Seeing far reaching corners of the world is something most people have on their life’s to-do list! Sitting on an airplane for days probably isn’t. So far, the longest flight we’ve been subjected to was just over 13 hours. It’s not the longest flight in the world, but combine it with some pretty rough back-to-backs and it might as well be. Our most trying journey was flying SLC > DEN (1.5 hours) > NRT (13 hours, due to mechanical issues) > KUL (7 hours). That’s over 20 butt in seat flight hours. Pepper in a missed connection and some layovers and we were at two days spent on airplanes and in airports.
There are definitely longer single flights than those we’ve flown, but if you’re facing a long-haul, we think we can help you out.
Obviously, if you can swing flying business class with cash, points, or miles, we highly suggest it, but like the vast majority of travelers, we get to squeeze into coach with everyone else.
Surviving a Long-Haul Flight in Coach
First off, let’s be clear, if you’re in coach, you’re not going to have much room. Truly, there’s no room. We both are close to 6 feet tall, and here’s how our legs looked the whole time. Planning where you sit ahead of time can help with this a bit.
Sitting in the Aisle
Sitting in the aisle is great if you’ve got a small bladder or want to be able to stretch a leg out down the aisle every now and then. The positives to sitting in the aisle seat comes with the negative of having to get up whenever the person in the middle or window seat needs to get up. This can be a problem if you’re planning on sleeping for an extended period of time.
Sitting in the Middle
I’ve never met nor read of anyone who prefers the middle seat. If that’s you, you are something special. The only perk I can think of is by matter of plane etiquette, you should be given both inside arm rests, though not all fliers follow etiquette.
Sitting in the Window Seat
The window seat is great because no one is going to be bothering you to get up should they need to go to the bathroom or stretch their legs. The side of the plane also makes a great place to rest your head when it’s time to get some sleep. You will have to bother two people should you need to get up.
What To Bring on a Long Haul Flight
A Good Travel Pillow
We’ve tried all sorts of pillows to help us get some sleep on long-hauls. The best pillow we’ve found so far is this wrap around travel pillow. You can find them on Amazon. It’s nice because it easily wraps around your neck, which keeps you warm. It also has a built in support frame so your head doesn’t fall forward and your mouth doesn’t drop open while you’re out.
While it would be nice to just sleep the entirety of the flight, that’s probably not going to happen. All major airlines will have their own in-flight entertainment systems with various movies and TV shows for you to watch. These are immensely helpful, but might not be enough. We always bring plenty of our own entertainment options.
Reading is a great way to entertain yourself and help usher on some sleep. We each bring our own Nook Glowlight for this purpose.
We used to pack a couple of old Nintendo DS Lites for some games (cheap and portable!) but have since started bringing a Nintendo Switch. We swap out playing single player games, play together when we both feel like it, and have even played multiplayer with other passengers who also brought their Switch along.
Beyond that, we both make sure we have plenty of Spotify music and random comfort movies and TV shows downloaded and available on our phones. Sometimes watching The Office for the whatever-time is just what you need to help you drift off to sleep. Don’t forget your headphones!
Medication for Long Haul Flights
Many people find medication helpful for sleeping on a plane. I am definitely one of those people. Melatonin or Benadryl (and a glass of wine (not medically recommended) does wonders for me) work well for a lot of people. If you have a fear of flying or just get generally anxious in the air, definitely see a doctor about a one-time dose of something stronger, like Xanax.
Long Haul Amenity Kits
Most airlines will often offer coach passengers with a small amenity kit that includes an eye mask, pillow and a blanket. This isn’t always the case, so if you’d like to be sure you have one of those, it would be smart to bring your own.
An eye mask helps immensely to block any light and movement and help you sleep. Our flights offered them for free, but we can’t guarantee that’ll happen all the time.
Make sure this is in a bag that fits under the seat instead of in the overhead compartments so you can access it easily! Having to rustle above other travelers each time you need something gets irritating, as well as the risk that the plane will run out of room and force you to gate-check an overhead bag.
Again, most airlines will offer in-flight entertainment. They will even will offer headphones free of charge if you forgot yours. It’s also common to find music channels including lots of “relaxation” stations to help kill the airplane noise. Plus, who doesn’t watch the flight tracker to know how much longer you’ve got to your destination.
Take Care of Yourself on Long-Hauls!
A lot of major airlines will offer free beer or wine on international flights. While free alcohol is nice and can definitely take the edge off, make sure you’re not getting so tipsy you end up hungover. A long flight is rough, but few things are worse than waking up hungover on a plane with several hours left in your flight.
It’s really easy to get dehydrated on a flight with the free alcohol and recirculated air. Drink plenty of water! You can pick up a giant bottle of water after airport security and bring it on the plane.
DVTs, dangerous blood clots in the legs, is a (probably overblown but still possible) risk from long-haul flights. To combat this, get up and walk around as often as you can. If you’re staying hydrated, having to get up to go to the bathroom can do double duty by getting you up, moving your legs as well as the obvious. Taking some time to flex your thighs and calves is also helpful. We’ve started flying with compression socks to help with this and prevent swelling.
And finally, sleep as much as you possibly can!
Don’t be a jerk
See our post about in-flight etiquette. Long-haul flights kinda suck. They suck for everyone. Don’t ruin the flight for someone else! But that’s another post and another rant, so at the end of the day, remember that you’re stuck in a tin can with hundreds of people, 36,000 feet in the air and you’re all in this together until the plane lands. At least you’ll be somewhere awesome once it’s all over!