How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

I. Hate. Flying. 

There’s something uniquely unpleasant about hurtling through the air in a big, metal germ-tube. It’s my least favourite part about travelling. I’ve taken over a hundred flights, including an annual 15-hour non-stop between Vancouver and Sydney. Here’s what I’ve learned about how to survive a long haul flight.

View of airplane seats from behind.
Stocksnap // Gus Ruballo

I have some friends who love to fly. I can’t relate, but they have a good point: it’s uninterrupted “you” time to watch movies, read, snack, and (maybe) sleep. I try to focus on the excuse to relax (mainly to keep my sanity), and make myself as comfortable as possible. These are my tried and true long haul flight tips to make your next journey a little easier.

Here’s a quick guide on how to survive a long haul flight: 

Pack a whole dang meal

Too many posts on how to survive a long haul flight say to “Pack a granola bar!”. But I damn well know a granola bar is not enough food for a 10+ hour flight aka 5 movies worth of snacking. I also really don’t like airplane food, and they never satiate my mid-flight hunger pangs.

Photo of airplane food on a long haul flight.
No thanks, lol.

If you’re wondering what to do on a long flight: eat! Meals break up the monotony of flying. I’m surprised at how many travellers don’t know this, but yes, you can bring your own food on a flight.

There are obviously some restrictions. Liquids are permitted within the security limit. Here’s a resource to figure out what is considered a “liquid”. Surprisingly, liquids over 100ml are permitted if they are frozen completely solid. I’ve never tested this, but it would be a great way to keep food cold (as long as you can keep it properly frozen through TSA). Another tip is to freeze a bag of grapes or chopped fruits, and use that as a makeshift ice pack (and snack, of course). 

It’s also important to know the rules around restricted items (eg. meats and produce). Make sure to dispose of any restricted items before landing. Lastly, I try to be conscious of other passengers. That means packing nut-free options that won’t stink up the plane. 

Picture of packed salad bento style lunch box.
I would much, much rather eat this on a long haul flight! Unsplash // Ella Olsson

Here’s my typical long haul flight lunchbox: some fruit (eg. an apple or orange), some veggies (eg. a bag of mini cucumber and carrots), a bag of chips or crackers, a chocolate bar, and a couple of cheese buns. If I’m feeling extra, I bring an avocado (DIY airplane avocado toast).

Choose the right seat

This is an obvious long haul flight tip, but it’s one I forget when I’m in budget-planning mode. Sometimes, it’s worth paying for a better seat. Absolutely no one wants to be stuck in a middle seat for 10+ hours! If you can afford it, pay for the advanced seating selection (or the class upgrade, if you’re money money).

Websites like SeatGuru can also help you figure out which seats to avoid. If you don’t want to pay for seat selection, some airlines let you choose your seat for free when you check in online. In these cases, I set a reminder for when online check in opens (usually 24 hours before my flight), so I can have the first pick. 

Person looking out window on airplane, with an empty row of seats on a long haul flight.
A row to yourself: every traveller’s dream. Unsplash // Nabilah Saleh

One of my best long haul flight tips is to try to increase your chance of an empty row. I find that the back of the plane is usually less crowded, so I sit in the last 1/3rd of seats. Even if I pre-select a seat, when I get to the airport I check the kiosk for any empty rows I can switch to. This strategy has paid off more than once! 

Wear the right clothes

If you’re wondering how to survive a long haul flight, the answer is not in wearing denim or your fancy new jacket. Comfort is so important on a long-haul flight. Gone are the days of dressing nicely to get a free upgrade. Not to mention, it’s totally possible to look nice and still be comfortable! It makes me feel better to wear real clothes instead of sweatpants, so I usually go for a pair of leggings and a couple of comfy sweaters. 

Being cold on a flight is the easiest way to make sure you get no sleep. The temperature usually dips when it’s nap time, so I always bring layers. If I have the space, I bring my own blanket or a comfy scarf.

Pack your carry-on strategically

I bring two carry-on bags: one for the overhead bin, and a small one for at my feet. The one at my feet is for items I reach for frequently throughout my flight, such as my water bottle, headphones, charger, hand sanitizer, and medication. I usually just use a small plastic or paper bag (I’m a germaphobe and the airplane floor horrifies me). Just make sure it’s something small that won’t take up too much leg room! 

Bright photo of open carry on suitcase.
My carry on never looks this aesthetic, but it is usually this full. Unsplash // STIL 

I always have a mini freshen-up kit by my feet. I noticed that when I keep it in the overhead bin, I never reach for it. But it has increased my flight comfort significantly when I actually use it! I put in lip balm, lotion, mints, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. 

Get up, for goodness sake

Seriously, it’s good for your health. It blows my mind that people can sit in one seat for 15 hours. This also greatly increases your risk of getting a dangerous blood clot. This tip is literally how to survive a long haul flight – blood clots can be life threatening. 

I understand getting some shut-eye or not wanting to disturb your seat mates, but it’s important to move around. It prevents your muscles from getting achey and keeps your blood flowing. If I’m really tired, I do some seated exercises.

In flight exercise chart, to prevent DVT on long haul flights.
Airlines have even started posting in-flight exercise charts to prevent blood clots. This one is from Cathay Pacific.

About 8 hours into a flight, even if I get up every couple hours, my butt starts getting sore. I just can’t sit still for that long! Another long haul flight tip is to use the airplane pillow as a lumbar cushion. It really helps with the aches from sitting for hours.

Bring enough entertainment & charge your devices

On a completely full flight to Australia, the woman next to me had a broken TV screen. They were unable to fix it before takeoff, so she had nothing to do for the entire flight. I wanted to cry for her. If you’re taking a budget flight, many won’t have free entertainment, which leaves you wondering what to do on a long flight. 

Since then, I always make sure to bring enough entertainment and make sure my devices are fully charged. You can’t always guarantee that a flight will have entertainment, or even an outlet. 

Man listening to headphones on airplane.
Unsplash // Daniel McCullough

If you’re wondering what to do on a long haul flight: bring multiple entertainment methods. I tend to cycle in between movies, music, podcasts, and Netflix shows that I’ve downloaded to my phone. I also download some kind of white noise, because that helps me to drown out some of the airplane noise when I want a moment of quiet.

Hydraaaaaaaaaaaate

Hydration comes from the inside out, so to avoid feeling like a crusty, dusty mess, drink some damn water. I bring an extra water bottle which I fill up after security and I also buy a bottle of Gatorade or juice –  something that encourages me to drink when I’m a bit bored of water. I personally also avoid dehydrating drinks like coffee, tea, and alcohol

Hydration isn’t just what you put in your body. I always bring lotion for my hands and face. If I have the space, I bring dry eye drops and nasal spray. It makes me feel so much more comfortable when I hit the 8-hour mark and start feeling like a human raisin.

Keep germs at bay 

Part of why I hate flying is because I used to always get sick. Like a full-on flu kind of sick. I’ve come a long way since then, and I’m now able to survive most of my long haul flights with just a case of the sniffles. Airplanes are pretty germy, and the conditions contribute to your lowered immune system. The lack of sleep, jet lag, close proximity to others, and low cabin humidity all contribute to passengers getting sick after a flight.

There are three things that have significantly lowered my chances of getting sick after a long haul flight. First, I make sure I get some sleep. Second, I religiously use hand sanitizer and hand wipes. And third, I do not touch my face unless I have recently cleaned my hands. The air on an airplane is filtered and not as much of a risk to your health as your own bare hands.

Timelapse photo of passengers walking on a flight.
Unsplash // Ina Carolino

Hopefully, these long haul flight tips will make your next journey a little more tolerable.

These long haul flight tips have made travelling so much more bearable for me. I still can’t claim that I love flying, but it’s become more tolerable with experience. And if you hate flying (like me), just remember: it’s so worth it for the adventure.

Do you get pre-flight jitters? Here’s how to deal with pre trip anxiety.

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