I’ve taken a lot of flights over the last few years, and some of those were long-haul flights. By long-haul flight, I mean more than 10 hours, such as from Seoul to Rome or Taipei to NYC. Honestly, I hate flying, but I have learned to survive despite the airlines’ best efforts to make the experience as uncomfortable as possible.
If possible, try to get a layover to give yourself a break. I managed to find a 21-hour layover in Vancouver on my way to New Jersey from Taipei. It gave me two fairly long flights but felt better than just taking one. Plus, I had enough time to sightsee in Vancouver.
Other than getting a break with a layover, travelers should keep a few things in mind before and during long-haul flights.
Know your seat
Choose your seat when you book, but don’t forget about it during your wait for that flight. Check in online every now and then and see if you can find a better one.
As I travel solo, I look for a window seat with someone sitting on the aisle. There’s less of a chance that someone will take that middle seat. Also, check seatguru.com to make sure there are no issues with the seat (e.g., won’t recline). That empty seat in the middle gives you additional storage space so you don’t load the seatback pocket with all your stuff, which can lead to bumping your knees against the seat all flight.
It’s worth asking about your seat when you check in and again at the gate. On a flight from JFK to Taipei, I was able to get an entire row to myself because I asked about available seats at the gate. There were a lot of jealous travelers on that flight.
I choose the window seat to give me a wall to lean against when I attempt to sleep. This brings me to the next survival tip.
Invest in a quality neck pillow
Seriously, it helps. Those tiny pillows the airline gives are garbage. They’re good for extra back cushion, but that’s about it.
I still recommend getting a Cabeau Evolution travel pillow because they’re compact and comfortable. The keep your head up when sleeping upright. Also, if you have that window seat, you can use it to lean against the wall for additional comfort.
I gave the cool version of the neck pillow a try, but I prefer the larger memory foam version as it works better as an actual pillow and not just a neck pillow. Using this pillow has lessened the effects of jetlag.
I bring a hoodie along as an additional cushion. It’s also useful on shorter flights that don’t give out blankets.
Hydration is important
I need to drink more water anyway. I always travel with my 20 oz. water bottle. At hotels I can fill it up at breakfast before I go out for the day, and I can usually find places to fill up during the day.
At the airport there are water fountains after the security check. Of course, I prefer the water dispensers at Taoyuan Airport because they’re more hygienic than the old-fashioned water fountains.
As I tend to arrive much too early for every flight (somehow I get through check-in and security faster than I should), I drink a lot of water. And then I’ll fill up the bottle to take on the plane because flight attendants don’t come around often enough.
Of course, you could always head to the back of the plane and ask for more water. I’ve had the flight attendants point me to the water and cups to help myself. Whenever they come around for drinks though, I get water plus whatever else I order.
My only variation on this is when I have a lounge pass. I will take advantage of the open bar, but I’ll make sure to have at least one glass of water with each drink. My favorite lounge is still the United Club at Narita Airport — a nice selection of serve-yourself alcohol, sushi, fruit, cheese, and all sorts of other food. Plus the seats are comfortable. I planned trips with longer layovers there just to go to the lounge.
Reduce the noise
Everyone seems to have noise-cancelling headphones now, except for me. I have some earplugs that block a fair amount of noise, but not as much as I’d like. They also stick out a little, so they can fall out while attempting to sleep.
I would like to find earplugs that fit better. And I will let you know when I find some that I can recommend.
As for the noise-cancelling headphones — they may drown out the noise, but they won’t be comfortable if you’re leaning your head against the window to sleep.
I’ll check out the movies, but I tend to doze off through most of them. A few times the flights had one or two movies I really wanted to watch. Other than that, I bring my Kindle to enjoy some reading time.
I don’t bother with anything on my laptop or mobile phone. I find the space too small to do anything worthwhile. It’s much easier to fall asleep with a book in your hands or while watching a movie on the seatback screen.
Don’t be afraid to lean back
My parents always insisted that I not tilt my seat back on flights. That was when I was young and flying to Florida, which was only a four-hour flight. And it took me a long time to understand the courtesy of reclining.
There is no reason to not recline your seat on a long-haul flight. Of course, you should check out the person behind you — you don’t want to interrupt something or knock their knees when you lean back. Be courteous and recline slowly. Also, bring the seat forward during meals.
Get up and stretch
Don’t sit for the entire flight. And don’t be afraid to tap the people next to you so you can get out for a bit. If you’re really worried about disturbing them, follow their lead and get out at the same times.
Once you’re out of your seat, take a little walk and get the blood flowing. Take a few extra minutes to stretch your body before heading back to your seat for more uncomfortable hours of travel.
Do you have any other tips for taking a long-haul flight?