Surviving a long haul flight: Tips to keep you comfortable & make time fly by

For Australian and New Zealand travellers, unless we holiday in our own countries, the Pacific Islands or South East Asia it is inevitable that at some point we will have to endure the long haul to the rest of the world.  

I think the longest I’ve done is Melbourne – Bangkok – Oslo – Tromso = 23.5 hours flying, not including layovers. Add those to the mix then there is another 10 hours to account for, which is actually considerably good for layover times. 

That is a hell of long time to be sitting on your bum, in economy no less because let’s face it, who can afford business or first? I’d struggle to afford premium economy, or rather I’d prefer to use what I’d pay on a premium economy seat to use on my trip.  But hey, if you CAN afford the upgrade, good for you, I would imagine the comfort is well worth it.

So what have I done on past trips to ensure I am entertained and comfortable enough? Lots of things, below are some handy hints that could end up saving you a lot of pain, boredom and sleep deprivation:

Preparing for a long-haul flight 

Get in early and choose your seat. The debate over window or aisle rages on however, whether you find a window seat best for sleeping or you prefer an aisle for easy bathroom access you’ll only have the option to get the seat you want if you check in ahead of time. Or select your seat when booking, if you can do that. 

Also, not that this works ALL the time, but quite a few times I have managed to secure an entire row all to myself which means I can stretch out more which is easier for sleeping. How have I managed this? I book my seat up the back of the plane. Front of (or closer to the front) means quicker exit and it seems most people prefer to sit up the front. But for the sake of potentially securing a row to yourself then try up the back. You could get lucky!

Get your body ready. The day before your flight go to the gym, go for a walk, eat healthy, hydrate yourself and get a good night sleep. Also pack yourself a little amenities bag (more on this below) for freshening up both on the flight or on a layover. All these measures will help with both your in flight experience as well as combating jet lag.

So what do I do in cattle class to pass the time? 

  1. Sleep


    I don’t know about you, but this is the one thing that has failed me time and time again. I am quite in awe of those who can drift off for hours on long haul flights, but if you’re anything like me it’s 10 minutes here, 20 minutes there. It is frustrating. 

    Contrary to what you’d think is the natural order of things when it comes to sleep, you should start your long-haul flight already well rested. That way if sleep evades you on the flight at least you’re only catching up on a few hours’ worth of sleep (as opposed to many days) in your holiday destination.  

    Some people rely on alcohol or sleeping aids to get themselves a few hours of shut eye. I find for me that red wine gets me sleepy, but still not enough for a few hours of sleep. Plus, too much of that is very dehydrating. I’ve not tried sleeping pills or other sedatives, however this upcoming trip I think I may give the old mother’s helper ‘Phenergan’ a go. I use it before sleep for allergy flare ups and I seem to drift off with no problems. 

    Will see how it goes! 

  2. Escape 


  3. Move 


    Get up out of your seat and go for a walk around the cabin.  Or head up to the back of the plane and do some squats or leg raises. Not only does this help pass the time but it gets the blood pumping which after hours of sitting on your backside is vital for your health.  

    I’ve often seen people up the back with their iPad watching a TV show, just so that they can stand up for a while.

    While in your seat make sure that you keep pumping your legs, flexing, and stretching both your legs and arms.  The risk of developing a DVT (deep vein thrombosis) increases on long haul flights so movement is important to keep the blood flowing.  It is also wise to keep yourself hydrated (no, that does not include wine!!) and wearing compression stockings or socks. 

  4. Eat 


    Yeah yeah air plane food is nothing amazing, unless of course you’re sitting in first or business of course.  But by the time that food trolley comes around you can wipe off about a half an hour of flight time with the whole eating and drinking business. 

    On a trip from Australia to Europe (via Asia or Middle East) there are at least two to three meals on each flight. For a 9 hour flight from Melbourne to Bangkok that’s at least 1 hour of your time taken up by eating and drinking. 

How do I make the flight more comfortable? 

  • Pre-book my seat.  
  • Noise cancelling headphones (or ear plugs). 
  • Eye mask. 
  • Small amenities kit including deodorant, toothbrush and paste, face mist or cream, lip balm, hand cream and saline nasal spray (trust me it’s a game changer). 
  • Berocca, Hydralite, multi-vitamins and headache pills – to fight jet lag before it even begins.
  • Baby wipes. Essential to give yourself a quick body wash. 
  • My own water bottle so I can fill whenever and keep myself hydrated. 
  • Loose fitting clothes – dress comfortably and layer up because it can get cold on a plane.
  • Loose shoes you can kick off – don’t wear tight shoes if you know your feet are likely to swell. 
  • Travel pillow/scarf. Personally, I use a scarf as it has more than one use but effective rolled up as a pillow. 
  • Only have what I need for the flight under my seat so that I have more leg room. The rest can go in the overhead locker. 
  • Book an overnight flight in order to reduce jet lag 
Carry-on-survival-kit-amenities
Carry on survival kit (minus the toothbrush)

And when the flight is over? 

Normally I am super keep to get to my destination and start exploring. Or eating and drinking. However, after 24 hours flying there are a few things I do that ensure that I fight off the dreaded jet lag: 

  • I try to book flights where I arrive in the morning, that way I am acclimatised to the time of the country that I am in. 
  • Unpack. Just get it done, that way you have more time to get out and do fun stuff. 
  • Go for a short walk to get the blood pumping. I mean you have been sitting on your bum for many hours, get those legs moving. 
  • Familiarise myself with my surroundings. 
  • Eat something fresh and healthy.
  • Loads of water.
  • Put on a hydrating mask (these are so worth it).
  • Have a long warm shower.
  • A glass of wine. 
  • Get a decent night sleep. 

In a few days I am off on a long haul flight to Munich via Bangkok and Rome so hopefully it is a comfortable and easy series of flights. I’d be super happy to get some sleep on the Bangkok to Rome leg so fingers crossed for that!

Hopefully some of this post is helpful to those of you whom are embarking on a long haul flight soon.

If you found this post helpful and interesting then check out my recent post on travelling with carry on size only for 3 weeks in Europe.

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