Top 10 tips for long haul flights

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Anna Melville-James
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A tiring schlep for anything over six hours, it's called a long-haul flight for a reason.

With Dreamliners now increasing the time and distance a direct flight can cover, and Emirates planning the world’s longest non-stop flight between Dubai and Panama City (a whopping 17 hours and 35 minutes) for 2017, they're only going to get longer. 

So you’re definitely going to need an A-game for happy flying.

Here is our check-list for all the things that will help you straighten up and fly right... 

  • Plan your jet lag

    When you’re booking flights, look at the arrival time to minimise jet leg. It's a lot easier to go to bed later than to wake up earlier, so if you can book flights that have a late afternoon or night time arrival they will feel a little less brutal.

    If you arrive earlier you'll have to stay up a whole lot longer. And if you are doing this then the key is to keep moving when you arrive and don’t stop and rest until you go to bed at an early, but still recognisable night time. If you lay down and close your eyes before then you’ll find it very hard to get in sync with your destination quickly.

  • Get a good seat

    A good seat makes all the difference on a long-haul flight, so pick wisely. If possible check in online beforehand and select your seat ( can show you where the best place to sit is on your particular aircraft). A window seat is good for leaning/sleeping purposes, but, if you factor in inevitable bathroom breaks, an aisle seat might actually prove a better option.

    On a plane with a three-row configuration (grouped seats on the left, in the middle and right) an aisle seat in the middle section is a canny plan. Not only does it give you easy aisle and bathroom access, it also means the people in the middle have two options to get out. This reduces the likelihood of getting climbed over or woken up.

    If you’re lucky enough to be on a flight that isn’t full, don’t be afraid to move around to find more room once the flight has taken off. 

  • Order a special meal

    Want to get fed quickly? Then order a special meal. This is the reason that certain diners inexplicably get their food long before everyone else, and on a big jumbo this is a shortcut worth taking.

    If you require a special meal for medical, moral, or religious reasons, you already know this and can sit back and enjoy. But even those who don’t actually need that option might feel that a day eating gluten-free or vegetarian is a small price to pay for a meal that arrives quickly. Plus, these are often the tastier in-flight catering options too, so win-win.

    Your tray won’t be taken away any quicker, but hey, you can’t have everything.

  • Upgrade

    Let’s face it, no matter how many eye masks you pack, a long haul flight is always going to be considerably nicer if you can upgrade - and it’s not as outlandish as you might think. Airlines sometimes release cheap upgrade options at the 11th hour, so check the day before your flight to see if you can take advantage. Even a bump up into premium economy will be a win for long-haul comfort.

    Another way to improve your experience is to get an exit row seat, which usually have more leg room. You can often pay a premium to be allocated one of these seats, something that pays for itself on a 6+ hour flight. 

  • Pack a flight kit

    You can tell who means business by what they pull out of their bag once the flight gets going; a good eye mask and noise cancelling earphones are essential (don’t rely on the flimsy ones you might be given - they won’t do the job well enough). Both improve sleep quality, the latter helping regulate your circadian rhythm by limiting light.

    Pack small toiletries in a Ziploc bag and keep within reach; toothbrush, toothpaste, face wipes, hair brush and lip balm are essential. Plus, pack some anti-bac wipes for a quick clean of your arm rests, seat belt, seat back and tray. 

    Travel pillows can be annoying to have to tote on board, but, if you do, make it a good one such as the First Class Sleeper, which provides neck and lumbar support. 

  • Take pyjamas and change into them

    Changing out of your clothes into pyjamas or other comfy threads once the flight gets going is key for comfort and will also help with the transition to sleep. Take your flight clothes in your hand luggage, and think about layering; planes can get chilly and air blankets are always too thin for real warmth. Don’t forget a pair of warm socks.

    If you take a moment to moisturize your body before you get changed it can also help offset the drying sensation of high altitude and make you feel a lot more comfortable.

  • Keep moving and breathe

    Just because you’re stuck sitting down in a metal tube for the best part of a day, don't forget the natural stuff. Keep the blood flowing to avoid feeling sluggish at best, and getting DVT at worst.

    Getting up, stretching and strolling round the plane every hour or two will stop the blood sitting in your ankles. As will compression socks - ok they aren’t sexy, but they work.

    Combine movement with deep breathing to oxygenate your body and help you relax. Boost this with guided meditation apps. Forget to download any? Check the inflight entertainment as many airlines now have them on their audio systems.

  • Hydrate

    Yes, it’s tempting to slug down the wine while you’re flying, but your body isn’t going to thank you for it. We’re not going to be so foolish as to tell you not to have a drink, but the key to combating the high altitude drying effects of a long-haul flight is to limit the glasses and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate so you can arrive without feeling like a prune.

    Water will also aid your blood flow, plump up your skin and help prevent your muscles from becoming stiff. Buy a two-litre bottle airside to take on the plane, as we’re talking big glugs here, not the tiny, infrequent glasses that air flight attendants doll out.

  • Take some entertainment

    Don’t assume the in-flight entertainment will work. Hell is nine-hours of staring at the flight tracker in silence because the movie channel isn’t working. So be prepared and take a book, Kindle or download films onto your tablet or computer in case. And charge everything electrical fully before you fly. It’s worth putting your chargers in your hand luggage as well; some airlines have sockets to power up on board if needed.

  • Get some sleep

    Easier said than done sometimes, but good earplugs and headphones will help. It's also worth ditching films on the inflight system or a device, to minimise blue light; try reading a book instead.

    To get an idea of when you should be sleeping on the plane, change the time settings to your destination’s once you’re cruising. Don’t sleep for the entire flight though. Instead take cues from the cabin crew; when they dim the cabin lights it’s a good time to rest. If you're on a long-haul flight, you’ll be facing a time zone shift of six to twelve hours (unless you're travelling north-to-south or south-to-north).

    Sleeping for half or three-quarters of the flight is the optimum to counteract this kind of time zone change. 


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Anna Melville-James

Travel writer Anna Melville-James has been trotting the globe for 15 years in search of great stories. She sifts the sands for, tracking down travel news, trends and destinations for the site to inspire holidays and daydreams. When she’s at home in London, Anna enjoys watching David Attenborough documentaries and counting her extensive collection of free sewing kits and miniature toiletries.