21 Tips for a Successful Long-Haul Flight

This is the first in a series helping you navigate your way through a long-haul flight. I hope to help make your trip ahead a bit less daunting by providing tips to help make your journey a success. Feel free to check out: 

How to Survive a Long-Haul Flight with Kids. 

Long-Haul Flight Essentials (22 things to pack in your carry-on)

So you are going to take a long-haul flight. Chances are you are going to someplace exciting or else you wouldn’t be willing to sit on a plane for hours upon end. If you are like me, however, the thought of sitting confined in a tiny seat for an entire day is daunting. Even after I have done it so many times, I still tend to dread the thought of the long journey that lies ahead.

In fact, I have flown the same routes so many times that on certain flights I have begun to see the same flight attendants as well as know what food will be served and when. I was so excited to discover they added a Magnum ice cream bar to the mid-flight snack on Delta’s Shanghai to Detroit leg I could hardly stand it. I always make sure I am ready when the time comes for such a yummy treat. If I am sleeping, I wake up, eat my ice cream, and drift right back off to dreamland (or try to anyway). If my kids happen to refuse the delectable snack, I shoot them a look of daggers. After all, if they don’t want it, they should indeed offer it to me! Hey, it’s the little things that count right? And on a long flight, sometimes those little things are all you have.

Pre-flight excitement!


Although a long-haul flight is never easy, I am here to offer you some tips to make the journey a bit less arduous. I hope they help make your trip pass by quickly so you can enjoy the adventure that awaits on the other end.

Planning your flight

1. Fly direct.

If possible, book a direct flight to your destination. This will save you precious hours on your long journey. The last thing you want to do is have a layover where you sit in an airport for additional hours when you have already been traveling such a long time.

Sometimes layovers lead to missed connections…which can lead to drinking lots of beer.


2. Book business class.

Every time I book a long haul flight I dreamily look at the business class fare. Typically it is 3 times the cost of the coach fair so is not feasible for our large family to book. However, if you can swing it, splurge. The level of service and comfort far exceeds economy class and will make your trip much more enjoyable as well as classy. Ooh-la-la!

When the company is paying make sure you fly business class!


3. Fly overnight

This will hopefully allow you to sleep most of the way. Although if you are like me, it doesn’t matter day or night flight, I can never get comfortable enough to sleep well. I need to be horizontal. Again, another plug for business class. You may sleep like a baby in the awesome flat-bed seats offered on many long flights.

4. Be deliberate about your seat selection

It is essential to try and figure out which location will provide the most comfort for such a long time. Do you need a window on which to rest your head? An aisle so you can get up and move around more freely? Close to the bathroom? A bulkhead for more legroom? These are all significant factors to take into consideration. Make sure you check out Seat Guru here: www.seatguru.com before choosing your all-important seat. This site will tell you which seats are good or bad on your upcoming flight.

5. Take a risk with your seat selection

If traveling with a companion, request a window and aisle so you may have an empty seat between you. If someone happens to book the middle seat, they are usually more than willing to trade you for a window or aisle so you can sit next to your companion.

6. Divide and conquer

Divide carry-on items into Ziplock bags. For example, liquids, change of clothes, toys, medicine, etc.. Organization makes fumbling through your bag both through security and on the plane much more bearable. I can’t tell you how many times I have searched and searched for my lip balm only to find it hidden in the dark depths of my bag. So frustrating.

7. Don’t forget the music

Prior to your flight, download an awesome playlist as well as a relaxing playlist. Music you love will help you pass the time or sleep when you want. Make sure you invest in good noise-canceling headphones to help you drop out the sounds of everything going on around you. It’s difficult to sleep when you constantly hear the sound of the bathroom door opening, closing, and the toilet flushing.

8. Treat yourself

Bring lots of snacks, especially if you don’t like airplane food. Make sure to throw in a few treats because darn it, this is hard and you deserve it.

9. Check out the airport food

If you see a good restaurant in the airport, buy some food to save for later. Whenever we are in the Detroit airport, we hit up Chick-fil-A and buy a couple of chicken sandwiches. Boy, do they taste good a few hours into the flight. It brings a little bit of happiness when you remember you tucked something delicious away for later.IMG_3121

10. Keep it comfortable

I will never understand why some people board a long-haul flight in dresses and high heels. Why?? You are going to be very uncomfortable for the next 8 hours plus so the least you can do is wear appropriate clothing for such a journey. Now I’m not suggesting you wear your pajamas but at least plan on comfortable clothes when selecting your in-flight attire. I wear tennis shoes to help prevent swelling in my feet but suggest you wear shoes that will be comfortable whatever they may be.

Maybe save your Sunday best for another day.



11. Use the overhead bins

Keeping the area in front of your seat clear is key. You need to be able to stretch out and move as much as your small space will allow. Before the flight begins, I usually try to take all the essentials out of my carry-on and shove them into the seat pocket in front of me for easy access as needed.

Fill up those seat pockets baby!


12. Sleep smartly

Think about the time change at your destination and plan your in-flight sleep accordingly. But note, if you are going to experience a 12-hour time difference, there is nothing you can do to avoid jet lag. Don’t even bother trying. Trust me, practically every person who has come to Shanghai from the U.S. has a method they think will keep them from getting jet lag, but it never works. Ever.

13. Exhaust yourself before your flight

Some people prefer to give up sleep the night before so they can sleep on the plane. I like my rest too much to employ this method but hey, if it works for you, do it. Another idea is to do a hardcore workout to induce sweet dreams when on the flight. Either that or sore muscles. I don’t know. Again, do what works for you.

This girl would run a marathon before every flight if she could.


14. Figure out the flight schedule

Many times the flight attendants will provide a menu card at the beginning of a flight. Look it over and mentally calculate when meals will be served. This will help you determine how to plan your time spent on the plane accordingly. Best times to sleep, watch a movie, etc. Most often when meals are served, they will turn on the cabin lights while all other times the cabin will be dark.

15. Fly in segments

Split flight time into sections. For example, on a 12-hour flight:
1st 3 hours, read & eat
2nd 3 hours, watch movies
3rd 3 hours, sleep
4th 3 hours, watch movies & eat.
Sometimes structuring your time will help keep the long hours from getting too overwhelming.

16. Stretch it out

Have a good stretch before you get on the plane as well as during your flight. This will help thwart off sore legs and muscles that always tend to occur from sitting too long.

17. Binge watch tv shows

Want to catch up on Modern Family or The Middle? Many airplanes offer seasons of popular shows you can watch on demand. You can also download your favorite shows onto your computer and watch them that way.

18. Read a good book

I would suggest investing in a Kindle. Although I used to be all for reading a book the old-school way, I have become a convert. Kindles are great when traveling because they take up precious little space in your carry-on, are light, and many offer a back-lit screen which keeps you from feeling like a jerk to those around you when you have to turn on your overhead light to read.FullSizeRender

19. Bring a project

I find I can spend a lot of time on a project while on a long flight. After all, what else am I going to do, right? I have written blog posts, organized emails, written letters. You name it. As long as it doesn’t take up a lot of room, feel free to get busy.

20. Drink a lot

While I’ll admit, I have been known to overdo the free flow wine from time to time, this is not the type of drinking I would suggest. Trust me, it never ends well. Instead, drink lots of water, not only to help avoid in-flight swelling but because it will force you to get up and move around thwarting off possible thrombosis and all the other fun side effects that can happen while flying.

If you have a kid like this on your flight, you have my full permission to hit the whiskey.


21. Just relax

If you are like me, when you are at home you never sit down. I am always busy getting things done. A long-haul flight forces you to slow down. Try to enjoy the time. Although it seems like it will last forever, this too shall pass, and you will be running around again like usual. So sit back, relax, and try to enjoy the ride.

There you have it. 21 tips for making your long-haul flight a bit more bearable. It may be difficult, but you can do it. I know you can! I hope you enjoy your trip and the memories made both on and off the plane!

Special thanks to all who offerered their tried and true tips that helped make this post so thourough: Farah Rahim, Wendy Yee, Suzanne Savage, Lilo Buckmeir, Peter Petero, Nataskia, and Elaine F.



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