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7 Tips For Surviving Long Flights

How To Survive Long Haul Flights–7 Tips You Need

I love to fly, but I’ll admit that long haul flights can be daunting. This last year I’ve flown three such flights–defined as at least seven hours–and I think I’ve finally developed strategies to not only survive them, but even enjoy them.

My strategy was really put to the test on a sixteen hour flight from Los Angeles to Doha. As the longest flight of my life, I knew I had to be well prepared. I’ll admit I’m not eager to do it again, but it was definitely a success. 

Choose Your Airline And Flight Carefully

Surviving long flights begins with the selection of your airline and flight. So here are a few tips;

  • Look at your options on Google Flights
  • If there are airlines you’re not familiar with, check out their ratings on a website like Skytrax.
  • Proceed cautiously with budget carriers for really long flights. 
  • Review the details of each flight option including departure and arrival airports and times as well as layover destinations and lengths
  • Consider what is or is not included in the price, most importantly seat selection and baggage charges

A few lessons I’ve learned over the years;

  1. Choose high rated airlines. For my flight to Tanzania I opted to fly the highly regarded Qatar Airways which was a bit more expensive than other options. It was worth it. 
  2. When possible, avoid really short layovers for international flights. You may need to clear security and/or customs while moving from one flight to another, and depending on the airport and day, that can take considerable time. I’d recommend no less than two hours.
  3. On the flip side, watch out for really long layovers. While traveling to Tanzania this past summer there were flights that had a 22 hour layover. Theoretically it’s possible to spend the night in a hotel or even take a city tour, but I much preferred the shorter layovers so I could get to my destination.
  4. If your destination is a very large city, there are likely several airports to choose from. Be sure you will be arriving and departing at the one you intended. Sometimes a really cheap flight is going to a small airport that is not conveniently located. 

How to survive a long haul flight

Choose Your Seat Wisely

If you’re traveling in economy–which most of us are–you will need to pay close attention to your seat selection for long haul flights. 

Most airlines will sell a basic economy fare that does not allow for seat selection. Proceed cautiously with this option. Do you really want to sit in a middle row at the back of the plane close to the restrooms for over seven hours? I don’t. 

I  choose the economy option that allows for seat selection at the time my flight is purchased. And whenever possible I select an aisle seat in an exit row. There may be an extra charge for this, but I find it’s worth it. 

When possible, I like to upgrade to premium economy, but I’ve noticed that these prices were quite high this past year. But I always take a look at this option since the seats are larger and recline more making the whole flight far more pleasant.

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Checked Versus Carry-on Luggage

This past year saw an increase in lost and delayed luggage which leaves travelers with two choices; check a bag and bring essentials in your carry-on, or don’t check a bag at all and limit what you bring on your trip. I’ve done both this year, so here are the pros and cons and what I recommend in each case.

Anytime I travel to East Africa–which I’ve done three times–my trips tend to be longer and I prefer to check a bag. So my carry-on must be smartly packed. In the event of delayed luggage I pack medications, a change of clothes, and essential toiletries in addition to all the things that will help me enjoy the flight. Fortunately, I’ve never had lost luggage during these trips, but fellow travelers did.

For our trip to Greece we had less than 24 hours between arriving and boarding our cruise ship. We absolutely wanted to have our luggage arrive with us, so both Jason and I had traveled with a small roller bag which we stored in the overhead compartment and a backpack for under the seat. While this guaranteed our bags were always with us, it did limit the souvenirs we could bring home. Three months later we still wish we had brought home more olive oil from Crete. 

Tips for surviving long haul flights
Jason reviewing his entertainment options before boarding our plane

What To Bring On The Flight

Here are the things I always bring with me on a long flight;

  • Sweatshirt or sweater–even in the summer I bring something warm to wear on a plane which can often be freezing cold
  • Medications, both prescribed and over-the-counter meds that I might need including decongestants, pain relievers, and sleeping pills
  • Kleenex
  • Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes
  • Lip balm
  • Hand lotion
  • Socks–if you’re not wearing these when you board, be sure to bring some along in your bag
  • High quality headphones–the ones provided by the airlines are often cheap and provide poor sound quality
  • Phone, computer, or tablet and chargers
  • Books
  • Reading glasses
  • Empty water bottle

Keep Yourself Entertained

I typically split my time on a flight between watching movies and reading, but for long haul flights, it’s important to plan ahead for your entertainment. Here some options;

  • Download your favorite movies or television shows on your computer, tablet or phone. While international flights always have a nice selection of entertainment, it’s best to bring some of your own along as well.
  • Download your favorite podcasts. This is a nice alternative to watching a screen.
  • Download books on your device or bring along physical books. 
  • If you knit, crochet, or needlepoint, this is another way to pass the time.

How to survive long haul flights

Stay Healthy On Your Flight 

No one wants to get to their final destination and feel lousy, so follow these steps to improve your chances of staying healthy.

First, wipe down the surfaces around your seat including the arm rests and tray table. Next, plan to stay well hydrated. I always travel with a water bottle and fill it before boarding the plane. Then I continue to drink water anytime it’s offered by the crew.

While masks are no longer required by most airlines, wearing one is a great way to avoid getting viruses. So if you want the extra protection, put on a mask.

Something that is less talked about, but equally important is to get out of your seat and move during the flight. Extended sitting on a flight can lead to blood clots (also known as deep vein thrombosis) and the best way to prevent these is moving. I walk up and down the aisle or find a place to stretch a bit, sometimes near the flight attendants area and an emergency exit space.

How To Get Some Sleep

I don’t sleep soundly on planes, but I do try to get a bit of shut eye. Here are a few tips gleaned from over the years;

  • Eye mask–while I don’t use one, I know several people who find them very helpful for sleeping on a plane
  • Ear plugs can help drown out the noise.
  • I travel with prescription sleeping pills. Typically I take them with the evening meal, read for a bit, and then doze off. 
  • Finally, if you’re fortunate to be on a plane with many open seats, consider moving to an unoccupied row. You’ll want to do this early in the flight and beat others to it. The ability to lay down can significantly improve your chances of sleeping.

Enjoy Your Long Flight

While I’m in no rush to board another 16 hour flight, my trip to Tanzania was spectacular. So if a very long day of flying was required, so be it. Thanks to the great service from the Qatar Airways team and thorough preparation, it went better than I could have imagined.

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