How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

A long haul flight is often dreaded by all. It usually starts off well, and then by the end of it you are either tearing your hair out with boredom, or you look so bedraggled after a long stint of sitting in the same chair, dozing off, and dropping plane food into your lap every time the plane passes through a bout of turbulence that you resemble a creature that has emerged from a swamp.
In actual fact, although long haul flights seem like a drag, they can be a perfect opportunity to get a little “me time” and can be an enjoyable experience if planned right.
Here are ten tips for surviving long haul flights to help make your journey more enjoyable, and help you look more presentable during the flight.

How to Survive a Long Haul Flight
How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

Try to Upgrade

There are a few options that will help you upgrade, and who wouldn’t prefer to be flying for sixteen hours in first class reclining luxury rather than cramped next to a noisy family in economy?

Use Airmiles –  If you have air miles, you can use these to upgrade to the next class. Even if it’s only to premium economy, that extra legroom makes all the difference.

Ask For an Upgrade – If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you don’t have enough airmiles, you can try for a free upgrade upon arrival at the airport. Most people who do get upgraded are those who are traveling alone. Arrive early, dress nice and politely ask if there are any seats available.

Pay For Premium Economy – Your third and final option is to just pay the upgrade fee yourself to premium economy for that little extra comfort. This can be done at the time of initial booking, but many major global carriers offer discounts for last minute upgrades so always double check.

Dress Comfortably

Seriously. You’re not here to impress anyone. Keep it comfortable and casual because you’re going to be sitting for long periods of time and may feel horrid and bloated by the end of the flight.
You can pack a light change of clothes in your carry on and if you’re worried about your appearance on arrival, you can always put on your makeup during the last hour of the flight so you’ll look fresh as a daisy.

Look After Your Skin

Flying is known to dehydrate your skin so don’t make it suffer further by traveling with a layer of makeup on. Travel barefaced and take a small selection of skincare products with you. Some simple cleansing wipes will help you freshen up during your journey and upon arrival at the airport. A miniature tub of moisturiser helps your skin stay hydrated, and hand cream takes care of your hands and arms. This leads me on to the next point…


Drink plenty of water during your flight to stop your skin and body dehydrating. There is usually a convenience store or a vending machine by the gates after security so buy yourself one or two liters of mineral water at least. You can always ask the air stewards for more.
The combination of dehydration and staying sedentary for a long period of time is what can lead to blood clots so use the same mentality as you would when going on a desert trip when packing water. It’s tempting, but avoid diuretics like alcohol and coffee while flying as they will dehydrate you, and not to mention, make you need to take more trips to the dreaded airplane bathroom.

How to Survive a Long Haul Flight
How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

Stay Entertained

Take enough entertainment to keep you occupied for your entire journey. When you think that you have enough to do, double it because when you’re sedentary for a long time and you get bored of the activity you’re doing, it can feel unbearable if you don’t have a lot of other options.
The in flight entertainment systems will feature the latest blockbuster movies, popular TV shows, games, music and an array of choices but also prepare your own options that you know you’ll like if you get bored of what is on the flight system.
Load up your iPad, tablet or whatever device it is you are using with podcasts, music, and your favorite TV shows so that you have plenty of entertainment options . Take a book, a notebook, a puzzle, or some work for when you get bored of watching television and want something a little more mentally stimulating. Oh and don’t forget to pack a portable charger! Your tablet running out of power when you’re a few hours into your flight and part way through a series of Westworld is rage inducing, trust me on that one.

Reserve a Good Seat

Many airlines let you choose your seat in advance online before you go. I personally like the window seat because not only do I get a sad glee out of looking out at the sea and the scenery below with my headphones in, the plane wall also gives me a surface to lean my pillow on and I find it’s easier to sleep. If you want more leg room or you have a weak bladder, opt for the aisle seat (that’s one problem with the window seat. I cannot count the number of times I have fallen onto someone’s lap when trying to squeeze past them and not wake them up.) Noisy families and screaming babies are usually at the front end of the plane (since that’s where additional services are available for them) so try to score a seat in the middle or the back if you don’t want to be awoken by screams or a Tonka truck flying through the air and hitting you on the head.


How to Survive a Long Haul Flight
How to Survive a Long Haul Flight

Okay you’re a little limited on this and you can’t exactly whip out a yoga mat and lay it down between the aisles, but it’s important to move around as sitting cramped up for long periods will make you feel achy, bloated and potentially open up the door for the deep vein thrombosis. There are many stretches you can do from the comfort of your seat. Exercise your feet by rotating them around from the ankle, stretch your arms like you’re taking a big yawn, and get up regularly if only to walk up and down the aisle like it’s some shit catwalk. The back of the plane near the bathroom often has large pockets of space where you can stand and stretch. I caught an elderly man doing enthused lunges there once and the memory of it has scarred me every since.

Pack Some Snacks

If you’re on a long haul flight, meals will be at set times. Depending on the length, you will have one or two. Sometimes the stewards come around with little pots of ice cream or chocolate between meals but it’s hardly filling. On many airlines, it’s surprising how few opportunities you have to buy snacks from the cart so take some with you. Cereal bars, nuts, seeds and dried fruits are great choices. (Or chocolates, cakes and sweets – whatever. You’re on vacation! I realize that I am in fact traveling constantly and therefore constantly on vacation but whatever. The rule still applies)

Take Some Sleeping Accessories

Some airlines give them out for free, but a cheap eye mask and some earplugs go a long way to improving your sleeping experience on the plane. If you don’t feel that the airline pillow gives you sufficient support then you can always buy a dedicated neck pillow, however it’s then one extra thing to carry.
Personally, I’ve always found that the airline pillows are comfortable enough. Long haul flights are seldom ever full so you could also always ask the steward for an extra pillow.
If you’re considering taking a sleep aid (herbal or prescription), ensure that you have tried and tested it prior to flying in case of any adverse effects.

Check Your Airline and Flight Route

Many long haul flight routes require you to transfer flights which is fine and fairly standard, but make sure that you are comfortable with the amount of time that you have to meet your connection as you don’t want the extra stress of worrying about making it in time. Some airlines are better than others, so ensure that you are happy with the one which you are flying with.

I once flew from Seoul to Bangkok with Air China, transferring in Tianjin, China. My bag wasn’t checked all the way through to Bangkok so I had to go through Chinese customs which caused major issues because I didn’t have a visa and so legally wasn’t allowed through to the baggage claim and therefore had to have half of the Chinese security staff escorting me around, much to the amusement of the Chinese people at the airport who were following my entourage and taking photos… At least it’s a funny story to tell!


Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer and Blogger based in Athens, Greece. She writes for numerous high profile travel publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, Matador Network, The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post.

1 thought on “How to Survive a Long Haul Flight”

  1. Great tips! I will have to see if I can get a free upgrade next time I fly back home to the states. That’s so hilarious that people thought you were famous at the airport because of all the security! Haha awesome 🙂


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