How to Survive Your Long Haul Flight

Long Haul Flight Sleeping

Before you purchase that cheap airline ticket to a far flung destination stop and think about how you will survive the long haul flight.  Here are six tips to manage the long haul flight experience and get off to a great start for your vacation.

Before Booking a Long Haul Flight

There are four main questions to consider before booking a long haul flight:

  • Is your flight time greater than 12 hours?  If so then it may be worthwhile to plan a short stopover enroute to your destination.
  • Can you afford to travel in premium economy, business or first class?  Any of these options will enable you to arrive at your destination in a better state than basic economy.
  • Does your travelling party include the elderly or children?  They will require more time to recover from a long haul flight (and so will you if you have to care for them).
  • Do any of your travelling party have problems sleeping on aircraft?  If so then a long haul flight will cause one or more members to be excessively fatigued on arrival at your destination, which they will take several days to recover from.

Think about these factors and then you can decide whether it would be worthwhile to plan a stopover rather than travelling straight through to your destination.

Seat Allocation

The other component of booking your flight is to consider where on the airplane you want to sit.  For long haul flights finding extra leg room is important for comfort, particularly if you are tall.  Many airlines allow you to select the better seat positions for an extra fee – check out your airline options to see if they offer this feature.  Websites like SeatGuru are good resources to determine the best seats for your flight.

Airport Transfers

Think about how you will travel between your destination and your accommodation on arrival.  If you are on a long haul flight for greater than 16 hours then you will be arriving at your destination in a fatigued state.

As a result you should avoid driving any large distance on arrival, particularly if you are unfamiliar with your destination and may be driving on the other side of the road.  It is better to pick up a hire vehicle a couple of days later when you are refreshed.  Alternative transport options include public transport, shuttle buses, taxis and limousines.

You should also have this consideration for your return home.  Plan to use alternate transport if you will be in transit for 16 hours or longer.  This may require you to also use alternative transport options for your initial departure.

Long Haul Flight Equipment

Essential equipment for a long haul flight includes:

  • Sleeping.  Earplugs or noise cancelling headphones are essential to block out aircraft engine noise. A U shaped inflatable travel pillow is also useful to enable you to lean your head on something while sleeping.  For maximum comfort select an inflatable pillow which has a flat back in the section behind your head.  Some people also use eye covers, but this one is a personal decision.
  • Clothing.  Ensure you have comfortable clothes and shoes to wear.  The clothes should have long arms and legs and be warm as it gets cold at altitude.  Ensure you take warm socks for your feet if you choose to leave your shoes off in flight.  Take spare underwear and a lightweight change of clothes in your carry on bag just in case you get delayed anywhere, your checked luggage is lost or you have an opportunity to have a shower en route.
  • Toiletries.  Take essential toiletries and medications in your carry-on luggage so you can freshen up en route, and you are also stocked in the event that your flight is delayed or your luggage is lost.  Ensure that the contents of your carry on toiletries bag comply with airport regulations.
  • Entertainment.  Check what entertainment options are offered on your flight.  Depending on you and your party’s tastes you may need to plan to take reading material, shows, games and music.  Consider whether you plan to take handheld electronic devices as you will also need to carry them on the remainder of your trip.  Load new material in advance of your trip.  With applications check that will work without internet access.  Also research options to recharge your devices enroute.

Pre-Flight and On Board

Key tips for prior to departure and when on board your flight:

  • Arrive early so you have enough time to get through check in and customs in a relaxed manner.
  • Avoid the temptation to drink any alcohol pre-flight, on board and during transitions.  Alcohol is dehydrating and combined with the reduced oxygen levels at high altitude is a key cause of significant jet lag occurring.
  • Take advantage of the waiting time to walk around the airport and get some exercise prior to boarding.  You will be sitting soon enough.
  • Once on board shift your clock to your destination time.  Plan to sleep in the night time for your destination.
  • While on board pay attention to advice to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis.  There are exercises you can do and just getting up and periodically walking around will help prevent this condition.
  • If you have a stop anywhere take advantage of the opportunity to go for a walk around the terminal while you wait to board your next flight.
  • Be wary of suggestions to take medication to enable you to sleep on your flight.  The medications may make your jet lag worse.  If you have children in your party you need to be particularly careful as some ‘sedatives’ can have the opposite effect and create a hyperactive child.

On Arrival

After you arrive at your destination you should plan to stay awake until night time.  Do not succumb to the temptation to have a nap as you will then take longer to adjust to the new time zone.

Plan to stay at your initial destination for at least 2 nights to allow yourself to adjust to the new time zone, or 3-4 nights if you have elderly or children in your party.

Minimising Jet Lag

Significant jet lag can take up to one week to recover from which will impact your holiday.  By planning appropriately you can reduce the impact of jet lag which will allow you to make the most of your precious holiday time.

Do you have any additional tips to survive long haul flights?  Please share your experience in the comments below.

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8 thoughts on “How to Survive Your Long Haul Flight”

    • I have ‘fond’ memories of a 32 hour marathon we did once – our original flights were Rome-Singapore-Melbourne, but in the period after we booked them on our loyalty program the airline cancelled that route, but were still obliged to get us from Rome to Melbourne. As a result we travelled Rome-London-Singapore-Sydney-Melbourne…

      Never again!! And I am a person who has always had trouble sleeping on flights so I was exhausted.

    • I also always choose an aisle seat. The ease of getting up and down can’t be beaten, and you always feel a bit awkward asking your neighbours to get up to let you out…

      Thanks for your comment!

  1. One important web tool is If you know they type of aircraft being used on your flight(s), you can check out the seating configuration on your plane. They also have info about whether a particular seat might have some characteristic you’re looking for—or want to avoid like the plague. We once flew from Phoenix, Arizona in the US to Hawaii in seats that backed onto the bathroom bulkhead AND didn’t recline and we had paid extra for a teavel agent to book our flight.

  2. DVT is a blood clot that develops in the deep veins of the legs or pelvic area or, on rare occasions, the arms.It is not usually life threatening but it can become so if a blood clot breaks loose, becoming a pulmonary embolism (PE). Many people in the U.S. die within the first hour after a PE occurs and up to 200,000 Americans die each year. According to the Vascular Disease Foundation, risk factors include a lengthy surgery, pregnancy, being over age 40 and sedentary, cancer, use of birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, a family history of DVT, and spinal cord or other major injuries. Smoking also increases the risk of DVT, as does obesity, long-distance travel and inherited clotting conditions. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk.

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