I avoid layovers like the plague.
I’m not a fan of racing through one terminal to catch a shuttle to another terminal in order to catch my next flight because my first flight was running late.
Or waiting around for hours on end for a connecting flight that is delayed for any number of reasons.
And I’m certainly not a fan of having to go through airport security in a country where I’m literally just passing through.
So, whenever I can get a direct flight, I take it. Which means that when I fly overseas, I often find myself on long-haul flights wherein I’m in the air for half a day or longer.
I’ve gotten used to them over the years and there are certain things I do—and you can too!—to make the flight as comfortable, healthful and enjoyable as humanly possible.
Choose Comfort Over Couture
When I see someone wearing a fancy outfit… or a short skirt… or blue jeans whilst boarding a long-haul flight, I shake my head.
Because there is a good chance that, at some point during the flight, they will feel like they are being hugged by an ice-cold boa constrictor.
The #1 way to survive a long flight is to dress like you’re watching a movie marathon on your sofa during a snowstorm.
Wear loose-fitting clothing that will keep you nice and warm throughout the flight, especially when the sun is on siesta and the temperature drops.
Staying warm is important not just for the sake of comfort, but also to decrease your chance of getting sick (planes are a petri dish of germs and illness-inducing conditions).
When it comes to bottoms, wear pants that are soft and loose with a stretchy waistband—i.e., yoga pants, fisherman pants, drawstring pants or sweatpants.
Sweatpants are optimal because they are the warmest of them all. If, however, you don’t want to look like a college student, you can buy designer sweatpants from brands like Lululemon.
When it comes to tops, dress in layers. Wear an undershirt; then a long-sleeved shirt; then a hoodie sweatshirt. Why a hoodie? Because, with its hood and front pockets, you can keep your head, torso and ears nice and warm while you sleep.
You can also bring along a light scarf for your neck. And, if you like to be shoe-free whilst lounging in your seat, you can keep your toes toasty by bringing along a pair of thick socks like REI’s Merino Wool Expedition Socks.
Eat, Sleep, Repeat
During a long-haul flight, your body is coping with changing time zones, less oxygen to the brain, cruising speeds of 500+ mph (800+ kph), et. al.
The best way to offset these abnormal conditions is to eat and sleep during your flight. In doing so, you will gift yourself with greater energy and decreased jet lag when you land.
Many long haul flights take place overnight—either night into day or day into night. Whether you board your flight at 11am or 11pm, they will feed you a semi-substantive meal within the first hour after takeoff.
They do this for a reason… to knock you out (in a good way)!
It tends to go down like this: take off… drink service… food service… l-o-n-g cue for the bathrooms… the cabin lights are turned down real low… the cabin gets nice and quiet… most of the passengers end up nodding off soon thereafter.
If you’re not too keen on eating the meals catered by the airline, bring at least 2 fulfilling meals of your own.
Additionally, be sure to pack a snack or two in case you get a lil’ hungry between meal services.
Note: Normally, there are two meal services during a long-haul flight, plus a little snack handed out at the midpoint. For most major airlines, this is included in the cost of your airfare.
Bring a Pillow, Bottle & Plugs
If you’re not flying in first class, or if you’re not sure about the quality of the pillows on the airline and class you’re flying, I highly suggest bringing your own pillow. Because most airline pillows are a joke.
If you don’t have a quality travel pillow, you should definitely invest in one. Your neck, cheeks and ears will be ever so grateful!
My go-to is the XpresSpa RESERSaPILLOW, a microbead, 2-in-1 pillow that is comfy and can morph from a neck pillow to a square-shaped one in seconds. I also wrap my pillow in a pillowcase for added softness and hygenic protection.
Have you ever noticed that your eyes, nose and throat feel drier during and after a flight?
This is a natural consequence of flight, because the cabin air is much, much drier than your body is used to. Even if you don’t notice a difference, your body is still experiencing mild dehydration.
If you want to decrease your chances of getting sick during a trip, you should drink lots of water both on and off the plane.
Which is why I always have a filtered water bottle, like the Brita Squeeze & Go, on hand during a long-haul flight.
You can easily fill it up at airport water fountains before boarding; and you can ask a flight attendant to fill it up for you during walk-the-aisle trips to the plane’s galley (see Step 4 below).
Some major airlines provide ear plugs gratis, but you should always bring your own just in case.
The benefit of ear plugs is not just being able to silence out the snores and obnoxious chatter of passengers nearby…
They also help to stabilize the air pressure in your middle ear and around your eardrums, which is especially important:
- During takeoff and landing when your ears have to adjust to a rapid change in altitude and air pressure.
- While you’re sleeping and, thus, are unable to ‘pop your ears’ and relieve the air pressure by yawning, swallowing or chewing gum.
By keeping your ear pressure stable, you will decrease your chance of getting airplane ear, with symptoms ranging from moderate discomfort to permanent hearing loss.
For optimal ear protection, you may want to invest in a pair of earPlanes eP2, which are re-usable (up to 10 flights) and come with a tether.
Walk the Aisles
If you love your legs and don’t want them to swell up painfully during or after your trip, then be sure to walk the aisles regularly when you’re on a long-haul flight.
The longer the flight, the longer you sit, which heightens your risk of getting a blood clot in your leg—a.k.a., deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
When you’re walking around, your calf muscles are regularly contracting, which helps maintain blood circulation in your lower leg.
Yet, when your legs remain still for extended periods of time, your blood circulation slows and this can sometimes lead to DVT, which can prove fatal if one or more blood clots make their way to your lungs.
This is also why you should wear loose-fitting clothing (Step 1) and drink plenty of water (Step 3) during your flight.
My rule of thumb is, every time I visit the restroom, before returning to my seat, I’ll do a few laps up and down the aisles and I’ll hang out in the plane’s galley for a bit to do some stretching and to refill my water bottle (see Step 3).
In the galley, you may encounter another passenger and/or a flight attendant who’s up for a chat—I’ve gotten great trip itinerary recommendations this way!
Pack a Variety of Entertainment Options
You stow away your carry-on, settle into your seat and buckle in.
Your game plan? To wile the hours by watching a bunch of movies and TV shows on the in-flight entertainment center (IFE) in front of you.
You touch the screen and… nothing happens.
You, my friend, have been cursed with an out of order IFE on a long-haul flight that’s completely full.
This rarely happens, but on the off-chance it ends up happening to you, be sure to bring reinforcements:
A book. Magazine. Deck of cards. Sudoku. Ball of yarn and knitting needles. And / or digital games to play, movies to watch and eBooks to read on your smartphone or tablet, alongside a USB power cord to keep your devices charged and alive.
Even if your IFE ends up being in tip-top shape, you may find the viewing options uninspiring or, during Hour X, you may tire of watching motion pictures.
So it’s always wise to have a variety of other things to do to save yourself from sheer boredom when you’re not quite sleepy enough to doze off.
Note: Some budget airlines like WOW air don’t offer IFE at all. So you should definitely bring plenty to entertain yourself with when flying carriers such as these.