long-haul flight

How To Survive A Long-Haul Flight

A long-haul flight is a flight that covers a significant distance and typically lasts for several hours. These flights are usually operated by commercial airlines and are used to travel between continents or between distant regions within a continent. Examples of long-haul flights include flights from Los Angeles to Sydney or from Toronto to Hong Kong.

 Some consider flights over five hours long-haul; for others, it’s a couple of days of flying. Most commercial airlines categorize any flight longer than 2547 miles as long-haul. This is a longer flight than Orlando, Florida, to Washington, Seattle, which comes in at 3,135 miles to put this into geographical context.

Regardless long-haul flights are long ones!

You can categorize them by miles or duration, but we are still talking “long.”

I recently came back from Asia, and it took us a whopping 36 hours to get there. Now, this does include two connections and layovers. All of which were unavoidable. Actual airtime was approximately 25 hours:

  • Orlando to Los Angeles = 4.5 hours
  • Los Angeles to Taiwan = 14.5 hours
  • Taiwan to Bali = 5 hours

Then there’s Australia, a staggering 15.5-hour leg from Los Angeles that I’ve also done.

You get my drift…

long-haul flight

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So How Do You Survive A Long-Haul Flight?

Before we even start, let me say that I will give you my tips. I’m no stranger to long-haul flying. Heck, a flight to England for me is a hop-skip and jump. As mentioned above, we all define “long” differently. But I mean long. Here are my tips for long-haul flights, not the general advice you can read on any old site:

Book Long-Haul Flight With Long Layovers

As a rule, I want to get to my destination as quickly as possible, but if you are flying somewhere far, far away, or you’re uncomfortable flying back-to-back long legs, you might want to break up the trip and choose a route that has a long layover.

Long layovers allow you to get off the plane. This, in turn, lets you stretch your legs, get something to eat, or hit an airport lounge.

Or, book a flight with a layover in an airport with a hotel onsite. I deliberately booked some of my flights in multi-leg sections so I could sleep at the airport hotel between legs.

Pay For A Seat Assignment For Your Long-Haul Flight

Plan and pay for the seating assignment if it’s not included in your fare. The flight has got to be pushing twelve hours plus for me to consider paying a fee to choose, but that’s me.

Even though low-cost carriers play hardball on seats, they typically assign people on the same reservation to the same row. I’ve flown to Europe a few times on Norwegian Airlines. I’ve never picked seats and always sat with the reservation group.

Bid Or Pay For An Upgrade

Bid for an upgrade or pay for an upgrade. Most airlines will now allow you to place a bid pre-flight on how much you are willing to pay. You can sometimes score a paid upgrade at the check-in counter or departure gate if you don’t win an upgrade bid. You can expect to spend at least a grand on an international trip.

Lufthansa’s Business Class 

Lufthansa Business Class

Ask For An Upgrade

SMH. Can you feel my sarcasm? Ask away, but you are not getting upgraded unless you have status or can pay for the upgrade with points or cash.

Batting long eyelashes does not work anymore. The airlines are savvy about the additional revenue they can earn from the bidding system. And, when not earning extra income, free upgrades are given to brand loyalists as a perk.

So why add this to my list? Cause every travel expert out there will tell you it does not hurt to try. A fact, but scoring a free one is practically an old wives’ tale at this point.

There’s one recent exception I’ve heard of! A lady with a broken arm was upgraded to business class for free. So, even though rare, it will not hurt to ask.

Use Travel Credit Card Points For An Upgrade

Let’s not forget that you are looking for tips on surviving a long-haul flight if you are reading this. If you are flying business or first class – you don’t need any advice.

Empty Your Bowels Before You Get To The Airport

Think colonic. Nothing is more uncomfortable than a large intestine that needs emptying. Well, there is! Having to relieve yourself on a long-haul flight is just terrible. Aside from the fact that the bathrooms on flights are tiny, they are also uncomfortable. And, once the flight is well underway, the bathrooms are not exactly sparking clean.

long-haul flight

I think everyone has had the misfortune of experiencing this one at some point. However, you can avoid the discomfort by cleansing (drinking beetroot juice) or abstaining from foods that agitate your bowels the day before your flight.

All else failing, dedicate some time to the throne pre-flight and ensure you are a lighter load.

Download Movies And Music For Entertainment

Prepare to be entertained! I never look at the entertainment on flights before we fly. I like the element of surprise. Even if the entertainment is crap, there is always something to watch. And I take great pleasure in watching films from other countries. For example, I am up for a good Bollywood drama. 

Bring Your Favorite Book

Bring books, magazines, or games if you don’t want screen entertainment. Brian’s strategy for entertainment is different. He looks to see what’s on, and if there is nothing of interest, he downloads movies in advance.

Eat Yourself  To Sleep

Get ready to eat and stuff yourself silly. The goal here is a food coma!

There is so much talk these days about airline food. Yes, some of it is pathetic, but some are great! Regardless of if it is terrible or inedible, I indulge in whatever they have to sell!

Or, if I know the food will be subpar in advance, I carry on take-out. Either way, I am chowing down as I watch the entertainment.

We all know it’s a lot easier to sleep on a full stomach, so it should be a part of your strategy for a long-haul flight.

Use Noise-Canceling Headphones

One of the biggest complaints about not being able to sleep on a plane is noise. You can kiss goodbye to noise if you invest in a decent pair like the Sony WH-1000XM5 Noise Cancelling Wireless Headphones.

There are tons of cheaper headsets on the market, but the Sony ones are only slightly more than Airpods and ten times more comfortable. 

If you don’t want to invest in headsets, a good old-fashioned pair of earplugs will also work.

Drink Alcohol

Yes, I am recommending it. Alcohol is a depressant — meaning it slows your body down. This relaxes you, and time in a food coma will help you relax, which will help you sleep.

Many airlines offer complimentary booze. For me, free or not, I am indulging. Drinking alcohol is also reminiscent of the days when flying was classy for all vs. class divided.

Get Some Sleep

Be in the sleep mindset and get changed for sleep. For some people, this is all about clothing. So guess what? If you are more comfortable in your PJs, change into them.

I sleep naked at home, so this one does not work for me on the plane. Regardless, my typical outfit is casual. On a plane, you will catch me in leggings and a super long baggy dress. On long-haul flights, I take my bra off (in the bathroom, of course). I also wear flight socks because my shoes are coming off.

Take a Sleeping Aid

I’m not going to suggest which medicine; I am not a doctor. And, for the record, I am not a holistic healer either. There are tons of products on the market, prescription and over-the-counter, that will help you fall asleep upright. Not to mention ease any anxiousness or fear you may have. It’s not unusual for a doctor to prescribe short-term medicine for people that struggle with flying.

If you are concerned about how this might affect you do a trial run at home. Or, if you have a low tolerance, skip the alcohol. Regardless, consult your doctor on the potential effects of any combinations you plan to try.

Here are some of the most effective non-prescription sleep aids for flying:

long haul flight

Buy Products Aimed At Flight Comfort

Purchase sleep accessories that may help. Any travel site is going to share the products they love. All travel sites do. I’ve concluded that this is a bit of trial and error. I can pass out without a pillow upright – Brian cannot.

I can sleep with my head down in front of me – Brian cannot. And most of the products we have tried help but don’t enable Brian to sleep any better. Here are some products that do help most of the people I fly with:

Long-haul Flight Essentials:

Airplane FootrestHow many times have you been on a flight and not had anywhere to put your feet or not been able to get comfortable? Let that be a thing of the past.
Sleep Travel PillowNeed to sleep on the plane? How about an inflatable travel pillow? It’s compact and comes with earbuds and an eye mask.
Silk Eye PillowA multi-purpose gift. Use on the road or at home. This silk eye pillow is filled with organic Lavender & Flax Seeds (Plus a Removable Pouch and Free Gel Eye Mask.

Get Exercise Long-Haul Flights

Get some exercise and walk the plane. I typically go to the back of the aircraft and stretch and walk on the spot. If you don’t know what I mean by a walk on the spot, it’s like treading water on land. The idea here is to make sure that you get your circulation going.

Stay Hydrated

Re-hydrate. In the steps above, you overate, drank, and most likely medicated. Now it’s time to replenish your body with some water and vitamins!

Get Friendly With Your Seat Partner

Become BFFs with the neighbor you are seated with or strategically ignore them. We’ve all been there. You are either seated next to someone you can tolerate or enjoy. Or, you are sat next to an a-hole. So what do you do? When it’s the latter, I ignore them and pretend they do not exist. If I can spark some rapport, I try to make light of the compact quarters. Flying to Australia,

I had the best neighbor who wanted to talk through boundaries! We were completely comfortable with armrests up, snoring, and body melding. Yes, I know that’s not for everyone! Brian still laughs about this as he was sandwiched in with an a-hole while I slept on my neighbor’s shoulder, snoring in total harmony.

Long Flights

Seriously though, we are all humans, and everyone is as uncomfortable as you. Assuming the person sitting next to you does not stink and is reasonable – is it that terrible for your thighs to touch? Is it a cardinal sin to rest your head on your accommodating neighbor that negotiated the terms with you upfront?

I’ve successfully slept for a solid eight hours on many long-haul flights. I’ve also slept the entire trip from Florida to England many times.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve read about people sleeping in facemasks, and I often see people bring their bed pillows. What other tips and tricks do you do to survive a long-haul flight?

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  1. Long haul flights can be really irritating most of the time; surviving these long flights are a headache… Thanks for these so lovely and incredible tips for surviving these long haul flight, really appreciate your efforts.

  2. For those that travel, whether domestically or abroad, these are some handy tips to keep in mind. Entertainment can be hit or miss on flights; Alaska Airlines, for example, tends to offer recent movies and shows to help pass the times. Others aren’t as great with their selections, so keeping a tablet or game system handy is the way I go.

    1. I agree with you Robert, it’s hit or miss and a tablet is a great plan B. I personally don’t use the tablet plan B but my other half does:)
      Thanks for stopping by – Nikki

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