Travel Tips for Long Haul Flights
Last updated on 05/25/2021
What is a Long-Haul Flight?
Commercial flight durations are frequently classified into long, medium, and short-haul by airline carriers. While no international standard definition exists, short-haul is typically categorized as less than 600 to 800 nautical miles, or 1,100 to 1,500 kilometers. Long-haul is more than 2,200 to 2,600 nautical miles, or 4,100 to 4,800 km. Medium-haul refers to any flight length in between. More and more long-haul flights are being offered to travelers, so we've put together of list of travel tips to help make these trips more tolerable.
How to Survive Long-Haul Flights
Brace yourselves, long-distance flyers: some commercial airlines have laid down the gauntlet when it comes to spending time in an airplane. Travelers are able to hop from JFK to Singapore in one fell swoop, on an 18-hour, 40-minute flight, which is now one of the longest scheduled passenger flights in the world.
That is a long time to spend in the air, and is apt to boggle the mind – in addition to the long time flying, passengers will actually land two days after they take off. But ambitious travelers must be willing to contend with long-haul flights to see the world; anyone who’s ever jetted to China, South Africa or Australia knows that the flying times are definitely in the double-digits.
What’s key, then, is knowing how to make your time count. (No matter how much you may love movies and TV, 18 hours of tiny screen time could break even the most die-hard couch potato, and nobody should prepare to sleep for the equivalent of two full work days.) So for those of you preparing for a great adventure a long distance away, here’s our advice on how to make those double-digit hours speed by – or at least, pass in reasonable comfort.
Dress in Comfortable Clothes
Wear casual loose clothing with removable or open-toed shoes. It's also a good idea to keep a secondary shirt or pants in your carry-on. This way, you easily change when you near your destination. Some clothing companies even make special long-haul flight pants designed specifically for travelers, so pick up a pair in advance if comfort is important to you. We also recommend dressing in layers. Cabin temperature fluctuates between the gate and the sky, so consider bringing a wrap in case it gets cold in the cabin and extra blankets are scarce.
Buy Your Ticket Early & Pick a Comfortable Seat
Purchasing airlines tickets as early as possible not only helps you save on the cost but also provides the most flexibility when choosing your seat. Most travelers agree that the middle seat is not ideal, even for short-haul flights. Window seats are great for those who can fall asleep easily. Aisle seats work well for those who need frequent bathroom breaks, including travelers with small children. Sometimes exit rows don't have as much extra room as you might think. Buying your ticket early is one of the best ways to increase your seat options.
Upgrade in Any Way Possible
If you're like most travelers, you're probably not flying first class, or even business class. However, if you can afford the increased cost for upgrades, we highly recommend it. Upgrading for a short-haul flight is not very cost-effective since the benefits are short-lived, but if you will be on the plane for 18 hours or longer upgrades can be well worth the additional expense. In-flight meals are much more common on long-haul flights, but they can also be packed with carbs that can make flying more uncomfortable on your digestive system. If there are healthier in-flight meal alternatives, you may want to opt for them even if they come at a slightly higher cost. You can also purchase your own snacks ahead of time to make healthier selections.
Pack a Travel Pillow, Sleep Mask & Earplugs
Even though some airlines offer complementary travel accessories like travel pillows or earplugs, purchasing these items in advance can be a lifesaver. These types of complementary items are typically the first to run out on packed flights, and in some cases, quality can be a serious issue. When you're trying to get some quality shut-eye, you'll need a top-notch pillow and earplugs that actually stay in. Taking shortcuts on travel accessories may seem like a great way to cut costs, but you may end up "paying for it" in the end anyway.
Adjust to the New Time Zone
Once you’re on the airplane, you may as well pretend you’re already in your new time zone. This way, you can get a head start on beating that jet lag, and we believe mind-over-matter has a little something to do with it. Change your watch, change your phone setting, and change your laptop time zone to reflect that of your destination. If you plan to sleep on the plane, choose a time that makes sense with the new time zone. You can also apply this to eating meals. Eat when you would eat if you were already at your final destination. Airline service may not assist you in this matter, but you might be able to hold your food aside until it’s the right time. And don’t forget to brush your teeth, just like you would over any 8-hour-plus period.
Bring Your Own Entertainment
It’s possible that small screen provided by the airline will be full of wondrous entertainment, but nothing beats your own curated entertainment. Bring some books or magazines. Load up your tablet or phone with your favorite shows, movies, or podcasts. Just make sure to bring a portable charger pack and necessary charging cables. You'll also want to bring your own headphones or earbuds in case the complementary options are less than ideal. Again if you plan to sleep, try a white noise app or bring headphones with noise-cancelling technology to block out the rest of the airplane. Staring a screen for hours on end can strain your eyes as well, so consider varying your entertainment options between analog (e.g. paper books) and digital (e.g. tablet games). If you're traveling on a long-haul flight with kids, packing the right entertainment is crucial!
Stretch Your Legs & Stay Hydrated
In addition to having a change of clothing, make a routine of drinking water and getting up to walk around every few hours. Stretching your arms, legs, and neck is a great way to relieve stress and avoid muscle aches. After all, no one wants to start or end their vacation with a muscle strain. We also advise skipping the caffeine and alcohol, as both can dehydrate you especially with increased consumption. And don’t forget that your skin needs moisture too, so make sure to lotion up here and there as well (but no scents, please, on behalf of your fellow passengers).
Get Mentally Prepared & Be Courteous
The stress of a long-haul flight is tough on everybody, including fellow passengers and flight staff. It's important to prepare for the reality of sitting on a plane for hours on end, so make sure to get plenty of rest before hand. This not only helps your physical health but also helps your mental health. Being stressed, tired, or hungry can make you irritable. Since everyone on the plane is likely experiencing a similar amount of stress as you, being in the right headspace can go a long way to keeping yourself and those around you comfortable. Be respectful and courteous to your seatmates as well as flight attendants and staff. (Being a jerk in the first hour will certainly make for a very long flight!) Traveling great distances is highly rewarding but is not always free of hiccups. For even more peace of mind, consider flight insurance to cover unexpected airline changes.