long haul flight

How To Survive A Long Haul Flight

June 24, 2019 11 Comments

The first long haul flight I took was way back in 2006. I was travelling to San Francisco to live and work for the summer. I was so excited but also hugely nervous about how I was going to survive for 10 hours on an airplane! The longest I had been on a plane before that was 2 hours on a family holiday to Spain.

Since then I’ve been on a whopping 24 more long hauls (yes, I did try to count them up for this post!). Whilst living in Japan, I was lucky enough to be able to fly home for Christmas and Summer and then I’ve taken a bunch of other long hauls both east and west too. So, I think I know a thing or two about how to survive a long haul flight. Keep reading to find out my best tips and tricks!

Choose the best Airline for your Needs

I am all about getting the best deal when it comes to flights. I love checking out flight deals on Skyscanner.

Pro tip: If you are not restricted by destination or date, make sure you type everywhere as your destination and click whole month in the calendar section.

However, if you want to survive a long haul flight, it is important to do a little bit more research before booking that €200 flight to Thailand on “budgetair” (not a real airline). Sometimes you might even get lucky and manage to secure a premium economy seat or even business class seat for a little extra, its all in the research!

When I’ve found a few deals on Skyscanner, I then check out the airlines’ ratings on Airline Quality. This amazing and free website covers everything you need to know about an airline from cleanliness to customer service. Think about what conditions are important to you and make sure the airline provides that. Things such as power outlets in the seats, in-flight entertainment, friendly flight attendants etc.

Choosing the perfect seat

Most people have a preference when it comes to where they like to sit on a plane. For me, it’s always the window seat, except when it’s a long haul. Choosing an aisle seat is the best way to survive a long-haul flight because you’ll have the luxury of being able to move around freely, stretch your legs and make bathroom visits without disturbing the people next to you.

Next step is to check out SeatGuru, a really informative and again free website that provides seat maps and comfort ratings for most airlines. It will help you to decide on the best place to sit (not next to the bathroom!) and there are lots of reviews from previous passengers too. This way you can find out how comfortable the seats are, do the seats recline and what the overhead storage is like.

For a long haul flight, make sure that you plan this part out. It really can make or break your experience.

interior of airplane

Related: How to Choose the Best Travel Insurance


Wear comfortable clothing

We would all love to look like a goddess walking off the plane right? I mean, we’re bombarded with images of celebrities looking amazing as they leave the terminal after a 15-hour flight. But, they haven’t had to endure economy class with a screaming toddler sitting behind them and no leg room, have they?!

Don’t try to be like them, wear comfortable clothes. Clothes that could almost pass as pyjamas they are that comfy. A slouchy tracksuit, easy to slip off trainers and a long sleeve cardigan that can double up as an extra blanket will provide all the comfort you need to survive the long haul flight.

Also, for a long haul, you really should bring and wear compression socks. This link is for the pair I currently own and love. They can feel a little tight but they help to increase the blood flow in your lower legs, reducing the risk of blood clots and swollen ankles. I am not a medical professional so please make sure to check with your GP if you are unsure in any way.

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How to survive a Long Haul Flight

bring your own snacks

Most long haul flights offer an in-flight meal full of small little boxes, each one offering a piece to a puzzle that you really shouldn’t try to solve. Don’t get me wrong, I love food and surprises but airplane food tends to be full of additives, oils and are laden with heavy carbohydrates. All of which will leave you feeling sluggish, bloated and sleepy.

The best way to avoid eating airplane food is to eat a large nutritious meal before and/or directly after your flight, bring lots of snacks such as fruit and protein bars and drink plenty of water. Not only will this combat the feeling of low energy, but it is also a helpful way of combatting jetlag.

hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

An airplane was once described to me as a sky desert and I honestly could not agree more! Humidity levels on a plane are often drier than the Sahara so if you’ve ever felt ill getting off a plane, then it’s most likely due to dehydration.

It can be so tempting to drink all the wine and/or gin and tonics on a long haul flight. Especially because they’re often free. Indulge, but please also drink as much water you can get your hands on. Your whole body will thank you later.

A new travel hack for me is bringing my own collapsible water bottle which flight attendants will fill up for you as many times as you like. I cannot believe I didn’t know about this sooner, I used to hate asking for water and receiving a small plastic glass that was gone in a millisecond. Now I’m drinking all the water and being sustainable. Win-Win eh?! Don’t chug the water though, take your time and sip away for the duration of your flight.

survive long haul flight

get some shut-eye

Trying to sleep on a plane in economy can be really, really hard. While I have seen people sleep for the duration of a 16-hour flight (if that is you, please share your secrets in the comments!). For the majority of us, it feels like trying to sleep on a rock, during a thunderstorm.

There are several things you can do to make sleep possible on a long haul flight. As mentioned above, wearing comfortable clothes is key! Being in comfortable clothes allows you to move around freely in your seat, whilst trying to find your cosy spot. Not everyone loves travel pillows but they are such a good support for your head and they can also be used in other ways such as an elbow rest or a cushion.

You also need to think about what helps you sleep at home too. Some of the same strategies will work when flying long haul. For example; reading, listening to sleep talk down videos, wearing an eye-mask and ear-plugs and avoiding technology glare for an hour or so are all things I do at home and when flying.

If none of that works for you then some OTC sleep aids might help. My North American friends swear by Melatonin but it has to be prescribed by a GP here. I use this Magnesium Spray all the time without fail and it really does help a bad sleeper like myself. Magnesium is a natural, homoeopathic sleep remedy which is also good for your bones. It stings a little when you apply it but honestly, the rewards of good sleep are worth it!


Related: Everything you need to know about coping with humidity


looking out airplane window

Bring Back-Up entertainment

Most long haul flights do offer in-flight entertainment in some form. This is changed monthly so if you want to know what’s on offer when you’re flying, simply check out the airline’s website to see what’s on when you fly. Also, if you have Netflix, you can download shows to watch offline on your tablet/laptop. However, there’s only so much TV and movies you can watch in a row before you start feeling restless and antsy.

This is why I always bring other forms of entertainment to survive a long haul flight. In my hand luggage, I always have my Kindle with books already downloaded, my phone with podcasts I like to listen to, a small mindfulness colouring book, a journal and my laptop. It sounds like a lot but it really helps to break up the time when you switch between different forms of entertainment.

prepare ahead for jetlag

Oh jet lag, how painful you are! jet lag occurs when your circadian rhythm, basically your body clock, believes it is in one time zone but it is actually physically somewhere else. So you end up cranky, irritable and worst of all extra-tired at the worst times.

While there is no magical cure for jet lag, there are some things you can do to reduce its severity. One way is to quickly and clearly give your body the information it needs about the new time zone. In short, set your watch to match the timezone you’ll be entering a couple of days in advance.

Also, if you incorporate a lot of the tips and strategies above, you will definitely tackle jet lag head on.


What are your best long haul flight survival tips? Please share in the comments!

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11 Comments

  • Teresa June 25, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    These are brilliant tips! I’ve only ever done one (back and forth) long haul flight and that was in Business Class. And honestly, I don’t think I could do it in Economy, because even a 5-hour flight to Portugal was 3 hours too long in Economy for me 😀 I’m afraid of flying, you see. But the own snack-part was a brilliant one. We could’ve used those on the 16-hour flight to Los Angeles! xx

    Teresa Maria | Outlandish Blog

    • Ciara July 17, 2019 at 1:02 am

      Thanks so much Teresa – the more you fly the easier it gets, I promise. My other half is afraid of flying too but he’s slowly but surely getting better. Yeah always bring your own snacks, plane food makes you feel gross (in economy anyway ha!)

  • John Quinn June 26, 2019 at 1:45 am

    They give refills of tap water on a plane? And to think of all the times I rationed my water on flights. Hmmmm. Great tips Ciara, I’m following a good few but always good to learn more.

    • Krystyna June 28, 2019 at 2:54 am

      I had no idea you could get water bottles filled. What a great tip! Will definitely check out the seating and customer info websites too.

    • Ciara July 17, 2019 at 1:00 am

      I think they like to keep this one a secret John haha. A friend of mine is an air hostess which is how I found out. I’m glad you learned something new John!

  • Michelle June 28, 2019 at 8:19 am

    These tips are all so helpful. The longhaul flights I’ve done have been between Europe and Australia and they are so draining! I found my skin felt so gross and oily afterwards I always carry face wipes. Other people find their skin gets drier though so I guess it’s knowing how your skin reacts!

    • Ciara July 17, 2019 at 12:59 am

      Thanks for the comments Michelle. Yeah it’s so gross how the plane affects the skin isn’t it. I find using a good toner too for oily skin really helps and its really refreshing too!

  • Chocoviv July 6, 2019 at 7:51 am

    Great tips!

  • Michael Anderson July 11, 2019 at 1:39 am

    I second all of these tips, especially about aisle seats and wearing the most comfortable clothes that you own. Great list of recommendations that can save you a lot of heartache when you’re on a lengthy flight.

    Also how did you enjoy San Francisco? I live close by!

    • Ciara July 17, 2019 at 12:57 am

      Thanks for the comment Michael! I loved San Fran – I didn’t know that you’re close to there. My aunt lives over there so it was great knowing someone when I went.

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    Welcome to my blog! I'm Ciara, a native of Dublin Ireland. I'm an introverted wanderer who loves to explore this gorgeous planet of ours. I try to live by the motto 'Feel the fear and do it anyway' which has led to some ridiculous mishaps along the way. Join me as I try to complete my never-ending bucket list. Read More

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