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10 tips to survive long-haul flights in comfort

How do you survive a long-haul flight? Let us weigh in on the do’s and don’ts, how to sleep through a long flight, what travel essentials you need onboard, and other must-knows for getting through that dreaded 10-hour flight. Follow these tips and you’ll avoid aching legs and breaching flight etiquettes.

1. Wear the right clothes

Grumpy man in pyjamas.
You don’t have to appear at the airport looking like this. Bring a comfy set of clothes with you so you can change on the flight.

This one’s a no-brainer – you wouldn’t want a scratchy sweater or tight pants on for 10 hours straight any time, much less in the confines of an airplane seat. But if the thought of appearing at the airport in your pyjamas or gym wear makes you break out in cold sweat, pack a comfortable set of clothes in your carry-on so you can slip out of your fashionable airport outfit once the cabin lights are dimmed.

2. Get a good seat

Airline seats
Picking a good seat for your long-haul flight is more important than you think.

On a long red-eye flight, the option of having something to lean your head against or the ability to stretch your legs can feel like an absolutely priceless privilege. You don’t always have to pay top-dollar for these advantages, though – with a little planning, you can maximise your chances of scoring the cushy window or bulkhead seats at no extra cost.

First and foremost, if given the option to pick your seat when booking your flight, do so wisely. This first seat blocking, however, is not always set in stone, especially in the event of an aircraft change. To further secure your desired seat, be sure to check-in at the earliest possible opportunity. Online check-in would usually be made available 48-72 hours before departure, and you’ll want to be one of the first few to log-in so you can have your choice of the good seats. Lastly, get to the airport nice and early so you can confirm your seat at the airport check-in counter.

Read more: The science behind an airline flight upgrade

3. Pack right

Keep your flight essentials in a bag that you can store under the seat in front of you.

Imagine huffing, puffing and sweating to squeeze your carry-on baggage up into the overhead compartment, only to realise upon take-off that you’ve left your headphones up there with it. Now you’ve got to crawl over your seatmates, open the compartment, drag the bag down, remove the headphones and repeat in reverse. Not the best way to start the flight.

To avoid this nightmare scenario, make sure that your in-flight belongings are separated into two bags: one for storing in the overhead compartment and the other for keeping under the seat in front of you.

4. Go to sleep

A neck pillow and eye mask go a long way towards making sleep happen on the plane.

Nothing makes 10 uncomfortable hours stuck in a cramped seat melt away like being unconscious does. While wearing your comfiest clothes will most definitely help in the falling asleep department, sometimes that’s not enough – so enter the plane armed with all your sleep-inducing gear. A good neck pillow, eye mask and noise-cancelling earphones will feel like blessings from above when you can’t get good head support, or when the neighbouring babies won’t stop crying.

Read more: 10 things banned from your carry-on luggage

5. Bring some food

In-flight meal
Don’t count on one of these arriving exactly when you need it. Bring some food with you just in case.

Even if in-flight meals will be provided on your long-haul flight, keeping some of your favourite snacks on hand won’t hurt. You never know when time-zone-crossing hunger pangs will keep you awake at inconvenient hours, and eating on your own clock also means you can afford to skip in-flight meals for longer chunks of undisturbed sleep.

6. Don’t stay rooted to your seat

Children running
While such exuberant exercise will get you in trouble on the flight, an occasional walk up and down the plane aisles is easy to get away with.

Though you should technically stay seated the entire duration of your flight, this is one time you can seek to circumvent in-flight instructions. Taking a short sojourn up and down the aisle every few hours or so won’t hurt anyone. On top of that, it will facilitate healthy blood circulation and prevent the health risks of long-haul flights, such as deep vein thrombosis, or even just that general feeling of uncomfortable stiffness.

7. Don’t burn yourself out

Put down your laptop! Instead, have a cold drink, gaze out at the fluffy clouds beyond and give your mind a well-deserved break on your long-haul flight.

Workaholics intending to catch up on paperwork onboard long-haul flights must be applauded for their discipline, but when your body is being put through the high-altitude grinder, it may be better to simply relax and opt for some leisurely entertainment instead. Allocate perhaps a quarter of your flight time for productive work, but be sure to give yourself plenty of time to unwind and relax as well – you’re less likely to be able to drift off into a pleasant dreamless sleep when your head is buzzing with figures and bar graphs.

8. Remain hydrated

A bottle of water.
Carry a bottle of water onboard so you don’t need to press the ‘call’ button every time you need a drink.

Recycled plane air is best known for two things: its characteristic smell and its dryness. Because you’re likely to dehydrate just interacting with that air, be sure to drink plenty of water and bring moisturiser onboard to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. Avoiding diuretic beverages like caffeinated drinks (that includes soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi) and alcohol will help your body retain whatever water it has, and also prevent you from having to visit the WC uncomfortably often.

9. Make friends with fellow flyers

An airplane aisle with people seated on either side.
All it takes is a simple conversation to break the ice.

Human beings are naturally social creatures, and being in close proximity with one another for long periods with zero interaction is, in essence, a highly unnatural phenomenon. Break the glass barrier between you and your seatmate simply by striking a conversation or introducing yourself at the start of the flight. You may be surprised at how friendly your fellow flyers are, given the right opportunity, and you might even make some new friends along the way.

10. Pick a satisfactory airline

Do your homework on airlines before buying your plane tickets.

At the end of the day, the one factor that can make or break a long-haul flight is the airline you’re flying with. Do your research beforehand so you know what to expect from different airlines in terms of seat pitch, in-flight meals, layovers, service and baggage restrictions, and try to book a flight that satisfies your minimum criteria for all of that rather than simply the one with the cheapest ticket price. A little thought and planning could go a long way in converting a nightmarish flight experience into a pleasant start to your trip.

Read more: How to save more money on your next flight

Ready to fly? Book cheap flights, hotels and car rental via Skyscanner today, or download our free mobile app for easy browsing and booking on the go.

Published in Sep 2016 and last updated in Dec 2019. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.

Adapted from an article originally written by Laura Gavin for Skyscanner.