25 Easy Tricks for a Comfortable Long-Haul Flight in Economy Class
Long-haul flights are not the most comfortable experience. But in order to travel far, one must endure. The longest flight I've done was from Toronto to Hong Kong for 21 hours, non-stop. I've also done a 19-hour flight and 17-hour flight, both non-stop. What is wrong with me?? Luckily, there are some simple tricks you can do before and during your flight to make it as pleasant as possible.
First off, let's get our terms clear: a long-haul flight is at least six hours long. If you want to read about how to make your short-haul flight (less than six hours long) more enjoyable, hop over to my other post here.
1. Pack smart
You don't want to carry too much on-board. If you're sitting for over 6 hours, any legroom space you can actually save for your legs is prime real estate. So perhaps try to not pack as much into your purse or try to maximize the space you have in the overhead compartment so you can stretch your legs when you're sitting for over 6 hours. I talk quite a bit about packing your toiletry bag to bring on-board here.
2. Hydrate frequently
It's easy to be dehydrated during a trip, especially on board a flight. Internally, keep drinking water even if you have to use the washroom more frequently. And, I know it's difficult, but try to avoid caffeine and alcohol during the flight. Here's an insider tip: bring an empty water bottle on board so you can either fill it up with water at the fountain by the gate (after customs) or ask the flight attendant to fill up during the flight. Don't rely on the small cups that flight attendants pass out. They are not enough and sometimes, it takes forever to flag down an attendant.
3. Bring facial wipes and masks
On the subject of hydration, make sure you moisturize your hands and face too. Bring a small bottle of hand cream (under 3.4 oz) and some facial wipes.
4. Wear comfortable clothes
You'll be sitting around for a very long time so in this situation, function definitely beats form. Luckily, airplane chic is in fashion so you can slum it with style! And if you are really worried about looks, wear something comfortable on board and change in the airport's washroom when you land. There are usually washrooms just before customs and immigration.
5. Wear comfortable shoes
And on that note, wear comfortable shoes. I wouldn't wear sandals or flip flops because my feet can get cold on the plane. So I usually opt for sneakers and comfy socks. Just nothing too snug. Plus, I can continue wearing sneakers when I land.
Or if you don't mind packing more things, bring slippers or lounge socks to wear on the flight.
6. Bring your own small pillow or neck pillow
Usually, I'd recommend leaving this behind for a short flight because I like to be very minimalistic with carry-on baggage. However, if you're flying overnight where you're (hopefully) supposed to be sleeping, a small pillow or neck pillow will make the flight more comfortable. Your neck will thank you!
7. Stretch often
I know it's weird but it's important to keep your circulation moving while you're up in the air. Try walking up and down the aisle. If you prefer to stay seated, try to move your legs and feet every 15 minutes - with your feet off the floor, rotate your ankles one way and then the other. Point and flex your toes a couple times. Bend and stretch your legs so there won't be so much pressure on your knees. Just keep in mind, when you're doing this, to not disturb any passengers who may be trying to sleep or cause any traffic along the aisle.
8. Get an aisle seat
It's just easier to get in and out because there will be multiple trips up/down the aisle and to the washroom. Forget the window seat (save that for short flights). Note, there are other advice out there suggesting a window seat because you can rest your head by the wall of the plane but it really comes down to personal preference. I'm fine with my neck pillow.
9. Sit Over the wing
You won't feel a lot of turbulence if you're sitting right over the wing. When you're booking your ticket, consult the seating map to make sure you are choosing the right seat. These seats, along with seats at the front, are usually high in demand so try to book early. If they are already reserved, you can also try to book the seats by the emergency exit, which offer more legroom than other seats. Also, if you're flying during low season, try to book early and snag a seat at the back. It's a bit of a gamble but you may end up with an empty seat next to you.
10. Wear layers
Airplanes can get cold, especially when you're tired and not moving. So it's nice to have layers so you're bundled up and you can use a jacket as a pseudo blanket. Sometimes airlines do not provide blankets and when they do, they may have an odd smell because your sense of taste and sense of smell change as your altitude changes.
11. Maximize your leg room
I can't say this enough. Having leg room for stretching is so important so try to not shove a large purse or backpack under the seat in front of you. Instead, try to put a smaller bag with your valuables in your money belt and other items in your luggage that is either in cargo or safely stowed in the overhead compartment. You will need the space to stretch your legs and to do foot exercises to alleviate pressure in your knees.
12. Bring a book
Even if you don't end up reading a book or finishing it, at least you have options to entertain yourself during a long flight. For romantic solo travellers, I was once on a plane with someone who was reading the exact same book as I. It's actually a great conversation starter. For the record, the book was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
13. Bring your gear
Bring your iPad, iPod, or load some music and movies into your smartphone (switched to airplane mode, of course) that you can access during the flight. If your airline offers in-flight entertainment, visit their website ahead of time to find out what movies and tv shows they will be playing - the rotation changes according to flight length, season, and destination. Also find out if you need to bring your own headphones.
14. Bring snacks
I personally don't like peanuts, biscottis, and chocolate bars that I get on board. They are usually some obscure brand that I've never heard of. So I usually bring some of my own snacks and drinks on board because I want to bring what I personally am familiar with. As always, I am trying to be as comfortable as I possibly can.
15. Secure your valuables
Keep your valuables (i.e. money, id documents) safe and away from view, especially while you're sleeping. I usually have a money belt on me - I got mine from Pacsafe - and keep my passport and money inside. I won't access it during my flight and it's made of breathable fabric so I don't even feel it around my waist.
Routines don't stop while you're airborne. Remember to bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, and facial wipes so you can brush your teeth and wash your face. Feeling refreshed and clean during the flight will minimize any discomfort you may already experience from a long-haul flight.
17. Try to get an Upgrade
This has yet to happen to me. A girl can only hope but it's generally easier if you're not travelling alone. I've heard miracle stories about people pretending to be on honeymoon and getting a free upgrade. But don't be discouraged yet: it may be an urban legend but word has it that if you show up early, dress nicely, and be as gracious as possible without going overboard, you may be able to advance into business or first class.
18. Go in with a positive attitude
Since you're already in a gracious attitude (having convinced the check-in attendant for an upgrade), you might as well carry that positive attitude into the rest of the flight. As with any situation in life, it's better to handle it with positive energy. If you walk into any situation negatively, you're already set up for a miserable time.
19. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine
These just dehydrates you even more. Drink lots of water or juice instead.
20. Consider sleeping aids
If you're prone to sleep deprivation or motion sickness, consider taking a Gravol. Alternative, holistic options include ear plugs and eye masks.
21. Ask for snacks
Some airlines provide snacks on request. I know I mentioned my disdain for airline snacks in #14 but sometimes, beggars can't be choosers. I'm a frequent flyer with Cathay Pacific and have requested cup noodles on multiple occasions. It was usually a treat, like a midnight snack. The high altitude really alters your taste buds so having something savoury and salty really helps ease the blandness from airplane food.
22. Choose type of aircraft wisely
Just as you should compare different airlines and what they offer in-flight, you should also research what type of aircraft will be flown for your specific flight. Some brands and models are wider than others. You don't have to be an aerospace engineer to be able to make an informed decision. As always, when in doubt, consult Wikipedia. ;)
23. Fly east to west
Obviously, this idea only works if it's economically feasible to fly from east to west. It wouldn't make financial sense if you were, for example, flying from New York City to Los Angeles. Unless you were really rich and had tons of time for multiple stopovers. For the majority of travellers, they would fly west to east. Anyways, let's say that it works out in your favour and you were flying from London to Budapest, you will get over jet lag quicker. For some biological reason, our bodies adjusts more easily to time zone differences if we travel westward. So, for those of us who can't afford a round-the-world flight, at least we'll know that for one of our flights (whether it's the outbound flight or return flight) will go in a westerly direction. ;)
24. Bring an iPad (or tablet device)
Similar to #13, bring your iPad (or tablet equivalent) so there's something to do on-board and pre-board. There are some no-frills flights that allows you to connect to their app to access their entertainment program. Example being, WestJet. So, definitely find out before you leave and so you can download the appropriate app!
25. Talk (or don't talk) to the stranger sitting next to you
Assuming that you are travelling alone, it is very easy to befriend a fellow solo traveller who happens to be sitting next to you. Sometimes, I don't mind chatting with them as it passes the time and I have met some very interesting and kind people on a flight. However, there are times I really don't want to be bothered, especially when I'm tired and feeling sleep deprived. Worse, if I'm feeling sick.
Do you dread long-haul flights? What are your tricks for making your flight as comfortable as you can? Tell me in the comment box below!