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How To Survive Long Flights: The Ultimate Guide - Armchair Empire

How To Survive Long Flights: The Ultimate Guide

Long flights suck – there’s just no getting around it, especially if you’re flying economy. But, there are plenty of ways to make that 16-hour plane ride much more bearable. We’ve condensed 30 years of flying experience into this: The ultimate guide to surviving long haul flights. With our tips and tricks, you’ll arrive at your destination rested and relaxed before you know it.

How to Prepare For A Long Flight

Preparation is by far the most important part of the process. In fact, nearly all the woes and worries that crop up during longer flights can be avoided entirely with just a little bit of planning and foresight.

Learn from our mistakes – here’s how to properly plan for a long haul flight:

Mentality

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Your mindset going into a long flight can honestly make or break how you feel for the entire trip, before you even take off. It’s hard to stay positive and relaxed when things go wrong in the moment, so do what you can to bolster your mental fortitude ahead of time. This includes:

Getting a good night’s rest leading in to your flight (may not apply if you’re trying to time your sleep cycles to sync up with your destination’s time zone).

Knowing where you’re going and how to get there. Figure out how you’re getting to the airport, where you’re parking if you’re leaving a car there, and keep flight info like your plane number, boarding info, and gate number easy accessible.

Getting to the airport with plenty of time to spare. There’s no such thing as getting to an airport “too early.” Running out of time and scrambling to check in, get through security, and find your gate is a surefire way of starting your flight off on the wrong foot. We recommend getting to the airport 3 hours ahead of your departure time to account for any last minute flight changes and/or ticketing/security hangups.

Accepting that this might not be an entirely pleasant endeavor. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging the fact that no one likes spending hours cooped up in an airplane. Remember that your flight is a means to an end, and that everyone else on the plane is enduring the same discomforts as you.

Without getting too philosophical, keep this in mind: You can’t control everything that’s going to happen to you during a long flight. Maybe your plane is delayed from the get-go. Maybe you get seated in front of a crying baby. Maybe your luggage gets lost. What you can control, is how you react to these less-than-ideal situations. 

Go into your flight with this in mind, and you’ll find yourself cruising through the more unpleasant aspects of your journey cool, calm, and collected. The whole process will go by that much quicker.

Choosing Your Outfit

outfit pull quote

After mindset, we’ve come to realize that your outfit affects your overall flying experience more than anything else you do. Dressing up to fly is a thing of the past, and you’re simply shooting yourself in the foot if you’re more worried about looking good than being comfortable while flying.

We’ve put together this battle-tested short-list of apparel if you’re wondering what to wear on long flights. In short, your outfit should be breathable, light, comfortable, and modular. By “modular” we mean you should be able to easily add/remove pieces in order to keep yourself warm/cool as needed – layers are your best friend here.

Shirt

Let’s start with your shirt. Your best bet here is to choose a top that’s thin, light, and breathable. You might be tempted to pick a thicker, long sleeve shirt because airplanes and airports do tend to get chilly, but it’s definitely best to go as light as possible and then control your temperature with additional layers. Otherwise, you might get stuck sweaty and uncomfortable when the plane is hotter than you expected and you’re wearing a wool turtleneck. 

Our suggestion: A light, cotton t-shirt. 

Pants

Notice the heading here is “pants” and not “shorts.” We highly advise against wearing shorts on longer flights, no matter how hot it may be outside. 99.9% of the time, you’ll end up uncomfortable with cold legs. 

Our honest recommendation here is to tend towards the “athletic apparel” side of things. However, we know that sweatpants are sacrilege to some people. If you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing athletic pants anywhere other than the gym, just be sure you pick something lightweight. Thick jeans are a no-go, as are wool pants. Thin chinos for guys look great and can be quite comfortable, and ladies can definitely consider opting for a long skirt.

Our suggestion: Sweatpants/joggers for men, sweatpants/leggings for women. If you need to wear something more fashionable, keep it as light and breathable as possible.

Shoes

Shoes are definitely a bit harder to recommend, because everyone has their own needs and preferences. 

Generally speaking, you want to wear shoes that you’d be comfortable standing and walking around in for hours at a time. You might be tempted to wear those shoes that look great but are just slightly too constricting – don’t. Leave them in your suitcase, and opt instead for that comfy “at-home” pair of shoes that everyone owns.

Our suggestion: Shoes that are light and breathable, and that you wouldn’t mind standing and walking around in for hours at a time. Athletic models like modern Nike running shoes can look great and serve you well throughout a long trip. “Comfort shoes” are great too – maybe that pair of loafers or slip-ons that have shaped perfectly to your feet over the years.

Outer Layer

This is what’s going to control your temperature for you. You want to get as close as you can to the perfect balance of warm and thin here. Bulkier sweatshirts or jackets take up precious seat space and are harder to handle over the course of a long flight. Thinner pullovers, sweaters, or hoodies are the way to go here.

Our suggestion: A thin, warm, pullover, sweater, or hoody. Fleece is a great option if you tend to get colder than usual while flying. Whatever you bring, make sure you can stow it easily in your carry-on should you need to take it off.

What to Bring on A Long Flight – 12 Essentials

What To Bring - Header Graphic

Deciding what to bring with you on the plane can be hard. You want to bring enough accessories to keep yourself comfortable and sane, but not so many that you uncomfortably minimize your already-cramped space.

To make things simple, here’s our list of the best travel accessories for long flights:

1. Travel Pillow

If you can only bring one thing with you, make it a travel pillow. These exist for a reason – if you have trouble sleeping on planes or experience neck or back pain while traveling, travel pillows will help minimize those issues.

If you’ve only ever tried an overpriced, shoddily-made pillow from one of the in-airport stores, you may be surprised to know that there are better options out there. 

In fact, there’s a travel pillow for just about every sort of traveler. There are neck support pillows, vertical back support systems, lumbar support pillows, structured neck scarves, and many, many more.

It might take a bit of experimenting and some research, but finding a travel pillow that fills all of your needs makes a world of difference on long flights.

2. Travel Blanket

We’re not talking about the free, scratchy blanket that every airline out there gives you at the start of your flight. Those hardly even qualify as blankets. Instead, there are a number of affordable, plush, comfortable, and warm travel blankets on the market today.

Again, there are more options out there than you might think. Some people prefer thick, silky-soft blankets, while others want something that’s a bit more rugged and versatile. The key is to find one that matches your needs as a traveler.

Whether you get cold easily and opt for a thicker blanket, or you just want something thin to keep covered as you sleep, make sure the blanket you pick is compact and easily stowable.

3. Airplane Footrest

Bringing a portable foot rest on a light may sound like an unnecessary luxury, but it can really be a game changer for certain travelers.

Lots of planes do have those “kick down” foot rests that hang off of the seat in front of you, so I always check to see if I need to bring my own footrest ahead of time. When I do bring it along, I always end of thanking myself profusely several hours later when my feet are comfortable elevated in front of me.

You have a few different options here – there are several decent inflatable footrests out there, along with molded plastic options and compact, foldable “foot hammocks.” Make sure your have enough room if you’re bringing a footrest along with you – there’s nothing worse than being stuck on a plane with too much crap to juggle around.

4. Sleeping Mask

Sleeping masks are proven to help you avoid jetlag and get acclimated to different timezones faster by completely blocking all light while you rest. I was a bit self-conscious the first time I brought one of these with me, but now I just don’t travel without it. The difference in the quality and duration of any in-flight sleep is night and day (pun intended).

I honestly didn’t think it was possible to get off of a long flight legitimately well-rested until I started using a decent sleep mask.

5. Earplugs

Some people need these, some people don’t. If the plane noises really get to you but you’re not a big music listener or movie watcher, a pair of earplugs can go a long way.

You’ll honestly be just fine opting for one of the cheap foam pairs that you can buy in bulk, but there are also plenty of more expensive, auditorily fine-tuned options out there. Some of them come connected with a string so you don’t end up losing one of them, some are made out of various materials, and so on.

You can try these out for pennies and they make a huge difference to some travelers, so there’s really no point not to give them a whirl.

6. Noise Cancelling Headphones

These are an alternative to earplugs, and some people swear by them. You can get a pretty decent pair of them for anywhere from $25 – $60, and I have to admit they do make a huge difference. Good ones block out the noise of the plane entirely, so you can focus on your movies, music, podcasts, or audiobooks.

7. Entertainment

This could do with its own post, but you know you best. The staples are movies, TV shows, music, podcasts, audiobooks, eBooks on your Kindle or other e-reader, physical books, and work-related material if you’re planning to work during the flight.

It doesn’t matter how you consume this media – on your phone, on a tablet, on a laptop, on your Kindle – but make sure the device is 100% charged up going into the flight. If you know you’ve had battery issues in the past, think about investing in a portable charging bank for your electronics.

Remember that you can download Netflix shows and movies to watch offline, you can download Spotify playlists to listen to offline, and you can download entire podcasts and audiobooks to listen to offline. The point here is to make sure your media is accessible offline, unless you’re planning on paying extra for in-flight Wi-Fi.

Don’t forget your headphones or earbuds – if you’re using Bluetooth headphones, make sure they’re charged up as well.

8. Change Of Clothes

This is my personal favorite tip on our list. A spare set of clothes is most helpful when you have a layover in the middle of your flight, but I’ve also changed in the bathroom of a single-leg journey.

The articles of clothing you bring is up to you, but I always have a clean set of underwear and socks with me. There is something absolutely magical about changing into a new pair of boxers, or putting a fresh, clean pair of socks on. You feel like a totally new person, squeaky clean and ready to tackle the rest of your flight.

Changing into new socks is a common “hack” that campers and mountaineers use to combat fatigue and despondency when necessary, so I put a lot of merit in the suggestion.

9. Toiletries

I never travel without a toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste in my carryon, at the very least. 

Brushing your teeth after hour 9 is a fantastic feeling – it does wonders for your mentality and overall morale in the middle of a draining flight. Even if you don’t brush your pearly whites mid-flight, it’s a blessing to be able to clean them the second you land.

Other than a toothbrush and toothpaste, it’s up to you what toiletries you bring with you on the plane. I wear contact lenses, so I always have a spare case and cleaning fluid with me. 

I also like to pack a small bottle filled with hand and face moisturizer, and I don’t leave the house without some chapstick to boot.

Deoderant and face wipes (or a travel sized bottle of face wash) are must-haves for me as well – basically anything that helps you freshen up and stay clean mid-flight. 

Keeping clean on the outside, again, does wonders for your overall mentality and mood during longer flights. There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere sweaty, smelly, and defeated because you forgot to put your toiletries in your carry-on.

10. Compression Socks

You won’t “get” compression socks until you try them. 

Lots of people wear them to combat swelling and the possibility of DVT while flying, but I just wear them because they’re incredibly comfortable. They can improve the blood circulation in your legs, and help fight against cramps, aches, and pains overall.

Compression socks are another thing I recommend you try if you haven’t yet – I didn’t know what I was missing out on until I gave them a go, and now they’re a staple of my travel wardrobe.

11. Water

Almost every single bit of discomfort you can experience on a plane can be partially (or fully) attributed to dehydration.

Dehydration causes headaches, muscles cramps, chapped skin, dry eyes, and fatigue, all of which are further exacerbated by high altitudes. In other words, long haul flights while dehydrated are a recipe for disaster. 

At best, you may feel slightly under the weather with a headache or other general body aches. At worst, it’s fairly common for people to faint or briefly pass out due to dehydration while flying.

This one can be tough because it’s not always easy, or even possible at all, to carry water bottles onto the plane with you. If that’s the case, you can always ask the flight attendants for water. 

They’ll always happily provide you with a small cup of H20, but are just as willing to fill up an empty bottle for you if you’d like to keep a reserve at your seat.

12. Misc

Take a second as your zipping up your carry-on bag and think if there’s anything else you might need easy access to on the flight. 

For example, I always bring a pen with me, because I absolutely hate scrambling to find a pen so I can fill out those landing cards at the end of the flight.

What To Do On A Long Flight

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This section is rather brief, just because what you choose to do on a long haul flights depends greatly on what your day-to-day interests and hobbies are.

That being said, we have a few key tips and tricks for anyone out there who likes music, movies, TV shows, or podcasts:

Spotify offline

Check out the video below and learn how to quickly and easily save entire Spotify playlists for easy offline use whenever you want, whether you have data/Internet access or not:

Netflix offline

A lot of people are surprised to learn that you can actually download entire Netflix episodes and movies for offline use as well! 

This is a great option if you have some catching up to do with your favorite TV shows, or if there’s a movie you’ve been meaning to watch but just haven’t had the time.

Check out the YouTube vid below for a quick look at how to save Netflix content for offline use:

Podcasts and Audiobooks offline

No matter what app or interface you use to listen to your podcasts and audiobooks, there’s almost always an option to download or save a copy of your preferred shows/books for offline listening. 

Make sure you have this all set up before takeoff!

How To Sleep On A Long Flight

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Sleeping on a plane seems to be a skill that some are born with, and others just aren’t. The truth is that there’s no surefire way to get quality shuteye on a plane. If you’re reading this hoping for some well-kept secret of how to sleep comfortably in economy class, you might want to temper your expectations a bit.

That being said, we do have three basic rules of thumb that will help you get some sleep on longer flights:

Get the window seat

If at all possible, opt for the window seat. The reason for this is twofold – first, you can lean your head against the side of the plane.

You’ll have an infinitely easier time falling asleep in this position than if you’re forced to try and sleep while sitting up straight, even if you have a decent travel pillow to keep your head from bobbing.

Secondly, you have direct control over how much light you’re getting. Light exposure messes with your circadian rhythms, affects the quality and longevity of your sleep, and can royally screw up your sense of time when you finally arrive at your destination.

By controlling the amount of light you’re exposed to via opening and shutting the window, you can better-acclimate yourself to the timezone of your destination, and you’ll have a much easier time falling asleep on the plane.

Keep your legs uncrossed

This one’s fairly simple. A lot of people tend to cross their legs when relaxing, but you actually want to do the opposite if your goal is to fall asleep on an airplane.

Keeping your legs crossed for an extended period of time almost guarantees that one of your legs will “fall asleep” at some point, and this in turn can wake you up and disrupt your rest.

Crossing your legs for hours at a time also increases your risk of blood clots and DVT as blood will pool in your legs thanks to the reduced circulation, and is just bad for you in general.

Lastly, crossing your legs causes uneven pressure on your lower back, and is a leading cause of cramps, lumbar pain, and back soreness both during and after the flight.

Recline your seat

The best position to fall asleep in on an airplane is leaning back in your seat. Leaning back takes some of the pressure off of your lumbar, and also helps to avoid cramping in your muscles. 

If you can’t recline your seat or lean back, the second best position to fall asleep in on a plane is sitting up straight. Anything else can result in cramps, muscles soreness, posture issues, or other types of pain.

10 Insider Tips And Tricks

In addition to our 30 years of travel experience, we scoured the Internet in order to bring you the best possible long flight tips and tricks out there. 

These pointers come from seasoned travelers – businessmen and businesswomen with hundreds of thousands miles under their belts, flight attendants and pilots, and recreational travelers that have been around the world multiple times. 

1. Walk around on the plane

“Don’t be ashamed to get up just to walk around. It’s not weird.”
/u/iAlready, Reddit User

2. Treat yourself

“If you can spare the cash (usually $50 or so), buy a pass to the luxury / captain's lounge before boarding the flight. Goes a long way in de-stressing before getting on the flight.”
/u/awindinthedoor, Reddit User

3. Compression socks (again)

“My best purchase for making the flight better was to get orthopedic, compression socks. Even though I'm not in the primary age demographic for compression socks, my feet and joints always felt a zillion times better after using them on a long flight.”
/u/Sir_Catrick_Stewart, Reddit User

4. Bathroom timing

“Remember that EVERYONE needs to use the bathroom immediately after the attendants have served a meal. Try to use it before the meal is served to miss the rush.”
Kenneth L., Business Traveler of 12 years

5. On alcohol and flying

“Best advice is don't get drunk right before the flight. You'll wake up a few hours later and have a horrible hangover the rest of the flight.”
/u/Trailless, Flight Attendant

6. Nasal spray

“Saline nasal spray. My nose always gets uncomfortably dry on flights that are 4+ hours. It's the only thing that saves me.”
/u/Kissette, Reddit User

7. On sleeping

“Figure out if you want to sleep on the flight or not. Bottom line is - adjust to your destination's time zone ASAP. For instance, if you're taking an evening flight from Europe and land in the US at night, try to sleep as little as possible.”
Kris P., Frequent Flyer

8. Bring a light scarf

“Get a pashmina scarf- I will not travel without one. On the plane you can use it as a blanket or pillow. On the ground you can use it as a scarf, or my friend used it as a skirt before as well. You can also use it to cushion breakables if you buy fragile things on your trip.”
Kristen, Veteran Flight Attendant

9. Plan ahead of time

“Plan what you are going to wear on the flight, and what you are going to pack well ahead of time. Keep clothing light, multi functional and think in terms of layers.”
John C., Frequent Business Traveler

10. On snacking

“Fruit. After the security screening check out a couple of food and snack places and grab some bananas and apples, maybe some grapes. Airline snacks are of the bland, salty, non-perishable variety. It can get tedious and make you feel kind of gamey if you eat too much of that stuff.”
/u/Ken_Thomas, Reddit User