wait in line there, wait in the security line, and deal with any complications that arise as you go through security.

Stay Active While You’re at the Airport
Walk around and explore the airport a bit before getting on the plane. I like checking out stores while I wait for flights but be sure to be aware of your boarding time. Besides, you have many hours of sitting down once you’re on the plane, make the most of not being stuck in a seat while you can.

ON THE AIRPLANE
Wear Comfortable Clothes
Comfort is what we’re going for, people. For women, that means comfy leggings or yoga pants, a flowy top, a sweater or cardigan, and some sneakers. For men, some nice sweatpants, a t-shirt, a hoodie, and some sneakers will do the trick.

Go Makeup-Free.
Use the flight time to give your skin a break. Skip foundation, eye makeup, and the rest of the works so they’re not sitting on your skin throughout your long-haul flight. I myself do not use make up often but I put at least powder and lipstick whenever I go out. I ditched both for an oil-free moisturizer and a lip balm since I wont be going anywhere anytime soon.

Set Your Watch to the Local Time Immediately
If you think Jet Lag is bad, let me tell you that Pre-Jet Lag is definitely worse since during the plane, you’re basically stuck between many time-zones at once. So time your sleep cycle to avoid jet lag. There is no easy cure for jet lag, but the best solution is to synchronize your flight with your sleep cycle.

Stay Hydrated
I cannot stress enough how critical it is to drink tons of water before, during, and after your flight. Drinking more water will help you fight jet lag, increase your energy, help prevent headaches and dry skin, and aid digestive health.

Note: I recommend bringing a large empty water bottle with you through security then filling it up once you are on the plane. When the flight attendants come around giving out water, I ask them to fill up my entire water bottle, rather than drinking from a plastic cup (which I think is wasteful).

Keep Your Alcohol Intake to a Minimum
I am guilty of this. 😛 Alcohol makes me fall asleep more easily after but even though it is a depressant, it can act as a stimulant for the first few hours after you drink it, which means it might actually keep you up. It also causes dehydration because it is a diuretic, which means it causes the body to pass more liquid through urination. Staying hydrated is top priority if you want to combat jet lag.

Get Up and Move
It is very important to stretch ever so often, maybe walk around the aisle a bit, say hi to the stewardess and ask for some water – whatever – but just don’t sit 10 hours straight in your seat and not leave it once. This is where the advantage of having an aisle seat comes in – being able to get up and move around whenever you like.

Note: Using compression socks are important because they increase your blood circulation while flying, and they also reduce the risk of swollen, painful ankles, and in extreme cases, blood clotting.

Brush Your Teeth. Seriously.
One of the easiest ways to freshen up and feel refreshed is by brushing your teeth. Not only will a clean mouth, but it can also help prepare you for a snooze on the plane. A relaxing routine — such as brushing your teeth — lets your body know that it’s time for sleep.

Sleep
Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but boarding the plane relatively rested is key. Don’t plan on using the flight as a way to catch up on your sleep (unless you are one of the lucky few who has no problem sleeping in an upright position).

Bring a Neck Pillow
Invest in quality neck pillows like AERIS Travel Pillow. Sure, they’re not the hottest accessory out there, but your neck will thank you. Plus, being physically comfortable will improve your general well being, and is likely to help you sleep.

Stay Away from the Light
The animated flash of movie screens, reading lights, cabin lights, sunlight bursting in on an eastbound flight—all can disturb your slumber. Get yourself an eye mask. Some airlines provide them, but it’s best to keep one in your traveling kit just to be safe.

Use Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Sometimes, when you’re flying, all you want is a bit of peace and quiet, and a chance to catch some sleep. While this may not be possible with normal headphones, noise cancelling headphones are an entirely different proposition. With there. you can block out that external humdrum and enjoy total tranquility. They’re a bit pricey but they’re definitely worth investing.

Be Nice to the Crew
This should go without saying, but the flight attendants and pilots (even the ground crews) deserve your respect, so be nice to them. Inevitably something will go wrong during your flight. Even if everything is perfect, smile and be nice to the flight attendant. Say hi and smile. Don’t complain.

So far this has gotten me:
– Drinks from first class (thanks Turkish Air)
– Unlimited ice cream (thanks Japan Airlines)
– Invitations to move to an empty row of seats (thanks again, Japan Airlines)

They have the power to make your flight incredibly pleasant. Or to get you arrested upon landing. You also have the power to make their life more pleasant, at least for one day. 🙂

SURVIVING LAYOVERS

Cut Costs by Avoiding Spending Money at Airports
All concessions inside the airports (shops, cafes, restaurants) are extremely expensive (especially departure side, about four times more expensive than in the city). This is where our handle water bottles come into play. We use these and fill up at water fountains so we don’t need to buy bottled water. Eating at cafe and restaurants are also expensive. So it is wise to bring your own snacks.

Sleep.
It’s never pretty sleeping at the airport, but it is possible to catch a few hours of quality shut-eye in the terminal. If it’s an overnight layover, it is better to book a hotel where you can relax and maybe get a hot shower. If it’s a short layover, stay near the gates or the boarding area. Make sure that you’re able to hear the announcements. You don’t want to miss your flight!

What are some of your long-flight travel tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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