A long-haul flight is what we all refer to as a long flight. For some of us, that’s a five-hour flight; for others, it’s a couple of days of flying. Most commercial airlines categorize any flight longer than 2547 miles as a long-haul flight. To put this into geographical context, this is a longer flight than Orlando, Florida, to Washington Seattle, which comes in at 3,135 miles.
Long-haul flights are long!
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, which is a staggering 15.5-hour leg from Los Angeles that I’ve also done.
Before we even start, let me say that I am going to 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. And like mentioned above, we all define “long” differently. But I mean long.
Here are my tips for the long-haul flights, not the general advice you can read on any old site:
Plan and pay for the seating assignment if it’s not included in your fare. For me, 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 been seated with the group on the reservation.
The worst-case scenario here is you don’t get the best seat, but my other tips will solve this for you:
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. If you don’t win an upgrade bid, you can sometimes score a paid upgrade at the check-in counter or departure gate. On an international trip, you can expect to pay at least a grand.
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. 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.
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.
So you did not get upgraded. Let’s continue with the tips for long-haul flights:
Empty your bowels before you get to the airport. Think colonic. There’s nothing more uncomfortable than a large intestine that needs to be emptied. Well, there is! Having to relieve yourself on a long-haul flight is just terrible. I think everyone has had the misfortune of experiencing this one at some point. However, you can avoid the discomfort by cleansing (drink beetroot juice) or abstaining from foods that agitate your bowels. All else failing, dedicate some time to the throne pre-flight and make sure you are a lighter load.
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 stress something to watch. And I take great pleasure in watching films from other countries. For example, I am up for a good Bollywood drama. If you don’t care for screen entertainment, bring books, magazines or games. 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.
Get ready to eat and stuff yourself silly. The goal here is food coma! There is so much talk these days about airline food. Yes, some of it is flat-out pathetic, but some of it is great! When it is terrible or inedible, I indulge in whatever they have to sell! Or, if I know the food is going to be subpar in advance, I carry on take-out. Either way, I am chowing down as I watch the entertainment.
Drink alcohol. Yes, I am recommending it. Alcohol is a depressant — meaning it slows your body down. This relaxes you, and time with the 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 gone by when flying was classy for all vs. class divided.
Take a pill. I’m not going to suggest which medicine; I am not a doctor. And, for the record, I am not a holistic healer either. The reality is, there are tons of products on the market prescription and over the counter that will help you fall asleep in the upright position. 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 tollerance skip the alcohol. Regardless, consult with your doctor on potential effects of any combinations you plan to try.
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 PJ’s go change into them. I sleep naked at home, so obviously, 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.
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 for this, it’s 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 total rest.
Here are a few long-haul flight essentials that I like:
A multi-purpose gift. Use on the road or at home. This silk eye pillow is filled with organic Lavender & Flax Seeds (Plus Removable Pouch and Free Gel Eye Mask.
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 that you can tolerate or possibly 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 up 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! It turned out we were both completely comfortable with armrests up, snoring, and body melding. Yes, I know that’s not for everyone! Brian still laughs about this one to this day as he was sandwiched in with an a-hole while I slept on my neighbor’s shoulder, snoring in total harmony.
Seriously though, we are all humans, and everyone is as uncomfortable as you. Assuming the person sat next to you does not stink and is reasonable – is it that terrible for 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.
Hopefully, you have a full belly, a nice buzz, and are snoring away at this point! When you wake up, here’s how to stay on track:
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.
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!
If you have more flying time left, repeat all of the above steps!
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?
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.